This paper examines six concepts important to understanding Gestalt psychology and therapy, using characters and situations in Tony KayeÆs film about two skinhead brothers, American History X. The six Gestalt principles are introjection, projection, retroflection, confluence, denial, and contact cycle. The brothersÆ personality developments leading to their radical racism and one brotherÆs eventual rejection of the movement provide strong examples of these principles, showing how Gestalt psychology looks at psychopathologic personality development and can be used to work toward personality reintegration.
Gestalt is a German word that is usually translated into English as meaning ôwhole,ö and Gestalt theory is frequently summed up as following the principle of the whole being more than the sum of its parts. In psychological terms, as Roy Jose Decarvalho (1991) puts it, ôThe human organism . . . is more than just the additive sum of each isolated and reduced part. The parts affect the whole and vice versa in a continual process of mutual transformationö (p. 43).
A number of principles are unique to Gestalt psychologyÆs approach to understanding psychological development. Several are similar to some of the fundamental concepts of Freudian psychology, but differ in important ways that relate to GestaltÆs emphasis on looking at the whole individual and the complete processes of personality development. KayeÆs (1998) film provides interesting examples of individuals at different stages of Gestalt development that help to illustrate concepts key to examining what makes this theoretical approach unique.
American History X recounts two days in the life of brothers Derek and Daniel Vinyard, members of a neo-Nazi skinhead gang. Derek has just been released from prison after serving three years for the brutal murder of two black men who were trying to steal his truck. Daniel is happy to have his big brother back, a...