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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, January 31, 2014

Case #55 - The creative void


Betina talked about being afraid of her husband dying - there was a history of early deaths in his family, a fortune teller had told her he could die, and he stayed up late each night.

As we spoke, it became clear that the issue was that he neglected her - staying out very late each night, drinking and gambling with his friends; when he came home, he was noisy and inconsiderate, waking her up. He spent little time with the family, and had lost family money on his gambling.

This had been going on for most of their marriage, several decades. With family systems that have an abusive element, and continue for some time, there is a co-created aspect of the dynamic, that is usually related to context in the Field.

At this point, she was angry, but they hardly talked with each other.

I pointed out that along with feeling pain if he died, she would probably feel relief. She agreed. In Gestalt we are interested in both ends of a polarity. 

I asked what she would like from me - she said some direction as to what to do. 

She also revealed that her father had been similar - staying out late at night, gambling. Thats the field indication.

It was clear to me that this was a serious, entrenched, and very debilitating situation. 

Her husband confided in her sister in law, who then criticised Betina.

As she was talking about this, she was pinching herself. So I invited her to ‘pinch’ her sister in law, and put a pillow in front of her. She was very reluctant, pinching herself harder. I was a bit pushy - insisting that she try the pillow - pointing out it was ‘just a pillow’ and there would be no repercussions. This was difficult for her, but she did it, sinking her fingers into the pillow. This is what we call a ‘retroflection’ in Gestalt - doing to oneself what you would lime to do to others. 

I invited words as well. But she then revealed it was also his other siblings who would meddle, and criticise her.

So I stopped the process. The whole process revealed entrenched powerlessness, lack of support, and an intergenerational pattern that had qualities of an abusive relationship. This was not something that was going to be solved by my giving simple directions like ‘just don't do it’. And the amount of support required to step out of this seemed huge, and unrealistic to attempt in a single session - its important to recognise our limitations as therapists, and to not attempt to do something that gives false hopes.

So I increased her awareness by going the other direction. I asked her if she though all men were selfish, but she said she thought not. I then shared that I thought men were a bit selfish. She said - well ‘I let it happen’. In this way, she stepped into taking some responsibility, without me having to ‘confront her’. 

I looked at her, and told her I could see how unhappy she was. It was a moment of meeting. I did not want to try to rescue her from that place or fix anything - as much as of course I wanted to see a different life for her.

I sat with her, in that place. I named what I saw - a situation that was also familiar to her mother’s experience. A situation which had been going on for decades. A situation which seemed to just get worse and worse. And a situation which she was stuck in, despite having some psychological knowledge.

Highlighting the depressing nature of the situation was a way to not downplay it. I did not comment or judge or suggest, just acknowledged. In this way, I could see her, and I sit alongside her, looking at the reality of how things are.

We call it ‘sitting with the creative void’ in Gestalt. It doesnt seem creative, but by sitting with it, without falling in, or running away, something else can emerge.

She said, ‘well, we have stopped talking, and its a bit of a relief’. I got it - and pointed out, that in fact, the marriage had already died. So, what now?

I asked what percentage she thought there was any hope of change. I was expecting something extremely low. If she said zero, I would have worked with her on how to get out of there.

But she surprised me by saying 15%. This indicated there was a chance that things could change.

I asked her what that would entail her doing - here was the entry to some possible action.

She said that she could find ways to be happier. That was good - a subjective solution to start with. 

When I asked for more, she said she could focus more on the kids, but I pointed out thats what she did already to cope with the marriage.

She identified some other ways she could make herself happier. But I wanted more from her - some objective actions she could take to change the relationship.

She said that he complained that she never made him breakfast anymore. So, he clearly still wanted some care, and missed it.

So I asked her what quid pro quo she could ask for, if she made him breakfast. She said, time with the family. This sounded like a good start - not too intimate, but a signal of something different. I asked her to quantify how much she wanted and how often. I then suggested she could offer to make him breakfast that number of times.

