Dr Debbie Daniels
In the last article I decoded some of the unconscious narrative from a filmed session between Carl Rogers and the client Gloria. The session was the first of three that became known as the TAP [Three Approaches to Psychotherapy] films. Research into the background of these films revealed that Everett Shostrom, the producer of the films, had in fact been Gloria’s therapist for four years. In addition, Shostrom’s wife had treated Gloria’s daughter, Pammy, the daughter Gloria refers to in the session. I suggested that Gloria encoded these pre-filming events through stories of her recent divorce and new relationships with men. Gloria appeared to encode that Shostrom’s actions had caused her to feel exploited and that he was not be trusted; there were themes in the session of lies and deceit. I also suggested that while, consciously, Gloria appeared to get on well with Rogers, her unconscious perception was that Rogers appeared seductive and she sensed a need in him for a father/daughter relationship.
In this article I will explore some key points in the two sessions that followed between Gloria and Fritz Perls and Albert Ellis. As in the last article I will refer to Robert Langs’ ground rules of psychotherapy to discover the impact of frame violations made by Perls and Ellis on Gloria’s encoded narrative. I will explore how pre-filming information about Ellis contributed to Gloria’s encoded narrative events. In addition I will reveal how post-filming events offer validation for Gloria’s unconscious perceptions of Shostrom, Rogers and Perls.
Gloria and Perls
Gloria’s instruction from Shostrom, before any of the filming took place, was that she should present the same issue to each therapist. The subject chosen for discussion by Gloria was her difficulties with her daughter, regarding her new relationships with men. This subject was presented to Rogers and discussed in full detail. It is, therefore, interesting to note that this story is not presented to Perls, either manifestly, or as unconscious commentary on prior events with Shostrom; indeed, no narrative story is presented. It seems from the outset that Gloria’s main focus is on Perls with an acute observation of his demeanour and his interventions. At the beginning of the session Perls does not introduce himself and Gloria states that she is scared. Perls responds with an encoded reference to the frame deviant setting suggesting to Gloria that she has stage fright. Thus, it would seem that very soon into the session Gloria is reminded of the frame deviant setting, that she is on stage. Gloria states that she is suspicious of Perls; she is uncomfortable with his entire demeanour and she fears he is going to attack her.
Gloria: I’m afraid you’re gonna have such a direct attack that you’re gonna get me in a corner and I’m afraid of it.
What is the trigger for this anxiety about Perls? Has Gloria’s unconscious perceived something predatory about this therapist and why does she present imagery about the corner?
There is an incident of trauma from Gloria’s childhood in which her punitive father often made her kneel on rice while facing a corner. I suggest that the memory of this childhood trauma has been activated by Perls’ harsh, non-neutral interventions and the unsafe setting. Gloria’s fear that Perls is threatening continues; she seems to have made some unconscious perception about him that he will attack her in some way. Perls constantly challenges this fear claiming that Gloria is a grown woman; thus he questions what he could possibly do to her.
Perls: OK. So you are a thirty-year old girl who is afraid of a guy like me…Now what can I do to you?
This is interesting communication, another example of the misguided patient and an innocent therapist; what could Perls possibly do to Gloria? The somewhat shocking answer will be revealed in post filming events.
Ellis and Gloria
The story Gloria presented to Rogers and had agreed to present to each therapist is again absent in the Ellis session and the content significantly deviates from the agreed agenda. The session begins:
Ellis: Well, would you like to tell me what is bothering you most?
Gloria: [Sighs]. Yes, I think the things that I would like to talk to you about most are adjusting to my single life, mostly men I guess. At the moment, I don’t know if I’m doing the wrong thing – but I am going to refer to your book anyway, because this is what I’m impressed with, this book about The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Man, em. I have tried to follow it and I believe in it, this is why it is so fun reading your book because I’m not much of a reader, but I sort of believe the thing when you do.
I would suggest from a communicative perspective, that Gloria’s opening narrative has been influenced by a significant frame-violating event, which transgresses the ground rule of therapist anonymity. Gloria had never met Ellis before the filming, but she was certainly aware of his book publications. The books that Ellis had produced did not lend themselves to neutral titles and much could be inferred through them about the author. Ellis’ work included: How to live with a neurotic , Nymphomania: A study of oversexed women  and Homosexuality: Its causes and cures . It is wondered how Gloria unconsciously perceived the author of such titles before meeting Ellis. It is known from Gloria’s opening statement that she had read at least one of his books, carrying the seductive title, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Man-Hunting [Ellis, 1963].
