Out of the cultural revolution of the 1960's came the field of "pop psychology," the idea that any of us can learn to recognize the psychological problems that we have, and learn to deal with them in a skillful and legitimately psychotherapeutic, or "healing," way.
People who came in for gestalt therapy in the 1960s and 1970s (see Fritz Perls, M.D., Gestalt Therapy Verbatim (Bantam Books: Toronto, New York, London) 1969) found out that it was a group process of learning what gestalt therapy is, step by step. This training showed them, in the experiences they had during the groups, how they were living their lives in ways that perpetuated their own suffering and caused their own pain and conflicts, and how they were not living in ways in which they "did their own thing," lived to their full potential in the things they liked and loved the most.
Suffering people came in asking "Why?" and learned to rephrase the question as: "How?" They learned to become aware of how they were causing unhappiness and pain in the process of living their lives, and discovered that they could make adjustments from within that would improve things--as verified by their own direct experience. They could change in this way, and grow, and adapt more skillfully to life. Most of the people I saw in gestalt groups like this seemed to love it, as they saw themselves changing and their capacities being freed up. (Rarely, participants even experienced "post group depression" because return to their normal walks of life was so drab compared to the high sensitivity of being alive with others in groups like this where defenses could be let down, manipulations could be dropped, and a person could just be who he or she is, without disguises and roles. It is so envigorating to be authentic!)
Anyone could come in from any walk of life and do this. By the time a person finished a year or two of gestalt therapy groups, they were highly trained in gestalt therapy, itself. Most did not become therapists, as I did, yet they were able to interact with their families and others in an educated therapeutic way. It was a rather massive dissemination of the healing knowledge of psychotherapy into the community at large.
The popularization of gestalt therapy was one of the phenomena that demonstrated the feasibility of "pop psychology" in those times. There was a spirit of enthusiasm among my friends and colleagues that any of us could be empowered with the knowledge of how we humans hurt ourselves and hold ourselves back from our full potential. It brought about the recognition in those days that humans could be trusted with the real information on how to heal their own sufferings, and even be given the tools for doing this. What became popularized was the educated ability to deal with one's own deepest emotional problems, and learn how to find guidance and inspiration in one's own heart in relating with others.
Being a gestalt therapist, I was well aware of the advantages of a good diagnostic tool in the pursuit of this knowledge. I studied, and used Dr. Eric Berne's Games People Play, (Grove Press, Inc.: New York) 1964; and Dr. Everett Shostrum's Man, the Manipulator (Bantam Books: Toronto, New York, London) 1967--both popular best-sellers for years. And then I was introduced to the work of Dr. Timothy Leary (research and analysis performed years before he became famous with the rest of his life).
In Interpersonal Diagnosis of Personality, a Functional Theory and Methodology for Personality Evaluation (Ronald Press: New York) 1957, Leary had adapted the teachings of Dr. Harry Stack Sullivan (see The Interpersonal Theory of Psychiatry (Norton: New York) 1953) into the development of a balanced, counter-clockwise diagnostic tool called "the Leary Wheel."
Inspired as I was by Berne and Shostrum, it was Leary's approach that seemed by far the handiest and easiest to use. It was balanced, and it was "full." It had it all in there, so to speak, reduced to fundamental terms. Berne, himself, had lamented in a footnote that there was no diagnostic system available based on the existential positions of the types. Yet Leary developed such a system and balanced it, as well. And I saw that it worked.
I saw that it could be expanded to show the typical emotional feelings, thinking patterns, ego desires, and manipulations of personality that go with each of the types around the wheel, that it could serve as a complete holistic diagnostic tool that reflects the whole inner spectrum of our human beingness.
It could be used off the top of one's head in live situations like the ancient mandala--a mnemonic teaching device. Whole detailed teachings of information can be recalled to memory by keying in to any part of it. I developed these more "fleshed-out" portraits of the eight types over twenty years--carefully studying the apportionment of the elements to the eight distinct types through an active process of observations while providing psychotherapy treatment, and then while coaching this knowledge to private students in recent years. A long series of ever-improving wheelbooks has been developed over these years as teaching tools for my own clients and students.
The Personality and Essence Wheel was originally adapted from Dr. Leary's types, and then independently adjusted and modified over the years to arrive at the eight types as they are presented here. A comparison at this time shows that these types differ in a number of particulars from those that Leary developed. I can only cite my own process of observations as to the exact "carvings" of the eight "statues" as they are presented here, and take responsibility for them. The basic themes of the types that underlie and bind together the eight groupings of elemental characteristics that are given here must speak for themselves.
These types will work. They will do the job. They will show a substantial portrait of human behavior, broken down in a way that can be understood, and reflected in a way that can be seen.
2. A Basis in Sacred Traditions.
During my training in gestalt therapy I met Dr. Mitsuo Aoki, then Dean of the College of Religion at the University of Hawaii, who became my principal teacher. This was thirty years ago. For three semesters I studied with Dr. Aoki as an assistant teacher on his faculty in his class "The Meaning of Existence." Mits is a Zen Buddhist teacher, an ordained Christian minister, and he was a personal pupil of Jewish theologian Martin Buber. He is now Founder and President of the Foundation for Holistic Healing, in Kaneohe, on the Island of Oahu.
Mits' class at the University was open to undergraduate students--some 200 of them every semester. Grounded in the classical traditions, his approach was ecumenical, and even secular. He was also a trained gestalt therapist when I met him. My training in that field served me in being able to assist him in a major transformation of his class that he was undertaking at that time--changing the discussion labs into experiential encounter groups.
This new format gave groups of twenty students an opportunity--not to talk about--but to practice the teachings in his lectures through experiential interacting--doing exercises together and relating with each other in the groups. Mits was developing an approach he called "the phenomenological method." This approach drew from the practice of Buddhist "mindfulness," or Christian "presence," or simply "awareness" as it was called in gestalt therapy--that is, the practice of having presence of mind and awarely paying focused attention with the five natural senses.
His approach combined the use of this "phenomenological" awareness with the "I and Thou" model that Buber provided. This entailed having the presence of mind to recognize one's own "I and it" behavior--which objectifies and manipulates the other person--and maintain enough mindful awareness to replace it with "I and Thou" behavior (which honors the other person and is conducive to honest communication and companionship).
The awareness game that is described here for practicing the use of the Personality and Essence Wheel, is inspired by, and adapted from these teachings of Mitsuo Aoki.