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About Me

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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.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Upcoming Gestalt workshops

Upcoming Gestalt workshops with Steve Vinay Gunther:
1. Romania:
Gestalt work with couples
8/9 May
Societatea de Gestalt Terapie din Romania
gestaltro@yahoo.com
ph +40 (21) 319 69 52

2. Romania:
Spirituality and psychotherapy
10/11 May
Amurtel Romania
didi@amurtel.ro
ph +40 (744) 565 252

3. Switzerland
Spirituality and Psychotherapy
17/18 May
gestaltspiritualityworkshop@gmail.com
Ph +41 79 788 38 72

4. Hong Kong
6-8 June

5. Shanghai
10-15 June
下一个即将到来的工作坊在2014年6月10日-6月15日! 请传播。更多信息,请电133-1176-7286,电子邮件:huangjianhe@vip.163.com或访问www.zhxlw.net

Friday, March 21, 2014

Case #70 - The unknown seriousness



I notice Manuel put his hand on his chest. He said he felt nervous. So I left it - people are often nervous for a part of a session. I noticed his pants, the varied grey colours on them, and remarked on this - was he a ‘black and white’ person, or a ‘shades of grey’ person?

However, something else was going on for Manuel. He looked sad, and not at all interested in my questions. As we explored his sadness, it became stronger and deeper. He seemed quite silent and withdrawn in that place. 

It is important when making an exploration, or moving into a Gestalt experiment, that we pay careful attention to a person’s energy, and if they are not there, then to instantly be willing to shift direction, to where their energy is residing.

Manuel talked about being a naughty and rambunctious child up to High School, and then being a top student after that. He found the spotlight a little difficult, both the expectations, and the jealousy from other kids. So this was still something hard for him, to be seen by others in this way.

I remarked he didn't seem naughty or cheeky now - very serious. It is important to connect up the story that the person is sharing with here and now phenomena - we say, connect the Field with Awareness.

I asked what happened before High School to result in this change, but he couldn't say. However he looked very pained. So I asked how old he felt right then. He reported 4 years old. I asked what happened at that time. He related that he was sent to a boarding kindergarten, but he had no specific memories.

We sat there for some time. He looked very internal, very serious, very distressed. I asked him his experience. He said he pulled into himself when he felt this kind of deep sadness - it was hard to share.

This indicated exposure, so I told him that I was present, solid, available, supportive, and interested in his feelings. I felt open and warm towards him.

We sat there for some time more. Nothing seemed to change. As I looked, he appeared to be in some kind of emotional shock. I mentioned this to him. He could not locate an incident. But it was clear to me that ‘something’ happened, around that age, that had a very damaging effect on him. 

It is important not to ‘push the river’. When things don't flow, we just sit with the ‘what is’, knowing that what emerges is enough, and if more needs to emerge, it will. 

The moments that he livened up was when he spoke of his daughter, and how he would never let her be forced to do something she didn't want to do.

This was clear then - he had been forced to do something: I reflected this back to him.

As I sat with him, what I could see most clearly was his seriousness. I said, ‘I take your feeling very seriously right now’. This had a big impact on him. Clearly, his distress had been passed over, and he had learned to manage it internally. He had done this for his whole life, and now he encountered someone who saw him in this place, saw his distress and took it seriously.

This was enough. The issue was not ‘solved’, we didn't locate the incident or incidents. But in Gestalt we are after a quality of contact, with full awareness: that is in itself transformative.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Case #69 -- Hatchling Creativity


Brittany first mentioned that she had recently had a very upset stomach and digestive problems. I wanted to get to know her a bit first before going into this though, as she had mentioned she felt a bit embarrassed about it.

She ran a school, and had some problems with a student. I empathised, from my own experiences. This established a place of connection. I felt a sense of heaviness sitting with her, and shared that. She spoke about feeling unmotivated, especially about her work - she didnt want to go to work until later in the day, and there were a few other signs of some kind of burnout.

I asked about her home life. It was good. Her son and husband both appreciated and nourished her. She talked about hiding things around the house that they had to find in a game. She also wanted to put wheels on all the furniture so she could move it around the house so when they came back everything would be in a new place each time. I remarked that shis showed a creative and playful side to her.

