Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sunday Morning Thoughts - Gestalt

“Awareness is therapy per se
—Fritz Perls

Since reading this quote from one of my daily calendars on February 23, 2012, it has stayed with me. Volumes are spoken in these five words. These words brought me back to a temporary office job where I was the receptionist and would occasionally type up a document or two. I didn’t like the job for many reasons, but I needed to work and it was the best the temporary agency had at the time. I was much younger, in my twenties. I had to dress up for this one with nice shoes, skirts or slacks, and blouses. I couldn’t look as though I had just rolled out of bed. I also didn’t enjoy being isolated up front, architects and engineers coming and going. I did like the idea that I worked with folks that designed and executed the machinery for mass production. I imagined the process that cereal would go through before it reached my bowl. I still can’t imagine how you get this process with all of the pipes and tubes and in betweens onto paper and then build it. I also liked that it was fine for me to bring a book to read when the phones weren’t ringing and I didn’t have much else to do.

I might have had a psychology book one day and this is when I first remember really hearing Fritz Perls’s name. The engineer saw my book and told me that his wife was a therapist and she liked Fritz Perls. When I saw the quote that day in February, it rang true for me on many levels and it brought me back to this engineer and the first time I remembered hearing Perls’s name. I searched the library for any books by him and found one: Gestalt Therapy Verbatim (1969). Shortly after beginning the introduction, I immediately felt a kindred spirit and I recognized a way of being that already ran through my blood—that of wholeness, growth, and self-responsibility. I also responded to his words, his almost aggressive candor in pulling the wool from our eyes.

In reading a little bit from Wikipedia, we learn that he also had Zen influences and “incorporated the idea of mini-satori (a brief awakening) into his practice.” Wikipedia also notes that he also traveled to Japan, where he stayed in a Zen monastery, eventually settling at Esalen (Esalen Institute), later leaving Esalen to start a Gestalt community in Canada.  

An oversized photo of Perls adorns the cover of his book. It’s an older Perls, white beard growing into a white moustache, forming one; white hair, handsome wrinkles; eyes looking away, but gentle and knowing, even playful. He looks as though he is about to speak to his readers from the cover of his book. His fingers look graceful and strong.

In his introduction he states, “In Gestalt Therapy, we are working for something else. We are here to promote the growth process and develop the human potential. We do not talk of instant joy, instant sensory awareness, instant cure. The growth process is a process that takes time.”

There are many theories and ideas from which to draw upon in life and often times there is intersection. For this moment, right now, Perls resonates with me. I’m also brought to a memory of a student therapist who was my therapist for a short time back also during my twenties. She and I were not a good fit, this became apparent quickly. I felt as though she was too eager to practice what she was learning and did not herself experience enough growth and maturation at the time to be effective—at least with me. And she was too bubbly in her personality for my low mood at the time.  Without realizing it, she was treating me as though I should be more like her and she was not respecting who I was as an individual and was trying to provide me with a quick mental fix. She could not grasp that I was who I was and not more like her on a social level. I hung in there a few more sessions and then had to terminate the relationship for my own well being.

I appreciate Frederick (Fritz) S. Perls’s Gestalt prayer:

I do my thing, and you do your thing.
I am not in this world to live up to your expectations
And you are not in this world to live up to mine.
You are you and I am I,
And if by chance we find each other, it’s beautiful.
If not, it can’t be helped.


What do I believe? “What we believe is what we see.” I’m sure that various people in different books have said this, but I remember first coming across it in an astrology book. I don’t usually talk directly about what I believe and I don’t think I’m going to start—at least not in this moment. This question and other questions are always alive in me. Right now, I am thinking out loud and right now the question holds for me more a curiosity for how each moment that I interact with life, there is a clue for how I feel inside and for my state of mood depending on how I interpret my situation—my body, my emotions, the exterior world, interior world— at any given moment. To some degree, it seems that humans are mostly out of control, yet maintain a semblance of control. We are a continuum of emotions where anger can turn to excitement and the other way around; and where joy can fast become sorrow.

It’s difficult to observe our growth when we’re still growing. One of the reasons I enjoy writing is that it’s one small way—to happen upon an old journal entry, musing, or scribble, I can see—I can be reminded of the slow wonderful trickle of growth—the never ending process of growth, learning, sharing, and discovery.


Vincent said...

I like very much your beautifully written piece, Rebb. I was a student therapist about ten years ago - the person-centred Carl Rogers model, rather than the Gestalt Fritz Perls model, but I learned about him all the same. It all seems quaint now. I pass everyday the counselling place where I worked as a part-time receptionist & got to know 42 counsellors who offered their services free for an hour or two a week. I've changed a great deal, not into that stuff at all now! But as for Zen, I wonder if you would be interested in the Korean film, "Why did Bodhidharma leave for the East?" I think you might like it.

These days I work to a simpler model than any of the therapies: that the thing one seeks therapy for is a kind of existential unhappiness, or more sim[ly expressed, the inability to adapt to one's situation.

---Which validates Fritz Perls' point. If I am aware, then I can face my unhappiness, rather than masquerade in beliefs which merely mask the unhappiness. My unhappiness is caused, you might say, by a failure to know who I am and what I want, leading to a fundamental failure to fit into my environment, or seek changes of circumstances which would suit me.

Unhappiness, as I see it, is the root cause of much (but not all) physical and mental illness.

When you quote "What we believe is what you see", I think this gets close to the heart of the matter. Beliefs, when they run counter to one's deep self, are a distorting lens limiting what we can see, causing us to be handicapped. One's deep self is a wondrous precious thing, a beautiful fragment of the All. Our separation from the All is an illusion. We are infinite yet flawed. Awareness can teach us everything we need to know. No therapist can do it, though, as Perls taught, sudden confrontations can jog us into that awareness. I'd say that life itself is therapy, so long as we stay free of limiting beliefs, whether religious or any other kind.

These are just ideas which your post inspired, not attempts at any Truth!

Rebb said...

Thank you, Vincent. I enjoyed reading your response. It must have been interesting to interact and get to know so many counselors. But yes, we do change and it is equally fascinating to be able to look upon ourselves in the past tense and know that we though we’ve changed or are not into certain things from our past, we were still touched by them in one way or the other. Thanks for the movie recommendation. I will see if I’m able to rent it.

It seems that even if we are not officially trained in certain practices, but by our own discovery and passions, in the process, we come to our own practice. At the same time, we are always working from something. Simplicity is nice. I feel that the more tools the therapist has to work with, the more beneficial for the client. I also feel that if a therapist has experienced deep loss, they are able to connect with deeper feelings within themselves and able to connect more. Existential unhappiness—yes.

That’s exactly right that no therapist can do the work. Life itself is therapy. Absolutely.

I’m so very glad that this post inspired you to share your ideas, Vincent—and thank you for sharing! Your ideas resonate, prompted me further and brought a couple of books and situations to the forefront of my mind. I will have to visit them and see what I find.

p.s. You probably were/are an effective therapist. I imagine that you would keep your boundaries in check and allow the client to do the work with you as guide; and I also imagine that you would provide a sense of grounding and kindness in your presence, as well as practicing restraint.

Vincent said...

Thanks for your remarks, Rebb. I never practised as a counsellor/psychotherapist. I interrupted the training course part way through by going to Jamaica and meeting K. Then I got instantly cured from my chronic fatigue syndrome which had been progressively crippling me, and trained in the therapy which had helped me. I had a few successes but the failures troubled me: this being a symptom of my lack of professional detachment. It felt good to give up being that kind of therapist.