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Counseling Theories : A Comparison between Gestalt Theory and Adlerian Systems

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There are so many theoretical approaches widely used by therapists today. Each of these methods to counseling is used to different situations, needs and types of persons seeking treatment. In this paper, I will present my analysis of two methods used in psychological counseling: The Gestalt Theory and the Adlerian Systems. Here I will present the difference on how therapists of different approaches view each of their clients and their client’s problems. Methods of treatments will also be discussed and differentiated.

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The Counseling Models: Gestalt Theory and the Adlerian Systems

Phenomenology, Gestalt Theory is a discipline that helps people stand aside from their usual way of thinking so that they can tell the difference between what is actually being perceived and felt in the current situation and what is residue from the past (Idhe, 1977). In Gestalt therapy, data unavailable to direct observation by the therapist is studied by phenomenological focusing, experimenting, reporting of participants, and dialogue (Yontef, 1982, 1983).

Gestalt theory, according to Kearsley, focuses on the mind’s perceptive processes (Kearsley, 1998).

The word “Gestalt” has no direct translation in English, but refers to “a way a thing has been gestellt ; i.e., ‘placed,’ or ‘put together’”; common translations include “form” and “shape” (EB: “Gestalt Psychology”, 1999). Gaetano Kanizca refers to it as “organized structure” (Moore, Fitz, 1993). As a therapeutic approach, it focuses on helping the client gain awareness about his self, his emotions and behaviors, his relationship with his community and how he establish contact within the people of said community. The therapy concentrates on the present situation of the individual, how he deals with that situation and not what had occurred in the past. The therapist and the patient work together and establish a relationship that aims to help the individual patient understand his self, be aware of his immediate needs and able to meet and satisfy those needs. Its main objective is for the individual to become a well adjusted person who knows how to manage and regulate his self, able and capable of taking responsibility of his life and of his healing.

   Adelerian Psychotherapy on the other hand stresses on the individual’s desire to achieve success in life, promote a healthy relationship with his family and community and places emphasis on the individual’s contributions or roles to his society. Family relationships and birth orders are also factors important to understanding the individual person. Various techniques are used in the process to be able to help patients correct their mistaken beliefs.

Alfred Adler believed in the fundamental creative power of individuals and their freedom to choose and change their direction in life; this is very similar to the biological process called autopoesis which is the autonomous, self-renewing, and self-directing nature of all life forms (Nelson 1991).

How therapists view each of their client and their client’s problem.

Therapists using Gestalt theory view his client as a whole person including his thoughts, feelings, behaviors, his body sensations and even his dreams such that the focus of the treatment is to achieve the total integration of the individual and how he should interact appropriately to his environment. The person strives for wholeness and integration of thinking, feeling, and behaving. The view is anti-deterministic; in that the person is viewed as having the capacity to recognize how earlier influences are related to present difficulties. Growth involves moving from environmental support to self-support (Corey, G. 1996, p 463). Emphasis is on what and how of experiencing in the here and now to help clients accept their polarities. Key concepts include personal responsibility, unfinished business, avoiding, experiencing, and awareness of the now. Gestalt is an experiential therapy that stresses feelings and their influence of unfinished business on personality development (Corey, G. 1969 p 465).

Therapist of this approach sees Darnell Yardley as a client who is experiencing depression and anxiety due to his poor relationship with his sisters, his parents and his friends. His father’s lack of connection with him and his view of him as dumb; his parent’s separation; and his frustrations in football made the situation more difficult for Darnell to bear. All these experiences contributed to the now present behavior of Darnell; that feeling of wasting his life away, feeling different from friends, social awkwardness and becoming too domineering and persistent style are manifestations of a person suffering from anxiety disorder and/or depression.

Adlerian Psychotherapy on the other hand, employs a holistic approach to understanding the individual. Adlerians believe that the most important life problems are social and therefore, the individual must be considered within the social context (Daniels, 1998). “Adlerian counseling seeks to correct mistakes in perception and logic that people make in their effort to fit into social relationships and to overcome feelings of inferiority” (Brown & Srebalus 1998). Once the individual has adopted a “mistaken goal”, he or she will formulate other misconceptions to support the “faulty logic” (Brown & Srebalus 1998). When an individual fails to achieve what he considers to be right and ideal for him, inferiority or insecurities begins to arise. This is normal but when the individual begins to act inferior rather than feel inferior, the individual is engaging in “discouragement” or the inferiority complex (Mosak 1995). “To oversimplify, the inferiority feeling is universal and ‘normal’; the inferiority complex reflects the discouragement of a limited segment of our society and is usually ‘abnormal’” (Mosak 1995).   This theory views the healthy and “ideal” individual as one who engages in life experiences with confidence and optimism. “There is a sense of belonging and contributing, the ‘courage to be imperfect,’ and the serene knowledge that one can be acceptable to others, although imperfect” (Mosak 1995). The greater one’s personal development, the more able one can connect positively with others; the greater one’s ability to connect with others, the more one is able to learn from them and develop oneself. This idea has been rediscovered by recent authors (Guisinger and Blatt 1994). ). Adlerians believed that the individual person is responsible for what he is at present. To suffer the pain and feel the depressions is just a matter of choice. The values that a person holds can be learned, that when they are no longer effective as a guide to him, the person may choose to re-learn another set of values and life styles that best suits and far more effective on him.

