Ethics, aesthetics and dialogue in Gestalt therapy

Ethics, aesthetics and dialogue in Gestalt therapy

Olga Kadysheva (OK): Now to start the interview, Jean-Marie, I would like to know what you would like to tell about yourself and your path in Gestalt therapy. How would you describe it? I understand that it may not have been short, but please briefly describe the main events that led you to Gestalt therapy.

Jean-Marie Robin (JMR): In 1967 I started working as a psychologist. But Gestalt therapy appeared in France later, somewhere in the mid-70s. And before that, the only choice to be a psychotherapist was either psychoanalysis or psychodrama. And then I was introduced to client-centered therapy. And this was also called expression therapy, expression therapy. I did this a lot with my friends. And when I came across Gestalt therapy, probably in 1975, I immediately felt that this was what interested me. And this is something that allowed me to combine everything that I had previously encountered in other approaches and kind of make such a spine. Create a structure. I studied in several programs and the first was what was called at that time the California approach, California style, this is the only form that existed in the beginning. And there was very little theory, a lot of experience. And then I studied at the Cleveland Institute, which came to conduct a program in Belgium. And in those days, so to speak, the father of Gestalt therapy was Irwin Polster, the Polster family. And all the training was based on their approach, their theory and their concepts. And after I was trained in this approach, I practiced for several years and was ready to give up Gestalt therapy because I had reached the limits of this approach. And I was lucky then, I heard that another approach of Gestalt therapy remained in the shadows. And it was in fact a movement developed by its creators, Perls, Laura Perls, Goodman and Isidore Frome. And I met with Isidor Fromm, who sometimes visited Europe, and he agreed to take me into a small group that he led, there were about 5-6 people. And then I discovered another form of gestalt, the one that the creators came up with. And I discovered Goodman’s book and the founders’ book, which I had never even heard of before. And now I’ve been practicing this approach for 45 years, and I absolutely don’t want to leave here and I don’t feel like I’ve explored everything. And of course, this model is not finished and has not been fully researched, but it seems to me that this direction is very good and, one might say, revolutionary.

And it so happened that in the early 80s, together with several colleagues, we founded the European Gestalt Association. You probably know that somewhere around the 90s I was the president of this association, I don’t remember exactly which years. This is around when the Iron Curtain was destroyed. And so, thanks to this, I was able to invite Russian-speaking people to a conference in Paris. And after that I was invited to Moscow to conduct training and I had the honor and pleasure of training the first group of Gestalt therapists in Russia.

And this was with the people who then founded institutes, MGI, MIGIP, Oleg Nemirinsky from St. Petersburg. And so I met your community, which then began to invite me to Ukraine, first to Kyiv, then to the Dnieper, to Odessa, to Lviv, to Crimea, when it was still a free territory.

OK: Many of our Gestalt therapists came to you, well, because you conduct supervision groups on your territory, right in your home.

JMR: Since I live in a village, one of the groups simply suggested at some point that they come to me for the summer and there are a lot of small hotels around that people can stay in, just like family hotels. And, you know, I prefer it if I choose between this option and zoom.

Mikhail Baitalsky (MB): Jean-Marie, we should call this interview “ethics, aesthetics and dialogue in Gestalt therapy.” My question is: which of these concepts would you like to talk about first? About ethics, about aesthetics or about dialogue?

JMR: Of course, without a doubt, my favorite concept out of these three is aesthetics. And I remember that somewhere in 1981, 1982 at the congress my speech was called ethics and aesthetics in Gestalt therapy. And I must say, of course, that the concept of aesthetics is now very fashionable in recent years in Gestalt therapy. And it would be nice to return to it and discuss this because there are very diverse concepts, diverse perceptions. At the beginning there was a short reflection by Laura Perls, who said that the word Gestalt is an aesthetic concept. But she didn’t really develop this topic. And it seems she had a short text where she compared a psychotherapist with an art critic. But here it is also important to think about how we call ourselves, we call ourselves psychotherapists, and psychotherapy is what we do, Gestalt therapy. And what does it mean when we say that we work in Gestalt therapy? Does this mean that we do not do psychotherapy, do not treat the psyche, but rather gestalt therapy? In other words, we are concerned with how people create forms for their existence. And what forms people can create, these can be lifestyles, these can be patterns, some ways of existence, life choices – all these are forms. And in subsequent years, some colleagues described the idea of ​​aesthetics in very special ways. For example, Joseph Zinker – you probably know his work – he also very much insisted on form, on the concept of form, and he talked a lot about beauty. This was somewhere in 77.

