Todd Burley, Rita & Bob Resnick*
Significance of the "Experiment" in Gestalt
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 â 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
* The authors are Core
Faculty of GATLA.
(Gestalt Associates Training Los Angeles) ist one of the
highly reputed international Training Institutes for
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.