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Dichotomies and Polarities

In field theory, there is a distinction made between dichotomies and polarities (Brownell, 2009). Dichotomies are unnatural splits in which a field is made up of separate, competing, either-or parts instead of integrated elements in relationship to one another that form a whole (Kellogg, 2004). However, polarities are a natural part of fields. Fields are differentiated into polarities – opposite parts that work in tandem or in contrast to one another to help clarify meaning (Crocker & Philippson, 2005).

When integration fails, splits occur. The parts of the person – those elements of mind and body that make the person what he or she is – are experienced as separate, not integrated (Hurley et al., 2006). Thus, a mother may dichotomize her capacity to be a caretaker from her ability to care for herself. Yet health is found in integration, in which difference is accepted and various parts of the self work together.

Foreground and Background

Another principle of Gestalt therapy is that of the foreground and background in a phenomenological field. The goal is a well-formed figure standing in contrast to a broader, less-well-defined background (Pack, 2009). The figure is in the forefront of the individual's awareness of the phenomenological field at any one time. Problems occur when foreground and background are not well formed and clearly distinct from one another.

The concept of health according to Gestalt theory defines a situation in which awareness accurately represents and brings to the foreground the dominant need of the whole field (Yontef & Jacobs, 2007). Gestalt therapy also abides by the law of homeostasis (or selfregulation), which is the organism's tendency to seek balance within itself and between itself and its environment (Brownell, 2009). Thus, if the person needs food for energy, he or she becomes hungry, the need for food comes to the foreground, and the person eats. This returns the body to a state of homeostasis in which there is enough food to provide the energy needed for proper functioning.

The Gestalt psychology principle of pragnanz is instructive in concluding the examination of the foreground-background dynamic (Verstegen, 2007). It states that the field will form itself into the best Gestalt that global conditions will allow. That is, interacting elements in a field and their structure in relationship to one another tend to form themselves, creating foreground and background in the best possible way. Thus, there is an innate drive toward health and growth found in nature, of which humans are a part.

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