Brittany talked about spending a few days with her inlaws; because they were older they just ate, slept, and played cards. After some time she got bored, and wanted to change the card game rules around to have variety; I pointed out this was her creativinty and playfulness at work. But they were against it, so she got very bored - and thats when she got the stomach bug.

We sat quietly for a while. She spoke about being younger, and not speaking much, but she used to write. I asked her to imagine writing a story…what would the title be? She said it would be called ’The Egg’. I asked her for the first few paragraphs. She talked about a hatchling emerging out of an egg.

I asked what was newly emerging in her life. She spoke of wanting to change things at her school. And how she had helped a friend write a report that got the friend a job - she was also pleased.

So I suggested that it seemed like creativity and playfulness might be something that was emerging for her - she agreed. 

I asked how she could bring them to her work situation. She drew a blank. So I invited her to join in a little game, where I would make some suggestions about creatively changing things at work, and then she would come up with some. This went on for a little while. Then she said that she had tried that once, but both the teachers and students had been very critical because she had strayed from the list of things that were supposed to be covered.

This was a clear place where she needed support, and I pointed that out to her - she needed a ‘co-conspirtor’. She said it wasnt really possible. But I pointed out that the consequence of suppressing her creativiity was the stomach upset that occured at her inlaws.

So I invited her to imagine writing a report to her school - what kind of professional recommendations would she make?

I asked her to come up with one creative exercise for the group each day. She was relucatand, but would consider it.

At one point she had noticed my colourful socks, and compared them to her colourful socks. So I suggested to the group we could have a game of ‘Footsies’. This was a lot of fun, and demonstrated for her how creativity could be applied in a learning situation. I also created a lead for her, using my own position to incorporate fun, and an outside-the-box intervention.

In this work, the first figure was heaviness and upsetness. The next figure was creativity. The Gestalt approach is to find a way to bring more aliveness to people’s lives; this is done phenomenologically - from the inside out - from their reality, and using the markers and language they provide. We also focus on support - in this case, she did not have the support she needed to bring this part of her to the workplace. By using her early strength - writing - I could engage her dreaming, and then support the emerging self. We work with the obvious in Gestalt - the hatchling is straighforward and requires no particular interprestation - what is important is its application to the specific issue being raised. The final support I gave was a permission-giving approach, which I demonstrated by taking something she noticed - the socks - and using my authority as an example of how creativity could be used in the classroom.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Case #68 - The very painful truths

Mandy and Brian came for couples counselling. They were at a crisis. After 15 years of marriage and two children, Brian was having an affair (his fourth in the marriage), and Mandy, at 40, was desperate to save the marriage. She was determine they were not going to split up. Brian came very reluctantly to the session. 

I worked with Mandy first, as Brian was cautious and unwilling to open up. I explored the history, and her personal context. Then I asked about the marriage. She said they had not been intimate for 6 years, and she had learned to adjust. She was waiting for him to take the lead, and he never did. She spoke with her friends, and they told her she couldn't really expect much more, and to get on with other things in her life, her kids etc.

I asked her the percentages of how much quality was in their marriage in various areas - intimacy, sex, children, finances, support. They ranged from 5% to 50% at the highest, with intimacy being at the lower end.

She said she would need the average to go up to 30% to be satisfied, and she was willing to do whatever it took.

I then asked Brian his percentages. They were in a somewhat similar range, some lower and some higher. He said it would have to go up to 75% for him to be satisfied.

These problems however had been going on for the last 10 years. They didn't talk much about interpersonal issues, and both chose to avoid difficult topics. 

Mandy had managed herself by meditating. Brian by numbing himself and throwing himself into work. Now things were in crisis. He was unwilling to give up the affair, she was unwilling for things to continue in this way. They were stalemated, and had few skills to talk about it.

Checking with Brian, he was finished. He had no interest at all in working on the marriage, on saving it, even if it could be saved. He had moved on, and wanted out.

This was intolerable to Mandy. She was determined to find a way through. Her love would melt his armour.

However, if he did not change his affair, she would hang on to the end, refusing him the freedom of a divorce. I pointed out this was more like a battle, than an effort to melt his armour with love.

