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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.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Case #168 - Unconsumated desire

When Belinda was 16, she met a boy from another church, and fell in love.
There was a ban in their religion on premarital sex. Time went by, and they wanted to get married. He bought some furniture, in preparation for moving in together. But he wouldn't have any intimate contact, due to church rules. At 23, Belinda took him away on a holiday, and wanted to be intimate. He refused. She was upset and angry. Then she left him. Later he came after her, but she already had another boyfriend, it was too late.
But, 40 years later, she still felt very unfinished about it. Now she was married, with kids, but was recently thinking about him. She knew she would never be with him, but there was still the longing. And the pain.
I enquired - why didn't you get married?
Belinda said it was because he didn't want to move away from his family, and she didn't want to move in with them. At 23 she begged him to come away with her, and just be poor. But he wouldn't.
I pointed out that there were three levels of responsibility - individual existential responsibility, responsibility in their co-created situation, and then the church's responsibility for interfering in their personal and relational development.
Belinda described how she now has has her own spirituality - not part of the church. She now believes that sex is ok, as part of the fullness of a spiritual life.
So in the first experiment I suggested that she put church on a chair. I invited her to tell the church 'you interfered with my intimate life, and thats not ok. I don't agree with your beliefs, and am angry that you came between my love and I. Your teachings are responsible for my pain during those years.'
Then invited Belinda to put her first boyfriend on the chair. I suggested that she give him his responsibility (his timidity, his unwillingness to do what it took to make a life together, his unthinking adherence to church doctrine), and to declare her responsibility in that situation.
Finally we spoke about what Belinda could do in future; she needed to do something with her unfinished longing - the spark that still remained, unfinished. She needed to do something creative, to redirect it. This would shape some of the future work with her.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Case #167 - The unexorcism

Julieanne talked about having 'demons'. She said she wanted to exorcise them.
Now I dont 'believe' in demons, but I do accept that this was her meaning framework. In a Gestalt-phenomenological approach, we want to understand the clients reality, from within, rather than using external reference points. So I wanted to know just what she meant by 'demons' and by 'exorcising'.
She explained that she visited a psychic/Tarot reader, with a friend. The psychic told her, 'you have not come here to support your friend, but its you who needs help. You have demons. They need to be exorcised.'
The psychic person did some rituals in relation to this. But Julieanne couldnt sleep very well after than. The exorcism had not 'been successful.'
I told Julieanne, 'we all have demons'. I talked about some of mine - what I call my 'axe-man'. That is, the part of me which is destructive to others.
It was very helpful for her to hear this, for me to talk about that part of myself.
I explained to her that from a Gestalt point of view, we never 'get rid of' our demons. Rather, we need to become interested in them.
So, I invited her to do an experiment to bring one of her demons out..to bring it into the room.
So she described one which she said was a Giant. I asked what it looked like - she said It had a gnome's face. I asked her to look at the Giant. She said that he was turning his head - he was shy!!
She wanted to ask him a question. But in Gestalt we always encourage people to make statements - its more representative of self, and facilitates dialogue better than questions.
So she said 'I see you are shy'.
He got angry.
I asked her to make a statement about herself - she was nervous. Afraid of him.
I invited her to tell him that.
They both laughed!
She was still nervous however. I asked what exactly she was afraid of - this is important to move from global fear, to a grounded and specific fear - this facilitates contact.
She started talking about her anger - when she gets angry she gets very strong, and is very scary.
I asked - so will he be scared of you when you are angry.
Julieanne said, 'no, he will laugh'.
She was delighted. In fact, the Giant was available for contact in the place where she couldnt normally find it, in her anger. By allowing herself to experience this 'demon', she was able to encounter the 'demon' of her own anger, and at the same time, feel a meeting in that place, rather than something to be 'exorcised'.
I asked how she felt - she said, 'I am glad he is there'.
This is the integration, that is the result of a Gestalt process. That which was alienated, becomes part of us, in a way which makes it accessible. So her anger is no longer something to be feared, projected or disowned. Its something she can even laugh about, feel lightness about.
This is true of all the things that people want to 'get rid of'. In Gestalt we are always looking for contact, ownership, and appreciation of those parts, no matter how 'demonic' they appear.

Case #167 - The unexorcism

Julieanne talked about having 'demons'. She said she wanted to exorcise them.
Now I dont 'believe' in demons, but I do accept that this was her meaning framework. In a Gestalt-phenomenological approach, we want to understand the clients reality, from within, rather than using external reference points. So I wanted to know just what she meant by 'demons' and by 'exorcising'.
She explained that she visited a psychic/Tarot reader, with a friend. The psychic told her, 'you have not come here to support your friend, but its you who needs help. You have demons. They need to be exorcised.'
The psychic person did some rituals in relation to this. But Julieanne couldnt sleep very well after than. The exorcism had not 'been successful.'
I told Julieanne, 'we all have demons'. I talked about some of mine - what I call my 'axe-man'. That is, the part of me which is destructive to others.
It was very helpful for her to hear this, for me to talk about that part of myself.
I explained to her that from a Gestalt point of view, we never 'get rid of' our demons. Rather, we need to become interested in them.
So, I invited her to do an experiment to bring one of her demons out..to bring it into the room.
So she described one which she said was a Giant. I asked what it looked like - she said It had a gnome's face. I asked her to look at the Giant. She said that he was turning his head - he was shy!!
She wanted to ask him a question. But in Gestalt we always encourage people to make statements - its more representative of self, and facilitates dialogue better than questions.
So she said 'I see you are shy'.
He got angry.
I asked her to make a statement about herself - she was nervous. Afraid of him.
I invited her to tell him that.
They both laughed!
She was still nervous however. I asked what exactly she was afraid of - this is important to move from global fear, to a grounded and specific fear - this facilitates contact.
She started talking about her anger - when she gets angry she gets very strong, and is very scary.
I asked - so will he be scared of you when you are angry.
Julieanne said, 'no, he will laugh'.
She was delighted. In fact, the Giant was available for contact in the place where she couldnt normally find it, in her anger. By allowing herself to experience this 'demon', she was able to encounter the 'demon' of her own anger, and at the same time, feel a meeting in that place, rather than something to be 'exorcised'.
I asked how she felt - she said, 'I am glad he is there'.
This is the integration, that is the result of a Gestalt process. That which was alienated, becomes part of us, in a way which makes it accessible. So her anger is no longer something to be feared, projected or disowned. Its something she can even laugh about, feel lightness about.
This is true of all the things that people want to 'get rid of'. In Gestalt we are always looking for contact, ownership, and appreciation of those parts, no matter how 'demonic' they appear.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Case #166 - Spiritual transformation: from the pain of lack, to the possiblity of connection