I outlined to her that if she was to create a new relationship out of the ashes, it would take several years, and she would need a great deal of support in the process.

In Gestalt, we are satisfied with one little piece - integrated - at a time.

In this case, something emerged from the void, and it was all her doing, rather than resulting from her invitation to tell her what she should do. My ‘direction’ was to direct her attention to firstly the ‘what is’, and then, to help ground her in the emerging figure of what she did have energy for.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Case #54 - Bringing the devil and God together

Angelica was a doctor, though she had more recently changed professions. She had a child, and longed for another one, but was also deeply afraid to have another one. She said, as we established contact, that she was concerned how she was seen in my eyes. I told her what I actually observed, to create some relational ground..including a beautiful bracelet she had on, from her husband.

She had been a gynecologist, and as part of her job, she had performed abortions. At the time, she felt nothing when she did so, it was just her work. But then, she didn't really feel joy when she helped deliver babies - that too was just part of her work.

Years later, she started therapy, and got in touch with her feelings. This included the pain of having performed those abortions. This had nothing to do with ideology or belief - it was to do with the emotional impact of over a decade of aborting babies. 

In recent times she had a miscarriage, and saw it as a kind of punishment. She reported feeling a headache, but the rest of her body was numb. It was very intense for her to talk about this, she was crying. I suggested a pause. When there is too much feeling for the person to integrate, they cut off. So just ploughing into the therapy is not always a good thing. The pause allowed us to step back, and I made relational contact, telling her about how she was seen in my eyes - I felt a great deal of compassion for her, and had no negative judgements. She settled a little.

I asked her what she felt in her womb. She said - black. Again, the intensity was a lot for her. She was pulling into herself. I asked her to make eye contact - otherwise she remains a closed system. I told her that her bracelet made me think that there were other colours in there - the bracelet had some black beads, but also some crystals, and also a beautiful pink shape. I said the pink would be similar to the colour of her womb - as a doctor she knew this to be true. By doing this I grounded her in something more solid than her ‘black’ projection, and led her towards the feeling of life, and blood.

As we were speaking, she was clenching her fists. I pointed this out - we bring awareness to key points of the expression of energy, helping bring them more fully to the surface. 

She said she felt anger. This happened a number of times during our conversation. Its what in Gestalt we call an ‘emerging figure’, something parallel with the presenting issue. It can be focused on, or exaggerated. 

She said she felt like she was in a dark place, and wanted to break out. 

So the anger is an indication of the dynamic energy she needed to create some change. But just suggesting something like hitting pillows is not necessarily what a client needs.

I asked who she would be angry at - herself, she said.

I asked her what she would say to herself. She said she felt like the devil, and she proceeded to tell herself what a bad person she was, and how she didn't deserve to have any more children. 

Again, I invited her to take a pause - this was very painful stuff. 

I asked her if she had any spiritual beliefs. She said, no.

I pointed out that if she believed in a devil. somewhere there must be a god. I was looking for some kind of redemption in this hellish place. I was pointing out the nature of polarities - part of the Gestalt orientation towards holism.

She agreed. So I asked her to select two objects, representing devil and god.

She held onto the devil, but then placed it beside the god symbol. She said the god was asleep, and she wanted to wake it up. She was banging on the floor, but it kept falling over. She wanted it to stand up by itself. So I came in as the ‘god force’ and placed it upright.

I invited her to be receptive to the god figure. Suddenly she felt tired. So I suggested she have a little sleep. As she leaned against me, I suggested that when she woke up, she would be able to feel the life-force stirring in her womb.

She rested for a few minutes, then opened her eyes. She was indeed able to receive the blessing of life from the god symbol. She felt warmth in her body, and felt good in her womb. She then placed the ‘devil’ behind the ‘god’… a perfect symbol of integration. She acknowledge that in the devil force there was a certain kind of strength she could use.

