Through out the years several reports and interviews were made with Vera Felicidade about Gestalt Pshychotherapy (Psicoterapia Gestaltista). The one bellow is translated due to its richness of themes, helping to clarify her thoughts.
Interview given to the journalist Rosane Santana from the
Vera Felicidade, 45, Gestalt Psychotherapist, graduated in Psychology from UFRJ (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro), is now publishing her fourth book called "Relationship Trajectory of the Humane". 20 years ago she has revolutioned Psychology while negating the unconscious in her firsth book "Gestalt Psychotherapy - Conceptualizations" (which is now re-published, third edition) and created her own psychotherapic method grounded on the fundamentals of German Gestalt and the Husserl's Phenomenology. In her most recent work, she develops the concept of "any relationship generates positionings, which generate new relationships that, in turn, generate new positionings, indefinitely" and defines desire, doupt, choice, anguish, disponibility, illusion, reality and love. In an exclusive interview to A TARDE, she talks about her theory and makes antithesis to a series of concepts of the actual Psychology:
A TARDE - How did come up the idea to elaborate the Gestalt Psychotherapy?
V.F. - This was when I was studing Psychology, in 1964, and the Psychoanalysis didn't answer and was not satisfactory to the questions about human existence, in so far as it looked to me as something totally literary, fundamented on the constructum of the unconscious, which was an hypothesis having nothing to do with science. The unconscious concept didn't allow any comprovation unless through the unconscious itself. To reach this point of analisys, my philosophical studies had strong influence over my thought, I mean, the Materialism, the Dialetic Materialism and my great preoccupation with Episthemology. At this time, I already had the idea that Psychology was to know the man, and not just help him, as that generation of psychologists use to think. So, I started trying to give answers to what is the human being, to the point that in 1970 I could answer this question and so I wrote the first book.
A TARDE - How did you structure a psychotherapic method?
V.F. - It was like if the whole of the Gestalt knowledge left clear to me that to understand the human, it would be in terms of what he was in the world, that means, how he perceives. I tried to transfer to the clinical field, the Laws of Perception - given in experiments - and, doing so, dynamize them. There is a series of Psychoanalysis concepts, "parapraxis" (fehlleistung) for exemple, which was explained by the unconscious, and I feel that the Law of Proximity (Gestalt) can very well explain it. Association of ideas, that Freud and Jung have taken so much time to conclude, can be explained by Proximity, Good Form, Continuity - all of them are Laws of Perception (Gestalt). But my first preoccupation was to create concepts. From this point I wrote the first book, which is the fundament of all my work. In this book I defyne what is the human being, I do face the problem of temporality showing that the past do not have influence over the present, because if it has influence, it is present. I also show that the future doesn't exist, if it exists it is an aim and as an aim it is destructuring. In this sense, my vision is very phenomenological, but it has a divergence from Phenomenology, because I take the structure in consideration. Another question which had to be answered was the question of the affective wanting, because it use to be considered as something bad, as a desease. I had shown that the affective wanting is intrinsic to the human being, and when I perceived this, I also noticed levels of structuration of the human, levels that I call necessities and possibilities. The human being is a result of possibilities or a result of looking for solutions to necessities. My first book was almost an imposition towards be scientifically coherent, to give light to the ideas, to create the conditions to discuss them, and in a certain way, it was also a theoric background to my work avoiding to be seen as someone fake in the field of clinical psychology.
A TARDE - Is the Gestalt Psychotherapy better than the Psychoanalysis?
V.F. - When I created the Gestalt Psychotherapy my preoccupation was not to do what the Psychoanalysis did not do or to be better than the Psychoanalysis. I may have taking this position in so far as I criticize very much the Psychoanalysis, because it is a theory which lacks scientific and methodological fundaments; and besides, it is a theory created in the context of the end of nineteen century. We had at that time an incipient Psychology, totally dominated by the Psychophisics, by Psychophisiology, and there was also a science that was characterized by mesurements, the human being was considered something complex, qualitative, something which could not be mesured. Any theory which didn't try to grasp the human complexity through complexity, through a myth for exemple, could not act. But in 1970, after the hippie movement, after a series of crisis inside Philosophy, after the overpopulation etc the veils of something which was always obvious, began to fall down, I mean, the man is in the world with thousand variables, there is no sense in sclerosing it, no sense to determine mesurement points. I think my theory is valid in as much as it tries to show the globalization as a way to aprehend the human. Gestalt is a global vision, it is a vision of camp (Field Theory), it is not that thing of cathegories, types, classes. If I did not have created the Gestalt Psychotherapy, probably another person would have done something equivalent, because it was not possible to work with that rigid concept anymore, the stereotyped concept of unconscious.
