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A psychotherapy intervention can be seen as defined by the therapist´s attitude, an attitude which is adopted by the therapist before the intervention actually appears as an observable phenomenon. When I meet a colleague or a friend and ask him «How are you?», it is not a therapeutic intervention. It is not because the setting of our meeting is not a therapeutic one and also because my attitude is not a therapeutic one. My mind-body-set does not provide a background for what I am saying as a therapeutic intervention. I may not be interested at all in how the other is. I may be interested in it, but I am not open to really listening to his experience. Nor am I ready to offer myself to be transformed by sharing his experience and to open a space for an existential meeting. On the contrary, when I ask my client «How are you?», it is a therapeutic intervention. Before I pronounce the words, I first set a ground in my mind-body-set for such a question and this makes the question an intervention.
There are ‘different kinds of interventions’. We can see the differences as dependant on different mind-body-sets of the therapist. The above-mentioned one of openness to an existential meeting provides a ground for a dialogical intervention made within an existential-dialogical approach, an approach that has presented a mainstream during the last decades in Gestalt therapy. This mainstream can be considered as a necessary pendulum reaction to the risk of the over-use of techniques. During the sixties and seventies of the last century, when Gestalt therapy was becoming popularised and codified, the original creative expression of Fritz Perls’ momentary insight (e.g. empty chair, two chairs, top dog/under dog) became applied rigidly as techniques. Fritz Perls was later criticized for his contribution to this distortion of the Gestalt approach[1]

Un intervento psicoterapeutico può essere visto come definito dall’atteggiamento del terapeuta, un atteggiamento che viene adottato dal terapeuta prima che l’intervento appaia effettivamente come un fenomeno osservabile

However, the pendulum may have swung too far. The dialogical approach becomes honoured and the experimental approach is sometimes shrugged off by saying that everything is an experiment. Such an approach would disable the opportunity to systematically explore and develop experiment as a specific intervention within the Gestalt approach. Developing procedural guidelines in the sense of flexible, adjustable manuals, seems to be a growing-edge challenge for Gestalt therapy[2]. This text presents an attempt to introduce the conditions necessary on the therapist´s side for an effective use of an experiment. Specifically, the text will offer inspiration on how to ‘set a therapist´s mind-body’ to an ‘experimental mode’ before actually offering an experiment to the client. Different ways, such as grounding in the here-and-now, active suggesting, openness to discoveries, courage for creativity and strategic leadership will be introduced.[3]
Moreover, the use of an experiment will also be described from the perspective of my current understanding of field theory as a way of perceiving the total situation[4], currently more specifically defined as the concept of a situation in Gestalt therapy theory[5]. Such a theoretical stance presumes that there is something new that appears in a meeting of people that transcends the persons involved. The whole of the situation is more than the sum of the people who meet each other. Moreover, the situation is ever changing from one moment to the next. This constant change, the flow of the situation, follows its own dynamics and the involved people are transformed by it, they are functions of the situation. In our case, the therapist´s momentary creative inspiration for an experiment can be seen as functions of the situation dynamics. In this sense, how an experiment can be seen as offered by the situation will be introduced.

Questo testo presenta un tentativo di introdurre le condizioni necessarie dal lato del terapeuta per un uso efficace
di un esperimento. Nello specifico, il testo offrirà ispirazione su come “impostare il corpo e la mente di un terapeuta”
su una “modalità sperimentale” prima di offrire effettivamente un esperimento al cliente

Una tale posizione teorica presuppone che ci sia qualcosa di nuovo che emerge in un incontro di persone, che trascende le persone coinvolte. La situazione complessiva è più della somma delle persone che si incontrano

Experiment as an integral part of the Gestalt therapist´s work
Gestalt therapy builds upon Martin Buber’s[6] synthetic thesis of dialogical existence and uses Buber’s principles of the dialogical relationship within therapy[7]. At the same time, Gestalt therapy works with more directive, task-oriented and risk-taking interventions, when the therapist offers the client a particular, more or less structured task and leaves the outcome open. It is this delicate, creative balance that is characteristic of the Gestalt therapy approach.

A balance between the dialogical meeting of two unique human beings and the more active, task-oriented and risk-taking style through which the therapist influences the process more directly. Such an approach can even help to transcend the historical/theoretical dichotomy between relational and behavioural approaches[8]. Although Gestalt therapy has developed this approach in a specific way, generally it is not alone in adopting it. Currently, an entire group of experiential therapies are being characterized this way[9].
The ‘dialogic and experimental dimensions’ can be seen as polarities in the Gestalt approach. At a certain moment, one polarity can be more in the foreground and the other more in the background, in the next moment they can change their positions within the ongoing process of the therapeutic relationship. The unique contribution of the Gestalt approach lies in the therapist´s flexibility in the differentiated use of both the dialogical and the task-oriented polarities, in the continuous creative movement between them depending on the situation here and now in the therapeutic relationship. Both the polarities are always present in the Gestalt therapy approach creating a lively tension between ‘is-ness and doing’[10], between the Eastern focus on awareness of being in the here and now and the Western emphasis on action and doing[11].
Joseph Zinker[12] speaks about stretching the self-concept during the individual development. When the one polarity is accepted and honoured it also enables the exploration and full development of the other polarity. We can expand this concept to the development of Gestalt therapy as a whole. The dialogical and experimental approaches do not rule each other out, on the contrary, they strengthen each other. The use of experiments can even be seen as a specific Gestalt therapy competency for working with the psychotherapy relationship, when the therapist is able to support the intentionality of contact by custom-tailored and creative experiments[13].