It was hard for her to see this. She was so anxious, and so determined, that she could not face the truth of where Brian was at.

I asked him if he absolutely was finished, and if there were not circumstances under which he could change his mind. He said yes, this was true.

So I asked him to give her that ‘truth’ statement.

Mandy found it almost impossible to hear. She wanted to argue, to convince him, to deny, to threaten. I gave her a lot of support, acknowledging her feelings. Once she let in his statement, she said she would rather die, it was far too difficult. 

Again, I gave her a lot of acknowledgment for how terrible she felt, how scared she was. I asked if she wanted to hear about my experience of divorce, and then shared with her how I coped.

This was a little helpful for her, but she was still incredibly distressed. 

Brian came out of his numbness and softened, telling her he cared for her, and was sad at her pain, but that his caring was no longer an intimate one, but simply as a friend. Again, this truth statement was extremely difficult for her to hear, and I gave her a lot of emotional support so she could stay present.

She wanted to go back to pretending, to avoiding, but it was too late. 

I always support people to work things through. But my primary commitment is to helping people speak their truths, hear each other, and get the support they need to be present in the process. This is extremely hard when it comes to such devastating things as the end of a relationship.

In this case, nothing was going to be gained by Mandy continuing to ‘try’ in the face of Brian’s unwillingness. Her trying was in fact a kind of attempt to control the situation, and this became apparent when she encountered his own choices. She indicated that she wanted the marriage intact, no matter what he wanted.

So I asked her to make that truth statement to him - I dont care what you want, I only want what is important to me.

He appreciate hearing the clarity of this, and it was hard for her to say it, but represented what was going on. It made the transaction clearer, and it became evident to her that in that effort she was not trying to melt his armour with love, but in fact asserting her need without regard to his.

This is what I call the ‘unvirtues’ - the ownership of the darker sides of ourselves. We identify as loving, or identify as a victim, but its hard to acknowledge ourselves as in fact not-caring about the other person. It takes a lot of courage, and a lot of support, to be able to do this, but such truthfulness is always refreshing, and helps something different to happen.

This session was dealing with very difficult truths, but without such truth-speaking there is simply more bitterness and anger and defensiveness. The ‘story’ each person tells of the relationship just gets more entrenched.

But truth telling is not done to hit the other on the head. Its about one’s own personal truths. The other party needs support to be able to hear this. Gestalt is focused on such relational truth telling, and we understand that there is transformative power in doing so.

We approach relationship dynamics like this with the intention to improve the quality of the contact, not to achieve a certain outcome, or approve or disapprove of either partner.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Case #67 - A traditional marriage, or a modern marriage?


Hong and Yuen were engaged. She was 35 and he 43. They came because of a difficult dispute they could not resolve. In accordance with tradition, Hong wanted his mother to come live with them after they got married, and Yuen was completely opposed to it.

After exploring a little of their backgrounds, I asked each of them the main area of concern they had about getting married. They both agreed this was the sticking point.

However, they had not really discussed a wide range of future issues in detail. So I firstly stepped back and took them to a wider perspective. Put a marker at one end symbolising a traditional Chinese marriage relationship, and a symbol at the other end for a modern relationship. I then asked each one where they were on the spectrum. Hong was 30% off from the traditional end, and Yuen 30% off from the modern end.

I explained to them that this was the basic issue at stake, and that there would be many specific instanes of where such a differnce would manifest in a conflict. I asked for a summary statement of their position. For Hong it was getting along with the extended family. He wanted Yuen to be ‘gentle and soft’. For Yuen it was being separate and independent, as couple, and being able to have her own mind about matters.

So firstly I asked them to make a sentence to each other: ‘I can see you are different than me, and thats difficult’. This process confronted them with the actuality of the difference. Hong tried to add ‘and I hope that you will change’, but I stopped him - this is an essential problem with couples, they hope that the other will (in time) change. 

So I got them to say another sentence: ‘I see the difference between us; I may not agree with your views, but I do respect your position’.

This was hard for each of them, and Yuen was resistant, as she thought it meant capitulating to Hong’s position. I explained that respect did not mean having to agree, and she finally made the statement.

