Gestalt therapy as a valuable tool for Spiritual Direction

Freud stressed

Freud's conception of the mind

the mind and its inner recesses.  This left little room for the whole person who ought to have been the focus of his therapy. He was obsesses with the libido and genital fixations of his patients. It is too well known that he was also compulsively occupied with the infantile histories of his patients. Psychoanalysis including that of Melanie Klein

Melanie Klein herself had a very disturbed childhood and adulthood suffering many depressive episodes

stressed childhood events over the psychic life of the patients in the here and the now. As an illustration, she uses such terms as the combined parent figure instead of the Freudian Oedipal construct (the child, according to her is

One of the traumatic events in the life of an infant according to Klein is to see both parents having sex

traumatised seeing the copulation of both the parents); she talks of the child moving from the schizoid –paranoidposition to the

The disturbed child

depressive position. For the infant, according to Klein the breast that feeds the child ( the good breast) forms an imagoof it and the breast that is withdrawn is perceived as a bad breast since the child thinks that it is withdrawn because it is hated.

The Kleinian good breast

W. Ronald D. Fairbairn (1889-1964), a Scottish psychoanalyst saw this entire projection of the Kleinian defensive techniques and the failure to negotiate it meaningfully as giving rise to mental disorders.  This in turn rudimentarily proves the piecemeal approach of psychoanalysis.  The spiritual director has to be careful in not treating the client in this piecemeal manner. Psychoanalysis is only suitable for certain disorders and not for others. For example, it has hardly anything to offer to the severely psychotic patient or to autistic individuals (this notwithstanding the contrary claims of psychoanalysts). Freud himself expressed his frustration over psychotic patients and if the truth be told he had once written that psychoanalysis was good for his finances and did little for the neurotics that he encountered in practice. Gestalt therapy on the other hand is much more suitable to the spiritual directee and director dyad. God wants to deal with the whole human person in the here and the now and if we are to believe theologians of all major religions then S/he has already forgotten our pasts and loves us unconditionally in the present. Within Hinduism, the active Godhead, the Prakriti part of the false binary of the Purusha/Prakriti loves us individually. In Buddhist metaphysics, the Bodhisattvas are concerned with every individual living creature attaining Nirvana. So the Transcendent, the Divine wants to embrace even the inhospitable Other in a very personal way. Gestalt therapy is a concrete way forward for the spiritual director to embrace the soul of the client not as client but as an imago of the director’s own self. Clinical distance is then necessarily effaced.

A Gestalt approach to life is whole above the sum of its parts and is a perception of the beholding senses and not merely a given reality. It is a concept which developed through the German poet Goethe (1749-1832) and then through the Austrian philosopher and psychologist Ernst Mach (1838-1916) and later through the influential writings of Christian von Ehrenfels (1859- 1932). Max Wertheimer (1880- 1943) popularised the movement beyond Europe. The advantage that Gestalt therapy provides over other forms of psychotherapy is that it deals with the subjective state of the client in her totality. Thus when the spiritual director takes this approach and relates to the client, s/he cannot stop at just enquiring of the mental/spiritual state of the directee. Naturally the director has to evaluate every aspect of the client’s life: how is her health? how is her energy level? does she feel tired too often? Is s/he able to achieve life goals? how is her relationship with others in the here and the now? what does s/he think of current affairs? where does s/he think the spiritual direction going? How is her relationship with her boyfriend/husband/children/parents/lesbian or gay partners? why does s/he have unprotected sex?  is s/he happy in her job/family life? where does s/he see herself in relationship to the poor (remember that spiritual guidance unlike secular counselling is oriented to the Other drawing its life spirit from the emptying of the self or kenosis, the total giving of the self for other like

St. Francis's attitude is what we seek in spiritual counselling

St. Francis of Assisi who gave away all his clothes to a naked leper he encountered and then went on to embrace the latter. King Gautama gave away all he had to embark on

The Buddha first gave away everything

Buddhahood. Lord Mahavira, the last of the Tirthankaras or forge-builders gave away his last stitch of cloth to embrace humanity at large). Gestalt therapy provides the space for the spiritual seeker and the guide to both see reality as it is, not empirically but through the lens of the heart. It helps breakdown the maze of reason and logic which hide the wiles of the human heart.

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