È questo equilibrio delicato e creativo che caratterizza l’approccio della terapia della Gestalt. Un equilibrio tra l’incontro dialogico di due esseri umani unici e lo stile più attivo, orientato al compito e al rischio attraverso il quale il terapeuta influenza processo in maniera più diretta

Il contributo unico dell’approccio gestaltico risiede nella flessibilità del terapeuta nell’uso differenziato sia delle polarità dialogiche che di quelle orientate al compito, nel continuo movimento creativo tra di loro a seconda del qui e ora nella relazione terapeutica

An honest interest in the client as a unique human being, combined with the building of authentic contact with them, creates the necessary foundation for using experiments that direct the therapeutic process towards the client´s new, fresh experience. Such an experience offers yet another opportunity for a genuine personal encounter within the therapeutic relationship, because it appears in the presence of the therapist and is co-created by both the client and the therapist. The client can feel that they are accepted and so learns to accept themselves with the new, often surprising experience that was discovered through the experiment. This text is dedicated to the experiment and so it intentionally focuses on one polarity. However, it needs to be read with the awareness that the dialogical dimension is an ever-present component of the Gestalt therapeutic approach too, although at the time of using an experiment it withdraws into the background.
The ‘experimental dimension’ lies in the very foundations of Gestalt therapy. According to Laura Perls[14], Gestalt therapists may include a tremendous variety of therapeutic interventions in their work, as long as these are existential-phenomenological, experiential and experimental. Miriam Polster[15] perceives awareness, contact, and experiment as the three fundamental therapeutic instruments of the Gestalt therapy approach. Malcolm Parlett[16] describes five creative abilities: responding, inter-relating, self-recognising, embodying and experimenting. Melnick[17] considers the concept of experiment as an essential ingredient of both creativity and the Gestalt therapy method. Also, Robine[18] finds the concept of experiment at the heart of the Gestalt therapy method. Amendt-Lyon[19] sees the search for novelty using creativity, especially artistic methods, as fundamental to the Gestalt approach. Many others could be quoted.

L’uso di esperimenti può anche essere visto come una competenza specifica della terapia della Gestalt per lavorare con la relazione psicoterapica, quando il terapeuta è in grado di supportare l’intenzionalità del contatto tramite esperimenti personalizzati e su misura.
Un sincero interesse per il paziente come un essere umano unico, unito alla costruzione di un autentico contatto, crea le basi necessarie per l’utilizzo di esperimenti che indirizzano il processo terapeutico verso una sua nuova e fresca esperienza

The general experimental dimension of Gestalt therapy with its systematic curiosity and openness to the unique responses of each client in each moment is part of the phenomenological approach[20] and so it constitutes one of the basic resources in Gestalt therapy. However, the general experimental dimension of a Gestalt approach needs to be distinguished from the experimental methodological approach[21]. If we were to stay with the general experimental attitude, assuming that every psychotherapist´s intervention is in a way experimental, we would miss the chance to develop the methodology of ‘experiment as a specific intervention’. By identifying clearly the intentions, indications, procedure and also the risks and limits of experiment[22] we create a basis for a systematic use and research-based evaluation of this specific aspect of Gestalt therapy.
An experiment in Gestalt therapy is an active intervention that furthers the collaborative exploration of a client´s experience[23]. It is a systematically and appropriately used intervention that can offer a chance to unblock rigid processes and enhance the client’s sense of choice[24]. Experiment is integrated in the whole of the psychotherapy process and can effectively be used only when based on a safe, supportive and trustful therapeutic relationship. The basic procedure when using experiment is exploring and learning through doing, and the basic starting point when creating an experiment is to be process-oriented. Metaphorically, experiment can be seen as an adventurous common journey for both the client and the therapist, starting in the here and now situation, continuing through a creative indifference and aiming towards an unplanned discovery.
Gestalt therapy is still regarded by other psychotherapeutic approaches as being primarily based on the use of techniques. This misunderstanding occurs when creatively discovered experiments are mistaken for behaviour modification procedures. The process of creating experiments within the field of a therapeutic relationship may be difficult for therapists from other psychotherapeutic approaches to understand. They may view the work of a Gestalt therapist through the lens of the medical model, where a technique is prescribed to cure a symptom. However, they also point to an important point for us, Gestalt therapists, since the danger of an experiment being ‘frozen into a technique’[25] is always present in our work, if the experiment is seen as a cure in itself[26]. It is essential that our approach differentiate between routine and creative style, between technique and experiment[27].
Distinguishing between ‘technique and experiment’ is necessary in elaborating the specific methodology of experiment. Technique is an exercise prepared in advance that therapists can employ if they want to induce a particular state, or to direct the client to a particular aim. For example, a relaxation exercise at the beginning of a group therapeutic session aiming to physically relax the clients and focus them on the present experience.
However, experiment is a ‘creative adventure’ when the therapist suggests to the client, «Do this, to see what you experience», and not «Do this in order to change»[28]. Experiment is not applied as a healing procedure for the client. Although there are general intentions such as raising awareness and activating unused resources, the concrete content of such new awareness and the specific kinds of activated resources remain unknown and can only be

L’uso di esperimenti può anche essere visto come una competenza specifica della terapia della Gestalt per lavorare con la relazione psicoterapica, quando il terapeuta è in grado di supportare l’intenzionalità del contatto tramite esperimenti personalizzati e su misura.
Un sincero interesse per il paziente come un essere umano unico, unito alla costruzione di un autentico contatto, crea le basi necessarie per l’utilizzo di esperimenti che indirizzano il processo terapeutico verso una sua nuova e fresca esperienza

