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I teach and practice Gestalt therapy, Career decision coaching, and Family Constellations work. As well as Australia, I teach workshops and training in China, Japan, Korea, the USA & Mexico. I am author of Understanding The Woman In Your Life, a book of advice for men about relationships with women. In my work as director of Lifeworks I provide therapy,  training and supervision. I am a Phd candidate, studying the interpersonal dynamics of power, and am currently director of an MA in Spiritual Psychology for Ryokan College, an accredited online institution based in LA.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Case #208 - Recognising spiritual authority

Jacinda talked about going to the Vatican. She felt a great deal of religous sentiment - awe, excitement, respect, anticipation.
But she went into one church there, and was told rudely by the priest that she could not join the service. There were some exclusive people in the vestibule, and not everyone was welcome.
Jacinda was affronted, and felt excluded. This hurt her sentiment, and her retaliation was internal - she decided that the whole place was just ordinary; it held no spiritual power; it was just a historical relic.
Then some years later, her husband died. She went to the local priest, wanting to recieve some solace from him. Although her husband was quite well known to the priest, he seemed to forget who she or her husband were.
Susanna was furious. She resolved internally not to recognise the priest as any kind of authority.  
From this time on, she had not given up spirituality, but had instead found her own version of faith. She had spent many years working on this, developing herself without being dependant on external authorities to instruct or guide her. She had also further suffered - a son had died. Throughout this time, she had reached deep inside, and found a solid ground of spiritual meaning, purpose, and practice for herself.
Jacinda was now in her 60's. She dedicated hereself to the teaching work she did with her university students. She exuded a kind of deep strength.
I spoke to her, telling her that I recognised that she had achieved a place in her life where I believed it was appropriate for her to be recognised as an authority. I explained: there is authority which is 'given' - that of a role such as priest. And authority which is earned - by virtue of experience, insight, and deep reflection. It seemed to me that she was in this second category, and I suggested to her that she could take up this mantle - as a person who could be a guide for others.
Even though she was not in a formal role of a spiritual teacher, I suggested that she could legitimately offer herself in some way as a spiritual guide to others.
Jacinda was deeply touched, and was able to recognise the truth of what I was saying. It provided a meaningful way forward for her, to move into sharing what she had learned over the years, with others. After all, many people seek spiritual guidance, and the best comes from someone who has really lived it.  
In this case, Jacinda did not need a therapeutic process. I believed that, apart from witnessing her story, she did not need help in digesting her experience - she had already done that work. What I could offer her was using some of my role-power as a therapist to recognise something valuable about her, which she would not otherwise recognise as clearly. Because she had moved away from religious authorities, it would not occur to her to offer herself as any kind of authority in the spiritual realm. Yet, she had in fact exactly the characteristics that make up the best authorities.  
So, by recognising her in this way, I strove to empower her to consider stepping into a larger role. This is a Gestalt that is oriented towards the future, and in this case was not based so much on a horizonal/dialogical process, as an empowering/vertical one.
Gestalt is greatly flexible - we use the resources we have to address the uniqueness of the client.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Case #207 - Restoring spirituality