There was a lot of emotion for each of them as they said this - they had to stop trying to convince the other person, and just see them. This is always threatening for couples. 

It was also understandable that Yuen felt distressed by this particularly - not only was she really attached to having the house to themselves, she also afraid of being overuled by the weight of tradition that lay on Hong’s side, and the fact that she was a woman, in a still-patriarchial world.

So I told Hong about one of John Gottman’s research findings about couples - that marriages were more successful when them man was willing to be influenced by his wife. This is mostly likely because in a structural sense, men tend to have more power in most areas of life.

I then proceeded to help them negotiate this particular issue. I explained that some issues are indeed either/or. But some can have creative solutions.

Yuen wanted evenings to themselves at the least.

Hong proposed that his mother could come during the day, as she had been using a room downstairs as her office. Yuen agreed.

I asked for her proposal. She wanted the weekends to themselves, with the concession that his parents could come for dinner sometimes.

Hong did not want some kind of rigid arrangement. I pointed out that a negotiation had to have clear boundaries. So they discussed some details, and came to an agreement.

Then Hong’s face fell. This discussion had gone remarkably smoothly, and they had got past their previous flare ups about it. They had actually reached agreement on these issues.

But he said ‘how am I going to talk to my mother about this?’ He was genuinely distressed: a developmental task of differentiating was in front of him, and he was baulking.

Yuen became very distressed herself and started crying. She became very fearful that he would go back on the agreement, and simply assert the ‘should’ of the traditional model. She started to try to argue with him.

I stopped her, and asked her to look at his face. She found it very hard to do so, she was angry and afraid.  When both people are distressed, its hard for one to contain themselves and be there for the other.

I chose to ask her to do this. He was struggling profoundly within himself between his sense of duty, and his desire to prioritise their relationship. She was the one that initiated the therapy session, and who had more psychological knowledge. So I focused on her, and gave her support. I asked her to really come into the present, to see him in his struggles. She found this very hard to do, but I kept focusing her. I presented love to her as a choice in that moment. I said - can you see his genuine struggle, and can you just love him in this place, despite being different?

She set aside her fear, and shifted. She said ‘I will never forget my intention to love you, even though there are differences’. This was a profound moment between them, and I also had tears in my eyes. They had made it through the conflict, and in fact deepened their love, and their capacity for loving, in a very significant way. He felt deeply seen, and said to her - you are gentle and soft to me right now. They had both taken a risk, and arrived together in a new place.

I pointed out that there would be many more of these issues arising, but now they knew they how to get through them.

In Gestalt we are interested in differences, as a potential point of good contact. This requires self support at the contact boundary, and an interest in the other. Most people find this difficult, and usually they need support to be able to do this. The support needs to be both practical - the how to - as well as emotional. Its very confrtonting to encounter difference, and often people feel angry, or shaky. When Yuen was able to be present with herself, and then with Hong in the moment of his vulnerability, an impossible situation was able to change. 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Case #66 - Stepping out of the circle

Ping talked about the family she grew up in. Her grandparents had not been much interested in her or her sister because they favoured boys.

She also didnt feel loved by her parents. Her mother gave her care, but there was rarely any display of softness on her part. Her father had never hugged her.

She related an incident when she was 8. Her mother was dressing her; Ping told her mother than she wanted a different coloured dress. Somehow she woke up her father, who in a rage picked her up and threw her down the stairs. Her face was bleeding, but she still had to go to school. The teacher was concerned, but nothing further was done. She didnt want to go home, and hid in a cave until someone told her mother, who came to get her. Her mother showed some tears at her condition, but her father never expressed remorse.

She was weeping as she told the story, describing how much pain was in her heart.

I was gentle with her, but she was in her world of pain, only peripherally noticing me.

I pointed out to her that I was a man. That I cared, but that this must be a tricky edge, because it was her father who brought her pain; at the same time as giving her care, I also represented the older authority who had originally hurt her so badly.

Ping nodded, and more tears flowed. She spoke of wanting her independence, to be her own person, make decision in her own life.

I told her I approved, and would offer her what support I could. 

She spoke of the way her mother was now pressuring her about getting married, and trying to influence her work directions.