Metaforicamente, l’esperimento può essere visto come un avventuroso viaggio comune, sia per il paziente che per il terapeuta, iniziando nel qui e ora della situazione, continuando attraverso un’indifferenza creativa e mirando a una scoperta non pianificata

discovered during the process of the experiment. Our basic attitude is to embrace uncertainty and to be unendingly curious[29]. The fundamental ability of the therapist when using an experiment is to abandon efforts to bring the experiment to a particular, desired outcome, because the experiment essentially aims at process goals[30] that cannot be planned. The therapist allows what emerges between client and therapist to guide the therapy process[31]. Gestalt therapists´ creativity is not embedded in the client, or the therapist, rather it presents a novel, daring, courageous, and intuitive process, it is a field phenomenon[32]. When both the therapist and the client together make a courageous step as an attempt to expand contact possibilities and awareness, to actively bring something novel, to focus on something that attracts them both and creates something that transcends them, this step is called an experiment[33].
Here yet another substantial feature that differentiates experiment from technique appears. Technique is usually prepared by the therapist in advance, whereas an experiment is co-created by both the therapist and the client in the here-and-now situation. Although the therapist actively structures the therapy process and offers the client a particular task, the gradual development of the experiment is flexible and is not controlled by either the client or the therapist[34]. An experiment is born out of the process of the therapeutic relationship[35] when the mutual relationship becomes a laboratory in which experiment forms organically.
A creative experiment emerges from the therapist´s contact with the client and is not selected from a set of standardized interventions, known to produce a standard reaction[36], techniques however can be used as an inspiration for experiment. A therapist can store for themselves a pool of useful techniques, such as externalizing inner dialogue through two chairs, repeating a deflecting sentence again with “I” in the beginning, or many others. When the therapist is not applying a pre-prepared technique to solve a problem, but stays open in the here-and-now therapy situation with the client and the idea of a technique arrives as an inspiration, a ‘frozen’ technique can be ‘warmed up’ again into a creative experiment.

Il nostro atteggiamento di base è abbracciare l’incertezza e essere infinitamente curiosi

Quando sia il terapeuta che il paziente fanno un passo coraggioso come tentativo di espandere la consapevolezza e le possibilità di contatto, di portare qualcosa di nuovo, di focalizzarsi su qualcosa che li attrae entrambi e crea qualcosa che
li trascende, questo passo è chiamato un esperimento

Lo sviluppo graduale dell’esperimento è flessibile e non è controllato né dal cliente né dal terapeuta

An experiment is a natural part of the work of the Gestalt therapist and so it´s a natural part of the co-created flow of a dialogical meeting of the client and the therapist. An experiment loses its essential existential quality when it is extracted and isolated from the whole of the psychotherapy process. However, if we want to use experiment competently and to make use of its whole potential, we need to explore it as a specific intervention with its procedures, benefits and limits. To cultivate our use of experiment, we need to become aware of delicate details when using it, of the steps in creating it, of the appropriate and inappropriate conditions for using it. We cannot rely only on an intuitive creative work, we need to make explicit the skills needed for the use of an experiment. And then, when meeting the client, we need to rely on our therapeutic competence to forget all this theory and use our intuitive insights and creative freedom to enjoy the adventure of the experiment together with the client.

Un esperimento perde la sua qualità esistenziale essenziale quando viene estratto e isolato dall’intero processo psicoterapeutico

This text is presented as an attempt to ‘rehabilitate’ experiment as a specific intervention in Gestalt therapy and an integral part of Gestalt therapy approach. It is based on an existing wide literature base focusing on the creative aspects of Gestalt therapy in general and on potentials, limits, and general rules for the use of experiment in particular[37]. This text complements the existing literature and focuses on one aspect of the methodology of experiment: how the therapist prepares the ground for an experiment in her own mind.

Questo testo è presentato come un tentativo di “riabilitare” l’esperimento come intervento specifico nella terapia della Gestalt e parte integrante dell’approccio alla terapia della Gestalt

Establishing the therapist´s mind-body-set for an experiment

We can start by clarifying how and when an experiment can be useful for a client. What are our ‘intentions for using an experiment’ in the therapy process? As therapists, we are in a paradoxical situation. On the one hand, we do not push an experiment towards a pre-conceived outcome, on the other hand, we do not use an experiment just incidentally but with our aware intention. We do not direct the experiment towards a particular content indicating what the client should discover, but we aim the experiment at process goals discovering new ways that can be revealed through the experiment.
Experiment in Gestalt therapy is a therapeutic intervention where the therapist actively transforms the therapeutic situation. Experiment is used in the service of a general intention in the Gestalt therapy approach to ‘raise awareness’ and broaden the client´s freedom of choice. Using an experiment, the therapist accelerates the process of raising awareness and enables the client to gain a new awareness in a holistic way, which includes not only their thoughts but also their feelings and embodied experiences.
Each person’s unique way of contacting is regulated by a combination of habit/implicit awareness and focal awareness[38]. The habitual ways become actualized in the present therapy situation. By the use of an experiment they become more distinct and both their values and their limitations stand out more clearly for the client. Gestalt therapy focuses on the immediacy of experience, which is brought into awareness to challenge pre-existing patterns[39] using experiments to support this process. Simply raising awareness of the ways client´s habits are imprisoning them, together with the support and the safety of the therapeutic relationship, already opens a challenging situation for discovering new ways. A choice then opens for the client to step out of their fixed patterns through which they perceive and relate to themselves and their surroundings. By raising awareness through a holistically felt experience, an experiment creates a chance to step out of these fixed patterns and to enhance the client’s sense of choice.
Raising awareness is not the only intention of using experiments. Through an experiment the client also encounters an opportunity to get in touch with their neglected potentials and to start learning how to use them. This second intention of experiment is to create a safe place where the client can accept their anxiety around moving out of the familiar and risk ‘acting differently’[40]. When using experiment, the implicit message from the therapist to the client is: «Try something new, when you have the support for it»[41].
Experiment in Gestalt therapy can be seen as an integration of phenomenology and behaviourism[42] that uses experiential learning in the here-and-now therapy situation for a behavioural change. The change will not happen on the level of an explicit memory when only content is discussed in therapy[43]. The therapist focuses on the actually present experience because the repeated pattern can be changed only when it is activated in the implicit, procedural memory. Thanks to the support of the therapist, the client can dare to step out of their fixed behaviour. Through experiment, their own creativity is vitalized and becomes a resource for trying out new ways.