Ulan had an issue with her mother. Ulan believed in Buddhist philosophy, while her mother was a deeply Catholic, and believed her daughter would go to hell because she was not a Christian. Her mother was very oriented towards the afterlife.
Ulan saw her mother every day - her workplace next was right next to her mother's house.
It was very painful for Ulan that she couldn't share anything about her faith with her mother, for fear she would be judged and rejected.
I asked her where she felt this pain. She replied it was in her chest.
Ulan was middle aged, without children. She had married at 40. Her mother had not participated in the wedding plans, because Ulan's fiancé was divorced, and not in a member of the church.
A decade later, when Ulan got divorced, her mother said, 'why are you sad, you were never really married in the first place'.
Needless to say, these were very painful words for Ulan to hear.
As I listened to her story, I was aware of a number of threads. Ulan seemed very much still oriented towards her mother, looking to her for approval etc. Whilst to some degree this may be normal, it seemed to me that Ulan was heavily invested in this need.
I shared my own need of approval from father. Even in my middle age, it is still hard to let go of such a need. I also shared about my own struggles to get recognition from him regarding the validity of my own spiritual path. I never got that recognition, and no amount of rational argument made any difference.
Then I asked about her spirituality, and practices. She explained that she sees God as being loving and accepting and non-judgemental. Ulan prayed regularly.
I set a scene for increased receptivity; I explained that meditation is like listening to God.
So I invited Ulan into an experiment - to feel the emotional pain, and at same time, allow Gods presence - unconditional, non-judgemental, loving - to let that in, be receptive.
I also do parallel work. As I invited her to do this experiment, I also tried the same thing for myself.
Ulan felt profoundly transformed by the experience. She could experience compassion for mother, rather than grief and distress. It was a kind of spiritual experience. Afterwards she felt peaceful.
I gave her some homework - now that her emotional needs were able to be addressed from a spiritual source, she could then potentially be interested in the world of her mother.
I suggest that she ask her mother many details; for instance - what will heaven be like, what will you do, will you eat, where will you sleep, will God be there?˙
In this way, she could find relationship where it is available - in the place where her mother is. She is not going to get that same thing from her mother.
This session contained many aspects.
Firstly, a place of difficult pain, one that is very hard to shift, because its connected to core longings we all have, and at the same time, faced with limits to a parent's ability to be there for us. This pain was exemplified by Ulan's mother's lack of willingness to recognise her marriage, and her lack of empathy for the pain of it being over.
This represents a situation where the 'internal parent' figure is harsh rather than loving. One way to deal with this is to slowly build up ground in the therapeutic relationship, so the client gets to have a somewhat different experience - empathy for their pain, rather than rejection.
However, this takes a great deal of time.
What I could do in this initial contact was firstly share my own pain, in a way which allowed a kind of I-thou contact, creating a base for our therapeutic encounter. Then, I used the spirituality that was so important to Ulan, to bring in the experience of being 'held' in the place of pain. Setting this up correctly as an experiment means that it is not just mental fantasy, but actually allows the client to have a spiritual and therefore transformative experience.
With this new internalisation of care, then I can point the client to where relationship is available - by being interested in her mother's reality, and building a bridge to that. Normally, this would be a reversal of the parent child relationship, and therefore not be completely healthy. But Ulan was a mature woman, and with the added support of this internal experience, she could let go some of her longing from her mother, and instead use her adult functioning to build relationship where it was actually available.  

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Case #165 - Finding a personal spirituality

Max was very emotional. For him, seeking God, spiritual connection, was very important. But despite his efforts, he found he was not gaining that sense, no real experience of something spiritual. His sense of God as infinite, omni present gave him a feeling of distance, rather than closeness. He felt hopeless, frustrated, sad.
His sadness was palpable. Tears flowed as we talked.
I said, be with your sadness. I asked him where he felt it - In the gut he replied.
As he stayed with this, the experience of guilt and anxiety emerged.
Again, I asked where - in the chest. What was it connected to?
He was concerned about somehow betraying old faith - Catholicism. He explained that he was now a Buddhist - he found that more satisfying philosophically.
But previously, had a deep sense of connection with Christ, and a sense of experience of spiritual depth in that context.
His current spiritual practice was from a Buddhist teacher - Qi Gong and meditation.
So, I said, 'if we removed all shoulds in the situation…it seems that the way you connect with the divine is a devotional one. The Buddhist philosophy suits you the best, but you may need to choose on a spectrum of Buddhism, practices that are more down the more devotional end. Or else perhaps allow yourself to find a way to connect with both figures of Jesus and Buddha.
I checked in with him, how he felt - 'very good' he replied.
I invited him to do an experiment - close his eyes, remove all shoulds, and picture just finding the spirituality thats right for him. He pictured both Buddha and Jesus.
It was perfect.
He felt profoundly peaceful, centred, and this was right for him.
This was an example of applying Gestalt process to a spiritual issue. Rather than explore the content of the issue - philosophical questions of meaning or faith - I explored his feelings, his relational yearnings, in the context of spiritual experience. The clue was through his body, and the guilt gave us a sign that there were introjects, or 'shoulds' in the way. These are ideas that we swallow, that prevent us from finding a unique and personal fit. People often conform to social or in this case religious ideas about how things should be. Certainly, you can't mix two religious figures.
In Gestalt, we want to find whats right for the person. In this case, Max needed a relational spirituality, rather than a dry abstract one. He needed to build on the ground he had, and find how to fit it into who he currently was.
In this way, Gestalt supports each person to develop in their unique way, including spiritually.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Case #164 - Building ground