A TARDE - From the first book to this fourth one, which you publish now, what have changed in your concept of the human being?
V.F. - Now, everything has changed in terms of development of concepts. For exemple, when I say that any relationship generates positionings which generate new relationships that in turn generate new positionings, indefinitly, and then I define doubt, anguish, choice, love, disponibility, I'm saying this symptoms would be the diverse manifestations of situations where this appears, I mean, the development of the idea that any relationship generates positionings... in a way I'm showing that the human being exists in a time and in a space. I'm showing that the temporality is the relationship and that the space is the positionings. But in 1972, I didn't have a clear idea that any positionings... I use to explain this, maybe, in terms of Dialetic. I use to say that things were continue; and I already use to speak of a spiral. Now, in this new concept, I'm explainig the spiral. And so, it is the development of concepts which were there but in another sense. In the fourth book, already knowing what is the human being, I began to show what he does. I began to show that he relates himself or that he positon himself, that he is in one time, in one space. Still in the first book I have shown that: to perceive is to know by the senses. I was trying to do an antithesis to the concept of consciousness and this generates the antithesis to the concept of unconscious. When I say in the fourth book, that perception is relationship, I'm just encircling something that from a certain academic vision, I had positioned.
A TARDE - When does occur positionings like anguish?
V.F. - Anguish is a symptom of non-acceptance. Anguish is compromise. It is a moment of stoppage of the human who fix himself in an expectation, in one a priori. The human being loses all his dynamics, his reversibility. He has tremors, cold sweat, he doesn't swallow, he doesn't sleep, he becomes sexually impotent, he is afread, positioned, imprisoned on the displacements, resultants of the non-acceptance not-faced. These positionings generates new relationships, the fear to die, the fear to have a stroke, the drama to have an erection, the problem to have to swallow in front of the food, so this positionings generate relationships full of difficulties. It is more-or-less like this: if you keep yourself lying down in any situation, stopped, the fact of being stopped itself, creates a series of relationships, of changes, creates wrinkles over the bed, wounds over the body, torpidity in the muscles etc.
A TARDE - And how does Gestalt Psychotherapy work to structure the human being?
V.F. - Doing antihesis in the sense of neutralize those displacements of positionings. For exemple, anguish is a positionings that was generated by a compromise, so this compromise will create a series of displacements like fear, pain over the breast, difficult to swallow and so on, a lot of somatizations. Therefore, Gestalt Psychotherapy starts to make possible to the individuo to perceive that what he feels is created by himself, and not a result of another thing, like a witchcraft, bad lack, organic desease, or even the unconscious. On Psychoanalysis, people think that, unconsciouslly, they are wishing to destroy themselves. The attitude of Gestalt Psychoanalysis is to cut off the alibi, to avoid that the patient utilizes the problem as a justification to his own difficulty, creating a way for the person to face the thing which he/she is problematizing. The Gestalt Psychotherapy doesn't promise salvation in the sense that the individuo will never have any problem. And exactly at this point we come to the most important concept of this psychotherapy related to neurosis.
A TARDE - What is neurosis?
V.F. - It's the non-acceptance of non-acceptance, which creates autoreferentiality (self-referentiality) responsible for a distorted perception, which leads the individuo to live referentiated or to live in a time which is not the present. What the therapy claims is to give conditions to the person to accept his or herself, even if this acceptance is acceptance of non-acceptance. In this sense, the Gestalt Psychotherapy doesn't work with moral values or fixed-ideas, it doesn't have even the goal to adapt the patient. If the person accepts his/herself as he/she is, the better it is. If he/she is just very well in the system in terms of adaptation, but doesn't accept his/herself, he/she has to change, and the therapy possibilitates this.