In Gestalt we always want to embody abstract things, and in this case, it was the polarity. She needed the right kind of support, and then she could achieve the goal - integration.


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Case #53 - Too much drinking, or to too much giving?

Tom drank, too much, too often. He had done this for many years. Sometimes he gave up, sometimes he started again.

Abby was not happy, and had become increasingly vocal about things having to change. The trouble is, they did change - he stop drinking, they would get on better for a while, then somehow, the whole thing would start again.

Abby wanted a good relationship. She wanted connection, communication, honesty. They had been together a long time, and she didnt want to throw the relationship away. Nagging didnt work, but neither did just going along with the pattern. Abby was very frustrated. Tom didnt seem able to sustain the changes she really needed. She became increasingly 

There was no doubt, Tom had a problem with alcohol. It was clear that he didnt really have control over it, and it was also clear that his efforts at stopping only worked for a limited period of time - sometimes 6 months, but then he would start again.

Abby seemed to be doing everything she could. She made her position clear. She put in boundaries. She was coming to therapy for help.

From a Field point of view, addiction is not something ‘in’ a person, but something ‘in’ the family or relationship. It is maintained by more than one person, although in this case, it appeared as if Abby was doing everything she could to change the situation. Her particpation was not clear to her - she seemed to want nothing more than to have an addiction-free relationship.

Abby had a father who was controlling, discounting, and often mean. Her needs for nurturing, to be listened to were not met. So she learned to be a helpful girl, as an attempt to get some kind of recognition.

This is what we call in Gestalt a ‘creative adjustment’. It made sense at the time, but now, as an adult, Abby was finding that she was getting more and more stuck - the creative adjustement was no longer working for her.

She identified that this is what took her into nursing -taking care of others and their needs. And that is what she was doing with Tom. 

As we explored this, Abby became aware that her helpfulness contained a kind of gift-giving. If she gave to others, men, then she would be useful, wanted, recognised, needed.

And this was exactly the situation with Tom. He needed her, and would become very sad if she got angry and pulled back. She couldnt stand seeing him so sad, so she would come forward.

The key was when we identified how her helpfulness was also a kind of manipulation: ‘if I bring you something, then you will need me, and wont leave me’.

What was important was the turnaround - Abby was now able to see more clearly not just Tom’s addictive behaviour, but her own repetitive maipulation - giving to get, or what we call in Gestalt, ‘proflection’. 

This is an example of what we term a distored boundary - it looks like something is being given, but there is actually an underlying motive, so the giving aspect is conditional, not unconditional.

This recognition was dramatic for her - she could see now not just the familiar pattern of his drinking, but another pattern alongside that - of her manipultive giving. 

In Gestalt we work with awareness, but this is not only of the ‘here and now’, it also includes awareness of our field, with all its complex layers, and especially our hidden patterns of behaviour.

Bringing these into the light creates the possiblity of owning that behaviour - whatever its antecedents - and thus ‘taking responislbity’ in Gestlt terms. This is liberating. To see one’s own manipulativeness gives options, whereas to see only the other persons’ stuck/addictive behaviour, leaves only reaction.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Case #52 - The party girls

Martin had a number of major relationships in his life. At 50 he was now in a very heart-connected relationship, but without children.

He had always been attracted to ‘party girls’. In the end, despite working hard on the relationships, he found he hadnt been able to  make them last, until the present one.

He was happy now…though his current partner did like to drink and have a good time. While he enjoyed this, sometimes he felt it was a little too much, and he often wanted to leave a gathering earlier than she did.

Thus he found himself drinking a bit more than he wanted to at times.

When it comes to things like alcohol, and patterns of relationship, its good to look at the bigger picture. What we call the Field, in Gestalt. Family constellations does this all the time, but there are many different ways to attend to this dimension. In individual therapy, there are some places where there is a strong indication to pay attention to the larger context. 

So I asked about his parents and grandparents. His parents got on very well.