Bethany came forward to work. She was clearly shy. I made some comments, about myself, my own slight nervousness, my interest in meeting her. She didn't say much in response. There was a slightly awkward silence between us. I let the silence be there, noticing what I was feeling, staying present with her.
I invited her to ask me questions, so it wasn't just me asking her questions. In other words, I made it clear this was a two way relationship - building ground for an I-thou connection.
She mentioned feeling insecure. I talked about my age now, and that I felt less insecure these days than when I was younger. She said her father was my age. I shared that I did feel insecure when I had first started doing therapy, and that insecurity continued for a few years. She asked me if I ever felt insecure in my current life. I replied that I did, in small ways, at times; but that I was more comfortable with that, and with not-knowing all the answers. For instance, not knowing what we were going to talk about in this session.
These self disclosures were all building ground in our relationship. I was being authentic, transparent, sharing both my strengths and vulnerabilities. I also was showing my own trajectory, from being younger, to the present.
I noted our differences culturally, and that I knew very little about her Chinese background. She shared some aspects of her cultural background.
I asked her what she noted about our differences - she said, that I was a stranger, and a man. I invited her to ask about me, to get to know me. She asked about my curly hair, and I explained my Jewish heritage.
We were slowly building ground.
She then made a general comment, asking about how unfinished business was dealt with. I said I was more interested in specifics, than addressing topics in general. This is the Gestalt awareness focusing process.
I shared about some unfinished business of mine - again, leading the way in being authentic, showing my willingness to dive into personal awareness.
This provided the ground for her to respond to my question, about some unfinished business of hers.
She talked about her parents fighting at night, in the same room, on a regular basis, from the time she was very small, until she left home. She spoke about wishing she could magically go back, and change that experience.
I could see her emotion, and acknowledged the pain she felt. She spoke of feeling very alone in that place.
I invited her to notice her experience in the present, stay with her feelings, breathe, and connect with me. We then spent some time cycling between these elements. I would acknowledge her, and her pain, talk about my sense of connection to her in that place, acknowledge the difficulty of her experience, invite her to get in touch with her body.
After this cycling, she started taking what are called 'integrative breaths'. These have a particular character, of a more settled nature. They represent the person taking something in, letting go, an embodied shift.
We finished up. There was a whole world yet to be addressed, but we had taken an important first step. We had built relationship, dived into unfinished business in a way which moved towards healing, and she had experienced for the first time, someone else with her in that place in which she had been so alone. She had gone back to that place, and found some healing.
It is the quality of relationship in the place of previous isolation that is even more important than just the intensity of the emotional experience, or the emotional release. It provides the basis for new type of experience, where pain is met in ways which were not previously possible.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Case #163 - Dot points

Tanya described a layer of heat in her shoulder, and neck.
I asked her what these feelings were connected to. She said that when she heard 'twisted words' she felt violent. She explained that her mother had been wild and irrational…and that when Tanya had talked to her, Tanya felt like she was getting squeezed by a snake.
Tanya mentioned that there was a woman in the group who had the opposite effect on her - talking to her felt a steady, cooling stream. Tanya felt attracted to being with this woman.
I took some time to reflect on this. The themes were clear - words had a big impact on her, and she could easily feel trapped on the other end of words which did not have responsibility embedded in them.
I thought of words on a page, a different media. I asked what kind of writing she liked reading. Tanya said she enjoyed autobiographies; ones that were written in a simple direct and local style.
I gave an example from my own experience about when I was too wordy, and a friend asked me to talk to them in 'dot points' - that is, direct and to the point.
Tanya said 'yes, thats exactly what I want'.
So I suggested that she had the right to ask for that herself from people. I explained to her how to do it in a non-shaming way. This involves making it about myself, rather than a direct or implied criticism of the other. For instance 'I am not following you right now. I need you to put it more simply and directly for me'.
Tanya remarked that she also had a problem being simple and direct when she spoke. I pointed out that she could still ask for that from others, and after a while that would orient her to thinking in that way.
I invited her to practice this in the group, so someone would start in on a long story, and she would ask them to be simple and direct. Tanya enjoyed doing this, and it built up her confidence in being able to do so.
Next, I gave her some homework - to write her mother a letter a day, talking about things important to Tanya, in a very simple and direct way. I continued using those words, which she had previously described. By using the client's language, we stay closely within their phenomenological world.  I explained that it didnt really matter how her mother responsded, the focus was on expressing herself in this way.
I also mentioned the feeling of violence she had described - we would need to deal with this in another session, as it represented significant unfinished business. Its important in Gestalt processes not to attempt too much. Generally one figure gets covered per session - thats as much as someone can integrate at a time.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Case #162 - Jack in the box