A TARDE - Are the phobia, depression, psycosis and anguish symptoms of non-acceptance?
V.F. - Your question is interesting in the way that it allows to show what is Gestalt Psychotherapy. It is not a Class Theory (Aristotelian theory), it is a Field Theory (kurt Lewin). So it doesn't have cathegories like neurosis, types of symptoms, I mean, sexual impotence, figidity, lack of erection, difficulty to swallow, dizziness, fear to go out to the streets, ulcer, all of these are positionings resultant of a break of relationship, a break of the Gestalt being-in-the-world ('relation' is an important concept in Gestalt Psychotherapy, the author is not talking about romantic relationship - translator's note). Gestalt, like Buddhism, Taoism, Biology, Physics and Chemistry, thinks the world as a totality; there are no sectors, no parts. What does Biology do? It takes a cell of epithelium of the arm and from this, it describes the whole of the chromossome structure. What Gestalt Psychotherapy claims to is that from a simple sample of behaviour, all which is the individuo can be reproduced. There is nothing like: at home the individuo is like this, at work he is like that. Psychoanalysis, as supportive therapy, admits that the individuo is fine but has a disturbance. In Gestalt Psychotherapy there is nothing like this, what is there is unity. Any problem is always an indication, a symptom of neurosis. In a way, it is an obvious approach. Just like the "egg of Colombus" (a simple solution - translator' note). If an orange is spoiled, it doesn't help to cut off that spoiled part; when one makes the juice the taste of the spoiled part will be there, because whenever a part is affected the whole is compromised, as the whole is not the sum of the parts.
A TARDE - Does this explain the fact that you accept cases which are considered irrecoverable, like the psychosis?
V.F. - Yes. Since we are able to change the perception the individuo has of himself, he changes his relationship with everything. Now, in the case of psychosis the work is the same as neurosis as far as concept is concerned (conceptual approach), but there are variables which make it difficult the treatment, because when the individuo is psychotic, he has no economic autonomy, he has no autonomy to go and come, and so the treatment and the result of it becomes difficult. The difficulty is not because he is psychotic, but because as far as he is psychotic, this creates a series of positionings which leave him impervious to the dialogue.
A TARDE - Is the typology, the classification of neurosis in cathegories, a distortion of the actual Psychology?
V.F. - The old visions use to think that the human being was a complex being, they use to establish types of complexity and so they began to create a typology. From this way of thinking come phobias, panics, rules, and even the classification of behaviour according to age: adolescents behave like this, addults like that; behaviour according to profession: psychologists are always crazy people, jornalists are like this and that etc. They do this as a method, summing up the results to come to an understanding, I mean, it is the inductive and deductive method, which still predominates in Social Science and Psychology. They can't aprehend the globality and so they classify. From this come phobias and characteristics. Besides of phobias, they speak also of karma, destiny, paranormal things and in this way they try to explain. It's everyday more and more acentuated the idea that the human being is complex, is enigmatic, because everyday gets more difficult to them to globalize, everyday they fall even more in the typifications, because we are living in the times of high technology, times of operationalization of everything. The human essence is never configurated, never considered, what is there is the functioning of the human.
A TARDE - And how is Gestalt Psychotherapy situated in this context?
V.F. - The Gestalt Psychotherapy does not think human as something linear. When one thinks about the human, one has to think, more-or-less, in something so dynamic as the model of the atom. There are thousands of variables, thousands of intersections, thousands of movements. There is no difference between the man of the twentieth century and the man of the tenth century, or even the man before Christ. The man is always the same in essence. While speaking of this I just remember Husserl, creator of Phenomenology, when he said that science is description and this affirmation of him caused a great terror at his time, because the science of those times was seen as comprehension and explication, I mean, it was deductive and inductive. Someone came to him and asked who was first born, the egg or the chicken? He answared: bring me the egg and the chicken and I will answer. This is the phenomenological description. When I say that there is no man of yesterday, I'm just following Husserl. I mean that we must think the man now, to think the man here. There is no hypothetical man, chimerical man, there is always a man with flesh and bones in a time.
