Abstract of the lecture at the 10th Scientific
Convention of the
Society for Gestalt
Theory and its Applications (GTA) / Vienna/Austria, March
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 spheres.
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
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?