Melissa talked about having 'lost her memory' of her childhood. She could only remember a few things - everything seemed to be lost in some inaccessible mist. This was annoying to her, and concerned her, and she kept asking why her childhood memories were not available to her.
I asked her to recount the memories she did have - a few incidences, where her father - and another time her mother - had taken her to hospital for something. She also remembered her father doing calligraphy.
That was it.
Melissa said her mother told her that as a baby and toddler, she was very quiet -made almost no sound, and didn't start talking until late.
This suggested that something happened very early on to her.
Melissa was very nervous. This was apparent to me. She was nervous with me, which was fair enough as she didn't really know me very well. But it seemed that she was nervous as a person. This was very evident.
I told her that I didn't want to try to get an explanation for why she had lost her memories - that there was a good reason for it, and in due course, that would become clear.
This is because people like to pursue the question of 'why' in a very linear fashion, wanting crisp answers; my interest is in following the rhythm of the organism, the natural arising of awareness, and as people are ready and the time is right, things become clear.
So I wanted to come more into the present, with the phenomena which was most obvious - her nervousness.
She seemed like an extremely frightened person. I imagined that if I blew on her, she would fall over.
However, I noticed a devilish impulse arising in my mind. I wanted to scare her. Not in a mean way, but in a kind of playful way.
In Gestalt, we generally want to step 'into' whatever experience that people are avoiding, with appropriate support and agreement.
Her fear was so all consuming, so on the tip of her tongue, that it seemed to me important to deal with it directly.
So I reported my impulse to her. I told her I wanted to scare her, in a playful way. I wanted to say 'boo'. Even as I said that word, she startled, though I did so with almost no energy at all.
So I played a little game with her of 'boo', as one would with a child. I did so incredibly gently. She still startled.
My image evolved - I talked to her about a jack-in-the-box that my grandson had. When I would open it, he would startle. But then he would want me to do it again. I would have to do so very slowly, or it was too much for him. But he loved it popping out each time, and he was startled each time, although he knew exactly what was coming.
I gave this image to capture the nature of the game with her. I would be the jack in the box. I would 'pop out' slowly enough that it wasn't too scary, but enough to startle her.
I did this several times, very slowly and gently. She was started but also laughed a little.
She reported an ache in her back.
However, the spot she showed me that was aching was in fact her adrenals. I was not surprised, and explained to her this wasn't a back ache, but the result of her over active adrenal glands. I suggested that on a physical level she get some kind of tonic that was good for the adrenals. In Gestalt we like to work holistically; and after a lifetime of being nervous her adrenals were far too active. Psychological work is good, but it also may need to be accompanied by physical treatments when something is deeply embedded.
Next I asked Melissa to scare me. Then to scare some people in the group.  There was laughter. She was picking up on the game. This is because we are interested in moving to the other polarity in Gestalt - if someone projects something onto others, we invite them to swap roles, and become active rather than passive.
I then explained to her, that excitement was the same as nervousness, except the difference was the level of support. With enough support, the energy can be pleasurable. I gave the example of sex - excitement and pleasure. I wanted to help her realise that her energy could be joyful, not just fearful.
This was all a revelation to her. That her sensitivity could also mean she could experience more positive excitement, if she learned to manage it.
Managing it I explained to her, started with the breath.
I got her to stand, and showed her what was happening with her breathing. It was completely constricted. She breathed only with the upper portion of her lungs - very shallowly. So I spent some time, showing her how to breathe differently. I showed her how to draw breath into the lower section of her lungs. This was a completely new experience for her. She got dizzy -she was unused to so much oxygen in her body. I moved my hands down her legs to her feet, to help her draw her energy down and ground her. She needed a lot of support, with the breathing, with keeping her energy in her body.
This was a radically new experience for her, and I pointed out this is something she would need to practice, all day, every day, and that the result would be a reduction in her fear, and an increase in her pleasure.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Case #161 - Peaceful but lonely

Deb talked about her sadness.
I told her I wanted to get to know a bit about her first, before going to that place. I need a sense of contact with a client, some grounding in the relationship between us. She talked about her life, her professional, her family. She said that she had a peaceful marriage. I found this phrase 'a peaceful marraige' to be interesting - its not something I hear a lot from clients. Mostly their marriages contain some conflict.
I was curious. As Deb looked at me, she said that she was afraid I would' see something' in her. As she said this, she put her hand on her tummy, and then on her womb area. She said although she was afraid, she also wanted me to see this part of her.
This gave a clear direction of how to proceed with her - she welcomed exploration, and she also needed sensitivity from me. I asked how she experienced the connection with me. She said 'peaceful'. Again, I found this a slightly strange word - reassuring, but unusual in the context of her sadness. Especially given she also reported feeling sad, and afraid.
Her emotion seemed very non-verbal, very internal, and complex. Her words were not filled out with stories and examples. The hiddenness of what was inside her gave me the idea of working somatically with her.
So I suggested she lie on the floor. Thats one way to start somatic psychotherapy work. Stop talking, and focus on the body.
For some time, I was with her, especially watching her breathe.
Deb said she couldn't feel anything in her body.
I asked her to wiggle her toes - to bring the awareness into her body.
She felt uncomfortable - she said that I was too close, so I moved back a little.
As she wiggled her toes, tears came to her eyes, and a memory of being 6.
Her parents had sent her to live with her aunt, and only saw her every few years.She said she felt terribly lonely, but it was 'peaceful' at her aunt's place.
I asked to touch her belly. I could see the interruption in her breathing there. I asked her to touch herself there in order to bring awareness to this place, and to help guide her awareness into her body through this as a starting point. She agreed.
She started to feel a little more - she said 'I feel alive for the first time'.
Another memory surfaced of being 8; she thought of 'leaving' - she felt terribly empty in her life.
She then found a sense of purpose at school - to excel. But she was still lonely.
As she spoke, I put some pressure on her belly, especially as she breathed. This was to help move the energy there, and to intensify the emotional experience, as it seemed that her 'calmness' was in fact her creative adjustment, to avoid the feelings.
Deb felt an increased sense of connection with herself and me. I asked her to put her hand on her womb area. She felt reported that she felt soft.
She said 'I feel as if I don't have a heart' - again, then effect of the long loneliness. So I (after asking) put my hand on her heart. We stayed like that for some time
Deb then reported feeling fully alive, whole, and connected. Her sense of loneliness was gone.
As I looked in her eyes, I told her 'I feel connected to you'. I asked her experience. She said that she experienced connection, for the first time, from that place of loneliness.
Working somatically is generally part of Gestalt - we are interested in peoples embodied experience, and many aspects of Gestalt process utilise body awareness, rather than just cognitive awareness.
Sometimes, it is useful to focus more on the body, when someone has less words, or when they have too many words, or when their words are very contradictory, as in this case.
Being still, and present with a person, their breathing, helps them become more present to themselves. Then, whatever the unfinished business is, will arise to the surface of their awareness. We dont have to do too much questioning, or prodding. They will themselves get in touch with what is most important. Then we can focus that awareness, bring it into relationship, and support movement in the direction the person needs to go.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Case #160 - Missing father