I kept bringing her back to the present, to my support, to the fact I was a man giving her support.

I constantly brought her attention back to her breathing, because she kept holding her breath. Without this energetic movement, there would be no chance of the integration of the new experience.

Ping spoke again of wanting her autonomy, and of wanting to ‘step out of the circle’. that was like a prison, of her family expectations. 

So I invited her into a simple experiment.

We both stood up, imagining a circle around us. I held her hand, reminding her again of my support for her autonomy. This kind of support especially needs to come from the father, and was missing in her case, along with any tenderness. So I was supplying both to her.

It took quite some time, but eventually she took a step ‘outside’ the circle, and I with her.

I then took both her hands and told her, ‘now, you can determine the terms you want a relationship based on. You can insist on being loved and treasured by a man’.

I gave her this message to reinforce the next step possible - to find a different kind of relationship with a man, that was not simply an unconscious repeat of her father. She said, ‘I can hope for that, I can ask for that’.

I corrected her language, because that was somehwat helpless and one-down power language. 

I asked her to restate it in a way which had clearer boundaries - what she required at a minimum, her boundaries.

This gave her the support and guidance from a man as to what she could expect from me. 

She was profoundly affected by this process. It was simple, but underpinned by her yearning; the emphasis in Gestalt is always in integration, in take small steps which are somatically embedded in awareness and experience through the experiment.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Case #65 - Joined in sadism

Kathy’s mother was quite unstable, in the worst of ways. Growing up, her mother would find ways to criticise, attack, and blame Kathy and her siblings. She would hurt the children emotionally, and at other times was unavailable. Her moods, her anger were difficult to live with. But at other times, she could be generous, compassionate, and took care of all the physical needs.

Kathy had, understandably, problems in her marriage. Sometimes she could be very loving, but other times she was suspicious and mistrustful, and coudl become very moody and critical herself. She was horrified at the way she was repeating her mother’s behaviour, and could see the destructive effects on her husband. 

But she felt very stuck, and when she became triggered, she found it almost impossible not to revert to this kind of behaviour. She knew it was destroying her relationship, and so she came for help.

In Gestalt we move into the problem, rather than stepping back from it. Kathy’s difficulty was that she was becoming what she didnt want to be. We see the resistance as part of the issue, and we dont want to participate in that by trying to help the person become different. Otherwise, we just conspire in working against the resistance.

So I pointed out that this kind of behaviour which she experienced from her mother was quite sadistic. Kathy agreed. I also pointed out that her own behaviour had those qualities as well. This was strong language, but Kathy could see the validity in this way of naming what was going on.

So I invited her to step right into that part in an experiment. I asked her to simply say the sentence ‘I want you to feel the pain I am feeling’. This sentence named the underlying relational dynamics to the sadism. Both Kathy’s mother, and now Kathy, were in a great deal of pain, and the sadistic behaviour contained an underlying yearning. 

Kathy tried this line, though she found it difficult, and immediately felt its truth.

By stepping into her sadism in this way, she could own it. 

I then made the experiment more difficult by asking her to imagine talking to her husband at a time when she was in one of her moods. She repeated the same line. I asked how she felt in her body, to ground her experience. 

She felt a lot of nausea, a mixture of hate, shame and pleasure.

This was the heart of the matter experientially. By stepping directly into the sadism, and the feeligns acommpanying it, we could reach the core dynamics, experientially rather than simply describing what was going on. By placing Kathy at the centre of her experience, the possiblity of existential choice becomes apparent there.

I then invited her to breathe, to find her centre. The next step was I asked her to picture her mother, with a sadistic smile on her face. Again, she felt the anxiety, tension and nausea. I asked her to come up with a strengthening image - she though of the Buddha.  This calmed her.

I then shuttled her between seeing her mother, feeling the feelings, and then seeing the Buddha, and calming herself.

I asked her to make a statement to her mother: ‘I am connected with you when I am sadistic’.

This introduced another aspect of the relational dynamic, where the whole field was referenced - past and present came together. The very act of being sadistic, united Kathy with her mother in a way she could not otherwise achieve. That is how we become the thing we resist.

