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Section 3
Strategies for Enhancing Awareness in Gestalt Therapy

Question 3 | Test | Table of Contents

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In the last section, we discussed three important considerations in approaches for enhancing a client's present awareness.  These three considerations are, awareness helps in focusing on the "now", awareness of self, and awareness of surroundings. 

In this section, we will discuss three Gestalt techniques that can enhance a client's awareness during the counseling session itself.  These three techniques are repeating, exaggeration, and staying with.

Three Techniques to Enhance Awareness

♦ Technique #1 - Repeating
The first technique that can help enhance a client's awareness during counseling is Repeating. As you know, repeating a behavior can help a client explore and expand his or her awareness of the personal meaning of the behavior. Clearly, what may seem to be an inadvertent behavior or a behavior made in passing may conceal a message the client misses.

Suzanne, who I mentioned in the last section, came to a recent session upset about her grades. Her mid-term scores indicated that she was barely passing. Listen to how I used repeating with Suzanne to increase her awareness of her feelings.

-- I stated to Suzanne, "You mentioned that your grades were dropping.  What's going on at school?"
-- "I dunno."
-- "Would you say that again?"
-- "I said, I don't know."
-- "Once more."
-- "I don't know!"
-- "Again."
-- "I don’t know!  Dammit, stop pushing me!  You're as bad as those teachers who won't leave me the hell alone!"
-- "Tell me more about what you are feeling."

Do you see how by having Suzanne repeat "I don't know," she was able to get in touch with the frustration she had been feeling about her classes, and transfer it on to me?  Once Suzanne was aware of this feeling of frustration, we were able to explore this frustration in our session.  Would your Suzanne benefit from the use of the Repeating technique?

♦ Technique #2 - Exaggeration
The second technique that can enhance a client's awareness during counseling is Exaggeration. In a later session, I asked Suzanne how she was doing in her classes.  Suzanne stated, "Well, ok, I guess."  When I asked Suzanne to give me an example, she replied that she had received an A- on a paper she had recently turned in for her Composition class. 

-- I stated, "Tell me what you just said again."
-- "I got an A- on my Composition paper."
-- "What do you feel as you say that?"
-- "Sort of good. Kinda proud, I guess."
-- "I'd like you to try something. Boast to me about your paper. Tell me how great you did.  You might feel a little funny at first, but try it a little. Let's see what happens."
-- "Umm, ok… well, I worked real hard at my paper. It was important to me, and when's something is important to me I can do it. I took great notes and did good research! I guess I'm not as dumb as some people think. I proved it by acing that paper! I'm actually pretty smart!"
-- "Tell me more about how smart you are."

Notice how having Suzanne use Exaggeration helped her increase her awareness of her feelings of accomplishment and pride. Clearly, you can use the Exaggeration technique for hurt, anger, or any other feelings the client has not allowed him or herself to be aware of.  You can also use exaggeration to draw clients' awareness to their nonverbal behaviors. 

As you know, some clients may feel awkward regarding exaggerating at first.  I find that staging the exercise is helpful.  By "staging" I mean telling your Suzanne she might feel a little funny at first.  This staging offers the client the support he or she needs to try the technique.

♦ Technique #3 - Staying With
In addition to Repeating and Exaggerating, the third technique that I find can enhance a client's awareness during counseling is the concept of Staying With. As you have experienced, some clients may keep themselves from attending to unpleasant feelings  This avoidance of unpleasant feelings prevents them from expressing this feeling, and making discoveries related to these unpleasant feelings.  As you know, of course, by encouraging the client to stay with his or her feeling, a therapist can assist the client in expanding to his or her self-awareness.

Anita, age 32, began therapy after the birth of her second child. She described frequently feeling "numb" or "disconnected."  In a recent session, I asked Anita to describe activities she enjoyed. 

-- Anita stated, "Well, I used to enjoy visiting my neighbor, Joanne. She has kids about the ages of mine. But she moved three states away last month.  Now that she's moved, I don't think about her very much."
-- "What do you feel as you mention Joanne now?"
-- "Well, I miss her and that makes me a little sad. Oh well.  Like I said, I don't think about Joanne much now that she's moved."
-- "Can you let yourself stay with this feeling of sadness?"
-- "But, I don’t like to feel sad."
-- "I know.  No one does. But you seem to have quite a bit of sadness here. Just try staying with the sadness."
-- "I do feel a little sadness."
-- "Try saying, 'I am sad right now.'"
-- "Yes. I am sad!"
-- "Now try saying, 'I have things to be sad about.'"
-- "I do!  Joanne was the only person I could really talk to! She understood me. I miss her so much it hurts!"

As you observed, by staying with her feeling of sadness, Anita was able to allow her sadness to come to the foreground.  By doing so, Anita was eventually able to discover that she could think about Joanne without feeling sad.  I also found that this technique enhanced Anita's awareness of her need to have someone she could talk to. Without being aware of this need for a confidant, Anita may not have been able to mobilize to fill her need.  Agree? 

Would your Anita benefit from the Staying With technique?

In this section, we have discussed three techniques that can enhance a client's awareness during counseling.  These three techniques were repeating, exaggeration, and staying with.

In the next section, we will discuss three instances in which changing words when speaking can increase self-awareness.  These five instances are: changing "it" to "I", changing "can't" to "won't", and changing "have to" to "choose to".

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Tønnesvang, J., Sommer, U., Hammink, J., & Sonne, M. (2010). Gestalt therapy and cognitive therapy—Contrasts or complementarities? Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 47(4), 586–602. 

Tsai, M., Callaghan, G. M., & Kohlenberg, R. J. (2013). The use of awareness, courage, therapeutic love, and behavioral interpretation in functional analytic psychotherapy. Psychotherapy, 50(3), 366–370.

White, B. A., Miles, J. R., Frantell, K. A., Muller, J. T., Paiko, L., & LeFan, J. (2019). Intergroup dialogue facilitation in psychology training: Building social justice competencies and group work skills. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 12(2), 180–190.

Widiger, T. A., & Crego, C. (2019). The bipolarity of normal and abnormal personality structure: Implications for assessment. Psychological Assessment, 31(4), 420–431. 

Williams, E. N., Hurley, K., O'Brien, K., & DeGregorio, A. (2003). Development and Validation of the Self-Awareness and Management Strategies (SAMS) Scales for Therapists. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 40(4), 278–288.

Zoubaa, S., Dure, S., & Yanos, P. T. (2020). Is there evidence for defensive projection? The impact of subclinical mental disorder and self-identification on endorsement of stigma. Stigma and Health. Advance online publication.

What are three techniques that can help enhance a client's awareness during counseling? To select and enter your answer go to Test.

Section 4
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