Julie said her issue was deep pain.
She felt a bit nervous with me, so I invited her to ask me a question (rather than me putting the spotlight on her).
She asked me 'how do you deal with deep pain'. I share with her some ways I recently dealt with my deep pain.
Next she shared that she had a fear of abandonment, but she learned to take care of herself in that place, and not depend on anyone else.
I asked her experiences of being abandoned. She said she didn't have anything directly like that, but that her father had worked in another city, and was only able to come home for 1 month a year. So she missed him very much during her childhood.
In middle school she went with her brother to live with him. But her experience of going to school was that of being the outsider, coming to the city from the country, from the south to the north. She felt excluded.
I pointed out that the feeling she described is akin to a kind of abandonment, being left alone.
During this middle school time, she was staying with her father, but he had to work very hard, take care of her and her brother, and didn't have a lot of time or energy leftover for them. She felt lonely there, and wanted more affection from him. She learned to rely on herself.
I acknowledged her feelings, and shared my own experiences of being an outsider. Her eyes filled with tears. She talked about a feeling in her belly which held her back.
So I suggested an experiment - we would sit back to back, and she would lean against me.
She sobbed during this; she was able to lean against me, and finally she settle somewhat.
Then she asked to be held like a baby.
So I agreed for her to put her head in my lap, and I held her. She sobbed again. During the time she asked asked me, as her 'father', if I loved her. I spoke for her father - 'yes'. She asked me if I mattered to her. She asked me several things, wanting to confirm this. I explained 'as her father', that I had to go away to work, but missed her, and thought about her. I guessed that this was likely close to the truth.
The experience was extremely powerful for her. I told her to just let herself rest. She could take in the nourishment she had craved for so long.
In this place, where the experiment has such a powerful context, the experience is very real, and thus significantly healing. The result is a deeply embodied experience of the yearned-for connection, reassurance, and soothing of a pain she carried her whole life.
Sometimes, as therapist, we can give voice to others in a person's life, who they could never really know. Some may question speaking 'for' the father's reality; and its true, its an educated guess. However, being a father myself, I could place myself in the father's shoes, and perhaps understand something about him. In this way, including myself in the therapy, I can contribute. Whats important is that I am not doing this for my own benefit, out of my own unfinished business, but that this is focused on the clients need.
The same thing with agreeing to hold her. I am not in the business of evaluating the 'correctness' of the client's wishes. It seems within the bounds of therapy, appropriate to the case and the situation. If I can be part of a healing process, that is consistent with the client's ground, that feels right to me. I do not see the value of questioning the client's need - I find it better to take it at face value, experiment, and see what happens. If it fits, then good. If not, then we can explore what that is about. Part of the ethos here involves respecting the client as the best expert on themselves, an inherent part of the phenomenological stance.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Case #159 - Getting unstuck

Linda raised her issues with her mother, who had come to stay with her recently. She said she didn't like being around her mother, who she found 'sticky'. Her mother would ask her for advice, then reject everything she said, and then later ask for advice again. Her mother would take a kind of child role and tone of voice with Linda, who couldn't stand this.
I sat for a while with this. It seemed a clear situation, and a difficult one. There were 'answers' - this was a case of a double bind, and there are various ways to deal with this in therapy. Its also clearly a case where the parent-child roles were being reversed, and the child needs to 'give back' the burdens the parent is putting on them.
But I didn't simply want to follow a theory here, give a glib answer, or provide a clever intervention.
I felt my own sense of 'stickiness' in the situation, and did not want to simply pull myself out of it with my knowledge, or my enthusiasm for helping Linda.
So I sat, for some time, letting the 'creative void' be there, waiting to see what emerged. After several minutes I remembered the 'Gestalt prayer' which Fritz Perls had been so fond of, even to the point he would get people to repeat it before a group session.
This goes:
You are you, and I am I
I am not in the world to live up to your expectations
and you are not in this world to live up to mine.
You are you, and I am I
If by chance we find each other, its beautiful.
If not, it can't be helped.

This is very much a statement of differentiation. It has fallen somewhat into disrepute in the Gestalt world now, as it is seen as too extreme an emphasis on the individual, without enough acknowledgement of interconnectedness. So I was a little reluctant to mention it.
However, what is important is the needs of the client, not the controversy of the Gestalt world. And in this circumstance, it seemed relevant.
So I introduced it to Linda.
As I spoke it, I asked what she felt. She said she felt stronger.
So I invited her to say it, repeating it after me.
She reported feeling more settled.
So I asked her to say it again.
She said that she felt good, but something was stuck in her throat - a hardness.
We explored this - it was related to a cultural introject to 'always be soft' in the way one expresses things.
The Gestalt mode of dealing with such 'shoulds' is the exercise I then gave to her: to make two sentences:
'I want to be soft'
'I don't want to be soft'
This brings in the element of choice.
She said she didn't want to have to always be soft.
So then we went back to the 'prayer', and I invited her to say it in a 'harder' way, imagining she was saying it to her mother.
She was able to do so, and felt stronger.
Linda wanted more.
I felt to stop there.
She wanted me to go through, explain to her what this meant, and how she could apply it.
I declined.
Sometimes such support is relevant.
But in this case, I simply said to her - the core issue is differentiation, and this gives you a sense of the spirit of it. But I am not going to spell it out further for you. I could feel myself otherwise moving into the 'sticky' position, giving her move 'advice' as she found herself doing with her mother.
Linda was not really satisfied, but I drew my limit.
This was important, as my own act of differentiation in the connection.
Differentiation is not something that can be put into a formula; its a shift in a way of being, a movement into a sense of oneself, without needing to be defined by others, yet not moving to isolation, but staying in contact.
Its an essential ingredient in maturing, and in family relationships of all types.
It can't really be 'taught', but only pointed to, and practiced. In this case, my own practice - in a non reactive way - could provide an example for her, and a felt experience, that would help her further in differentiating from her mother.
In that sense, its important not to be 'too' helpful to the client. We are here to assist them, but if we lean forwards too far in being helpful, thats not ultimately in their best interests.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Case #158 - All about needs

