'GESTALT' MISAPPLIED

by Rudolf Arnheim (1974)


Letter to the editors, Contemporary Psychology (CP), 1974, Vol. 19, No. 7, p. 570 (and Robert HARPERs reply)

I was startled to read in a review by Robert A. Harper (CP, 1974, 19, 122) that some therapists would "presumably rather retire or die than be thought of as practicing any kind of cognitive therapy (such as some Freudians who theoretically stick closely to the id-flow and disregard the ego and some Gestaltists and bioenergeticists and whatnots. . . ." It took me a moment to realize that the term gestalt in its precise historical and theoretical sense is losing its sanctuary even in professional journals, which can hardly afford to accuse gestalt psychologists, of all people, of despising cognitive approaches. Instead of adding to the confusion created by inconsiderate practitioners who adopted the gestalt label to share in its prestige, CP should honor the memory of men like W. Köhler and M. Wertheimer by restricting the term to use in quotes whenever it is misapplied. I can see Max Wertheimer fly into one of his magnificent rages, had he lived to see one of the more influential tracts of the therapeutic group in question dedicated to him as though he were the father of it all.

RUDOLF ARNHEIM, Harvard University



HARPER DEFENDS USAGE

The German word Gestalt is itself without even honorific 'copyright.' When used as an adjective which modifies psychology, gestalt is associated with the work of such men as Köhler and Wertheimer. When, on the other hand, psychotherapy is the noun getting modified, gestalt brings forth the work of Fritz Peris and his students in most knowledgeable readers' minds. I know of no evidence that Perls thought he was copping a piece of anybody's prestige by using the gestalt label for his system of psychotherapy. Even if he were, I fail to see how any confusion derives from its usage in a therapeutic context. Such context was quite clear in the quotation from my review to which Arnheim refers. I recommend that CP save its quotes for more genuine adjectival "misapplications."

ROBERT A. HARPER, 4830 V Street, N.W. Washington, D.C.

 


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