Abstract of the lecture at the 10th Scientific
Convention of the
Society for Gestalt
Theory and its Applications (GTA) / Vienna/Austria, March 1997
In his famous essay "The Transition from an Aristotelean to a Galilean
Way of Thinking in Biology and Psychology" (LEWIN 1931), Kurt LEWIN
recommends two necessary steps for psychological research which are
connected with each other in science theory:
- the transition from non-personal to field theoretical (situational,
- the transition from a character centered to a function centered explanation
of psychic phenonema.
In my lecture I pursue the question of whether or not FREUD and his
followers, and also whether LEWIN himself and his school, have completed
this transition. In 1934 J.F. BROWN, a student of LEWIN, wrote that
"FREUD'S psychoanalysis fulfills some of the criteria for field theory,
some for class theory, and with regard to some criteria is a mixture
of the two types of theory." In regarding the difference between
his topological psychology and psychoanalysis, LEWIN himself was of
the opinion that the former understands all occurrences as emerging
out of the totality of the life space, and accordingly, considers the
person and the environment, whereas psychoanalysis concerns itself primarily
with the person. METZGER was even more radical on this point. Although
FREUD was the first to observe a person no longer as a psychological
aggregate, but rather as a system, his concepts remain, nonetheless,
solipsistic because for him "the borders of the dynamic system man
were the same as the borders of the organism".
The psychoanalyst RICHTER also came to the conclusion that FREUD's developmental
teachings rest on an individualistic model of thought, one related to
the cognitive model of organ medicine. This is unreasonable in the psychological
realm of human beings, as they are necessarily involved primarily with
other human beings, not predominantly with biochemical or biophysical
One can then say: While with FREUD the therapeutic treatment rests on
relational and dialogical methods, his theory contains building blocks
impressed with monopersonal concepts.
Some disciples of FREUD have, nonetheless, overcome this inconsistency
between theory and practice by using a relational model. I would like
to mention just two directions:
- the narrative-linguistic direction, which employs narrative
and linguistic theories in the analytical discussion;
- the dramaturgical direction (for example, Horst Eberhard RICHTER)
which uses concepts of scenes, roles, etc. in order to represent the
relationship of the patient to the therapist and to his or her environment.
Also to be mentioned here:
- The french psychoanalysts Madelaine and Willy BARANGER, working in
Argentina, who view the patient and the therapist as complementary pair
and propose to described it with the field model.
- The recommendation from Giancarlo TROMBINI, professor for clinical
psychology in Bologna, who, in following the example of METZGER, describes
the organization of the analytical pair by using the concept of the
step structure and the ring structure, and examines the conditions and
function of such structures.
In my lecture I consider finally the question of whether LEWIN consequently
applied the field-theoretical approach in his own psychology. My opinion
is that neither LEWIN nor FREUD satisfactorily solved the relationship
between theory and practice. Certainly, his theory contains relational
character, but nonetheless, his method lacks in dialogical character.
These inadequacies spring from different grounds:
1.) because the experience of the test subject is sometimes not thematized
by the tester,
2.) because the structure of the field in the experimental situation
does not allow the deeper levels of the person to be reached.
In regards to point one: let me cite the well know work of Bluma ZEIGARNIK
as well as her necessary corrector Erika JUNKER, that the better remembering
is not determined by not-being-finished but rather by not-being-right.
In regards to this, I would like to note that the emphasis of the theory
was here displaced too far along the object pole (the task structure)
in the whole field, with the consequence that the interest in the person
slipped into the background; in general, theory was given too much weight
to the debit of the dialogical method.
In regards to point two: in comparison, the application of the field
theory seems to have been completely achieved in another investigation
from this research series -- that is in the work of Tamara DEMBO on
anger. Here all of the variables of the field are examined: those related
to the task, those related to the person and those related to the person-environment
relation. The method includes not only the observations of behaviour
but also the conversation with the test subject. Only then could important
phenomena be brought to light such as: level of aspiration, substitution,
going out of the field, reality layers, etc. The experimental situation
is not, however, well suited to reaching the deep layers of the person,
nor to really portraying the concrete structure of the psychic person
with its inner dynamic facts, as LEWIN claims in his methodological
essay. In my research of the phenomenal Ego (GALLI 1980, 1982), I was
able to confirm--in opposition to LEWIN's opinion--that the test subject
can not open up in the experimental situation in order to serve the
research goals of the tester.
LEWIN postulated the necessity in psychology to cross over from an explanation
of character (Wesenserklärung) to a function centered explanation. For
example, he found the concept of the "terrible two's" (stubborn age)
and also the psychoanalytical notions of drives lacking in that they
have the character of an Aristotelean explanation of character and in
essence are achieved through the abstract selection of similarities
of a group of relatively common occurences. The abstractly defined class
is seen as the essence, and seen as apt to precisely explaining the
behaviour of the individual entity.
In the area of Gestalt theory character explanations were taken over
by function centered explanations, for example, in the work by Tamara
DEMBO which was already mentioned, and in the investigation of early
childhood defiance done by Lilly KEMMLER, a student of METZGER. With
the aid of field theoretical applications, KEMMLER was able to avoid
the character explanation and explain the dynamic of defiance by identifying
the person and environmental factors and their function in the whole
There are also examples for function centered explanations gaining prominence
in contemporary psychoanalysis. I am limiting myself here to the transference
phenomen. Although FREUD analyzed yet purely from monopersonal perspective,
the dramaturgical as well as the narrative-linguistic post-Freudian
direction of psychoanalysis offer a completely different conception.
In following both of these directions, the roles of the two participants,
participating patient and therapist, are built on the here and now of
the analytical situation. The question is no longer: why does the patient
behave so or so, why does he say this or that?, but rather, why does
he behave so with the therapist, or, why does he tell that to the therapist?