Gloria acknowledges that she doesn’t know if she is doing the wrong thing, [not staying with the agreed agenda], when she instead introduces Ellis’ book. Gloria seems to have only briefly addressed Ellis the therapist; soon into the session she appears to be addressing Ellis the author. I would suggest that the therapist’s loss of anonymity through the publication of his books, carrying seductive titles, has activated predatory death anxiety in Gloria. Before even meeting him, Gloria’s unconscious processing mind may have perceived Ellis as an author on seduction, far more than a frame-securing therapist.
Ellis frequently delivers his theoretical opinions based on his book and proffers advice on what Gloria should do to set up a date with an eligible man. These are both serious transgressions of the ground rule of therapist neutrality. The session moves to an ending with Ellis offering Gloria an interesting homework assignment.
Ellis: Now as I said, I would give you, as though you were a patient of mine, a homework assignment of deliberately, very deliberately, going out and getting yourself into trouble. In other words taking the most eligible male you can find at the moment and forcing yourself, risking yourself to be you.
Who could be a more eligible male for Gloria than an eminent psychotherapist and an author on a book on seduction? I would suggest that Gloria has perceived an encoded seduction by Ellis; her shocked response is to try to verify what she thinks the doctor has encoded.
Gloria: Are you saying even it were like I went into a doctor’s office, to start a conversation with him because he was attractive to me or he appealed to me?
Ellis: Right …..
Gloria: Even go so far as starting a conversation with him, a personal one?
There appear to be so few therapeutic boundaries in this encounter that Gloria hears that Ellis is inviting her to be personal with him. Ellis reiterates, yes, he means any eligible individual:
Ellis: Why not if he is an eligible individual, any kind of an eligible individual.
I suggest that Gloria’s wise and moral unconscious cannot accept such an encoded frame violation, which is why she responds with:
Gloria: I know that you accept that but that seems awfully brazen.
The session soon ends with Gloria manifestly denying what has taken place, stating her excitement about following Ellis’ advice to ask men out on dates. However, I would suggest that her encoded narrative communicates that she thinks Ellis is frame-violating, seductive and brazen.
I will now provide an account of how Rogers, Perls and Shostrom continued to transgress the ground rules of the therapeutic framework, following the making of the TAP films. I suggest that the following account provides evidence that Gloria’s unconscious perceptions, which I inferred from her encoded narrative, about the therapists, were astute and accurate.
Rogers and Gloria
Previously I suggested that Gloria had unconsciously perceived some need in Rogers for a father/daughter relationship. Some months after the filming Gloria attended a conference held by Rogers and she was invited by Rogers to have lunch with him and his wife. Gloria asked the couple whether they would object if, in her thinking, she regarded them as her ‘parents in spirit’. They agreed to this request saying that they would be pleased and honoured to have that status in her life. Over the fifteen years to follow, until Gloria’s death, there was a great deal of correspondence between Rogers and Gloria through which she would learn many aspects of Rogers’ private life. Rogers often signed off the letters ‘from your ghostly father’.
What developed, on a conscious level, seems to have been a positive and even loving friendship. However, these scenarios were deeply frame violating, transgressing the ground rules of anonymity and neutrality. Rogers had been Gloria’s therapist, albeit for a very short space of time. Nevertheless, that was the established relationship. The relationship never really becomes one of true friendship; it cannot, because of the way in which Gloria and Rogers first met, as client and therapist. The question is why was Rogers prone to such a frame violation?
Kirschenbaum describes a house move in Rogers’ childhood. ‘Although the move was exciting for Carl, it marked the first in a series which would repeatedly interrupt the friendships he had barely begun to establish’ [1979:3]. Could it be that Rogers’ continued contact with Gloria was his unconscious fight against the enforced ending at the end of the therapy session, one that would reactivate the trauma of his relationships being ended prematurely in childhood?
Perls and Gloria
Gloria manifestly made claims in the session with Perls that he would harm her. Perls refuted these claims and located the neurosis in Gloria saying it was her imagination. However, both consciously and deeply unconsciously Gloria perceived throughout the session that Perls was a threat, that he would attack her. Was Gloria misguided? What, as Perls asked, could he do to her?
What Perls actually did to Gloria took place at the end of the day’s filming. Gloria stood in the foyer, saying her goodbyes to the camera crew; Perls was also in the foyer talking with Ellis. What then happened between Perls and Gloria is recounted by Gloria as follows:
He made a motion to me with his hands as if to say, “Hold your hand in a cup-like form – palm up.” Unconsciously I followed his request, not really knowing what he meant. He flicked his cigarette ashes in my hand. Insignificant? Could be – if one doesn’t mind being mistaken for an ash-tray [Dolliver & Gold, 1980].
