Therapy is also an art

Therapy is also an art. It’s more of an art than it is a science. It takes a lot of intuition and sensitivity and an overall view means something very different from a piecemeal association approach. Being an artist is functioning holistically. And being a good therapist also means that.’ Laura Perls

 Inner truth

When I read this statement by one of the founders of Gestalt therapy I almost cried, it touched me so deeply. It confirms my inner truth that dawned on me when I became a therapist, but I did not dare to say it out loud to colleagues who appear to believe that therapy is a science.

 Who is Crazy?

My interest in life and human relations started by being the daughter of a veteran of WWII, who disappeared in a psychiatric institute when I was fourteen. If I knew one thing for certain it was that my beautiful, sensitive, intelligent father although he could behave rather outrageously – was NOT crazy, but the society we lived in was. Having experienced war as a child from age three to eight I know that life is serious and death is a reality. I know how cruel people can be, how blind and insensitive. Like my father I am passionately committed to exploring the drive behind the behaviour of people who have the power. My longing is to communicate and connect also with them. I want to understand why people can frustrate and even kill each other, rather than be considered crazy myself. According to Fritz Perls in Gestalt Therapy Verbatim* the theory of the five layers gives insight into what our undercurrent looks like and is hiding.

 

First Layer

The first layer is the cliché layer.

If we meet somebody, we exchange clichés like ‘How are you?´ with cliché answers like ´Good´ or ´ I am not allowed to complain´. The main aim is to be polite and behave.

 

Second Layer

In the second layer we play games and roles,

we are the son, the daughter, the husband, the eldest, the youngest, the beautiful girl, the strong man, the intelligent professor. In the roles we play ‘as if’ we are better, weaker, tougher, nicer than we really feel. The good thing about this layer is that we cannot do without it, we need it to function. Here we discover if we rather say Yes or No. If we make ourselves small or big. If we answer the expectations or not. It is a layer we can stay in till the day comes, that we discover that our once successful answers do not work anymore. We lose our job or our loved one or become ill and have to face the confusion of the impasse.

Third Layer

The third layer which is the impasse.

In this layer we feel stuck, lost, confused. We have a phobic attitude and try to avoid suffering. We do not want to be frustrated, we stay immature, we go on manipulating the world, rather than to suffer the pain of growing up. We prefer being looked after and do not realize our blindness and the possibility of getting our eyes back again. This is the difficulty in self therapy; when we come to the difficult parts, we are not willing to go through the pain of the impasse and think alcohol or drugs or food or money or sex can help.

 

Fourth Layer

The fourth layer is the implosive or the fear of death layer.

It appears as death because of the paralysis of opposing forces: Yes contra No. We pull ourselves together, we contract and compress ourselves and implode. Once we really get in contact with this deadness, something interesting happens:

the implosion becomes explosion. The death layer comes to life, and this explosion is the link up with the authentic person who is capable of experiencing and expressing his/her emotions.

 

Fifth Layer

In the fifth or the explosive layer

we can experience four basic kinds of explosions: we can explode into genuine grief if we work through a loss that has not been assimilated, into an orgasm if we were sexually blocked, into anger and into joy, laughter, joie de vivre. These explosions connect with the authentic personality, with the true self.

Do not be frightened by the word explosion. It means more setting into motion than explode to pieces. Exploring by writing the undercurrent is a way to experience it.