A TARDE - Why is the deductive and inductive method predominant in Psychology?
V.F. - It is much more easy to understand something through an analogy, that is to say, the understanding through the essence implicates gobalization. Globalization is difficult because of the referenciated positionings. And so, everytime it comes an analogical reasoning it is more understandable. When Freud, for exemple, said that his masters were the greeks and took a tragedy like "Oedipus" and from it structured the "Oedipus Complex", he was using the content, the literary form, symbolic form, which was giving reference to people to interpret, I mean, to make analogy. When one says that it is necessary to aprehend the essence, to configure it, to globalize the phenomenon, the whole thing gets dry, gets loose. For exemple: the gestalt psychologists were very much criticized because they use to explain human behaviour through perception and while speaking of perception they just use to draw small points. The society formation is pragmatic, and to this the Catholic Church and Christianism has contributed a lot, in its presbiterian vertent also, even the science of the twentieth century has developed through the pragmatic approach of August Comte. For them, anything exists with a motive, with a finality. That is way I say that, now a days, the recuperation of the human should be done in the sense of dilettantism. I write in this fourth book, that the starting point for transcendence of the massificated man is the aesthetic attitude, that means (not running away from the subject to avoid distortion) we may say that the show of the "escola de samba" or the football game, with its harmonic coordenation of things, they are already a transcendence, because they allow the instauration of an harmony, something which transcends reality. Coming back to the question, strange it may seems, the contingencies sometimes explain better than the conceptualizations. It is easier to say that the individuo is maladjusted than to say that the individuo is maladjusted because he doesn't accept his limitations.
A TARDE - If perception is relationship and neurosis is perceptive distortion, what can happen to a civilization where the individuals relate in a distorted way?
V.F. - If the perceptions are everyday more and more distorted, the relationships will be everyday more and more distorted too. But as any relationship generates positionings generators of new relationships... indefinitelly, the massification itself will give to man the conditions to humanize himself. It will function as antithesis. In a way, why is there space to the Gestalt Psychotherapy now a days, is spite of not be the space given to Psychoanalysis, the space given to someone like Eduardo Mascarenhas for exemple? It is because Psychoanalysis do not answer anymore. Or, in another level, why the marvellous medical science of the sixteens reached the point it has today, in terms of quality, and everyday we see the increasing of alternative medicine, macrobiotic diet, homeopathic medicine, herbs treatement, acupuncture etc? It comes to a point where the massification is so great that the system reverts itself. This is the hope: more massification in the system and there will be always a way to humanize people. That is why I work in Gestalt Psychotherapy. There is an statement that says that everything which goes up will comes down, it's the Gravity Law of Physics, and the relationship leads to positionings....
A TARDE - In this fourth book you say that there is no choice, can you explain this?
V.F. - The choice is always a compromise to one contingency. This contingency becomes necessarily an adherence, extrinsic to the chosen situation itself. When the situations are different and you have to choose, you will choose in accordance with another referential which is not the one of the chosen thing. This other referential is a compromiser, since it gives an orientation, it gives a determination of conduct. And so, when your conduct of choice is in accordance with an orientation, the choice is totally an adherence, I mean, it is by chance, or it is an obligation. In the first case, it alienates; in the second case, it orientates. Since 1960, choice is an word that is in fashion because Sartre started saying that man is free when he chooses. This because people were so compromised with the gears of the system, that they could not even choose. The great human moment of the non-thing, of the generation of the sixteens, was when the man could choose. Camus said that liberty is the possibility to say no. Caetano said that it is the possibility to say yes. And so, liberty is seen as this desperate act, when the individuo transcends the circumstance and is able to say yes, I want this, no, I don't want this. It is a sort of desperate vision, like Brecht saying: "Sad the country which needs heroes". When I say that choice is negative, I mean, sad the person who has to choose.
A TARDE - It is more-or-less like the situation of the movie "The choice of Sofia"?