So by doing this process, owning her sadistic behaviour, owning her connection with her mother, and at the same time, feeling her feelings, and finding a calming image, she was able to introduce novlety in the the relationship and into her behaviour.

She felt relieved, and in a sense renewed by the work. I asked her to practice this whenever those feelings came over her.

 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Case #64 - Sensible choices or crazy choices

Zac had relationship troubles. His girlfriend Marta was ‘a handful’. She was creative, had a colourful personality, and shared many of his values about society and politics. She was very accepting of him, something he had not experienced in relationship before. He had fun with her, but there were things he couldnt come to terms with.

She smoked pot, he didnt. She was into hardcore pornography, he wasnt. She wanted to have multiple sexual partners, he didnt. He liked her wildness, but it also pained him. He could see that she was unstable, but he felt that he could help her. He didnt want to have yet another failed relationship, so he had stuck with it for 2 years. But she was often reactive, would sometimes scream at him, and was quite unstable.

It seemed that it was just too difficult a relationship, yet, he couldnt let go. He had ideas that his love could change her, that things would get better.

I put it to him: what if things did not get better? What if she didnt change? What if she didnt want to change? What if she never agreed to monogamy? 

These were hard questions for him to consider. I asked him directly, because he was more in touch with his fantasy than the reality. And he was avoiding dealing with the ‘what is’, and his feelings about that. He moved away from himself by dreaming about the future.

Gestalt is very much focused on the present, and especially our experience in the present. People often need support to really come into the present, and Zac had his particular ways of avoiding the present.

Following this process, it became very clear to him that he didnt want to live this way, didnt want this kind of pointless struggle in relationship, and that if she wasnt going to change, then the relationship would not work for him, and he would need to let it go.

I was careful not to influence him. The existential view is that whatever you choose to do with your life is your choice, and you just need to be willing to live with the consequences, foreeable and unforseeable. My task in this place is to confront someone with their choices, with the consequence of their choices, and to help them step off the fence and into their life. What is important is that they know it is them making the decision, not others, not circumstances. 

In this case, if he chose to stay, then it would be out of the clear choice to be with her as she was, rather than coming in with a reform agenda. It was hard for him to let go of his agenda, but when he did, then he could see that there wasnt enough there for him.

However, I could tell that, as rational as this was, it wasnt quite so simple.

So I invited him to play out a conversation between two sides - the part that was ready to let go, and the part that wanted to hold onto relationship. 

It became clear that the holding on part was his child self, very emotional. The letting go part was his rational self, that could detach. Just because he was making a ‘sensible’ and rational choice, doesnt mean the situation was resolved. The child part, the feeling part, needed to be included in the decision. This took quite some conversation between the two parts - not just words, but the feelings that went with each side. 

Slowly, there was some kind of meeting, some kind of agreement. There was a resolution that was arrived at, that included the child self. But I didnt assume this was the end of the story, though it was the end of the session. It was something that I would need to return to in later sessions.

Fritz Perls called it our ‘topdog’ and ‘underdog’, and as competent and clear and forward thinking we may feel, the fact is theres another part of us which undermines the direction of the topdog. In this case, the rational and sensible wasnt enough. Hence we need to be careful about not siding too much with the topdog.

Case #63 - The fast talking limper

Murray had worked in the police force for 20 years. Then, at one accident scene, he suddlenly found that he had lost his resilience. Normally he could get over whatever emotion he might occassionally feel. But that time it was different. He found that he didnt recover. 

He went on stress leave for some time, but he had really reached his limit. So he retired from the policeforce, and opened up a corner shop in a little village.

His life was ok, but he was still internally very stressed, so he came to me for help.

The thing about Murray was that he talked a mile a minute. And he was quite entertaining, he told lots of stories, and one story just morphed into the next. He could basically talk non stop. I enjoyed listening to him, as he was indeed a good storyteller. 

But it was hard to get a word in edgeways, and hence I didnt get a lot of sense of actually being able to get beneath the surface with them, and get down to some kind of more solid therapy.

This continued for a number of sessions, each time I faced that same challenge. I told him about my experience, but it made no difference whatsoever. 

I did notice something though. Murray walked with a distinctive limp. I looked like it was a bit painful for him to walk. 