In quanto terapeuta, ci si trova in una situazione paradossale. Da una parte, non si vuole spingere un esperimento verso un risultato predefinito, dall’altra, non si usa un esperimento accidentalmente ma con un’intenzione consapevole

Utilizzando un esperimento, il terapeuta accelera il processo di sensibilizzazione e consente al paziente di acquisire una nuova consapevolezza in modo olistico, includendo non solo i pensieri ma anche i sentimenti e le esperienze incarnate

Semplicemente aumentando la consapevolezza dei modi in cui le abitudini del paziente lo stanno imprigionando, con il supporto e la sicurezza della relazione terapeutica, si apre già una situazione stimolante per la scoperta di nuove direzioni

Attraverso un esperimento, il paziente incontra anche un’opportunità per entrare in contatto con le proprie potenzialità trascurate e iniziare a capire come usarle. Questa seconda intenzione dell’esperimento è quella di creare un luogo sicuro in cui il paziente possa accettare la propria ansia uscendo dal familiare e rischiando di “agire in modo diverso”. Quando si usa un esperimento, il messaggio implicito dal terapeuta al paziente è: «Prova qualcosa di nuovo, quando ne hai il supporto»

Besides raising awareness and acting differently than usual, the experiment also offers the client a direct experience of being capable of making the change themselves, from their own resources. Clients are not subjects of change, they are ‘active agents’[44] who, thanks to therapy, mobilize their agency, their own ability to act differently than usual, their capacity to find their own way. In their research on how therapists conceptualize agency within the process of change, Williams and Levitt[45] described several principles across orientations designed to guide the therapist’s moment-by-moment decision making process for enhancing the client’s agency. One of them, ‘challenging and confronting to enhance awareness, reflection, and agency’, when applied to Gestalt therapy, identifies how experiment contributes to the process of change. Through the experience ‘I can make the change’ the client is encouraged and more self-supported. Their sense of ‘my life is in my hands’ is increased, their agency is enhanced through the challenging work in an experiment.
As already mentioned above, in the whole Gestalt of the psychotherapy process the dialogical and experimental attitudes complement each other like two hands working together. In the dialogical approach, the process of change is based on the transformation of ‘selfing’[46] through safe and accepting contact with the therapist, through being together without aiming[47]. At the moment when the experiment is suggested, the dialogical dimension of the meeting moves to the background. Instead, the experimental, task-oriented and risk-taking dimension comes to the foreground. The ‘task of the therapist’ also changes. For the limited time of the experiment they take more responsibility for directing the therapy process by actively structuring the present situation. The (ever present) asymmetry of the roles of therapist and client becomes more visible for the moment. The risk-taking component is of course present in every therapy meeting, but in Gestalt therapy it is stressed with specific intentions at certain moments in the therapy process. The challenging and exciting task for the Gestalt therapist is to use such changes in attitude with awareness and for the benefit of the client.

I pazienti non subiscono il cambiamento, sono “agenti attivi” che grazie alla terapia mobilitano il loro agire, la loro capacità di comportarsi in modo diverso dal solito e di trovare la propria strada

In their daily lives, people again and again find themselves in situations that invite or even push them to try something new and unexplored, to try stepping into a process that is unpredictable and cannot be planned in advance. The risky step they need to make in such situations seems necessary for their growth, sometimes even for their survival. They need to «step outside of one’s self» to discover a clear and fresh perspective[48]. Gestalt therapy offers a support in this natural process of growth necessary for the instantly evolving, creatively adjusting contact with the environment. Moreover, Gestalt therapy uses the natural human urge for actualization on which to build one of its basic tenets. It actively invites clients to adopt the experimental attitude towards life to try out new behaviours and learn from what happens[49]. For that, an experiment as a specific intervention in Gestalt therapy is used as a challenge, is actively introduced by the therapist and is embedded in the safe and supportive therapeutic relationship.
Experiment is born out of the process of the therapeutic relationship[50] and is not controlled by either the client or the therapist[51]. The mutual relationship becomes a laboratory in which experiment forms organically. This way the creativity used for an experiment is a relational process[52]. It is important that the therapist consciously prepares their mind-body for such an approach. It gives them a clear vision of their tasks and strategies for introducing an experiment. This then provides the safety and stability necessary to the psychotherapy relationship as a ground for the challenging experience discovered through experiment.
Before actually offering an experiment to the client, the therapist focuses first on themselves and prepares by setting their mind-body to an ‘experimental mode’, which they will keep for the duration of an experiment. It is similar to driving a car. Before actually starting to drive the driver prepares themselves for this new activity, first with full consciousness, later as an automatic habit. For a beginning therapist, it is useful to make the change to an experimental mind-set deliberately and consciously. Later, it becomes an automatic switch.
For creating, developing and concluding an experiment, the therapist temporarily and consciously switches to an attitude which differs from the dialogical one in some distinctive points. Making this change in attitude and thereby bringing the experimental polarity into the foreground with full awareness enables the therapist to stay well grounded. When the therapist knows what they are doing this brings clarity and safety for the client as well. A safe and clearly understood therapy situation with a well-established working alliance provides the necessary ground for creative, intuitive and often quite ‘crazy’ work in an experiment.
Grounding in the here-and-now. In using an experiment, the therapist intends to explore what has already been present in the therapy situation. They do not bring their own agenda to change the situation, do not try to persuade the client. They stay grounded in the awareness of what is happening here-and-now in the therapy. From this starting point, they search for creative ways to ‘outline’ the figure that is just arising. Experiment is used to bring new awareness and new meaning to the phenomena, which are in some way, often implicitly, already present in the therapy situation.
Active suggesting. Experiment is a kind of therapist-imposed structure[53] in the flow of a therapist-client dialogue. The therapist consciously takes a leading position towards the client by actively suggesting a specific task, encouraging the client to ‘try out’, and ‘discover‘. The task is often offered as optional and collaborative («Would you like that we explore this a bit more?»). However, the therapist uses their professional authority to structure and direct the situation to some extent. The therapist actively and with awareness switches their role from a companion to a guide.