Aggie's brother died in his 20's. Her mother suggested Aggie go to confession, hoping she would get some comfort from the priest.
But the priest seemed to think Aggie was just another tourist (rather than a local), and blithely told her to let it go, spend her money, and enjoy herself.
Angie was both disappointed, and very angry. She had looked for spiritual support, and instead she got a banal response. The effect was to turn her away from spirituality, and organised religion.
I set up two chairs, and invited her to put the priest in the other chair and speak to him. This incident was 20 years previously, but she still felt angry and bitter about it.
Angie told the priest, 'you let me down.' She repeated this several times. I directed her to use 'I' in the statement. She said, 'I am sad that you didnt understand me. I needed support.'
Then she repeated, 'you let me down' several times again.
I asked her to add 'and I am angry about that'. Aggie was reluctant to do so. But without full ownership, the statement was simply blame rather than including herself and her feelings.
I asked her about the priests face in the chair - how was he responding? She said that his face was blank - ie. unresponsive.
She talked to him again about her sadness, but there was still no response. And her voice did not show her anger.
So I asked her to stand over him, and express her anger in her voice - to yell at him if necessary.
She did this, though not very loudly. I kept supporting her to stay present, breathe, feel her feelings..and to keep telling him directly how angry she was.
Finally, she saw him bowing his head.
She felt relief - there was some impact of her feelings.
I kept focusing her on her breathing. Her mouth was tight - I asked if she felt bitterness; she said she felt very disappointed…I asked her to be aware of that feeling in her mouth.
I echoed a saying, 'Holding onto resentment is like drinking poison, hoping the other person will die'. I also strongly acknowledged her feelings - of sadness, anger and disappointment.
This was important, to both hold her feelings, and to confront her with the conequences of holding on. Even after the work, her mouth was still a bit tense.
I then invited her to put Spirituality in a chair, and talk to it. This was an important and tender moment. Up to then, the result of this incident was that she had, for 20 years, been indifferent to spirituality. Her emotional hurt had led (as it often does) to eschewing spirituality altogether.
Now, as she talked to Spirituality, a flood of emotion came over her. She felt, for the first time in a long time, her longing, and openess to it. She truly felt herself letting go of the hurt, the offense, and moving forward to a new chapter in her life, where she could once again embrace spirituality, without it being tainted by the actions of one priest.

Case #207 - Restoring spirituality

Aggie's brother died in his 20's. Her mother suggested Aggie go to confession, hoping she would get some comfort from the priest.
But the priest seemed to think Aggie was just another tourist (rather than a local), and blithely told her to let it go, spend her money, and enjoy herself.
Angie was both disappointed, and very angry. She had looked for spiritual support, and instead she got a banal response. The effect was to turn her away from spirituality, and organised religion.
I set up two chairs, and invited her to put the priest in the other chair and speak to him. This incident was 20 years previously, but she still felt angry and bitter about it.
Angie told the priest, 'you let me down.' She repeated this several times. I directed her to use 'I' in the statement. She said, 'I am sad that you didnt understand me. I needed support.'
Then she repeated, 'you let me down' several times again.
I asked her to add 'and I am angry about that'. Aggie was reluctant to do so. But without full ownership, the statement was simply blame rather than including herself and her feelings.  
I asked her about the priests face in the chair - how was he responding? She said that his face was blank - ie. unresponsive.  
She talked to him again about her sadness, but there was still no response. And her voice did not show her anger.
So I asked her to stand over him, and express her anger in her voice - to yell at him if necessary.
She did this, though not very loudly. I kept supporting her to stay present, breathe, feel her feelings..and to keep telling him directly how angry she was.
Finally, she saw him bowing his head.  
She felt relief - there was some impact of her feelings.
I kept focusing her on her breathing. Her mouth was tight - I asked if she felt bitterness; she said she felt very disappointed…I asked her to be aware of that feeling in her mouth.  
I echoed a saying, 'Holding onto resentment is like drinking poison, hoping the other person will die'. I also strongly acknowledged her feelings - of sadness, anger and disappointment.  
This was important, to both hold her feelings, and to confront her with the conequences of holding on. Even after the work, her mouth was still a bit tense.
I then invited her to put Spirituality in a chair, and talk to it. This was an important and tender moment. Up to then, the result of this incident was that she had, for 20 years, been indifferent to spirituality. Her emotional hurt had led (as it often does) to eschewing spirituality altogether.
Now, as she talked to Spirituality, a flood of emotion came over her. She felt, for the first time in a long time, her longing, and openess to it. She truly felt herself letting go of the hurt, the offense, and moving forward to a new chapter in her life, where she could once again embrace spirituality, without it being tainted by the actions of one priest.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Case #206 - The voice of God

