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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.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Case #61 - Getting comfortable with sexual feelings

Linda was 33 and single. She reported that she had plenty of men friends, but they were all ‘buddies’. And when it came to the possibility of a romantic relationship, she found it hard to move out of the buddy relationship.

Her aim in the session was to explore something unknown in herself.

I started out making contact with her, telling her my own openess and interest in ‘the unknown’. I pointed out that we didnt know much about each other, so told her what I was curious about in her, and invited her curiosity about me. In Gestalt we talk about the ‘creative void’ as being the area in which we do not have certainty or clarity. This is a rich place to start an exploration, and doing Gestalt invovles the therapist being comfortable with that not-knowing.

She talked about being a ‘good girl’ and how she wanted to move out of that role with her parents. She spoke of the way they would dissaprove of her boyfriends, and how she leave through her window to escape their gaze. She wanted to be able to make up her own mind, and build her own life. But she was finding it found it difficult.

Putting this all together, it was about her sexuality. Her being a ‘good girl’ was preventing her from really owning her sexuality fully with men, and hence relationships never progressed much past buddy stage...and she said even if they did, she tended to put them back into that mode.

So the challenge was how to support her to be more with her sexual nature. I asked if there were any women in the group who would consider themselves, at some time, as a ‘bad girl’. Only one (Martina) raised her hand. I asked her to speak to Linda about that. In Gestalt we work with support, and in an area as exposing as sexuality, this becomes very important - to feel one is not alone, and it also reduces a sense of exposure, and increases belonging - essentially moving it away from the realm of shame.

Martina shared that for her it wasnt so much about good or bad girl, but stepping away from other people’s definitions of good and bad, and finding out what she really wanted, what was right for her.

So I came back to Linda, asked her what she was feeling. She said she wasnt generally much in touch with her body, so it was hard for her to know what she felt and what she wanted. Clearly, this was an obstacle to stepping more into her sexuality!

So I very carefully invited her to do an experiment, giving her lots of choice about involvement, and being able to stop if she needed. I also explained the boundaries of the experiment: this was only to be done in the group, and the man who joined the experiment was doing so only to support her. It is very important to set and manage boundaries when it comes to the area of sexuality.

I asked her to pick the man in the group she felt most attracted to. 

I put them standing opposite each other. I asked Linda what she was feeling. A little nervous, but not much else. Then I asked her to breathe, cycling the energy up and down her body, while looking at him. She did this, but after a while said ‘he doesnt look that attractive to me anymore’. She was doing the ‘buddy’ conversion - de sexualising her energy, so I pointed that out, and asked if she was willing to really step into the unknown. Here I used her original intention as a support for helping her take a risk. The fact she had said this suggested to me that she may be up for it.

She agreed, so I asked her to keep breathing, looking at him, and feeling where and how pleasure was in her body. At first there was not much. But after some time, she felt pleasure in the upper half of her body. I kept encouraging her, and directing her breathing to continue. After some more time, she allowed herself to feel the pleasure moving down lower into her stomach, and the just a little into her hips.

Her experiment-partner gave some feedback about the changes he noticed through the process, and then we discussed it for a while.

This was a major step for her, as she had never been able to hold this kind of energy, consciously, in her body outside of actual sex. She had not realised the power she had, how to tune into it, stay with it, or bring it into relationship with a man.

Working with sexuality is a delicate and challenging arena in psychotherapy. It can at times be subject to abuse unless the therapist is very clear on their boundaries.

Nevertheless, its important not to shy away from it either, as people need support, and they are not likely to get it anywhere else.

This experiment was carefully designed to move into ‘the unknown’ for her, yet with plenty of support, and at a pace that was right for her.

We could have worked with the ‘shoulds’ from her parents, but she was ready to actually move into a new experience, and tired of being held back, so she was willing to be at her edge.

Many people block their awareness; sexuality tends to be an area where there are often partiularly signicant blocks. Sometimes this is due to trauma, but other times its the result of social/family conditioning which discourages sexual feelings.

In working to restore these feelings, Gestalt therapy is not aiming at a ‘free for all’ sexuality, but rather allowing sexual pleasure to take a natural place in the whole of our existence - neither dominant, nor supressed.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Case #60 - Hating and loving

Jeremy and Miranda - a married couple - did an exercise which involved pushing hands against each other, to get in touch with their aggression.

Miranda became very upset after the exercise. She spoke about feeling very angry in relationship, and stuck in a pattern with Jeremy. When something was important to her, he would joke and laugh. She found this infuriating, and didn't feel met at all.

So I faced them towards each other, and invited her to tell him ‘I hate you right now’. 

This is actually a very personal and contactful statement, from a Gestalt point of view. It does not blame the other, speaks of self, and is clear and clean.