La terapia della Gestalt usa la naturale spinta umana alla realizzazione per costruirvi sopra uno dei suoi principi fondamentali.
Invita attivamente i pazienti ad adottare l’atteggiamento sperimentale nei confronti della vita per provare nuovi comportamenti e imparare da ciò che accade

Prima di offrire effettivamente un esperimento al paziente, il terapeuta si concentra prima su se stesso e si prepara mettendosi in una “modalità sperimentale”, che manterrà per tutta la durata di un esperimento

Openness to discoveries. The therapist moderates the process of experiment as an open-ended adventure. They are facilitating it to be unpredictable even to himself [54]. They need to resign their ambition to direct the process towards a particular, desired result. Together with the client, they set out on a common adventurous expedition into an unknown territory. The process of an experiment can take surprising turns when the therapist maintains a non-judgmental attitude[55] and follows the development of an experiment with curiosity. In this sense, an experiment in fact cannot go wrong, cannot be evaluated as successful or unsuccessful, because the therapist collaboratively elaborates the experiment with the client and phenomenologically explores what it brings.

In questo senso, un esperimento, di fatto, non può andare storto, non può essere valutato come suc- cesso o insuccesso, perché il terapeuta elabora l’esperimento in collaborazione con il paziente ed esplora fenomenologicamen- te ciò a cui porta

Courage for creativity. The therapist becomes an artist creatively using what is available at a present moment in contact with the client, ‘a material’ that grows from their encounter. Often the paradoxical theory of change guides the therapist to interact with the client[56]. A creative idea comes in an intuitive way and the therapist often labels it for themselves as non-sense, strange, or crazy. At this point the therapist puts aside their preconceptions and introjects. The therapist can give themselves permission to use any creative intervention which meets the following conditions: it aims to enhance awareness, it arises from both dialogue and phenomenological work, and it remains within the ethical boundaries[57]. This way the therapist is modelling courage for the client. If the client is encouraged to risk a step out of their safe, comfortable zone, the therapist can support them by modelling it by doing it themselves.
Strategic leadership. The process of creating and developing an experiment is a relational interaction in which the client takes an active part. The therapist suggests tasks and leads the process during an experiment, but this leadership is of a paradoxical nature, a humble one, the least visible possible. The therapist is sensitive to the resources, risks and needs of the situation, always ready to give space to the naturally maybe even surprisingly evolving process. They continuously monitor that they are pacing together through the adventurous journey of the experiment.
The leadership includes a strategic thinking about the overall timing. The therapist suggests an experiment when there is enough time to develop and integrate it. Generally, it is not recommended to suggest an experiment when there is less than 10-15 minutes left before the end of the session, because it is not clear in advance how intense the experiment might be and how much time it might need for safe integration.
At certain points, the therapist turns their attention from the process of experiment to the client as a partner working with them on a common task. The therapist uses the moments when the client´s experiencing becomes naturally less intense and the client can temporarily step out of the flow of experiment. Together they assess how the experiment is going and what are the capacities for possible next steps and then they plan what such steps might be. The therapist needs to be ready to grade down or finish the experiment if the client does not have enough support for a next step. The new discovery needs to be small enough for the client so they can integrate it.

Il terapeuta può darsi il permesso di utilizzare qualsiasi intervento creativo che soddisfi le seguenti condizioni: che punti a migliorare la consapevolezza, che sorga sia dal dialogo che dal lavoro fenomenologico e che rimanga all’interno dei confini etici

Double availability
Thanks to an experiment, the client experiences themselves in a new, exciting, but often also fearful and shameful way. This kind of experience evolves while in the accepting and supportive presence of the other, thus opening a new way of being in the world for the client. Experimenting opens new possibilities and the safe relationship enables the client to try them out. A very new way of existing can be born for the first time in the presence of the therapist. Co-creating and witnessing together how this new way starts to blossom, creates a touching human closeness. The use of experiments contributes thus to creating a ground for an existential ‘I-Thou’ encounter between the client and the therapist.
The therapist accepts the uniqueness of the client´s creative adjustment in the context of their life story. The creative adjustment presents a starting point for developing an experiment. At the same time, the therapist invites the unused potential of the client and challenges it. There is an existential tension in the client between the polarity ‘I want to change myself, because I am not satisfied with the way I live’ and the other polarity ‘I do not want to change myself, because the way I live is the only one I know’. The therapist is able to stand this tension, they do not identify themselves with any of the two polarities. They simply stay available and, by introducing the experiment, they express both their respect for the unique life experience of the client and their trust in the client´s ability to find new, more satisfying ways of living. Experiment enhances both the opportunity for keeping the above mentioned existential tension and for developing the existential ‘non-dual awareness’[58]. The existential offer of the experiment is: «Accept your experience»[59], which counts for both the client and the therapist who find themselves together in the therapy situation.
Recently I saw a mother with a five-year-old son in the street. They were holding each other’s hands, being on their way home. I overheard the young man speaking about his big love from kindergarten. He was explaining something with great passion and the mother was listening to him attentively. I was touched and, with a professional interest, I was also observing what the mother was doing. She was listening to her son with her whole body, bending down to him, fully attuned, and present. She was answering him, encouraging him with questions, mirroring non-verbally his emotion. However, I also realized that she was doing something else at the same time, fulfilling another task in parallel. She was monitoring the cars in the street and, when it was safe, she prompted her son to cross the street. She greeted someone briefly from a distance. She was observing the signs on the passing trams and waited for the right one.
This picture provides a metaphor (with all the limits the use of metaphor brings) that illustrates the mind-body work of the therapist during the experiment. Their mind is fulfilling two different kinds of tasks at the same time; they are available to the client in two parallel ways. Through embodied inclusion they find themselves experiencing how it is to live life the way the client does. At the same time, the therapist is grounded in themselves and in the broader context of the therapy situation. This allows them to explore what intention the experiment can have at that moment, how to arrange a fitting timing and grading of the experiment, or when it is the right time to bring the experiment to a close.
Such a ‘double availability’ is probably always present in the work of a psychotherapist. However, it is useful that the therapist be especially attentive to it when using an experiment so as to avoid the risk of applying a technique with the purpose of changing the client. Lead by following, a Tao principle of a servant leadership, can well be applied to the dialogical work of a psychotherapist, who follows the issues the client brings and attunes to the client in a genuine and unique dialogue thereby leading the client to new relational experiences.
When using experiment, the therapist temporarily decides to change this approach and takes a lead in an explicit way. At the same time, however, they follow the intentionality of the present situation in creating a task. They suggest the task to the client and follow the process adjusting the level of challenge to the client´s capacities and balancing it with support. They let their leading suggestion be led by the situation with the client here and now. The therapist ‘follows by leading’. The therapist follows the client just half a step behind her to see the direction in which her step is led by the intentionality of the situation. And, before the step is actually made, the therapist suggests an experiment which leads the client into exploring the movement of that direction, exploring it together in a just-enough challenging adventure.