Each time Mabel spoke about her spirituality, she reported feeling some turmoil. She said she was tense in the stomach.
Mabel had not previously been religious, but of recent years had joined the church. There were many things she appreciated, and valued about her newfound religious experience. But there were certain dogmas which she couldnt and wouldnt accept, and these troubled her. This included a negative view of sexuality, and a damning of homosexuality. Her brother was homesexual, and this felt like too much of an affront to her. Yet, she did not want to let go of her spiritulity.
So I invited her to have a 'conversation' with a priest. We pulled up a chair for the priest. She told the priest how she felt, and what was true for her. When she took the role of the priest, his response was superior, and dismissive.
I supported Mabel to stand her ground, to clearly identify her boundaries and limits - what she would not swallow. The conversation went on back and forth, with the priest sticking to his guns, and she to hers. It seemed unresolveable.  
I then pulled up another chair for 'God'. I asked to her sit in that chair, and 'talk to Mabel'. 'Gods voice' said - 'have compassion, and  accept him [the priest] as he is'.
This seemed to be a circuit breaker. Mabel, back in her own seat, was now able to say to the priest 'I disagree with you. I know we will never come to an agreement. I accept that, and respect our differences. I accept you are doing the best you believe, with your sense of God, and I am doing my best, with my sense of God.'
Back in the priest role - the response was agreement.
As Mabel finished this dialogue, she report feeling greatly peaceful. The inner turmoil, that she had been struggling with for some time, had gone. She felt a genuine resolution and clarity, and a truly spiritual way to deal with this intractable conflict.  
She also was able to keep intact her spiritual faith, and in fact felt renewed energy for moving forward. By doing this, she claimed her own spirituality, whilst being able to remain in relationship with the dogmatic aspects of the church.
This is an issue many people face. Gestalt allows us to find a higher order resolution, without giving direction or advice. In the realm of spiritual issues such as this, it is enormously useful as we are able to use the therapuetic process to support people's spiritual journey.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Case #205 - Hands around her neck

Rosa was a recovering addict. I asked her what part of her body she associated with the addiction (alcohol). She said her throat. I asked the feeling - she said, like bands, choking her.  
I asked her to show me, with her fingers. She did so.
This is important in Gestalt - to focus awareness, we say sharpen awareness, both for the client, and also for me to be more in touch with their experience in detail.
I then suggested an experiment - I would move my hands slowly towards Rosa's throat, and would stop whenever she said to.
The Gestalt experiment is a combination of safety (I would stop, she was in control) and risk (the experience of choking). Its also a way to move away from what we call 'retroflection', which is something that you do to yourself - the energy is all internal. This way, I could take over that aspect, to allow her to experience it in a different way. It also creates a relational experiment.
So I did this, and she told me to stop when I was 3cm away from her throat.
I asked to feel, breate, stay present. This is important, or else the person can dissociate, and then the awareness experiment has no value - there is too much risk.
I then pulled back. I asked what she was feeling - she said 'one of the ropes has snapped'.
I then noticed 2 marks on her neck, and asked her about them. She told me they were 'from childhood', and she started crying. I did not enquire more- we could go into the story another time. In the present it was more important to stay with the experience.
So I moved my hands closer, and this time she asked me to stop at 2cm away. Again, I asked her to breath, feel, stay present.
I stepped back
I now asked her to make a sound - she found it hard to so so. I asked her to breath out, and let whatever sound could come out.
I then moved closer again, and this time she let me put my hands around her neck. I asked her to make a sound. I could feel a small vibration in her throat. She was trying. She felt warmth in her neck and told me the ropes were gone.
She said it was hard for her to stay present, and she felt embarassed.
This means we had reached her exposure limit. So I invited her to put her hands around my neck. This exposed me, and allowed her to take over that energy.
She said she felt more steady and comfortable, and more present with me.
She then stepped back. There was a very strong connection between us, and she felt safe, and warm.
This was an important transformative experience for her. Some of the energy which drove her addiction was confronted, head on, and then she could experience it, in the safety of the experiment, and the relationship. This relationshiop between us became very strong through the experience, and lay the ground for excellent therapeutic work in the future. There was a high degree of trust, and this is an essential ingredient in successful therapy.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Case #204 - In the best interests of the child