And I also often talk about Michael Vincent Miller. This man became one of my greatest friends in Gestalt therapy. He wrote an article called: “Notes on Art and Symptoms.” And he wrote a lot about various artists, performers, and said that art is such a door that allows you to enter pathology. And he took a lot from what Otto Rank said, who believed that a neurotic is a failed artist. And he believed that we create a symptom for ourselves, much like a work of art. Of course, here I’m talking about the process, not the content. And subsequently, when in the 80s there was the first conference in the European Gestalt community, I held a conference on the aesthetics of psychotherapy. And this is the theme that lives in me all this time.

Why? Because aesthetics is a concept that was invented around the 17th century by a second- or third-rate philosopher, his nameWhether Baumgarten, he was interested in developing another form of knowledge. He believed that not only cognitive, brain, so to speak, knowledge is important, but there is also knowledge that we receive through our senses. And that what we receive, what we learn through the senses, is something less complex, less refined than our intellectual knowledge, but sensation and what we feel is the starting point of any experience.

And you probably noticed that the favorite phrase of Gestalt therapists when they talk to clients is “how do you feel?” And I want to hope that people don’t say this phrase because they can’t think of anything else. And the idea is that everything that happens starts in sensations, in the body, in what we perceive through the senses. And after that we need to do the work of transformation.

Aesthesis is truly sensation. This is not beauty. It’s not about beauty. Everyone, for example, you know the word “anesthesia” Anesthesia does not mean lack of beauty, it means lack of sensation. And when this concept was invented, of course, the entire art world pounced on it, took possession of it, because the art world is, of course, such a paradigm in aesthetics, because it is a place where you first need to feel.

At the same time, I do not agree at all with two concepts that are currently circulating in the world of psychotherapy regarding aesthetics. The first concept is about beauty, about the beauty of a symptom, for example. And there is a second point that I don’t agree with, people say that if aesthetics is about feelings, then I can feel someone else. And there is a whole movement of people who believe that they can feel what someone else is experiencing right now and that it will be true. If I feel sad when I am opposite you, it is because you are sad. Well, we can talk about aesthetics for hours, but we don’t have a clock.

MB: I want to ask one clarifying question. What categories would you use to describe the aesthetic, if not beautiful or ugly? What other categories can we expand our vocabulary in describing the aesthetic?

JMR: A colleague at the New York Institute selected the entire dictionary used by Perls and Goodman. All the words they used to illustrate the word “gestalt”. And he noticed that all the words that authors use to describe gestalt are –aesthetic words. Clarity, sharpness, brightness, contours. People are looking for words. You said the word “categories”, I hate “categories”.

When Laura Perls talks about a psychotherapist as if the psychotherapist were an art critic, we may be using a vocabulary that we feel awkward about using, but which can be used to describe art. It is a sensory vocabulary, a vocabulary we use to describe the figure-ground relationship.

And if we think about it, there are a lot of words that we use, they are also interesting from the point of view of the world of art. For example, I work a lot on a question called “field paradigm”. I have been working on this concept for a long time and for many years I used this expression “field paradigm”, but then I began to tell myself that there are more interesting words, since we can look at the field as perspective. And perspective is, again, a word that is taken from the dictionary of art. These are the things.

OK: Thank you, Jean-Marie. What could you say about your view, your perception, sensory and aesthetic perception of the dialogue. Well, since we are talking about the field paradigm and the perspective of the field, what does dialogue with the field do? What dialogue does with you personally. With a client. With the group. How does it change you?

JMR: I think this is a very difficult topic. Very important and very interesting. Nowadays, many people use the words relational perspective, field perspective, and dialogical perspective. These are not exactly the same, not quite equivalent words. Of course, these are attempts to get out of the intrapsychic or individualistic approach. Now in France all psychotherapists are called relational psychotherapists. And the therapist who works with protocols, with encouraging phrases for the client – this is also a relational perspective. But this is not quite the same as the dialogical form.

