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Unread March 12th, 2005, 03:54 PM
Phil Brownell Phil Brownell is offline
Join Date: Mar 2005
Posts: 23
Default A More Complete Spiritual Gestalt

Embedded in the roots of Gestalt therapy is a "neglected polarity." I say neglected because at one end of it there has been considerable development, which is evident in Brian's first post on this subject (Defining Spirituality) and in other places, for instance in an article on spirituality by the late Ruth Wolfert in Gestalt! (see index of authors at However, the other end of the polarity has not even been named, much less owned or described, and because of that, the polarity itself has not been available for development.

Before naming and describing the other end of Gestalt's neglected polarity, it's helpful to remember what a polarity is. A polarity is a reduction of an otherwise complex field. For the sake of efficiency, or because of an interruption of contact, a person will often form a simple, but crude gestalt, by creating the split between "this or that," "black or white," "good or bad," "large or small," "Gestalt therapy and not Gestalt therapy." With regards to spirituality, this is precisely what has been lacking. Before the exploration of what lies between the two ends of such a polarity, there must be the perception of extreme difference that separates them out to opposite ends.

The other end of the neglected spiritual polarity in Gestalt therapy is theistic - the sense of a personal God. One way of expressing this polarity is to say that it is "eastern philosophy or western spirituality." Another way of saying this is "process phenomenology or personal relationship," and still another might be "pantheism or theism."

Laura Perls admitted that at a crucial moment in the development of Gestalt Therapy, the founders made a choice between the nihilistic existentialism of people like Sartre and what she called the more positive existentialism of people like Kierkegaard. Indeed, at that point in the interview she broke out and virtually exclaimed working with Paul Tillich, a theologian of some note. Thus, even while appropriating such developmental influences as Kierkegaard, Tillich, and Buber, Gestalt therapists have consistently and systematically rejected theistic elements in these contributors to our theory. As perhaps one of the most telling indictments of such an approach, Martin Buber took Carl Jung to task for sucking God out of spiritual experience, making God-experience nothing but the product of one's subjective psyche. Buber would say to us today, "Where is the divine other in your I-Thou relationship?" For him God is an objective reality and not an idea we manufacture along the way.

Philip Brownell, M.Div, Psy.D.
Sr. Editor, Gestalt! (
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