Dana had got very triggered by something that occurred in the group, had gone into her shame, and then said she felt like vomiting. So I encouraged her, and she vomited a little.
This is a positive step, to let out what has been swallowed. In Gestalt we are interested in what people 'introject', or swallow, in terms of beliefs and values from others. It is necessary to help them 'chew' these over, to be able to digest them, and find whats relevant for them. That leads to authenticity.
I asked her about her mother, and food. This is because when something has been swallowed, that is unhealthy, its also good to trace just how the person is in relation to food; and the source of this relationship is generally how their mother was with them around their needs (oral issues).
Dana said her mother was not in touch with her own needs, and that Dana also found it difficult being in touch with her needs.
She reported that she liked to eat rich food, but could only really stomach light food most of the time.
This indicated something about her need for nourishment, and her capacity to take it in. It provided an important pointer for the therapy process - and I needed to be careful about how much I 'fed her', even though her needs may be significant.
She talked about her orientation to other people's needs, and how her mother was also like this.
In such circumstances, there is an imbalance, and the 'sensitivity' to others needs is 'as if', because if we are not equally tuned into our own needs, we cannot really be there for others. In fact, what we do for others is an overcompensation, and in that sense, not really as generous as it seems.
This was a very big topic, requiring a lot of ongoing therapy.
To make a start, I asked her, 'so what do you need from me, right now?'
I knew this would be a difficult question for her, but I wanted to raise it to see what would come up. Its important to take large topics, and bring them into the 'here and now, I and thou', to make them workable, and to give me a direct experience of the issue we are talking about.
She reported being confused - I expected this.
I was patient though... directed her to her feelings, and waited.
In this type of situation, such a person needs a lot of support to recognise and ask for what they need.
She finally said she wanted my attention. That was good.
She said she wanted my steady attention, but that she would be allowed to come and go unrestricted. That was a very good step, and provided me with much important information, as this represents a fundamental need that children have - for the secure presence of the caregiver... with permission to come close to get reassurance, and then go off exploring, and then come back when they need.
Dana said she wanted to crawl. I asked if she would like me to do that with her. She did. This is because she was at a very young stage, and often young children want an adult there with them, joining and reflecting them, and playing with them.
So we crawled around for a while.
She was very happy. I pointed out that this was a fundamental need - for mirroring - to be recognised in one's feelings, and needs, and to be met in that place.
Then she asked me about my need. I was cautious, as in a way, this represented her pattern. But I wanted to go with it, as an experiment, and find a way to do something different with her around other's needs.
So I told her that I had a need for touch, physical affection.
She said that she didn't have that need so much.
This was excellent - I immediately said, 'yes, my need is different to yours, and thats ok'. This was excellent because it provided a chance to highlight differentiation - the capacity to be oneself, and yet stay connected in relationship.
I suggested that this kind of differentiation was also a fundamental need.
Mirroring requires me as caregiver to put my needs aside to be with the other.
Differentiation involves me recognising differences, and making that ok.
This set the tone for ongoing therapy, and provided a framework for her development in coming to terms with the topic of needs.
Finally, I said, 'I know you would like to keep going Dana, and I am going to stop now'
People in this situation often don't know when they are 'full', and require a clear, firm and non-reactive boundary to be set. This helps flag to them that some needs have been met, and they need to sit and digest, rather than keep going for more. This is also a kind of mirroring - acknowledging their fullness, so they can recognise it themselves.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Case #157 - Pretending

Miranda's concern was about her tone of voice, which she felt was 'pretend'. She explained how she engaged at a level of social nicety, but that she felt a lack of authenticity in that place.
This got me interested in her field - the context for such a way of being.
She explained that her mother had been very controlling of her, but not her father. Her mother would instruct her exactly how to wash the dishes for instance, in great detail, correcting the slightest deviance from her protocol. Her mother had these kinds of specific expectations of her in every realm.
Now Miranda lived her life with as little structure as possible - at home, things were all over the place for instance. I pointed out that in fact she was not free of her mother, but was still in relationship to her - in reaction.
I pointed out that on the one hand her mother was controlling, and on the other, that could also be seen as support - clear instructions in how to behave. This clearly made it especially difficult for Miranda to go beyond her social persona, as it had been deeply embedded in there by her mothers careful and detailed instructions.
So, to bring this all into the 'here and now, I and thou', I invited Miranda into a Gestalt experiment with me. I suggested that she find some detail to criticise in me, and tell me about it. This is a relatively safe situation, because I am setting it up, inviting it, and reassured her that I have lots of steadiness and ground to hear her.
She told me 'you are too unstructured as a teacher'.
I acknowledged the truth of this - I like to work in a very unstructured way.
Embedded in this statement was a very rich ground for therapy - her reaction against structure, yet her desire for structure also implied by the criticism. But I simply noted that to myself, for another time.
What I did remark on was that as she was telling me, she was smiling, and was speaking in a soft tone of voice.
I acknowledged the embarrassment of confronting authority with a criticism. Its important not to push too hard in an experiment, to stretch too much beyond a client's familiarity. And when they do participate in an experiment to extend, its important to understand that there may be some shame associated with that.
I pointed out that here we were up against her mother's conditioning regarding being polite to one's elders.
So I invited her to 'put her mother on the pillow' and talk with her.
Miranda said 'I won't be controlled by you'. But again, with a  smile, and soft tone.
I picked this up, and remarked on it, especially as she had started the session with concerns about the pretence in her tone of voice. In Gestalt, we take the themes or 'figures' we are working with, and look for how they are manifesting in the present experience.
I offered her support to have a 'bitchier' tone of voice. It was hard for her. She closed her mouth in what I call a 'zip'. I pointed this out to her. She said she actually felt angry when talking to her mother.  So I invited her to show that in her voice.
She was able to do so a little, and say her piece without a smile.
This was a small step - she had not got to the point of raising her voice. But it was important to move at a pace which Miranda could integrate, rather than going for a dramatic movement.
There was much rich ground for therapy here, but such work needs to be done over a period of time. Gestalt privileges integration; otherwise, great insights, or great releases of energy, do not embed in the person's being.
Part of the value of therapy is in the new experiences and learning. Part is in the development of the ground of relationship, which comes through the client 'being known' by the therapist. So in cases such as this, I get to know and understand the client in important ways. This knowing then builds essential ground for subsequent sessions. Gestalt is very focused on providing a therapy that is not 'off the shelf', but one which is individualised and very much tailored to who the client is.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Case #156 - Interrupting the shame cycle