La sperimentazione apre nuove possibilità e la relazione sicura consente al paziente di provarle. Un modo del tutto nuovo di esistere può nascere per la prima volta alla presenza del terapeuta

L’adattamento creativo rappresenta un punto di partenza per lo sviluppo di un esperimento.
Allo stesso tempo, il terapeuta stimola il potenziale inutilizzato del paziente e lo sfida

L’offerta esistenziale dell’esperimento è: «Accetta la tua esperienza», che conta sia per il paziente che per il terapeuta, ritrovandosi insieme nella situazione terapeutica

Experiment as a function of the situation
The experiment can be seen as situational, which means it is controlled neither by the therapist nor by the client. It is the intentionality of the situation that drives the dynamics of the experiment and the therapist is sometimes supporting it and sometimes simply trying not to get in the way. Trusting the process, which naturally evolves during the experiment, includes also experiencing the existential anxiety connected with the disturbing awareness that we ourselves are part of the flow of the situation, we are a function of it. This existential anxiety is a natural part of using experiment, it is experienced by both the client and the therapist, and the specific therapeutic skill when using experiment is not to calm the anxiety, rather to transform it into excitement. The therapist supports the process of Gestalt formation to allow the blocked excitement producing the anxiety to become active excitement[60], to restore the creative risk-taking potentiality of the situation.
A healthy situation follows a natural flow enabling the relational needs of the participants in the situation to be met. The process of the situation offers a chance for each of the participants to be seen by the other, to express themselves towards the other, to receive the response from the other, and to experience the energy generated in the mutually alive contact. The situation is grounded in the here-and-now and it naturally aims to the next moment. The relational needs of the participants give power to the flow, they channel it and give it a direction, which enables the situation to move naturally and smoothly to the next here-and-now.
Therapists can find themselves led by the flow of the situation itself, trusting in the current of life[61]. An experiment can be then seen as offered to them by the situation. When they support it, the potentiality of the situation for the creative risk-taking and vivid flow is released. The anxiety is transformed into an excitement that is felt as an embodied experience by both the client and the therapist, and supports the here-and-now further development of the experiment. The transformation from anxiety to excitement happens first in the therapist’s mind-body-set, which establishes an essential support for welcoming an experiment offered by the situation.

Fidarsi del processo, che naturalmente si evolve durante l’esperimento, include anche sperimentare l’ansia esistenziale connessa con la consapevolezza inquietante che noi stessi siamo parte del flusso della situazione, ne siamo una funzione

L’abilità terapeutica specifica, quando si utilizza l’esperimento, non è quella di calmare l’ansia, piuttosto di trasformarla in eccitazione

