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Unread July 26th, 2004, 05:49 AM
Brian O'Neill Brian O'Neill is offline
Join Date: Jun 2004
Posts: 45
Default Working with Couples - A Gestalt approach

The Couple as One.

Gestalt therapy has offered a rather distinctive paradigm from which to view the person and reality. While later theorists such as Yontef, Latner, Parlett and Wheeler have cited field theory (particularly that of Kurt Lewin) as a key pillar or philosophical underpinning to Gestalt therapy, it is the original text of Perls, Hefferleine and Goodman (PHG) which offers a very startling and vibrant and easily missed description of all selves, be they individual, couple or group.

From the beginning of the theoretical half of the book they outline a view of the self as intrinsically part of an overall organism/environment field. In a manner which goes to the heart of many of the mystical writings in describing the experience of self, the self is seen as indistinguishable and a priori at one with the all that is.

“Let us call this interacting of organism and environment in any function the ‘organism/environment field’; and let us remember no matter how we theorize about impulses, drives etc., it is always to such an interacting field that we are referring, and not to an isolated animal. Where the organism is mobile in a great field and has a complicate internal structure, like an animal, it seems plausible to speak of it by itself - as, for instance, the skin and what is contained in it - but this simply an illusion due to the fact that the motion through space and the internal detail call attention to themselves against the relative stability and simplicity of the background” PHG pg 228

Any separateness in sensing the self is an illusion - at best an experience of self build upon the functioning of a separate ego sense of self which develops later. As the child starts to discriminate self and not self, such ego functions develop and as the child learns to language this, this languaging of self and ego may be called the personality.

Using one of the two definitions of the self found in this book, that of self is a system of contacts in the organism/environment field, there is the scope to move beyond the separate ego sense of self to many selves which arise and come into being and then fade back into the ground.

Hence when two or more people become systematised in their contact with each other, they are a self.

This description and more still this experience of self opens to then seeing and experiencing a couple, particularly those who are partnered or married, as an ongoing self, as much and more than the ego sense of self.

The notion of the couple as an organism in the organism/environment field offers a uniquely beautiful way to enter into contact with a couple in therapy for we then look to the organismic functions of growth and balance not only of the individual persons but of the couple as a whole.

In essence we realise with the couple we are contacting and dealing with is One Life. They appear as two people of course but when we accept this view of the couple as one, then a richer more fuller tapestry presents.
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Unread April 10th, 2008, 01:55 AM
charles trust charles trust is offline
Join Date: Apr 2008
Posts: 1
Default Couple in trouble What can be done?

My wife has been going to therapy for many years without showing significant progress, the past three years she chose a gestalt therapist and seems to have finally anchored into some form of treatment that has finally grabbed her attention. On the other hand as we have serious problems as a couple I have tried (many times) to approach her therapist so as to report my views of her clearly "unusual behaviors". i.e.: pathological jealousy, paranoid thoughts, anger explosions, violence etc.
As her therapist simply does not answer my calls, or respond my letters. The past five months I have searched for other professional opinions and recommendations. I’ve had at least 12 interviews (four with each professional) in which I described her behavior to a highly regarded clinical psychologist and 2 equally trustworthy psychiatrists. It was clear to all of three that my wife has a "Borderline Personality Disorder" (BPD).
It is characteristic to the BPD to have the capacity of convincing anyone of anything. I suspect my wife has convinced her therapist of many ideas that are not consistent with reality. Her distorted perceptions that I a womanizer and a villain and she is my victim, that I am aggressive and she is tolerant. (There is very useful information regarding BPD through Google)
We have two girls and they have both seen her mother’s violent outbursts and domestic threats in situations that to others seem totally normal. This has to stop and has to stop in peace and with dignity to all family members. Last night I received a 2 minute call from my son’s girlfriend (she was visiting from the US and meant to see our youngest daughter) and my wife got so disturbed that she asked me to leave our home. As the house is hers she threatened to call the police if I didn’t leave.
I am sure that her report of this incident to her therapist was totally different; she reported her own distorted perception of what really happened (another BPD trait). Her therapist who has no professional training in psychopathology or clinical psychology and has no idea that she is treating a person with a Borderline Personality Disorder. BPD people can be very smart, I would add that my wife has superior intelligence, great empathy and astonishing verbal skills. Her therapist may be a respected member of Latin American or World wide Gestalt Ass. but that gives her no right to (some how) exclude me from my wife’s process. I sincerely think (and so do the professionals I visited) that at this point of disturbance my wife needs better help and probably some type of psycho pharmaceutical treatment. (At least for some time)
I am lost and have no ways of penetrating the shield that they built around them. The local intervention of a "peace judge" would raise hell in my marriage and at the same time create great disturbance on her therapist and of course in the therapeutic process.
"The therapist" is an international member of one or many Gestalt Associations; I thought that perhaps I could try some kind of international pressure through one of these associations. I’ve also thought of getting her family involved but I can foresee a general chaos in our relationship if I make any of these local moves.

Could you help with any suggestions please?
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Unread May 19th, 2008, 08:05 PM
Lil'Pon Lil'Pon is offline
Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 24
Default Re: Working with Couples - A Gestalt approach

Has the therapist, according to your wife, sent any form of written or verbal communication to you using your wife as a go between, while at the same time refusing to see you with your wife in session? I ask this, because this form of therapy, called "Psychotherapy By Proxy" is unethical. If the therapist attempts to communicate with you by using his client (your wife) to do so, communicate anything regarding your mental health status or marital status, while also refusing to see you in session, this is unethical.

If the therapist has done so, and also refuses to meet with you in session, I would recommend filing an ethics complaint with the state licensing board and ask the board to either terminate and refer your wife to a state certified marital therapist who is trained in marital issues, or to order the therapist into mediation with you so that you and your wife can make your concerns known to therapist and work out some kind of resolution so that the both of you can discuss your marital issues. Because you have every right to respond to the therapists assessments if he or she attempts couples therapy with only your wife present. It would be like a mechanic rebuilding your transmission while leaving out half the parts.

It appears that this therapist is attempting to do marital counseling with only one half of the marriage present. Not only is this impossible to do, it’s also unethical. I would suggest you do it soon before the therapist does irreparable damage to your marriage.
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