Gestalt Therapy (O'Neill)
by Philip Brownell, 2/12/97
Wow! Ed, you are a complicated straight man. You just handed us what feels
like ten million handles on further discussion.
First, I need to correct what might be a false impression. I am not Buddhist.
I'm Christian, but I'm finishing up a doctorate in clinical psychology
from an integrative
program (one that is holistic, including the spiritual domain), which
is located on the campus of a Quaker
university), and so I'm familiar with other cultures/faiths, and I've
noticed that a number of Gestalt practitioners seem to find an attraction
to Eastern religious/philosophical constructs and compatibility between
Gestalt and their understanding of Buddhist practice. That's what lead
to this thread.
With regard to the self forming at the contact boundary, it seems very tempting
to polarize around a node and let it go at that. For instance, when I was
talking with Leslie Greenberg for an interview
in Gestalt!, I
asked him about the concept of the self forming at the contact boundary,
and he said, "...part of my view is that we need field support in order
to constantly organize. And that what we are organizing is always a synthesis
of inner and outer. The self that I'm organizing at the moment is a function
of the field. So it's highly compatible with the modern interpretations
of Goodman, with Wheeler's and subsequent sort of interpretation, or clarification
of Goodman - that the self is forming at the boundary as a function of the
field." It was easy for me to conceive of one's self as constantly
in flux as a function of the subjective experience of one's environment.
Timothy McNamara, in another post to this thread at BOL, has said, "both
Buddhis and Gestalt affirm the inseparability of the organism and the environment.
Buddhism takes it that one step farther, asserting that there is no independent,
unchanging Self: no soul, no ego, that all these are misunderstanding and
delusion. gestalt does not go so far as to do away with the Self, yet it
redefines the Self as an active process rather than as a structure."
But to me this is all a polarization of the concept of self which does away
with such things as fixed gestalten, or as some call them, character disorders.
These are so fortified that many people believe them to be cold, infertile
hardpan, not available for the work of therapy. I find them interesting,
challening, basic to axis one pathology, the tree upon which we hang all
the ornaments of our relationships, and evidence for structure when thinking
about the self. Of course, those who have studied and feel drawn toward
the dynamic modalities find themselves clustering around the node of the
structural integrity of self. At this place there indeed is a meeting
between the "I" and the "Thou/It," and I see you describing
that as follows: "at the point of contact the consciuosness enfolds
around the reality in an attempt to grasp its meaning . The in itself is
explained as the reality, the for itself is explained as Subjective understanding
(Ego) and the synthesis of this contact is the meaning (as derived from
this contact). The meaning is limited by the for itself as it struggles
to better encompass the in itself." See, there is a monitoring of
the contact, a subjective I (as
Judith Brown, who presents a workshop titled "The subjective 'I'...",
might put it), that constructs and acknowledges the meaning of it.
We all have personalities that do seem to have definition and consistency
over time. This speaks to me of structure. It may be a collection of unfinished
processes, but that is also a structure.
Use the internet as a metaphor. There are thousands of people all communicating
with one another on this net, from various points all over theworld, and
at the same time. Imagine drawing all those connections in a three-dimensional
illustration. They are in process of connecting, and it's fluid. Now,
imagine changing the color only on all those interacting around some figure
to do with Gestalt therapy; immeiately one would see the structure of it.
That structure would stand out as defined in the field, a separate level
of the field, actually. Furthermore, over time these lines could become
etchings, because the computers devoted to Gestalt subjects would hum repeatedly
with Gestalt connections. Extending this metaphor, as the internet takes
notice of a collection of such links, all from separate processes of connecting,
it construes a node, a grouping of like-minded, so to speak, processors.
This node is nothing more than the evidence of connection, the trail of
the process, but it causes a change, because, as a node, or collection of
links, it pulls, like gravity, other like minded positions in the field,
and it creates its own structure. That's one of the reasons, by the way,
why establishing as many links among Gestalt positions in the field is a
collaborative and mutually beneficial thing to do. The notion of competitiveness
and advantage of one over against the other, and thus of radical independence,
is actually foreign to the net, but that's another thread, I suppose. That
is the way I conceive of the self. It's a both-and rather than an either-or,
and so far, then, as there is something in contact with something else,
the Buddhist notion of no actual self, or the illusion of self, would be,
to me, merely another illusion.
And that brings us to the subject of truth, or epistemology, which will
have to be another time.