***

[1] Cf. J. Melnick (1980), The Use of Therapist Imposed Structure in Gestalt Therapy, in «The Gestalt Journal», 2, 4-20; G. M. Yontef (1993), Awareness, dialogue and process, The Gestalt Journal Press, New York; L. Greenberg, P. Brownel (1997), Validating Gestalt. Gestalt!, 1/1, http://www.g-gej.org/1-1/greenberg.html; M. Spagnuolo Lobb, N. Amendt-Lyon (2003), Introduction, in M. Spagnuolo Lobb, N. Amendt-Lyon, Springer (eds.), Creative License: The Art of Gestalt Therapy, Wien and New York, 1-4; E. Bowman, E.C. Nevis (2005), The History and Development of Gestalt Therapy, in A. L. Woldt, S.M. Toman (eds.), Gestalt Therapy. History, Theory, and Practice, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, 3-20.
[2] J. Roubal (2018a, in press), An Experimental Approach: Follow by leading, in P. Brownwell (ed.) Handbook for Theory, Research, and Practice in Gestalt Therapy, 2nd edition, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle upon Tyne.
[3] Ibid: this text is based on a shortened and amended version of my chapter “An Experimental Approach: Follow by leading”.
[4] Cf. K. Lewin (1952), Field Theory in Social Science, Tavistock, London.
[5] Cf. among others M. Spagnuolo Lobb, N. Amendt-Lyon (2003), Introduction, in M. Spagnuolo Lobb, N. Amendt-Lyon, Springer (eds.) Creative License: The Art of Gestalt Therapy, Wien and New York, 1-4; J. Roubal, M. Gecele, G. Francesetti (2013), Gestalt Therapy Approach to Diagnosis in G. Francesetti, M. Gecele, J. Roubal (eds.), Gestalt Therapy in Clinical Practice. From Psychopathology to the Aesthetics of Contact, Franco Angeli, Milano, 79-106; G. Francesetti (2015), From individual symptoms to psychopathological fields. Towards a field perspective on clinical human suffering, in «British Gestalt Journal», 24, 1, 5-19; J. Roubal (2018b, in press), Surrender to hope: The therapist in the depressed situation, in G. Francesetti, T. Griffero (eds.), Neither Inside Nor Outside. Psychopathology and Atmospheres, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle upon Tyne.
[6] M. Buber (1958), I and Thou, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York.
[7] Cf. G. M. Yontef (1993), Awareness, dialogue and process, The Gestalt Journal Press, New York; L. Jacobs (1995), Dialogue in Gestalt theory and therapy, in R. Hycner, L. Jacobs (eds.), The healing relationship in Gestalt therapy, Gestalt Journal Press, Highland, NY, 51-84.
[8] G. Yontef, F. Schulz (2016), Dialogue and experiment, in «British Gestalt Journal», 25, 1, 9-21.
[9] R. Elliott, L.S. Greenberg, G. Lietaer (2004), Research on Experiential Psychotherapies, in M. J. Lambert (ed.), Bergin and Garfield´s Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change, John Wiley and sons, New York, 493-540.
[10] L. Greenberg, P. Brownel (1997), Validating Gestalt. Gestalt!, 1/1, http://www.g-gej.org/1-1/greenberg.html.
[11] J. Melnick, S. M. Nevis, N. Shub (2005), Gestalt Therapy Methodology, in A.L. Woldt, S.M. Toman (eds.), Gestalt Therapy. History, Theory, and Practice, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, 101-115.
[12] J. Zinker (1977), Creative Process in Gestalt Therapy, Vintage Books, New York.
[13] I. Vidakovic, J. Zeleskov-Djoric, J. Roubal, D.v. Baalen, G. Francesetti, B. Wimmer (2015), Professional Competencies and Quality Standards: Specific Competencies of Gestalt Therapists, retrieved from http://www.eagt.org/pcqs/PC&QS%20-%20competencies.pdf.
[14] N. Amendt-Lyon (2003a), Toward a Gestalt Therapeutic Concept for Promoting Creative Process in M. Spagnuolo Lobb, N. Amendt-Lyon (eds.), Creative License. The Art of Gestalt Therapy, Springer-Verlag, Wien, New York, 5-20.
[15] M. Polster (2005), Gestalt terapie: Vyvoj a vyuziti [Gestalt Therapy: Development and Application] in J. Zeig (ed.), Umeni psychoterapie [Evolution of Psychotherapy], Portal, Praha, 516-532.
[16] M. Parlett (2003), Creative Abilities and the Art of Living Well, in M. Spagnuolo Lobb, N. Amendt-Lyon (eds.), Creative License: The Art of Gestalt Therapy, Springer, Wien and New York, 51-62.
[17] J. Melnick (2001), Editorial. Gestalt Review as Experiment, in «Gestalt Review», 5,4, 221-224.
[18] J.-M. Robine (2013), Anxiety Within the Situation: Disturbances of Gestalt Construction, in G. Francesetti, M. Gecele, J. Roubal (eds.), Gestalt Therapy in Clinical Practice: From Psychopathology to the Aesthetics of Contact, Istituto di Gestalt HCC Italy, Siracusa, 470–487.
[19] N. Amendt-Lyon (2001a), Art and Creativity in Gestalt Therapy, in «Gestalt Review», 5, 4, 225-248.
[20] Cf. P. Joyce, C. Sills (2006), Skills in Gestalt Counselling & Psychotherapy, Sage, London; G. Yontef, F. Schulz (2016), Dialogue and experiment, in «British Gestalt Journal», 25, 1, 9-21.
[21] J. Melnick (1980), The Use of Therapist Imposed Structure in Gestalt Therapy, in «The Gestalt Journal», 2, 4-20.
[22] J. Roubal (2018a, in press 2nd edition), An Experimental Approach: Follow by leading, in P. Brownwell (ed.) Handbook for Theory, Research, and Practice in Gestalt Therapy, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle upon Tyne.
[23] G. Yontef, F. Schulz (2016), Dialogue and experiment, in «British Gestalt Journal», 25, 1, 9-21.
[24] P. Joyce, C. Sills (2006), Skills in Gestalt Counselling & Psychotherapy, Sage, London.
[25] J. Melnick (1980), The Use of Therapist Imposed Structure in Gestalt Therapy, in «The Gestalt Journal», 2, 4-20.
[26] C. Stevens (2004), Playing in the sand, in «British Gestalt Journal», 13, 19-23.
[27] N. Amendt-Lyon (2001b), “No Risk, No Fun!” A Reply to Commentaries, in «Gestalt Review», 5,4, 272-275.
[28] L. Greenberg, P. Brownel (1997), Validating Gestalt. Gestalt!, 1/1, http://www.g-gej.org/1-1/greenberg.html
[29] J. Melnick (1980), The Use of Therapist Imposed Structure in Gestalt Therapy, in «The Gestalt Journal», 2, 4-20.
[30] P. Joyce, C. Sills (2006), Skills in Gestalt Counselling & Psychotherapy, Sage, London.
[31] G. Yontef, F. Schulz (2016), Dialogue and experiment, in «British Gestalt Journal», 25, 1, 9-21.
