On Nov. 8, Eastern Washington University at Bellevue College hosted a lecture from EWU Psychology Professor Dr. Gail Hicks. EWU often holds psychology lectures here at BC, and this quarter’s topic was Gestalt therapy.
“How many people in the audience are hoping at some point to be a therapist?” asked Hicks as she commenced the lecture. Acknowledging the few raised hands, she added, “Whether you choose to be a therapist or not, the approaches to gestalt therapy can be very useful in your daily life, if you’re in teaching, or in business or if you’re a family member.”
Hicks explained a bit about the origins of Gestalt therapy, how German-born psychiatrist Fritz Perls is widely considered the father of this method. Fritz and wife Laura started the first Gestalt therapy institute in New York. Fritz originally intended to call the technique existential therapy because many of his ideas were congruent with the existential thought of the day. He disapproved of Freudian interpretation.
“Interpretation had to do with how the past influenced you and focused on the past,” explained Hicks, “and that’s not how Fritz or Laura experienced life, they lived very much in the present…they closed with the existential movement, because the existential movement said ‘We need to recognize that we’re mortal, we only have a limited time on the earth.’” Perls settled on the name Gestalt therapy because there was already a therapy named “existential therapy” at the time.
“One of the principles that’s important in both Gestalt psychology and Gestalt therapy is that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts,” said Hicks, “Each of us is here for this 50-minute period as a part of the group that’s here, but what happens here will be more than each of our separate parts, and I hope you contribute a lot.” Indeed, Hicks gave the audience many opportunities to contribute. She first demonstrated the appropriate sitting position for Gestalt therapy: feet flat on the floor, back straight without resting against the chair, and hands resting on the thighs. The purpose of this sitting position is to maximize energy. In Gestalt therapy, energy is required for self-awareness. It is self-awareness that Gestalt therapy is concerned with, for the purpose of making self-informed and responsible decisions in our lives, a theme that is concurrent with existentialism.
Attendees sitting next to each other were then given roles of either “expert therapist” or simply “nut,” and were encouraged to try out some of the techniques that Hicks was explaining. The key question of Gestalt therapy, Hicks believes, is “What are you aware of now?” and if not, “Would you like to know?” Attendees took turns asking each other these and similar questions while noting their partners responses.
Student Martin Summers said of the event, “I came because it seemed really interesting and I wanted to get a better grasp on how psychologists just approach their patients.” Another student, Paul Njoku, said, “I came just because I wanted to hear what it was all about, I’ve always heard about and read about Gestalt therapy and I just wanted to experience it I guess.” Njoku explained the most engaging part of the lecture for him, “How she, flowed the instructions with actually having people kind of practice it.”
EWU usually puts on these types of lectures once per quarter. Said Education Outreach Advisor Amy Lonn-O’Brien, “We try and have these lectures every quarter to really get the community, the Bellevue College community and the Eastern community kind of together to learn about a topic that is interesting, and hopefully kind of engages people to learn more about psychology…we try to present it as a kind of community event that everyone can get involved in.”