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Section 7
Gestalt: Implementing Identification and Projection

Question 7 | Test | Table of Contents

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In the last section, we discussed four ways in which a therapist can respond to a client's nonverbal behavior during Gestalt therapy.  These four ways of responding were: indicating how the client's nonverbal behavior is congruent with what is being said; responding to discrepancies between verbal and nonverbal behavior; pointing out nonverbal behavior when the client is not speaking; and distracting or interrupting the client.

In this section, we will discuss four Gestalt methods of implementing Identification and Projection.  These four Gestalt methods are: identifying with an object, identifying with a person, identifying with a part of the self, and identifying with a nonverbal behavior.

I have found that using projection to enhance identifications is a useful tool for increasing a client's awareness of his or her "now."  By "becoming" an object of identification, the client can experience and clarify which aspects of the object he or she assumes as his or her own.  Additionally, by becoming something he or she dislikes, the client can increase his or her awareness about part of him or herself that he or she is less willing to recognize and accept.

Four Methods of Implementing Identification and Projection

♦ Method #1 -Identifying with an Object
The first method of implementing Identification and Projection that I use with my clients is identifying with an object.  Remember Larry, from Section 3, who was having difficulty adjusting to a forced early retirement? I invited Larry to try the Identify with an Object technique. I stated, "Larry, let's try an experiment about who you are. Pick an object in this office that you would like to work with."  Larry chose a side table under the window. I stated, "I'd like you to study the side table closely for a few minutes. Then we'll pretend you are the side table…. OK, side table, tell me about yourself."

Larry stated, "Well, I'm made out of strong, light wood.  I have a glossy finish.  My legs have interesting designs carved into them." I then asked Larry to tell me what kinds of things he did as a side table.  Larry stated, "Mostly I sit here and hold up a few things, like a vase of flower and a sculpture." Next, I asked Larry to tell me things he liked about himself as a side table. 

Larry stated, "I'm useful.  By holding up the vase, I make the office a more comfortable place to be.  And I'm interesting.  People like to look at me."  I then asked Larry what he disliked.  Larry stated, "I don't have a choice about what I'm used for.  I have to wait for someone to come and decide for me.  And I'm not strong enough to be really useful.  I can't hold up books or tools." As you can see, as Larry moved from describing the physical characteristics of the side table, he began to attribute characteristics of himself to the side table. 

By attributing his feelings of not being strong enough to the side table, Larry's awareness of his feelings of inadequacy was increased. We were then able to move into a discussion about Larry's concern that his heart condition made him unable to do what he described as "useful" work.

♦ Method #2 - Identify with a Person
A second method of implementing Identification and Projection is identifying with another person.  As you know, this is sometimes referred to as role reversal. Identifying with another person can be a good way to work with interpersonal relationships. I have found that encouraging a client to identify with a person with whom he or she is in conflict, the client may discover similarities which can contribute to a mutual understanding. Likewise, the client may discover differences between him or herself and the other which need to be taken into account in conflict resolution.

♦ Method #3 - Identify with a Part of the Self
In addition to identifying with an object and identifying with another person, a third method of implementing Identification and Projection in Gestalt therapy is identifying with a part of the self.  Daniel, age 25, came to therapy after experiencing a severe panic attack that resulted in a trip to the emergency room.  During one of our recent sessions, Daniel mentioned that he had to be careful of his temper, because if he let it go, "all hell broke loose". 

When I asked Daniel what he did with this part of himself, he stated that he simply kept it in check.  Because Daniel was closing off his temper, I asked him to try the identifying with this part of himself.  I stated, "Daniel, I'd like you to try being your temper.  Imagine yourself as your temper and describe yourself."  Daniel stated that he was a lot of anger, at that when he was touched off he could do things like storming around and throwing things.  He stated that people had to watch out for him, so he had to be kept hidden all the time. 

I asked Daniel to explain how being hidden all the time made him feel.  Daniel stated, "It doesn't feel good!  Sometimes I feel like I am going to burst!"  I stated, "What would happen if you did burst?"  Daniel replied, "I'd probably come out at my girlfriend, Leah.  She's been giving me all kinds of crap lately for how I dress and my job and my friends!!"

I stated to Daniel, "What would coming out at your girlfriend do for you, Daniel?" Daniel stated, "I'm not sure.  But I think I'd feel better about myself instead of taking all that crap."  Clearly, Daniel had been cutting off an appropriate expression of anger, at the cost of his self-esteem.  By experiencing himself as his temper, Daniel was able to open a discussion of the difference between appropriate expressions of anger from outbursts of inappropriate anger.  Would this technique of identifying with a part of the self be useful for your Daniel?

♦ Method #4 - Identify with a Nonverbal Behavior
A fourth method of implementing Identification and Projection in Gestalt therapy is identifying with a nonverbal behavior. This method is very similar to identifying with a part of the self. Through identifying with a nonverbal behavior such as shuffling the feet, a shaking head, or rapid speech, a client can give this behavior a voice and feelings. I have found that this can enhance the client's awareness of a particular nonverbal behavior, and enhance self-understanding. Would you agree?

In this section, we have discussed four methods of implementing Identification and Projection in Gestalt therapy.  These four methods are: identifying with an object, identifying with a person, identifying with a part of the self, and identifying with a nonverbal behavior.

in the next section, we will discuss three techniques for implementing fantasy situations to increase a client's awareness.  The three techniques are, the introductory scene, the Stump-Cabin-Stream technique, and the positive withdrawal.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Cramer, P. (2020). Externalizing/projection; internalizing/identification: An examination. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 37(3), 207–211. 

Elliott, R. (2014). Review of Gestalt therapy in clinical practice: From psychopathology to the aesthetics of contact [Review of the book Gestalt therapy in clinical practice: From psychopathology to the aesthetics of contact, by G. Francesetti, M. Gecele & J. Roubal, Eds.]. Psychotherapy, 51(3), 462–463. 

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.

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 four Gestalt methods of implementing Identification and Projection? To select and enter your answer go to Test.

Section 8
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