V.F. - "The choice of Sofia", when she is with the two children and the man says, look, you have two sons, one of them is going to die, you will choose who of them will die. If you don't choose one, the two will die. When she chosed one and saved the other one, she perceived the total trap, the total impotence. When the daughter goes, she accepts, but she is so massificated, so compromised, that she shouts, but do not run, because if she rans she would be killed, and all of them would die. To run she would had to have an spontaneous attitude and not be wishing to survive. There are situations in life that it is better not to survive them, in terms of a structurated vision, authentic and individualized vision. In a massificated vision, a vision of survival, people always want to survive to anything, of any cost. When the individuo is an open being, in the sense of been spontaneous, no choice puts him against the wall. The trajectory, if seen as a continuity, has no bifurcations, no breaks. The break is what give rise to the choice, to the anguish. When we speak of massification and survivel, it becomes clear that, is spite of 30 centuries of philosophical thought and two centuries of science, we continue thinking the human being as an organism. The thought is this, the human being is thought as an organism which has sexual necessities etc. Or he is thought as a fruit of the divine. It is difficult to think of the humane as temporality and space.
A TARDE - Is it possible transcendence without psychotherapy?
V.F. - Without psychotherapy I think it is impossible to the individuo to structure himself. Who changes the human being is the other, but the other as acceptance and oppeness ('disponibilidade' - disponibility). If the person do not accepts himself it is because never met this other. The other who could accept him, and change him, is the psychotherapist, in so far as he establishes the questioning setting. Another way is love. If someone is loved by another to the point of being accepted with total oppeness (disponibilidade), he/she changes. Out of this movement of love as giving, as integration, as total acceptance, and out of the psychotherapy setting, there is no way of structuration. If the individuo is problematic he can't love, but by a "miracle", someone can love him/her, to the point that he/she changes.
A TARDE - Does therapy leads to dependence?
V.F. - The Gestalt Psychotherapy is a questioning, a dinamization, an antithesis, a cutting of displacements, it is the other side, the opposit of what is post forward by the patient and been so, it dynamizes. The one who experiences a therapeutic process knows this. The ones who are outside the process, the father, the husband, the wife, the lover, sometimes see it as dependence, something bad. Because it is another one, hot him or her, who is interfering in the one he or she would like to interfere. It is a dynamization, and seen by the eyes which are not participating in the process, may be conceptualized and considered from the problematic referentials of the person who is looking. One thing is what is experienced, other thing is how another sees this experience. Therapy is not something of Good Sense. I'm not saying it is Nonsense. The Good Sense is the Common Sense, what is statistically pregnant, what is more valid and this evaluation is what defines it to people, and as such, Good Sense is not individualizator. Therapy is sense, judgment without valorative attributions. It is not Good Sense, nor Common Sense, nor Nonsense in the true sense of those words.
A TARDE - 20 years ago you have created a psychotherapic method. During all this time you have been working as psychotherapist, but you are not well known to the great public. This doesn't bother you?
V.F. - All of my work is a work of antithesis, given the present order of Psychoanalysis, given the actual stage of the psychological thought and social sciencies about what is the human being. The Psychology, the Sociology, the Psychoanalysis, the Linguistic, finally, all Social Sciencies think that the human being is a resultant of "x" variables, like culture, economy, family etc. I do not say that he is a resultant, I say he is a being-in-the-world and that he relates himself with all those claims. In this way my work is antithesis and antithesis is never recognized. It is only recongnized as synthesis. From this point, I don't bother, I even understand, because it would be completelly against my thought to say that things are as they are, knowing that what I think is not the mainstream thought, and, at the same time be wishing to be recognized. Now, if I'm creating one thing, of course I would love this be recognized, I mean, in a transversal vision. Because longitudinally, I know that, if I do antithesis, my work will be recognized slowlly. In the day-to-day of psychotherapy I feel my work been totally recognized, it is efficacious and exactly because of this, it is there for the last 20 years. When I say that there is no unconscious, that human being is not a result of instinct, of economic order, not determined by culture, has nothing to do with karma etc, I'm putting an antithesis to a whole series of explanations. What is important is the step-by-step, brick-by-brick, to contribute to change the dominant thought, to structurate another thought.
A TARDE - And so Vera, your work is what you say about the doubt: "Any negated affirmation that possibilitates a question?"
V.F. - Yes! You got the Gestalt.