Fay had reached the end of her marriage. She had tried really hard to make it work. They had been so much in love at the start. Together now for 5 years, they had a 3 year old son. She was a competent professional; he had been the house husband. This worked very well for both of them. But the interpersonal dynamics had not worked. Her increasing confidence in the world was matched by his collapse. He did not contribute financially; and although he was caring for their child, she wanted him to be moving ahead towards a career, so she did not ultimately have to carry all the financial weight. He promised, but did nothing. She felt like she was the man in the relationship. He felt disempowered.
Part of the issue here was not an interpersonal one.
Thus, in the therapy, I pointed out that there was a social context - ideas about how men and women should be, that were influencing both of them in ways which were disruptive in their relationship. Rather than being able to be with each other as they were, they compared each other to an ideal of what a man or woman is 'supposed' to be - women, soft and caring/ men confident and successful.
Fay's response to challenges was to become more competent, to apply her intelligence, and figure out soltions. Her husbands response was to become timid, to make promises, and to pull back into himself.
This cycle had eventually undermined their marriage.
Now, at this time of separation, they had come to an agreement about parenting.
Fay, who had not done much of the daily care of her child, took custody (a traditional response in the culture in which she lived). She applied her intelligence and competence, and soon started feeling more confident about being able to care for their child as the main person, despite the fact she worked at a demanding job.
Her soon-to-be-x husband was relegated to seeing the child for no longer than a day a week, but he could come and bring him to school, or take the child when Fay had a business trip.
Gestalt is oriented towards finding the right balance of challenge and support. 'As much support as necessary and as little as possible' was Laura Perls' dictum.
This is the growth edge, and what we strive for in the Gestalt experiment.
In this case, I spent a whole session challenging Fay.
Firstly, she was operating from an assumption that she could set the frame on the discussions with her husband. She set up the paramaters for the childcare, and then gave him choices within that. He acquiesced.
She argued with me that she was acting in the best interests of their child -giving him a stable environment, the least disruption during the separation.
I pointed out to her that this was a conflict of interests. She was setting things up as she wanted them, and the lines between what the child needed and what she wanted were blurred.
She also took over entirely the child care, virtually pushing her husband to a peripheral role in the picture, where he had been the main carer. She had many rationales for doing so, but what was masked was her own need to be in control.
I also pointed out to her that as I listened to her talk about all this, I heard her brusque, business-like voice. I heard strength and resolve. Whilst those were good qualities, and understandable in terms of her marshalling herself to the care of her child, they were also the very things which had contributed to the breakdown of the marriage - her taking over, and not really giving space to her husband, on his own terms.
Thus, although they were separating, she was continuing that pattern. I pointed out that she had another two decades of co-parenting with him. And if she simply continued the same pattern they had in their marraige, it would be equally dysfunctional. In that sense, nothing would have changed except they were not living together, and she had taken over charge of child rearing.
This was all very challenging to her, and somewhat of a shock. She was coping as best she could in an uncertain situation, and this is how she knew best to do so. I acknowledged that, and also pointed her to the bigger picture -the next 20 years of coparenting, and how that might go.
This placed the larger content of the field into our discussion, not just focusing on here and now awareness. The future of the field is as important as the past of the field. And in both cases, we bring that into the present interaction.
I highlighted that there were many other choices available to her, other than either relinquishing control over child rearing to her husband, or taking it over entirely herself. And that each choice she made, had consequences. In Gestalt we respect choices, bring them into awareness, and direct people towards taking responsiblity for the consequences - all of them.
Fay realised that she was using the child as a way to hurt the husband - a common reaction. This insight was particularly important, as it clarifies the dynamic underlying all the rational reasons.
The session was very confronting for her. But she was up for it. And I, in good faith, could not just give her empathy in a place where I thought her actions were unconscious and potentially destructive in the long run.
Such confrontation needs to be done very sensitively, maintaining connection with the person. And it requires strength and clarity on the part of the therapist. And then the next session needed to be about support - going into depth about Fay's creative adjustment - her way of being in the world, in terms of needing to always be in control