She did so, and he burst into laughter. 

Whilst at other times, this could be invitation to some mutual fun, in the context of a direct and important expression of feeling, it can be experienced as discounting, or what we term in Gestalt as a ‘deflection’.

His humour masked his underlying discomfort with her anger, and this overwhelm in being able to be with her in that place.

So I supported him by helping him breathe into his belly, relax his jaw, and encouraged him by offering understanding of how difficult it was for him to be with her in this place, his overwhelm etc.

He found it very hard to stay present, and every time he laughed, Miranda became more furious, pointing out this was exactly what happened in their relationship. 

With a lot of support and encouragement from me, he was able to stay serious; I then encouraged her to tell him very directly, repeatedly, the ‘I hate you right now statement’. She did this with intensity, for several minutes. When she felt that she had been sufficiently met in this place, and expressed herself fully, she softened, and told him she was afraid if she showed him how angry she was, he would leave her.

I invited him to reassure her that this wasn't the case. He started to tell her he also felt insecure about her leaving him, but I stopped him - she hadn't really finished yet, and didn't have the space to hear him until she did.

She started settling, and then began telling him how much she loved him.

He was then able to talk to her about his feelings. The connection between them was strong, deep, and palpable.

In Gestalt we are interested in supporting authentic and clear contact. When this is achieved, everything else flows from that. In order to do so, people need both emotional support, skill instruction, and containment.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Case #59 - Longing for meeting

After a group process Trevor got in touch with some deep sadness. 

I had given an exercise in the group to creatively explore aggression. Participants faced each other, and pushed against each other with their hands. The instruction was to meet with equal force, which meant that the stronger person would have to modulate themselves.

Trevor was the strongest in the group. In doing this with another man, he became competitive, and pushed a bit harder, sending the other man stumbling back. 

After this, I pointed out to him that my invitation was to find a way to meet, rather than overwhelm.

He looked sad. I acknowledged that, due to his strength of presence, he would rarely feel met in life. This resonated with Trevor, and touched him deeply.

I asked him what he felt - anger in his arms, sadness in his heart.

So I suggested an experiment - we stood up, he pushed against me with his hands, and felt the anger in his arms. I then stopped, and invited him to feel the sadness in his heart, as I hugged him. We repeated that several times. 

This allowed him to feel met in both these ways. As we did this, he called out ‘papa’…clearly this was related to his relationship with his father. We however did not need to go into it at this stage, as the focus was on interpersonal meeting in the moment, and the full experience of feelings.

He said ‘I have been looking for a teacher for a long time’. I suggested that in fact, he was looking for being met. This named the dynamic in a way that he could have some input into, rather being dependent on me supplying the contact.

We hugged. He lifted me off the ground. Then I lifted him off the ground. He grabbed me and spun me around several times. I did the same to him.

He felt very satisfied - the meeting he had been longing for.

Of course, other therapists might not have been able to meet him physically in this way, but nevertheless, its always possible to find a way to meet - this is very much the essence of Gestalt.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Case #68 - When words fall away

When someone raises a lot of issues, we need to be open to them, looking for what we call something ‘figural’ in Gestalt terms - a particular topic that has the most present energy. 

What came into focus with Trevor was in relation to his current life. He had a strong spiritual interest, and in the past had even thought of becoming a monk. He was currently in his second marriage, with a child, and was very committed to it.

Nevertheless, he was restless. The other polarity that emerged to his settled family life was ‘the mountains’.  As we explored this, it became clear that they represented the call of nature, a simpler life, hugging a tree, feeling connected with the earth, time for spiritual practice. 

In Gestalt we are very interested in polarities, especially as they becomes ‘split’. We work with increasing awareness and ownership of both sides.

So I explored his feelings on both sides - his family life, and call of the mountains. He was ok with his choice to start another family, yet he kept on feeling dissatisfied, restless.

It became clear that he had not fully reconciled himself to the life he had chosen - he was only partly in it, and part of his heart was with another dream.

I spent time with him, expressing to him how much I understood his longing, and had experienced my own version of that in the past. Such connecting statements are important in Gestalt - not as an empathic technique, but as a genuine statement of shared humanity.

I shared my own feelings around spirituality, nature, family life, the loss of my image of becoming a monk. We sad in deep silence for many minutes. There was nothing to say. I could not help him; he had made his choice, and here was the consequence. It was neither good nor bad. It was both painful and pleasurable. There was both loss and gain. There was no facilitation to be done, no problem to solve, no intepretative insight to communicate.

Just meeting.

Then, something silently shifted for both of us. 

He thanked me. That was enough.

There are times in therapy to talk, to help, to explore. And times to just be with what is. To be with the other person in the place where there are no solutions. 