So in the middle of one of his stories, I interrupted him. I said, ‘I notice an interesting polarity’. You talk very fast, but you have to walk slowly.’

Murray agreed, but it didnt seem of much significance to him. 

I asked ’so what if you spoke as slowly as you walked?’.

This was a new proposition, but it still didnt mean much to him. So I suggested an experiment - he walk up and down the room, and match one step with one word.

When he did this, of course, he was forced to speak slowly. Suddenly he understood what I was pointing to - his body was trying to slow him down, but he wasnt getting the hint. When he spoke more slowly, he was able to start feeling - the thing that all his talking was avoiding.

Once we had access to his feelings, the therapeutic work could really begin…

In Gestalt, we pay attention to ‘phenomena’ - in this case, the speed of his speech (rather than the content), and his limp. By not jumping to any conclusions as to their significance, we allow new ‘Gestalts’ (configurations) to emerge and connect together. In this case, a profound polarity. We are on the lookout for polarities, because they often indicate splits in the personality, which are ways to avoid awareness. Once these splits come into awareness, we can work with them, and naturally, the person will move towards greater integration - though they may need a little help. The Gestalt experiment is borne out of these observations, and is a way to explore awareness of these splits, rather than just talk about them, or ‘know’ about them. The kind of knowing we are intersted in is an integrated, body based sense.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Case #62- Medusa


Tracy had a dream. She had killed a man, and put him in a cupboard. She was trying to ensure that none of the people around found out. She had it in the back of her mind to blame it on her mother.

She walked down a corridor and met a man, a psychologist, who was also a detective. Their hands brushed. She was trying to work out how to hide it from him as well. Crime music themes played.

We worked with the dream in a Gestalt manner.

I asked her to retell it as if it was happening in the present - stream of consciousness style.

As she did so, I would pause and ask her what she felt, or for details - for instance, of the man she had killed. 

I then asked her to ‘be the man’, and speak as if she were him.

He said that Tracy was cold, calculating and tough.

When she went back to being herself, she laughed, squirmed, and was uncomfortable with those descriptions.

Next was the walk with the psychologist. She was working hard to hide the facts from him.

Then she played the psychologist. He felt that Tracy was powerful, and he wasn't going to be able to get any thing out of her.

Back to her - I kept repeating the descriptions of her - powerful, cold, calculating, tough. She added that she felt sadistic. So I put all those words together.

I asked two women from the group to come out and walk around, embodying those qualities.

Then I invited Tracy to do the same. She found it difficult, and kept laughing and smiling, but I encouraged her to stay with the process, and feel herself as that powerful woman. I asked someone to play the dead body, and someone else to play the part of her that wanted to claim innocence, as if she would never hurt anyone. 

I directed her to look at some of the men in the group ‘as if looks could kill’. She felt her power, but alternated with laughing. However, she said that she felt a bit evil as she laughed. Laughing is often a form of deflection, a way of disowning experience.

I asked her to breathe into her stomach - I could see she was breathing up high.

When she did so, she reported feeling a stone in her stomach. Then a blockage at her heart. I encouraged the breathing, feeling the stone, as well as her power.

She said this was about firstly the rejection she experienced from her parents, and then secondly, the suppression of her sexuality. She felt like she had a dagger in her hand, and wanted to keep fiddling with it. She felt a bit like Medusa...who could turn men to stone by looking at them. She said she had some pleasurable sexual feelings in her body.

She looked very different now - much more serious, no longer laughing or ‘playing innocent’. 

This was the point of owing, rather than disowning, her power. She could experience all of her - her killer, her sexuality, her power as a woman. 

In Gestalt, it is the disowning of parts of ourselves that is seen as dangerous. When people allow forbidden parts of themselves into their awareness, then they can make full choices, and in that sense, ‘take responsibility’. This is the existential orientation of Gestalt - not to provide any solutions or moral direction of what one should do, but to restore people’s sense of being fully with themselves, and therefore able to make authentic choices.

In this session I followed the energetic movements, and kept focusing her towards the disowned self - her aggression, power etc. She found it very hard to stay with this and own it. She was able to let go of things she swallowed that are basically undigested shoulds. 

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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)