And the problem with the concept of dialogue is that there are constant references to Martin Buber’s concept. And when he talked about the concept of “I-thou,” this is a very interesting concept, but Buber looked at it in a much more mystical way. In order for there to be a real dialogue, I see there are mainly two levels here. I will look at my client as a human being who is no more or less valuable than me. It is absolutely clear in my mind that as human beings we are equal. However, in the situation in which we will find ourselves, this equality will not exist. Because he comes to me, he has suffering, he has expectations directed towards me. And just as Martin Buber saw it, the relationship between “I” and “you,” who are equal people here, cannot take place here, because in therapy this is not yet the case. And when we talk about the “I-you” relationship, this will be an indicator that therapy is about to end or has already ended.

I will never forget how Isidor Fromm answered my question about how to understand that therapy is over. He had many answers to this question, but one of the ones he told me was that therapy is over when the patient begins to say something interesting. And I had to think about what he told me for several days, because he spoke like a Zen teacher, and his phrases had to be thought about as koans. And speaking of this, what should be understood is that if a client tells me about a book, a movie, or something else, and when the therapy is not finished yet, I will not be interested in either this book or the movie, but how the client uses it, to tell me something about myself. And when the therapy is finished, the client will tell me the truth about the book and it is about the book that I will listen. Do you feel the difference?

MB: I’ll try to continue this topic. Still, how would you describe the dialogue taking place in the field? How does it affect the field? What is dialogue, anyway? Does it have any value? Is there anything valuable behind this concept for you?

JMR: There is a big problem with the way you phrase it, when you say “in field” There are so many field concepts in the Gestalt therapy market that everyone uses this concept, but it never means the same thing. I often tell my students that I have been a Gestalt therapist for 45 years, and from the very beginning I was attracted and intrigued by the field perspective. And my coaches initially used the concept of “field” more like a slogan and could not really explain and show what it meant. And if you look at Perls’s work, at the films at the beginning of his practice, during the Esalen years, for example, there is no field perspective. And there we of course see the intrapsychic perspective, where the therapist knows what is good for you. This way, of course, you can do a good job, that’s not the question, but that’s a different perspective.

And when I started doing field perspective, I was initially terrified to dive into it. Because I already felt in advance that this would be a revolution in my life, in style, in my views, in everything. And I was also afraid of being isolated, of being alone in my community. And then I noticed that the field of Gestalt therapy began to stir a little around me. And I won’t lie to you, all these years I’ve been writing something about the field, writing articles, studying it, and every time I thought – now I understand what a field is! And six months later everything collapses. No, I didn’t understand anything, this is not it. And I started again. And then, six months later, I finally understood again! And everything collapses again.

I’ve lived this ten, twenty times. And today I think that I have understood what a field is, or, so to speak, I have made a choice. And when I say, “I made a choice,” it is such a polyphonic and multi-valued concept that I simply chose.

And now I understand that every time I misunderstood the concept of a field, it was when I gave it geographical connotation. As if the field is a unit that has boundaries. And when you say “in field”, you create such a geographical unit. Thisin field or not in the field. And whatnot in the field? From the moment it is named, it will arise, for example, in my field of awareness. And there is another very important element that, among all the possible definitions of the field, Perls and Goodman chose to talk to us about a certain type of field. And they designated it as a field “organism-environment” This is not a field – it is an “organism-environment” field. But the field simply does not exist. This someone’s field, someone’s field

It is very important that there is field of something, this could be the field of psychotherapy, it could be in the field of my neighbor, “in the field of something.” And it turns out that the “organism-environment” field is the field of the organism and what is its environment. And the organism is what manifests itself from the field and, to the same extent, the organism and creates an environment that will be its environment. This is such a mutual movement. And this is an indivisible movement. And for me today, a correct understanding of the field is a way that can be used to talk about a human being, about a person, and consider him inseparable from his environment.

Perls and Goodman in their book say “out of the field,” they don’t say “in the field.” It’s like the difference between being “in Toulouse” and being “from Toulouse”. If I say that I in Toulouse, it will be such a city, a geographical place. What if I say that I from Toulouse, then I consider myself something produced in Toulouse – I come from there.

And we “from the field” And it turns out that today in Gestalt therapy there is such a very large movement that unites people who talk about shared field. But this is all absurd. Because if this field is “organism-environment”, this field cannot be joint. We are in the same environment – this is true – but if the field is an “organism-environment”, then none of us will have the same identical field right here and now. For example, if we talk about the visual field, about the field of view, none of us will have the same vision when we are in the same environment.