The experience was emotionally profound, and we both felt deeply touched. Trevor felt deeply understood, and fully met.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Case #57 - Invitation to conspiracy

As soon as Annabelle started speaking I got an uncomfortable feeling. She clearly wanted to tell her ‘story’, about how she had been wronged in various ways, how she had valiantly tried to help others in the family, etc. I found myself feeling impatient, and not really wanting to listen to her. I could see that she would just talk, fill up the space, without really allowing for input - she seemed to just want to complain. 

After a while, she would ask me a question related to her story. But again, I felt uncomfortable, as she seemed to have lots of questions…but it made me into some kind of expert to solve her situation.

I did not however say anything about my feelings. I conversed with her, but declined to answer all her questions, asking her instead to make them into statements. 

This is a common direction in Gestalt, because often questions are a ways of avoiding responsibility, or showing up in relationship. Statements allow a person to own who they are, what they feel, and what they want, in a more direct manner.

I did not say anything, because I could feel my own reactions, and I wanted to understand myself more in that place. I sat with my own feelings, and got in touch with what my experience was.

Each time Annabelle spoke, it was in the same way, and I had the same reactions, including asking her to make statements. This much I could do to interrupt the pattern, and I did not want to get drawn into the role she was offering me - great wise person.

This was enough however to get her curious, about. Putting her back on her own experience gave her a different experience, and because I did it in a neutral way, she was able to start noticing her feelings a bit more.

I was discussing authenticity. Suddenly she said - ‘I want some honest feedback from you, how do you find me?’

I took a breath, as this was an opening to deepening the relationship, but I also had to proceed carefully as I realised the sensitivity that was also there alongside the question. This question I was willing to engage with, because I judged it as a more authentic question.

Because I had sat with my own experience for some time with her, I was able to name something, not directly about her, but about my own experience.

I said - ‘whenever you talk, I experience the invitation to be conspiratorial…I feel drawn in to agree with you, to confirm your view of your family and how you have been treated. I feel uncomfortable with that, because I don't want to reject you, nor do I want to join with you.’

This was naming my own authentic experience in a way which left her room to find herself in response. It was my attempt at a non-shaming statement -very important in giving feedback.

Annabelle smiled broadly. She said - ‘thank you. Others have said this to me as well, but none so clearly as you. I know what you are talking about. I feel like I am trying to get people on my side.’

We then had a very valuable authentic dialogue. I pointed out that there were other sides to being conspiratorial - that could be a fun thing, like kids might play at. We explored a number of facets of it, and Annabelle visibly relaxed, as did I! There was a shift in my experience…after being able to name my experience. She experienced being seen. 

This is the I-thou contact we are seeking in Gestalt, and is the basis for the deepening of relationship.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Case #56 - The little girl needs attention

Wendy spoke of wanting a partner. She was divorced, and ran a business. She talked about how impatient she was with her employees, and how she was very businesslike, and never showed her vulnerabilty. She contrasted this with the patience she recognised in me. 

I discussed issues of power with her - the ability to be businesslike and direct, the pleasure of being in control, being the boss.

She looked very sheepish as I was talking, fiddling with her hand…reminding me of a little girl. I asked her how young she felt - she said 10, and I asked her what happened when she was that age.

I asked about patience in her family. Her father had slapped her when she was 10 because her marks at school were going down. In fact, he regularly beat up her younger brother. But in public, he was a patient man, who had time for people.

I pointed out that the patience she saw in me as therapist might make her wary because the question was: would I explode like her father?

She agreed. She said the issue was she didn't have much trust in men. Her first husband was also impatient with her, only interested in what she could do for him. She said she just wanted to find another partner.

She revealed that the reason her grades went down was that she was at boarding school, and she was bullied very badly, very meanly. Her parents had no idea, and no interest. She felt very much alone.

I sat close to her, and spoke to her, recognising her sensitivity, her vulnerability, and in the place of being young, her need to be seen for who she was, rather than a part of someone else’s agenda. Someone interested in her struggles, rather than just achieving grades.

She started crying, softening even more. I declared my interested in her, without any agenda she should be anyone different. She seemed hungry for this kind of attention, and we sat there for some time, while I encouraged her to absorb this experience. 

I pointed out that this part of her needed care, attention, and to naturally grow up, before she had a stronger core with which to be in relationship. 

In Gestalt we dont just go with the client’s presenting issue - what is also important is what I am aware of as the therapist - something they may not be in touch with at all. We then bring that fully into present awareness, and exlore the context - often family, but not always. Then that Field information is brought back into the present, and into the therapeutic relationship. 

Doing this provides here a clear therapeutic agenda, a process by which we could continue to work on the theme she originally presented - wanting another partner. 

© Lifeworks 2012

Contact: admin@learngestalt.com

Who is this blog for?

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)