His father’s mother turns out to have been a very adventurous woman for her times. She travelled, and married late in life. She was popular socially, but not always very present as a mother. So his experience of parenting came more from his father, who was the stable one.

Martin had never connected up these dots, but it became clear to him about his attraction to women who were lively but unstable.

The task was then to move this into the present. I put out a chair to represent the ‘party girl’, and asked him to get in touch with his feelings. These were mixed - attraction, but also pain, from his history of relationships. I asked him about what was activated in him when he sat in front of this kind of woman.

He became aware of a number of things - his excitement, his anger, and a feeling of emptiness. I asked him to identify where in his body he felt all this. He noticed a sense of congestion in his chest.

He reported that this was exactly what he felt when his partner started drinking too much - a kind of panic or fear. Usually at that point he would either nag her, or say nothing, and become resentful.

So I asked him to stay with that feeling, and say something to her, sitting in the chair.

This was very hard for him to do - he felt very uncomfortable, and spoke of that.

I then asked him to swap, and sit in the chair, and speak back as if he were his partner. In that position, he felt rebellious, didnt want to be told what to do, and said ‘if you cared for me, you would give me freedom, rather than trying to control me’.

This was somewhat familiar to Martin - he had heard her say things like that.

I then asked him to come sit next to me again, and asked about the part of him that was rebellious. In Gestalt we are interested in polarities, and especially those which are disowned, and often associated with our partner.

He was not used to thinking in that way - it was always his partner who was the rebellious one.

I asked him, if he had complete freedom, what were some things that he might do if he wanted to be rebellious.

He identified how at work he put up with very controlling behaviour from his boss, and never said anything.

So I suggested he put his boss in the chair, and say something rebellious to him. Doing this, he felt a lot of freedom, and a weight lifted from him.

We repeated this with several other scenarios in his life, and each time, he found enormous relief in being about to say something rebellious - he was the proverbial ‘good boy’.

He felt much stronger and more empowered.

This was just one step, in a whole series of therapy sessions, but it highlights the way in which our projected self - onto someone else - ties up energy that would actually be helpful for us to find more balance and aliveness - which are very much the goals of Gestalt.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Case #51 - Confronting a ghost

Leanne spoke about being very fearful. She was scared of cockroaches, could easily be startled, and at night sometimes found it hard to sleep, fearing theives coming in the window, or ghosts, or ‘monstors’. She also feared monstors when she went out in a boat.

Apart from anything else, this sounded like quite a child state, so I asked what happened to make her fearful when she was a child.

She immediately related an incident when she was 6. A boy, one of her very good friends, died by drowning. It was hours until he was discovered. He was brought back to her house, and his family insisted that her father, a doctor, try to revive him. He was unsuccessful.

It was storming that night, and she went to sleep very frightened. She then had a nighmare, that she had to save him but couldnt. She thought about him a lot when she was growing up, and still had a great deal of sadness about it.

So, this made it clear who the ‘ghost’ was that she was scared of.

I suggested a confronting but necessary experiment - using the drama of the moment, the intensity of her fear, and the present opporutnity to deal with it directly, for once and for all.

So I proposed that I stand next to her, facing the open window, and the group stand behind her for support. She would then invite the ghost of her young friend who died,  to come into the room in front of her. 

She did so, but she was trembling like a leaf. I let her lean against me, holding her tightly, and had the group close behind. I directed her to talk to the ‘ghost’, telling him what she felt, what she had been through, and how much she had missed him.

She did so, though it was difficult. She reported wanting to be with him, on the other side. 

I asked her how he replied to that, and she said he didnt want that. This was important for her to take in; even so there was still a residual longing on her part for death and to be close to him.

So I supported her to have more dialogue with him, really telling him how she felt, and really listening to his response.

I had to support her through her fear, and then grief. I directed her to breathe into her stomach, and down into her legs. 

In Gestalt we work with grounding and with breathing, to help the person stay present with their experience and with the intensity of emotion. Often there was not support at the time to do so, especially when young, so this allows them to get in touch with the experience which had previously been overwhelming, in a way which can now be digested.