Adlerian therapists views Darnell Yardley as a person who is suffering from anxiety and depression due to his experiences and relationship with parents. His father thought of him as dumb and far behind his sisters. His mother verbally abused him. His position being the youngest and only son in the family affected his view of himself too. Aside from the influences of parents to the client, Adler also recognized and believed that children’s positions in the family constellation of siblings could affect their development in critical ways (Adler 1992b, 126-132). But if parents help their children cope with the unique demands of their positions in the family constellation, and if there is a cooperative rather than a competitive home atmosphere, the children are likely not to develop the characteristics associated with each of the positions. (Adler 1992b, 126-132) Darnell’s frustrations in his football career added further to his already damaged and depressed feelings.

Goals of treatment:

The goal of Gestalt therapy is to assist clients in gaining awareness of moment-to-moment experiencing, to challenge them to accept responsibility for internal support as opposed to depending on external support (Corey, G. 1996 p 466). Awareness or  “insight is a patterning of the perceptual field in such a way that the significant realities are apparent; it is the formation of a gestalt in which the relevant factors fall into place with respect to the whole” (Heidbreder, 1933, p. 355). The patient is to learn how to become aware of his self, his needs, his emotions, behaviors and his relationship towards other people. How the therapist and the patient experience their relationship is of special concern in Gestalt therapy (Yontef, 1976, 1982, 1983). In Gestalt therapy, data unavailable to direct observation by the therapist is studied by phenomenological focusing, experimenting, reporting of participants, and dialogue (Yontef, 1982, 1983). Frederick Perls (1893-1970) pointed out that the goal in Gestalt therapy is challenging the client to move from environmental support toward self-support and to gain increased and enriched awareness of moment-to-moment experiencing, which by itself is curative. In the case of Darnell Yardley, the goal of treatment focuses on his awareness of his hidden and unacknowledged resentments, anger and even hatred to his family most especially to his father and his frustrations to become a professional football player. When all of these emotions are acknowledged and recognized, Darnell can proceed towards reintegration of self, of healing, of forgiving and of moving on with his life.

Influenced by the German philosopher Hans Vaihinger, Adler held that individuals were not always guided in their actions by reality. They were also guided by fictions, or what they believe to be true, though these beliefs are largely unconscious (Vaihinger 1925). Adlerian system’s final goal of treatment is a fictional creation of the individual–an imagined ideal situation of perfection, completion, or overcoming.

In the case of Darnell, the goal of treatment will focus on learning how to overcome his feelings of inferiority. Although this represents a subjective, fictional view of Darnell future , it is what the Adlerian  therapists believe, will guide him live at  present. This is also quite similar to Abraham Maslow’s view of individuals striving toward self actualization — toward the full realization of their potential (Maslow 1970). The goal of treatment is not merely symptom relief, but the adoption of a contributing way of living (Stein, 1996).

Process of therapy:

In Gestalt therapy, clients are directed to interpret their own lives. Clients are given exercises that enable them to work on their unfinished business from the past. This unfinished business refers to their unacknowledged and hidden feelings and emotions that greatly affect their view about themselves and of their life. They do so by re-experiencing past traumatic situations as though they were occurring in the present (Corey, G. 1996 p 467). Techniques include confrontation, dialogue with polarities, role playing, staying with feelings, reaching an impasse, and reliving and re-experiencing unfinished business in the forms of resentment and guilt. Confrontation is often used to call attention to discrepancies. How and what questions are used. (Corey, B. 1996 p 469). The therapy is well suited to both individual and group counseling as the methods is powerful catalysts for opening up feelings and getting clients into contact with their present-centered experience (Corey, G. 1996 p 471). The therapy, assessment and screening begin at the very first session. The patient’s willingness to support the work and the relationship between the therapist and the patient is very important in the desired outcome of the treatment.