The incident with the ash demonstrates that Gloria’s manifest and unconscious perceptions of Perls were accurate and that those who have a tendency towards frame violations will be consistent in this, both within and outside of the therapy situation. As with Rogers the answers to Perls’ frame violating behaviour may lie in his childhood. It is known that Perls was bullied and ignored within his childhood family and experienced detached relationships, all of which he re-enacted with Gloria.
Shostrom and Gloria
After the filmed sessions had taken place Gloria was asked by Shostrom for an assessment of her experience of working with the three therapists. She was asked to make a hypothetical choice of which one of them she would like to work with in the future. Gloria’s surprising response was to choose Perls.
In 2004, Albert Ellis commented in correspondence with Rosenthal that, Gloria, in the film that we did, had been a patient of Everett Shostrom’s for four years before we actually made the film. Carl Rogers and I didn’t know about this until later. So, she was under his influence and he got her to say that Perls helped her, when he actually didn’t.
Previously I suggested from the encoded narrative in the Rogers session that Gloria’s perception of Shostrom was that he had caused her and her daughter harm and could not be trusted. The second post-session event involving Shostrom confirms her perceptions beyond any doubt. It was Gloria’s understanding, when she was asked by Shostrom to participate in the TAP films that they would be used for educational purposes and would be shown within a classroom context. ‘It was, therefore, something of a shock for Gloria to see herself in the interview with Perls on national television’ [Burry, 2010:59].
Gloria learnt shortly after the television extract that the films were being shown in full at the cinema under the title ‘The Gloria Films’. Gloria began proceedings to sue Shostrom. A newspaper article followed entitled, ‘Ex Patient Sues Therapist, Claims He Marketed Films.’
The article contained the following:
Mrs….alleged she was told that the films would be used “in a private, scientific and education context [for] the training of scientific and education personnel.” Within the last year Mrs…has learned that the defendants “have been selling and showing said films in the entertainment media and that said films have been sold and shown for profit at public movie houses and upon public television.”…..all to her great embarrassment.
In the newspaper article, Gloria’s identity was revealed, as they used both her first and second married names. Clearly, taking the films into the public domain severely transgressed the ground rules of privacy and confidentiality, beyond any limits that Gloria may have imagined when she agreed to participate in their production.
In these papers I have provided evidence that those who are prone to transgressing ground rules will do so again and again. The ground rules were transgressed by all four therapists, in some cases prior to the filming, in all cases during the filming, and in most cases after the filming. I have also evidenced that Gloria’s unconscious perceptions of the therapists, through decoding her narrative, were astute and correct.
Langs proffers a poignant warning saying that all therapists and all mental health professionals need to be vigilant against lapses in the ground rules. This is especially necessary when a therapist suffers a personal, death- related trauma to him or herself or to someone close to them – and when death begins to cast a shadow over the world at large. The activation of personal death anxieties always unconsciously presses an individual towards frame modifications and the denial of deep unconscious meaning – both are ways of denying the reality of personal death and death–related harm to others, along with their many disturbing ramifications [2004:192].
Debbie Daniels is a Doctor of Psychotherapy and is the Director of Canterbury Counselling & Psychotherapy Centre. She has worked with Dr Robert Langs on her research into Communicative Psychotherapy for the past ten years. She is the co-author with Peter Jenkins of the book Therapy with Children: Children’s Rights, Confidentiality and the Law. [2nd Edition Sage 2010].
Burry, P. (2010). Living with ‘The Gloria films’: A daughter’s memory. (2nd ed.). Ross on Wye: PCCS Books.
Dolliver, R. and Williams, E. (1980). The art of Gestalt Therapy or What are you doing with your feet now? Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, 17:136-142.
Ellis, A. (1957). How to Live with a Neurotic. Oxford: Crown.
Ellis, A. (1964). Nymphomania: A study of oversexed women. New York: Gilbert Press.
Ellis, A. (1965). Homosexuality: Its causes and cures. New York: Lyle Stuart.
Ellis, A. (1965). The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Man-Hunting. New York: Dell Publishing.
Kirschenbaum, H. (1979). On Becoming Carl Rogers. New York: Delacorte/Delta Press.
Langs, R. (2004). The Conscious System& The Deep Unconscious System in Fundamentals of Adaptive Psychotherapy & Counselling, New York: Palgrave MacMillan, pp.41-59.