Gestalt theory and C. Rogers' definition of
subject-centered interview

Lucia Lumbelli
Professor of Educational Theory
at the University of Trieste (Italy)
Department of Psychology

Abstract of the lecture at the 10th Scientific Convention of the
Society for Gestalt Theory and its Applications (GTA)
Vienna/Austria, March 1997


KAHN and CANNEL (1957) already described the informational interview as a field of forces in which the interviewer's behavior plays an important role and which significantly affects the quality and quantity of the information supplied by the interviewee.

Furthermore, KAHN and CANNEL put LEWINs field theory in relationship with ROGERS' theory of the therapist's attitudes and behavior; the interview technique they designed, however, is a compromise between adopting both those theories and inserting their operational implications into a scheme of prestructured, direct questions. Despite recognizing the important function ROGERS attributed to what they named non-directive controlled probing, they inserted this behavior into a frame of direct questions only when an answer to one of these questions seemed incomplete and/or ambiguous.

I shall try to show the inconsistency between adopting ROGERS' personality theory and describing the interview as a field of forces, on one hand, and alternating the use of prestructured questions with reflection responses in the course of the interview, on the other. I shall also outline a methodological stance which is partially different from KAHN and CANNELs one but is consistent with their theoretical assumptions. This stance guarantees that the reflection responses will be as effective as possible in creating a field of forces which enhances the reassuring atmosphere in the interview situation. Gradually enhancing the reassuring atmosphere should make the interviewee's mind increasingly flexible, i.e. should make the boundaries with-in his/her mind increasingly loose and easy to change; this increase in looseness should give rise, in turn, to an increasingly rich and clear verbal production.

We might say that das Werden (genesis) in the field conditions created by the interviewers' reflection responses gives rise to das Werden in the interviewee's mind and in their verbal production. The latter begins as a hesitating, laconic, superficial way of communicating and tends to become fluent, rich and deep.

In this theoretical framework, alternating direct, interviewer-centered questions with reflection responses implies alternating the desirable effects of the latter with the negative effects of forces working in a different direction, i.e. forces which are very likely to provoke hesitations and blocks in the interviewee's communication, thus interfering with the effects of the reflection responses, which KAHN and CANNEL recognize as well.

I shall, first, briefly describe the structure of reflection response by focussing on its function of implementing interviewers' attitudes of unconditioned acceptation and empathic comprehension and its consequent function of enhancing the reassuring forces as opposed to those field forces which tend, instead, to increase closedmindedness and communication blocks.

Secondly, I shall show some of the clues in ROGERS' work to the influence of Gestalt theory on his definition of the function of interviewers' verbal behavior.

As to Gestalt theory, WERTHEIMER and DUNCKER's definitions of problem solving are especially applied to the design of a specific instructional project to enhance the ability of text comprehension.

This is a preliminary abstract of the lecture. The final and complete version has been published in English in GTA's journal GESTALT THEORY:
Lucia Lumbelli: Gestalt theory and C. Rogers' interviewee-centered interview - Das Werden of the interview climate. Gestalt Theory, 19 (2/1997), pp 90-99.

Back to conference program 1997 in English.
Zum Tagungsprogramm 1997 in Deutsch.

Click here for a list of on-line abstracts of lectures at the Scientific Conventions of the GTA since 1997

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Most recent revision: 19.8.2000