It was very diffulct for her to stay present - she had spent the last 30 years living with fear, and breathing in a shallow way...which would then also reinforce the fear. So it was hard for her to breathe so deeply, and required a lot of support and instruction from me.

After some time she became very calm, was able to let the ghost go, and come fully back to herself, She felt more in her body than she ever remembered, and all traces of fear were gone.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Case #50 - Talking to pillows: about support

Mark raised a number of topics, but none seem to have much traction. His work situation was in transition - he previously worked with his father, but moved away from that. He had several business activites, but none making good enough money. He was married three years, and was ready for a baby. I made various comments and observations - the flowing sound of his voice for instance.

Nothing really seemed to twig as ‘an issue’. So I asked about his marriage. He reported it was good, and that he was happy.

Whilst this was a generally good indicator, I was interested in what this was made up of - the detail. In Gestalt we are always interested in moving away from generalisations, to specifics, as this is the way we achieve contact.

He found it hard to answer. I asked about his feelings, and again, he found it hard to be specific.

So I decided that the lack of a clear figure was related to his difficulty with in tuning into his feelings.

So I suggested an experiment - to go around and look at people in the group, one by one, and notice how he felt looking at each person.

He started telling me about his experience, in quite clear terms. So it was obvious he did have the capacity to identify his experience in relationship, but probably just needed encouragement and a supportive enviroment - something he confirmed.

So next I gave him a specific form to speak in: ‘When I look at you,  I feel _____’.

This sounds very simple, but its important to start at a place which is doable, and given his reported difficulty identifying his feelings, this seemed a good place to start. What I did is take a step from him describing his experience of others, to giving that to them directly. We always move in a relational direction in Gestalt.

So he did this with several people, each time, articulating quite clearly.

Again, this indicated that he just needed a supportive environent in which to do this.

So next, I put a pillow out, as his wife, and invited him to talk to her, in a similiar form: ‘when I see _____ in you, I feel _____’

He did this for some time, articulating clearly. I acknowledged this, encouraged him, and observed that he certainly had the capaicty to identify his feelings and communicate them.

I thought perhaps he just needed some good practice, in a non-threatening setting. He agreed.

Next I invited him to do the same thing with his father.

I pointed out that support seemed to be a key issue here, and invited him to again ‘talk to the pillows’ - firstly with his wife, then his father - telling them, ‘ when you do ____, I feel ____, and would like ___ support from you’.

This was very valuable for him, clarifying many content details, and he reported feeling very settled at the end.

This was a good example of a very behaviourally oriented experiment, which incorporated feelings, contact, authenticity, and support. These are the major elements we work with in Gestalt, and a session like that can be very valuable as something that almost looked like a coaching process.

Where it is appropriate, this aspect can also fit into the Gestalt approach. The main thing is its not a formula, and is applied for the particular person, with what kind of process they need, at that particular time.

Case #50 - Talking to pillows: about support

Mark raised a number of topics, but none seem to have much traction. His work situation was in transition - he previously worked with his father, but moved away from that. He had several business activites, but none making good enough money. He was married three years, and was ready for a baby. I made various comments and observations - the flowing sound of his voice for instance.

Nothing really seemed to twig as ‘an issue’. So I asked about his marriage. He reported it was good, and that he was happy.

Whilst this was a generally good indicator, I was interested in what this was made up of - the detail. In Gestalt we are always interested in moving away from generalisations, to specifics, as this is the way we achieve contact.

He found it hard to answer. I asked about his feelings, and again, he found it hard to be specific.

So I decided that the lack of a clear figure was related to his difficulty with in tuning into his feelings.

So I suggested an experiment - to go around and look at people in the group, one by one, and notice how he felt looking at each person.

He started telling me about his experience, in quite clear terms. So it was obvious he did have the capacity to identify his experience in relationship, but probably just needed encouragement and a supportive enviroment - something he confirmed.