Case #204 - In the best interests of the child

Fay had reached the end of her marriage. She had tried really hard to make it work. They had been so much in love at the start. Together now for 5 years, they had a 3 year old son. She was a competent professional; he had been the house husband. This worked very well for both of them. But the interpersonal dynamics had not worked. Her increasing confidence in the world was matched by his collapse. He did not contribute financially; and although he was caring for their child, she wanted him to be moving ahead towards a career, so she did not ultimately have to carry all the financial weight. He promised, but did nothing. She felt like she was the man in the relationship. He felt disempowered.
Part of the issue here was not an interpersonal one.
Thus, in the therapy, I pointed out that there was a social context - ideas about how men and women should be, that were influencing both of them in ways which were disruptive in their relationship. Rather than being able to be with each other as they were, they compared each other to an ideal of what a man or woman is 'supposed' to be - women, soft and caring/ men confident and successful.
Fay's response to challenges was to become more competent, to apply her intelligence, and figure out soltions. Her husbands response was to become timid, to make promises, and to pull back into himself.
This cycle had eventually undermined their marriage.
Now, at this time of separation, they had come to an agreement about parenting.
Fay, who had not done much of the daily care of her child, took custody (a traditional response in the culture in which she lived). She applied her intelligence and competence, and soon started feeling more confident about being able to care for their child as the main person, despite the fact she worked at a demanding job.
Her soon-to-be-x husband was relegated to seeing the child for no longer than a day a week, but he could come and bring him to school, or take the child when Fay had a business trip.
Gestalt is oriented towards finding the right balance of challenge and support. 'As much support as necessary and as little as possible' was Laura Perls' dictum.
This is the growth edge, and what we strive for in the Gestalt experiment.
In this case, I spent a whole session challenging Fay.
Firstly, she was operating from an assumption that she could set the frame on the discussions with her husband. She set up the paramaters for the childcare, and then gave him choices within that. He acquiesced.
She argued with me that she was acting in the best interests of their child -giving him a stable environment, the least disruption during the separation.
I pointed out to her that this was a conflict of interests. She was setting things up as she wanted them, and the lines between what the child needed and what she wanted were blurred.
She also took over entirely the child care, virtually pushing her husband to a peripheral role in the picture, where he had been the main carer. She had many rationales for doing so, but what was masked was her own need to be in control.
I also pointed out to her that as I listened to her talk about all this, I heard her brusque, business-like voice. I heard strength and resolve. Whilst those were good qualities, and understandable in terms of her marshalling herself to the care of her child, they were also the very things which had contributed to the breakdown of the marriage - her taking over, and not really giving space to her husband, on his own terms.
Thus, although they were separating, she was continuing that pattern. I pointed out that she had another two decades of co-parenting with him. And if she simply continued the same pattern they had in their marraige, it would be equally dysfunctional. In that sense, nothing would have changed except they were not living together, and she had taken over charge of child rearing.
This was all very challenging to her, and somewhat of a shock. She was coping as best she could in an uncertain situation, and this is how she knew best to do so. I acknowledged that, and also pointed her to the bigger picture -the next 20 years of coparenting, and how that might go.
This placed the larger content of the field into our discussion, not just focusing on here and now awareness. The future of the field is as important as the past of the field. And in both cases, we bring that into the present interaction.
I highlighted that there were many other choices available to her, other than either relinquishing control over child rearing to her husband, or taking it over entirely herself. And that each choice she made, had consequences. In Gestalt we respect choices, bring them into awareness, and direct people towards taking responsiblity for the consequences - all of them.
Fay realised that she was using the child as a way to hurt the husband - a common reaction. This insight was particularly important, as it clarifies the dynamic underlying all the rational reasons.
The session was very confronting for her. But she was up for it. And I, in good faith, could not just give her empathy in a place where I thought her actions were unconscious and potentially destructive in the long run.
Such confrontation needs to be done very sensitively, maintaining connection with the person. And it requires strength and clarity on the part of the therapist. And then the next session needed to be about support - going into depth about Fay's creative adjustment - her way of being in the world, in terms of needing to always be in control

© Lifeworks 2012

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These case examples are for therapists, students and those working in the helping professions. The purpose is to show how the Gestalt approach works in practice, linking theory with clinical challenges.

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Gestalt therapy demonstration sessions

Touching pain and anger: https://youtu.be/3r-lsBhfzqY (40m)

Permission to feel: https://youtu.be/2rSNpLBAqj0 (54m)

Marriage after 50: https://youtu.be/JRb1mhmtIVQ (1h 17m)

Serafina - Angel wings: https://youtu.be/iY_FeviFRGQ (45m)

Barb Wire Tattoo: https://youtu.be/WlA9Xfgv6NM (37m)

A natural empath; vibrating with joy: https://youtu.be/tZCHRUrjJ7Y (39m)

Dealing with a metal spider: https://youtu.be/3Z9905IhYBA (51m)

Interactive group: https://youtu.be/G0DVb81X2tY (1h 57m)