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Recognizing Behavioral Patterns Part I

Updated on September 14, 2020
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Jacqueline Williamson graduated with a BBA in Personnel Admin., an MPA in HR Management and an MS in Education.


According to Hans Strupp, Ph. D., Vanderbilt University Psychologist:

“Psychotherapy is the systematic use of a human relationship for therapeutic purposes.”

Since the early days of psychoanalysis in the 1940s and 1950s, each decade has found a different method for approaching maladjusted behavior. Behavioral Therapy was popular in the 1960s. The Humanistic Schools were popular in the 1970s. Cognitive and Psychodynamic approaches, which were based primarily in psychoanalytic theory, were popular in the 1980s.

With only a very limited number of exceptions, it would seem that scientists have been unsuccessful, in a number of studies, to identify the superiority of any major school of therapy. For the treatment of specific problems such as, anxiety attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorders and phobias, psychologist Lester Luborsky and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania believe that Cognitive Therapy, which focuses on distorted thinking; and Behavioral Treatment, which targets specific symptoms is appropriate. (Reference i)

In a 1989 National Institute of Mental Health study comparing antidepressants with two forms of psychotherapy in treating depression, both cognitive and interpersonal therapy, which addresses social function, proved effective, with the interpersonal approach slightly ahead. But even the demonstrated differences remain small. (Reference ii)

This article will take an analytical look at counseling theories through what was been acquired through academic matriculation at the University of Memphis and personal observation. In choosing a this approach, I have given a lot of consideration to what has worked for others in the past, as well as, what I have learned through experimentation and surveillance.

The reference to theories used in this series is Theories and Strategies in Counseling and Psychotherapy (Third Edition), by Burl E. Gilliland, Richard K. James, both University of Memphis professors, and James T. Bowman, Mississippi State University professor.

(i) Goode, Erica E. and Wagner, Besty, Does Psychotherapy Work?”
U. S. News and World Report, Inc., 05-24-1993, pp. 56-65.

(ii) Goode, Erica E. and Wagner, Besty, Does Psychotherapy Work?”
U. S. News and World Report, Inc., 05-24-1993, pp. 56-65.

Can you accept personal responsibility?
Can you accept personal responsibility?

Gestalt Theory

The Gestalt Theory is based on the premise that individuals must find their own way in life and accept personal responsibility.

Key Concepts included:

(1) Here and now: focus on bringing the future and the past into the present via exercises.

(2) Awareness and responsibility: pay attention to “what” and “how” of your past and present experiences and not on “why”.

(3) Unfinished business and avoidance: how we avoid confronting a problem and miss fully experiencing uncomfortable emotions.

(4) Layers of neurosis: (phony, phobic) getting through facades and increasing awareness, thereby releasing tremendous energy. (Gilliland, et al. 1994).

There are some individuals however; who find difficulty in finding their own way in life and who also choose to delegate responsibility to others rather than accept personal responsibility.

There are people who easy revert to a past incident and remain stagnant in that point in time, unable to return to the “here and now”. Sometimes there is comfort in the past where situations were easily resolved by a parent, and there was no need to accept personal liability.

On many occasions the Gestalt Theory can be applied to situations where people have existed in a constant state of denial. Take for an example my friend Debra; the wife who blames her husband for many of the failures she has experienced in life. Debra holds fast to the belief that while trying to please her husband; she denies herself of the things that she would rather enjoy doing. Debra quits a good paying job; dresses to please him and attempts to stifle her creative thoughts in lieu of her spouse’s more archaic, self-serving ones.

Is unfinished business keeping you confused and unhappy?
Is unfinished business keeping you confused and unhappy?

Unfinished Business ...

Another aspect of the Gestalt Theory is dispensing with “unfinished business.” This allows an individual to resolve conflicts within themselves that they would not otherwise be able to resolve. One concept is to talk to an empty chair as if that person was sitting in it. Although you may not be able to fathom talking to an empty chair; perhaps you can sit down and write letters to individuals that you can no longer face physically; either due to death or estrangement.

Try writing letters to deceased parents, children, or siblings. This practice can also be applied to ex-spouses, ex-boy/girlfriends, and former acquaintances. In this way, you are able to express your thoughts unrestricted and try to comprehend the effect that each person has on your emotional development. With time you should be able to understand your feels regarding some of those individuals. You will discover that what you feel about yourself outweighs what they felt about you or the influence they had on you, whether positive or negative.

Which is really "you" and which is the "you" that is shown to the world?
Which is really "you" and which is the "you" that is shown to the world?

Getting Through Façades

According to the Gestalt Theory it is important to “get through façades”. One façade that many find most compelling is the constant need for approval. Although on the surface you may seem to be a person of self-assuredness and strong convictions; you may also be a person like Debra; tormented by the Fear demons. It is my sincere belief that if you cannot be accepted by your friends because of whom you are; then you need to cultivate other friendships. Sometimes, you will find that really appreciating “Me” is the hardest fear to overcome. The Fear of Failure is engrafted deep into the subconscious. Whether it’s not being able to pay your bills along with thoughts of losing your house or your car; it can be a constant burden to carry.

There are those who appear to the community as well-adjusted, well-educated and even successful people. However this proves to be just a façade. In reality, it may take enormous credit card debt and multiple incomes to maintain the appearance that will one day be unmasked and revealed.

Returning to my friend Debra, she is wearing the façade of the “happy homemaker.” When she attempts to be the type of person who her husband desires her to be; it is a façade and not her true self. With each attempt, she becomes more miserable and more consumed by her façade. She begins to lose her true identity and assumes the role of a person who is “in love with an image or concept.”

I believe that self-acceptance is the greatest of all goals for anyone to achieve! Because in order to accept who you are; you must also accept all of your quirks and your imperfections. I believe when this is accomplished; you will be able to sleep better, enjoy a better quality of life and find that you already possess what you have longed desired: Self Actualization.

William Shakespeare wrote: “To thine own self be true

So ... where do I go from here?
So ... where do I go from here?

In Summation

I believe, in a simplified version of the Gestalt Theory, that an increase awareness of your true self will allow you to get through your facades, complete unfinished business and appreciate who you really are.

Negative influences, I believe, are as destructive as positive influences are constructive! Take therefore, a positive look at yourself. Appreciate the fact that you are a wonderfully unique individual with characteristics that are truly your own and begin to fully appreciate that individuality!

In Part II we will examine other counseling theories.

© 2014 Jacqueline Williamson BBA MPA MS


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