So next I gave him a specific form to speak in: ‘When I look at you,  I feel _____’.

This sounds very simple, but its important to start at a place which is doable, and given his reported difficulty identifying his feelings, this seemed a good place to start. What I did is take a step from him describing his experience of others, to giving that to them directly. We always move in a relational direction in Gestalt.

So he did this with several people, each time, articulating quite clearly.

Again, this indicated that he just needed a supportive environent in which to do this.

So next, I put a pillow out, as his wife, and invited him to talk to her, in a similiar form: ‘when I see _____ in you, I feel _____’

He did this for some time, articulating clearly. I acknowledged this, encouraged him, and observed that he certainly had the capaicty to identify his feelings and communicate them.

I thought perhaps he just needed some good practice, in a non-threatening setting. He agreed.

Next I invited him to do the same thing with his father.

I pointed out that support seemed to be a key issue here, and invited him to again ‘talk to the pillows’ - firstly with his wife, then his father - telling them, ‘ when you do ____, I feel ____, and would like ___ support from you’.

This was very valuable for him, clarifying many content details, and he reported feeling very settled at the end.

This was a good example of a very behaviourally oriented experiment, which incorporated feelings, contact, authenticity, and support. These are the major elements we work with in Gestalt, and a session like that can be very valuable as something that almost looked like a coaching process.

Where it is appropriate, this aspect can also fit into the Gestalt approach. The main thing is its not a formula, and is applied for the particular person, with what kind of process they need, at that particular time.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Case #49 - The stiff doll, and the soft hands

Annabelle was distressed, very sad. She brought a little doll with her, with stiff little wooden arms. 

‘This is me’, she said. ‘My arms are stiff, like a Zombie. My heart is sad.’

She revealed that her parents fought terribly when she was growing up, and that created a lot of fear and frozenness in her. In her adult life she felt too tough, and wanted to find more softness. But the doll showed just how stiff she felt.

I listened deeply to her, and felt my heart very open - she was indeed very sad.

At the same time, I had a playful thought, that seemed almost irreverent - that of zombies walking around, in the kind of stupid-funny image one might get of zombies.

So I shared with her both my deep connection and care for her, as well as this crazy and playful thought about zombies. I didnt want to be disrespectful, but I also wanted to include this other part of me.

She was open to hearing this. I suggested that perhaps we might even play with this.

So we stood up and, side by side, walked around being zombies - walking towards people in the group. Most people were laughing along, enjoying the funny craziness. There were a few people who actually got scared, so we steered around them. Mostly though it was a silly-funny experience.

Annabelle sat down, and I sat facing her, attentive to how she was.

This experiment had softened her, opened her up even more. She sat with the little doll, feeling its little arms, talking about how stiff they were.. but  how, if she rubbed them, they might soften.

So I took this as a cue, and took both her arms with my hands and softly rubbed them. She clung onto my arms with her hands, like a small child seeking comfort. I looked at her to gauge how this was for her, and could see her softening. I continued rubbing her arms, and talked to her about softening. I could feel the intensity of the energy in her hands. So, as she reported her arms softening, I placed my hands face up in my lap, and allowed her to rub her hands against my hands, which she did, back and forth, slowly. I remarked on how much energy was in her hands. She was very deeply connected to her heart, her feelings, and stayed in contact with me during this process.

She talked about how each of my hands was one of her parents, separated, but both present. She touched each hand lovingly, and sadly. Then she got the little doll, and put its face on each of my fingers. Then she took the doll’s two arms, and put one connected to one of my hands, and the other arm connected to my other hand.

She said, even though my parents are separate, I can connect to both of them.

The moment was profound, her sadness changed quality from stuck and collapsed, to open hearted, and flowing. Her arms were relaxed, and every part of her was breathing, present, and connected.

This was a profound experience for her, as well as for me, and afterwards she felt a deep sense of peace and integration.

© 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)