"While the guided visualization that led to the drawing could have been an intervention used by other theorists,
it became a particularly Gestalt psychological one while the sharing in first person as the rosebush in the moment."
The Counseling Theory Course
Counseling Theory is a course PAU’s MA Counseling students take in their second quarter, which allows for familiarization with ten of the foremost psychological theories. Instructed by Dr. Wendy Wade, students will explore the genesis of the theories, the language, the interventions, usefulness, and application of the theories, as well as the theories’ particular limitations. The primary purpose is to strengthen students' understanding of the major theoretical orientations to psychotherapeutic treatment. This will be done through the study and exploration of the techniques of each theory, and through integration with other first year coursework to prepare students for the Clinical Competency Exam.
Dr. Wendy Wade
Dr. Wade is a Core Professor in Palo Alto University's Masters in Counseling Program. She has worked as Coordinator of Betty Ford Center's Children's Program with children whose parents with alcoholism/addiction. She has a private practice and conducts mental health assessments for students in Special Education. She has worked with children as an elementary school educator and administrator, and also as a child and family therapist in community mental health. She has received intensive training in Gestalt Therapy for children as developed by Violet Oaklander and enlarged upon by Felicia Carroll. Dr. Wade received her PhD at Pacifica Graduate Institute, and is a Licensed Professional Counselor.
J and W
Graduate students in the 2016 cohort of PAU’s M.A. Counseling program.
J has been studying and doing finance for 9 years, and PAU is her first step to make the career transition to pursue her psychology dream.
W loves bicycle riding and movies.
They meet online for about 3 hours per week for class and met in-person once at a school gathering. Before paired up for the Rosebush exercise, J and W had practiced empathetic listening as a duo in a previous class studying Person-centered Therapy.
The Rosebush Fantasy Exercise
In the class of Gestalt Therapy, Wendy suggested that students work in pairs for a brief practice called the Rosebush. Guided by her instructions, students were encouraged to imagine themselves as rosebushes and to draw a picture of their respective fantasy afterwards. To enrich their imagination, students were provided with various questions such as “What kind of rosebush are you? Do you have flowers? If so, what kind? What color are your flowers? Are you in full bloom or do you only have buds? Do you have leaves? What are your stems and branches like? What are your roots like? Do you have thorns? Where are you? What's around you? What's it like to be a rosebush? Does someone take care of you? What's the weather like for you right now?...". (Oaklander, 1994)
Students were asked to show their drawings to their partners and describe it in present tense as they were the rosebushes while their partners wrote the descriptions down. The statement was then repeated by the partner followed by discussions about what they said as a rosebush would fit in anyway with their own lives. Last but not the least, email exchanges of the statements after class were strongly recommended.
When Wendy proposed to practice this Rosebush Fantasy in class, I was a little concerned because in my understanding it was mainly applicable to child therapy and thus I didn’t expect much to learn from this “little game”. Surprisingly, after completing the whole process with my partner W, I felt magically closer to myself as well as to W. We both got excited about the empathy and enlightenment we experienced through this little practice.
Being clumsy at painting or any handicraft work my whole life, I was quite embarrassed when showing the drawing to W and had to add a lot of words to describe my imagination which I was unable to deliver through painting. I guess W was amused by my funny painting and she comforted me that childlike style was also a style (oh W!). After my presentation, W summarized what she had heard to make sure that she got my idea. Indeed, I could see her in the same garden where my rosebush was growing! This feeling of being present with my partner was just so cool! Furthermore, I suddenly gained more clarity about my life through W’s reiteration. For instance, in my imagination there was a gardener taking care of the roses, however, he was not in sight because he also had other things to attend. W reflected that this gardener was neither far away nor preoccupied with those roses and he would show up whenever the roses needed him. This reframing immediately reminded me of my relationship with my parents, and I just realized how fortunate and grateful I was to have such wonderful mom and dad!
The minute I saw W’s drawing, I was amazed at how different and unique every one could be. Her rose land looks totally different from mine, and we were even not on the same planet! But strangely, as she was describing her rosebush to me, I felt her world so vividly that I could hear the breeze and was drawn to the broad starlit cosmos. I could sense the power of growth and the acceptance of the very presence, and I felt peaceful and joyful just by watching the drawing. When I shared my feelings with W, she seemed a little surprised and then gladly she said, “I feel you can see me!” I guess this is the moment of encountering, which could be very healing for both parties involved.
Gestalt therapy promotes awareness of our whole being, and I suppose we could only understand this proposition by experiencing and exploring ourselves. The Rosebush practice is mainly used with children because painting, as a non-verbal form, would facilitate the expression and understanding of children’s inner world with easy metaphors. But after trying, I'm convinced that adults could also benefit from the practice because very likely we are as ignorant as kids with regard to who we are and how we feel. Actually, thanks to W and Wendy, I have obtained far more insights about myself from this practice which could not be elaborated here due to the length limitation. However, I am so happy I could share my experience which might intrigue you to also give it a try to draw your own unique and beautiful rosebush.
It was when we were exchanging each other’s statement after class that the point of the rosebush exercise dawned on me. I was a bit skeptical hearing Wendy’s instructions – is it really necessary to go over the descriptions of the drawings for 3 times by talking and writing about them in and out of class? It turned out that each time was a unique experience for us.
As you can see in my drawing, I didn’t picture myself as a rosebush, but only one single rose. The picture I saw on Le Petit Prince popped into my mind the second I heard “rose”. Naturally the issue of “aloneness and connectedness” was touched upon in our discussion. I struggled a little and eventually failed to find an alternative of “I don’t feel alone” the first time when I described my drawing to J, and I tried to make it clear that I enjoyed the connection between the “rose” and the “stars”. Additional attention was paid to how J would paraphrase the “alone” part when she was repeating my description. I remembered feeling kind of relieved when J said that the rose was comfortable with the way she related to the stars, the moon and the sun. Meanwhile, a question surfaced with that relief – am I really perfectly okay about it if I care so much about whether J would get it or not? Reflecting on the process, I think that this piece of insight only happened when I felt being supported and accepted by my partner.
To be honest, I wasn’t able to be fully present for J at the in-class practice as there were so many things going on in that moment. We were trying to experience it ourselves, to be there for our partners, and also learn it as a technique to be adapted into our skill repertoire. The best part of the exercise for me is our interaction after class. I had been thinking about how to present her drawing in words appropriately for a couple of days, and tried to be descriptive other than interpretative when I finally started writing in the hope that she could sense the warmth, vitality and neatness that I felt every time I laid my eyes on her lovely round strokes. And I could literally see my brain lighting up as if I were in an MRI scan when J’s statement of my drawing came through via WeChat! What’s also interesting is that the conversations between me and J after the exchange are no longer limited to expressing appreciations towards each other but also are open to constructive criticisms.
No, we are absolutely neither painters nor poets. Yet I think our encounter on a person-to-person level is just as beautiful as any art could be.