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Todd Burley, Rita & Bob Resnick*
The Significance of the "Experiment" in Gestalt Therapy

At the "Gstalt-L" Email-Discussion-List there is an interesting discussion at present about the significance of the "experiment" in Gestalt Therapy. The authors respond to a critical question why members of GATLA** didn´t include "experiment" to the concepts they see as fundamental for Gestalt Therapy (Field Theory, Phenomenology and Dialogue).You may use the Forum to post your opinion and for discussion.

"Although we highly value the judicious (contextual) use of experiments, we do not see them as within the same fundamental level of organization (or importance) as Field Theory, Phenomenology and Dialogue. Experiments, although obviously useful to collect new experiential near data, can be a technique in the service of awareness (we mean here the denotative meaning of technique, not the connotative pejorative meaning which is held in some circles). Awareness is crucial for therapy to occur - not experiments. Certainly, experiments are one valid way of facilitating awareness. The particular form, subtly and magnitude of the experiment is limited only by the creativity of the client and the therapist.

We value experiments that emerge from the interaction of the client and his/her world (sometimes including the therapist) and we usually do not value "canned" experiments brought into the situation by the therapist and having little or nothing to do with the client.

As a faculty, we mostly see technique as the least important part of Gestalt Therapy. Much of the "bad" reputation gleaned from the abuses by some in the 60´s and 70´s (and sometimes even persisting today) have, at their base, the passing off of a few techniques (usually dramatic) as the essence of Gestalt Therapy. Of course, the process of creating experiments is not the same as the repetitive use of fixed techniques. It is precisely the whom, where, when and how the experiments are created and implemented that determine an elegant personal and clinical interaction as compared to an insensitive imposition.

In our training in GATLA, experimentation is part of the attitudinal stance we are teaching from part of the fabric (ground) in all of our work and part of the figure in some of our work. Experimentation, at its vital best, is more subtle, contextual and profound than the "required" and mechanical experiments (or other techniques) which tend to be stylized and frequently formulaic - as in "all work should contain one or more experiments". It is the introjected "experimenting" and other techniques which has re-arranged cart and horse and has contributed to giving "technique" a bad name. For someone to observe a therapist working with a client and then to be critical of the work because there were no experiments - makes it clear that such a person has not yet grasped the essence of Gestalt Therapy – confusing a "means whereby" with an "end gain". When this happens, then the experiment is being held in higher regard and importance than the function it was there for in the first place - awareness. (Similarly, when a therapist insists on focussing on the relationship between client and therapist when the client´s foreground is clearly and appropriately elsewhere, is to be making the dialogical/relational into another methodological and intrusive dogma).

Importantly, even when an experiment (or technique) might be very appropriate, and useful, creative therapists need not be limited to this or
any other modality. Both Fritz and especially Laura Perls encouraged therapists to find their own way, their own style, using their own backgrounds, interests and skills - all within the basics of Gestalt Therapy - to create something anew. The question, of course, is not whether experiments are "good" or "bad." The question is when are experiments facilitating contact and awareness and when are experiments introjected filler, "show off" drama and/or avoidance?

Finally, there are many important Gestalt supports and concepts that we do not explicitly include in the threesome of Field Theory, Phenomenology and Dialogue - existentialism, self-regulation, awareness, aggression, figure formation and destruction, character development, introjects, boundary anomalies, etc. to name just a few. Although all of these (and more) are important parts of Gestalt Therapy, we do not see them as fundamentally defining of Gestalt Therapy as are Field Theory, Phenomenology and Dialogue.

©2001 Todd Burley, Rita & Bob Resnick

* The authors are Core Faculty of GATLA.

** GATLA (Gestalt Associates Training Los Angeles) ist one of the highly reputed international Training Institutes for Gestalt Therapy.
For those who are interested in more about GATLA, a history, description and philosophy of the GATLA program along with personal and professional accounts from almost 25 faculty and participants can be found in the current issue of the electronic journal "
Gestalt!". Other information can be obtained on the Website of GATLA.


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Copyright ©2001 Achim Votsmeier-Röhr. All rights reserved. Stand: 29.04.2001