Tracey and Samantha were talking about some unfinished business from previous times in their relationship, a conflict they had where Tracey had reacted to Samantha, and they had an argument.
Tracey made an authentic statement about herself, and her experience with Samantha. Samantha listened, but then turned away and said nothing. It seemed a somewhat disconnected response.
Tracey pursued the topic - she was not satisfied with the response. Samantha then replied, sharing that Tracey was right about her concerns, but that Samantha couldn't really accept this part of Samantha, that Tracey was giving her feedback about.
Tracey wanted to talk more, and tell Samantha how she felt about this.
I interrupted Tracey.
Samantha was giving a clear indication that she felt shame. The inability to accept parts of ourselves comes originally from those parts not being accepted by important people in our lives, caregivers. That leads to a sense that these aspects of self are unacceptable, and are therefore put out of awareness. When they do come back into awareness, there is generally a sense of shame connected.
In that place of shame, there is little or no capacity for dialogue, for rationality or reasonableness. There is deep pain, and generally a sense of hiding. The fear is of the same rejection and exclusion occurring…and it often does, in a tragic repetitive cyclic sense.
In most relationships this occurs at some point, and it generally goes downhill from there. Neither person feels heard or met. The one in shame often doesn't recognise the shame - they just feel terrible, and shut down, react, or shame the other person back. The person raising the topic generally doesn't mean to have that effect - they may be genuinely raising an issue of concern. However, the more they raise it, the more the other person goes to shame, and down the cycle goes.
What is necessary is the recognition that shame has arisen, and for one or both people to pause, and shift gears. This is hard, but essential.
In this case, I came in as the 'hand of God' to interrupt the situation, taking care of both people in the process. I explained to Tracey that her concerns were completely valid, and that her desire for dialogue was positive, but that Samantha simply wasn't available in this place - she needed her shame addressed before anything else would shift.
I told Samantha that her sense of nonacceptance of that part of herself was a place where she needed and deserved support, and that this needed to occur before she could be available for any further dialogue.
Many relationships come up against this point, and the understanding and recognition of shame is essential to get through it. There also needs to be knowledge of what is necessary for both people - for the one in shame, things need to pause, they need to find their ground, reduce exposure, and if possible declare their fears. For the other person, they need to get that they are not going to be met in this place, and although their needs are perfectly valid, nothing will happen until the shame is addressed. So they may need to go elsewhere for support on the issue, and themselves in that place.
Couples therapy can provide support to both people, and its also possible with sufficient insight and awareness, to use this knowledge oneself in a relationship.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Case #155 - The softening expression

Betty came forward to work. My previous experience of her was that she was quite a card. Funny, dramatic; she talked about a variety of problems she felt quite hopeless about.
She started to mention a few of them.
I made a choice not to engage with her about the detail, nor to parley with her about 'the madness of it all'. I resisted the temptation to be playful with her or create a Gestalt experiment where she could exercise her drama, and where we might explore something related to that.
Instead, I was interested in something deeper with her.
But I knew that pretty well whatever I said, or whatever I did, I would elicit her standard responses. I had been around that cycle several times with her before.
In response to her 'I'm not really sure what to do with my life but its sure a problem' story, I cut through and said 'you are pretty good at avoiding'.
This remark is potentially shaming - exposing her in the very heart of her defence. So I also included myself - 'I am pretty good at avoiding as well'.
I was upfront with my agenda, and told her I would ask her a 'trick question': 'what are you avoiding Betty'. Her answer: was that she 'didn't know'.
So I tried another 'trick'. I asked her to give me a clue. What did she know about herself in the place of avoidance? Blank again.
We sat for a while, silently, looking at each other. I was looking to find a way in, to a deeper place. I knew words were of little use. Then, for a moment, an expression came over her face, her eyes softened. Then she quickly shifted back to her usual cheeky look. I said - 'tell me what just happened, something shifted, what were you feeling'. Again, she was blank.
I knew now what I was looking for, and it was that - that openess to contact, outside of her normal entertainer or 'tired of life' self.
But I could also see that we were not going to get there directly, or easily.
I said - 'fair enough, why should you trust me? I am just a therapist, you have no demonstrated reason to let go of your avoidance'. This was in order to validate her reluctance to go deeper, and her holding onto her avoidances.
So I started sharing with her about my own avoidances.
Then I stopped talking - I didn't want to have too many words get in the way. Again, we were silent, looking at each other. I was looking for the Betty underneath the avoidance, but I also became conscious of my own avoidances - my energetic ways of not being fully present. So I let her see me underneath my avoidances. She started to soften, to drop the crazy look in her eyes, and there she was, present with me, I with her. It was like dropping down a well. Down we went, silently, just present with each other, fully.
I added a few words, just to articulate my experience, to acknowledge her. But I was careful not to use too many, not to distract from the intensity of the contact, the recognition.
Betty remarked it was like I wasn't the therapist role, and this was kind of true. I let myself be vulnerable as well, and in that place we met as equals.
This is something characteristic  of the gestalt approach -- the transparency on the part of the therapist, creating the ground for the client to be able to ''drop down''. We may note a client''s ''defenses'' but we cont dont push them,  we work with them, acknowledging them, and also finding other ways to make contact, especially ones that not about probing, but about increasing the depth and vulnerability of the relationship.
words can be useful., but they can also get in the way of therapy, of really being present, which is by far more powerful as a means to therapeutic change.
Noticing the micro changes of the client is essential, as otherwise we can miss very subtle signs of important emotions which the client themselves may not be aware of, the softening expression for instance.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Case #154 - Don't overestimate me