[32] N. Amendt-Lyon (2001a), Art and Creativity in Gestalt Therapy, in «Gestalt Review», 5, 4, 225-248.
[33] M. Spagnuolo Lobb (2017), From losses of ego functions to the dance steps between psychotherapist and client. Phenomenology and aesthetics of contact in the psychotherapeutic field, in «British Gestalt Journal», 26,1, 28-37.
[34] J. Mackewn (1999), Developing Gestalt Counselling. Sage, London.
[35] N. Amendt-Lyon (2003a), Toward a Gestalt Therapeutic Concept for Promoting Creative Process, in M. Spagnuolo Lobb, N. Amendt-Lyon, Springer (eds.) Creative License: The Art of Gestalt Therapy, Springer-Verlag, Wien, New York, 5-20.
[36] P. Philippson (2001), Self in Relation, The Gestalt Journal Press, Highland, NY.
[37] Cf. among others, J. Zinker (1977), Creative Process in Gestalt Therapy, Vintage Books, New York; J. Melnick (1980), The Use of Therapist Imposed Structure in Gestalt Therapy, in «The Gestalt Journal», 2, 4-20; J. Mackewn (1999), Developing Gestalt Counselling. Sage, London; P. Philippson (2001), Self in Relation, The Gestalt Journal Press, Highland, NY; N. Amendt-Lyon (2001a), Art and Creativity in Gestalt Therapy, Gestalt Review, 5, 4, 225-248; N. Amendt-Lyon (2003a), Toward a Gestalt Therapeutic Concept for Promoting Creative Process, in M. Spagnuolo Lobb, N. Amendt-Lyon (eds.), Creative License. The Art of Gestalt Therapy, Springer-Verlag, Wien, New York, 5-20; N. Amendt-Lyon (2003b), Memorable Moments in the Therapeutic Relationship, in M. Spagnuolo Lobb, N. Amendt-Lyon (eds.), Creative License. The Art of Gestalt Therapy, Springer-Verlag, Wien, New York, 211-226; J. Melnick, S. M. Nevis, N. Shub (2005), Gestalt Therapy Methodology, in A.L. Woldt, S.M. Toman (eds.), Gestalt Therapy. History, Theory, and Practice, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks, 101-115; P. Joyce, C. Sills (2006), Skills in Gestalt Counselling & Psychotherapy, Sage, London; R. Frank (2003), Embodying Creativity, Developing Experience: The Therapy Process and Its Developmental Foundation, in M. Spagnuolo Lobb, N. Amendt-Lyon (eds.). Creative License. The Art of Gestalt Therapy. Springer-Verlag, Wien, New York, 181-200; J. Roubal (2009), Experiment: A Creative Phenomenon of the Field, in «Gestalt Review», 13,3, 263-276; G. Yontef, F. Schulz (2016), Dialogue and experiment, in «British Gestalt Journal», 25, 1, 9-21; J. Roubal (2018a, in press), An Experimental Approach: Follow by leading, in P. Brownwell (ed. 2nd ed.) Handbook for Theory, Research, and Practice in Gestalt Therapy, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle upon Tyne.
[38] G. M. Yontef (1993), Awareness, dialogue and proces, The Gestalt Journal Press, New York.
[39] Id.
[40] P. Philippson (2001), Self in Relation, The Gestalt Journal Press, Highland, NY.
[41] L. Greenberg, P. Brownel (1997), Validating Gestalt. Gestalt!, 1/1, http://www.g-gej.org/1-1/greenberg.html
[42] J. Zinker (1977), Creative Process in Gestalt Therapy, Vintage Books, New York.
[43] F. M. Staemmler (2002), Here and now, critical analysis, in «British Gestalt Journal», 11, 1, 21–32.
[44] A. C. Bohart (2000), The Client Is the Most Important Common Factor: Clients’ Self-Healing Capacities and Psychotherapy, in «Journal of Psychotherapy Integration», 10, 127, https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1009444132104
[45] D. C. Williams, H. M. Levitt (2007), Principles for facilitating agency in psychotherapy, in «Psychotherapy Research», 17, 1, 66-82.
[46] M. Parlett (2005), Contemporary gestalt therapy: Field theory, in A.L. Woldt, S.M. Toman (eds.), Gestalt Therapy. History, Theory, and Practice, Sage Publications, Thousand Oaks.
[47] G. M. Yontef (1993), Awareness, dialogue and process, The Gestalt Journal Press, New York.
[48] Id.
[49] F. Perls, R. Hefferline, P. Goodman (1951), Gestalt Therapy, Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality, Gestalt Journal Press, Highland, NY.
[50] N. Amendt-Lyon (2003a), Toward a Gestalt Therapeutic Concept for Promoting Creative Process, in M. Spagnuolo Lobb, N. Amendt-Lyon (eds.), Creative License. The Art of Gestalt Therapy, Springer-Verlag, Wien, New York, 5-20.
[51] J. Mackewn (1999), Developing Gestalt Counselling, Sage, London.
[52] J. C. Zinker (2003), Beauty and Creativity in Human Relationships, in M. Spagnuolo Lobb, N. Amendt-Lyon (eds.), Creative License. The Art of Gestalt Therapy, Springer-Verlag, Wien, New York, 141-152.
[53] J. Melnick (1980), The Use of Therapist Imposed Structure in Gestalt Therapy, in «The Gestalt Journal», 2, 4-20.
[54] P. Philippson (2001), Self in Relation, The Gestalt Journal Press, Highland, NY.
[55] P. Joyce, C. Sills (2006), Skills in Gestalt Counselling & Psychotherapy, Sage, London.
[56] G. Yontef, F. Schulz (2016), Dialogue and experiment, in «British Gestalt Journal», 25, 1, 9-21.
[57] G. M. Yontef (1993), Awareness, dialogue and proces, The Gestalt Journal Press, New York.
[58] J. M. G. Williams (2010), Mindfulness and psychological process, in «Emotion», 10, 1, 1–7.
[59] L. Greenberg, P. Brownel (1997), Validating Gestalt. Gestalt!, 1/1, http://www.g-gej.org/1-1/greenberg.html.
[60] J.M. Robine (2013), Anxiety Within the Situation: Disturbances of Gestalt Construction, in G. Francesetti, M. Gecele, J. Roubal (eds.), Gestalt Therapy in Clinical Practice: From Psychopathology to the Aesthetics of Contact, Istituto di Gestalt HCC Italy, Siracusa, 470–487.
[61] G. M. Yontef (1993), Awareness, dialogue and proces, The Gestalt Journal Press, New York.

Jan Roubal

Psichiatra, psicoterapeuta della Gestalt, docente di Psicoterapia e di Psichiatria alla Masaryk University di Brno (Czech Republic). Trainer e supervisore internazionale, ha lavorato nelle strutture pubbliche di Salute Mentale e in Ospedale Psichiatrico, occupandosi principalmente di Disturbi dell’Umore e Disturbi Psicotici. È membro di EAP (European Association for Psychotherapy), EAGT (European Association for Gestalt Therapy), SPR (Society for Psychotherapy Research) ed è chair del Research Committee dell’EAGT.

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