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Interactive Gestalt Group Therapy

2010 March 6
by Peter

At SICGT we specialize in Interactive Gestalt Group Therapy. This approach is quite different from the hotseat model of Gestalt Therapy that many people are familiar with. However, our approach is not unique to us by any means. An excellent collection of articles on Gestalt Group Therapy can be found in Beyond the Hot Seat Revisited edited by Bud Feder and John Frew.   Another very interesting source is a chapter on group work in Peter Philippson’s highly recommened new book The Emergent Self.

After years of working in the traditional gestalt model, we pursued further group therapy training at the Washington School of Psychiatry in Washington DC, and learned a great deal about approaching groups from a variety of perspectives:  a Systems perspective, an Intersubjective/Self Psychololgical perspective, a Kleinian/Object Relations, a post-modern Lacanian perspective, Yalom’s interpersonal approach and Bion’s analytic orientation.   Reading in these areas and experiencing workshops led by experts in these approaches was truly a life-changing experience for us.

This immersion brought us back to our Gestalt Group work with new enthusiasm and perspective.   We were impressed with the common intellectual roots that Gestalt Therapy shares with so much in the area of group therapy – see Elaine Kephner’s classic article “Gestalt Group Process” in Beyond the Hotseat for more on Gestalt’s common roots with other group therapy approaches.   Gestalt therapists may also be interested in  the contributions of S.H. Foulkes – founder of Group Analysis – his life and work contain many fascinating parallels to Fritz and Laura Perls.

What we learned and have incorporated deeply into our work is a style of group work that is less centered on the leader, more interactive, more oriented to group development and less predictable than our earlier work. Paradoxically, we feel that our study of other group theories and styles of leadership has brought us to an approach to group work that is far more consistent with gestalt therapy theory than the more leader centered hot-seat work that we used to work in.

Of course we have not thrown out the baby with the bath water.  There are still times when a powerful piece of work emerges between an individual group member and one of the group leaders.  However, when all of the work in group relates back to the leader, certain shadow elements may come into being that can be problematic.  The leader may become too powerful and unapproachable.  Guruism can set in.  Too much of the wisdom and knowledge that should be distributed among all group members can get located in the person of the leader while group members can become deskilled.  We have found that addressing the group as a whole, working with the process of group development, understanding the roles that group members can get caught in, and working more with feelings toward the leaders has helped us to do better Gestalt Group therapy.

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