Adlerian psychology on the other hand, addresses the complete range of human experience, from optimal to pathological, and sees the ‘therapeutic’ relationship as a friendly one between equals (Stein, 1996). At the foundation of Adlerian theory and practice is an optimism about human nature and the premise that the primacy of a feeling of community (connectedness) is an index and goal of mental health (Stein, 1996). Adler believed that the process of intervention is more of a life-style investigation. The therapist tries to understand the patient’s life-style, how the individual engages his life, and how that life-style affects the client’s current functioning. The goal of treatment is not merely symptom relief, but the adoption of a contributing way of living (Stein, 1996). Therapists using this approach teach and motivate Darnell to take control of his self, his emotions and his feelings. He will be directed to recognize his present emotional condition, his hatred, anger or resentments towards his family, his father most especially, his frustrations over his planned football career and his feelings of being different from the rest of the students. Once Darnell sees and knows the feeling; then he will then be encouraged to imagine or think of something pleasant that had happened to him or her, replacing the bad feeling for a good one. By doing this, the Darnell is in control of his emotions and can change the mood only by thinking differently. It is believed by Adlerians that thinking different thoughts can effectively change mood states (Marino, 2000). Darnell is only helped to see life from another perspective. He is put into a role where he can see his problem from another point of view so he would be able to explore and practice new behavior. As the therapists helped Darnell explore new feelings, he will begin to think of another philosophy of life and thus, can make decisions and conclusions about his own life.

Overall comment on the approaches:

Gestalt theory as an approach to counseling requires that clients should be willing to support the work involved in the process. Compatibility of the therapists and the client is a must to achieve success in the treatment. Unfortunately, some therapists are not well trained enough to provide pre-therapy and screening such that treatments turned out to be ineffective and meaningless.

The approach to dreams is a unique, creative tool to help clients discover basic conflicts. Therapy is viewed as an existential encounter; it is process-oriented, not technique-oriented and it recognizes nonverbal behavior as a key to understanding the person (Corey, G. 1969 p 473).  Gestalt theory also provides many techniques in working with clients who have cultural injunctions against freely expressing feelings. It can even help clients overcome language barrier as it focus on bodily expressions in a subtle way to help clients recognize their conflicts (Corey, G. 1969 p 476).

However techniques involved in this approach to treatment may also lead clients to experience intense emotional expressions that if not intervened, might not help alleviate the problems and sufferings of the individual. Clients who have difficulty imagining and fantasizing may not profit from Gestalt’s techniques (Corey, G. 1996 p 474). The quick push for expressing feelings could cause premature termination of therapy by the client. Some may not even see how being aware of present experiencing will lead to solving their problems (Corey, G. 1996 p 477).

Adler’s contributions to mental health included several levels of intervention and major impact on the field of education in efforts to prevent psychological disorders (Adler 1957). He discussed and demonstrated to teachers and parents how to understand and influence children He saw prevention through education as the first level of intervention and as a great investment in the future. Continuing in these efforts, many of Adler’s followers simplified some of the ideas for use by teachers and parents (Dreikurs and Soltz 1964; Dreikurs and Grey 1968), thus furthering Adler’s influence. Examples of the focus of counseling include parenting, marital relationships, and career choice and development. These interventions can help individuals cope with developmental milestones, life crises, and change points in their lives.

The approach more suited for the case:

It is very difficult to measure the success or effectiveness of a particular method in psychological counseling. Approach to therapy is considered effective for therapists using the method. This is so because they are concerned on their integrity and reputation while clients chose to believe that the therapy is a success to compensate for the money and effort they have spent in the process. But on the two approaches mentioned, the Adlerian System best suits the case. According to Maslow (1971), the fullest development of human potential requires a more philosophical process, one that went beyond the relief of suffering and the correction of mistaken ideas and ways of living. Maslow labeled this latter aspect of therapy “meta-therapy” (Maslow 1971). Adlerian method of treatment is far more effective  than Gestalt theory because the focus of the treatment is on correcting the mistaken belief of the individual patient, helping him overcome his fears and inferiorities and guiding him to become a well adjusted person responsible for his self, his community as well as his future. Adlerian psychology addresses the complete range of human experience, from optimal to pathological, and sees the ‘therapeutic’ relationship as a friendly one between equals (Stein, 1996). “If people have developed social interest at the affective level, they are likely to feel a deep belonging to the human race and, as a result, are able to empathize with their fellow comforts as well as the discomforts of life” (Marino, 2000).


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Cite this Counseling Theories : A Comparison between Gestalt Theory and Adlerian Systems

Counseling Theories : A Comparison between Gestalt Theory and Adlerian Systems. (2017, Jan 23). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/counseling-theories-a-comparison-between-gestalt-theory-and-adlerian-systems/

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