Kempler’s Way

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away. — Philip K. Dick

Walter Kempler, not to be confused with the California serial killer Edmund Kemper, is a noted psychiatrist who expanded on the ideas of Fritz Perls and Gestalt therapy. Although Kempler is a contemporary and former cohort of Perls, Kempler parted ways with his holistic sidekick regarding the therapist’s role in the process of experiential therapy. Kempler argues that the therapist should be an active participant during the therapeutic process while taking advantage of confrontation during sessions. Kempler’s psychoanalytic approach is to focus on the immediate feelings of the client by challenging them to reveal emotional content underlying verbal and non-verbal language (as the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein noted, one of the remaining tasks of philosophy is the analysis of language).

Resistance to experience is one of the primary factors examined in Kempler’s design for experiential and existential psychotherapy. In other words, the client must not discount the “now” and action is emphasized as a methodology for eliciting transformation. Kempler believes that perceptual modification is produced by the active momentum of experiencing events while discouraging the avoidance of therapeutically productive disputation. Simply put, confrontation often leads to adaptive reconciliation. Kempler’s philosophy and orientation are derived from the theoretical position that people gain clarity by seeing things in meaningful “wholes” (Gestalten), rather than focusing on the particularization of specific events.¹ Likewise, understanding the principle of psychophysical isomorphism (the correlations between experience and cerebral activity) provides leverage for maintaining psychodynamic continuity and a resilient sense of identity when future events go awry.

Being emotionally centered to offset the vicissitudes of life demands authenticity of form, but our unwillingness to confront the world as it really is often keeps us mired in the minutiae. In Kempler’s world, consistency and congruency are de rigueur.

 1. Becvar, D., & Becvar, R. (2006). Family Therapy. New York: Pearson publishing/Allyn & Bacon.