When I was a teenager I was plagued by nightmares that entailed a very spooky man in a black hat, black trench coat and a face that was hidden in shadows. He was after me to do me great bodily harm and I would wake up screaming, sweating, my heart pounding and scared to death.
A friend’s mother suggested my mom take me to a Gestalt therapist and there began a very effective and remarkable treatment. He had me role play in his office. I started out being the scary man and the therapist was the victim. I would sneak up on him and grab him around the throat and he would role play a frightened, weaker person. It was liberating for me. I felt strong and powerful and unafraid.
Then I would be the victim. When he grabbed my throat the therapist told me to fight back and free myself. We weren’t really fighting, and even though it wasn’t real it still gave me a feeling of being competent and strong.
He told me that when I had the bad dream and woke up to lay there and finish the dream in my head re-playing it to where I would get the upper hand and ‘beat up’ the attacker.
I did this a few times and I quit having the nightmares. What was really interesting is that during the role playing there would be dialog and it was as though I had actually become the scary person. I have used Gestalt since then with situations that gave me anxiety. I would speak out my fears and then change roles and be the strong adult talking through those fears. Verbalizing them tended to take most of the power away from them.
Now, as a writer I am finding role playing to be a great tool in developing my characters. I can get a feel for their expressions, tones, quirks and dialogue. Through role playing I also find out the motivations for certain actions on both the Protagonist’s part and the Antagonist’s.
I’ve included a link to an article on Gestalt therapy that discusses how the therapist guides the patient to directly experience a situation rather than talk about it. It tells about the Internal Dialogue experiment where the client role plays both sides of an issue or conflict in order to gain a deeper understanding of their own feelings and the situation. There are other techniques discussed and I just find these types of exercises to be really helpful with my writing.
Do you Gestalt?
Nancy A. Niles is the author of Vendetta: A Deadly Win and Lethal Echoes.