A therapy session can, from a dialogical point of view, start with the therapist's experience and feelings first. When this is in the form of a relational statement, it can be an excellent beginning to a session.
So sitting with Miranda I told her that my experience with her contained two elements - warmth, and caution.
I asked her about her experience with me…she spoke of feeling uncomfortable.
As we explored that, the figure that formed was she was uncomfortable with the thought that I might misunderstand her.
I wanted to know just what that might mean, between us. As we explored this, it became clear that she was afraid that I would expect too much of her. This was related to the family she grew up in, and the expectations that were often unrealistic and created a great deal of pressure for her.
So the synopsis statement that I helped her come to was this 'don't overestimate me'.
This then made perfect sense to me - as I realised my caution was related exactly to this - I was aware that the way she presented did not always represent her actual capacities. It would be easy for me to come to believe that she had more capacity than she actually did, because of her confident manner.
So this was a statement of her vulnerability, her creative adjustment (to over-promise, and over extend herself), a core relational issue, and a very grounding request.
Gestalt can work very quickly in this way, arriving at core issues by using a combination of present centred awareness, non-directive enquiry, and relational exploration.
It also points to the importance of not over-focusing on the client's experience. The experience of the therapist is an essential ingredient in a dialogical exploration, and we don't have to 'make sense' of it, but rather just notice, and then perhaps report it.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Case #153 - Underneath the face mask

Belinda laughed and smiled a lot.
I told her that I enjoyed her friendly manner. And I also wondered what she was feeling.
She said she felt fear, but tended to hide it.
I asked further..
Fear of rejection was her issue.
So I invited her into an experiment, to support her in authentic expression.
I asked her to pay attention to what she felt in her face.
I asked her to do her best to relax her face.
This took her some time - she was not used to that. When she did relax her face, she started to look sad. I gave her this feedback.
She said - 'well, I don't see the point of showing my sadness - I feel it inside, but at least if I smile I don't bring other people down, or have to explain myself.'
I understood, and pointed out to her that showing her true feelings might not change how she was feeling, but it changed the impact she had on others: when I only saw her smiling face, then she only engaged the part of me that is warm and friendly in response to her laughter. She deprived me of responding to her sadness - I explained I felt a bit gypped.
This was novel to her - in her state of fear, she hadn't really thought through the relationships she was creating as a result of only presenting her sunny side. Her relationships lacked depth, there was no chance of her getting care in the place of her sadness..in protecting herself from rejection, she also stopped people getting close.
The trouble was, the acceptance she was getting from people was more to do with how she presented herself, than how she truly felt.
So, having the experience of showing me her sadness, and feeling acceptance in that place, had a big impact on Belinda. She understood that by being fully who she was, she had a better chance of getting true acceptance. The risk was real - of being rejected for her sadness, as she had been historically in her family. To become more authentic in relationship required taking that risk.
In Gestalt, we support and encourage people to take risks. We ask 'whats the worst that can happen; and can you take responsibly for that'. This confronts what Fritz Perls called 'catastrophic fantasies', which people use to hold themselves back.
The Gestalt experiment provides a 'safe emergency', which sets up a situation of taking a risk, doing something new, something more authentic, in a way which is relative safe. This is an ideal learning setting, and provides people a new experience. The insight which flows from this is embodied rather than just cerebral.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Case #152 - Everyday abandonment

Felice said she was afraid of abandonment.
This is of course a fairly common theme.
I had worked with Felice, and new that she could be somewhat dramatic, and childlike at times. She was young - in her mid 20's.
So rather than go into her 'abandoned' position, I went to a responsibility position.
I told her I was interested in those aspects of this that were out of her awareness -  where and how she did the abandoning.
She had never considered this question before.
This is often the case when people identify with one end of a polarity.
So I invited her into a Gestalt experiment. I would pull at her sleeve, and say 'I need you'. She would pull away…in other words, abandon me.
We then did another experiment - she would act as if her mobile phone was ringing when she was talking to me, and break our conversation to answer it….
We swapped roles, and I did the same.
This brought her to the awareness that abandonment happens often, in all relationships, in small ways. In this sense, the issue became not so much a global one, but a very specific one, rooted in small everyday awarenesses.
This gave her a whole new way to see abandonment - it was not something in the future, to be feared, but something in her present, to be addressed.
In Gestalt we break down global issues - anxiety, anger, depression - into the here and now experience, which people can do something about. There are choices available in the present, that often people are not aware of. By focusing awareness on the present, they start to see those choices, and in that way find empowerment in the face of issues that previously seemed overwhelming.
So then I pointed out that the issue was not so much abandonment, but the repair necessary when abandonment occurred. Given that its part of the fabric of life, its a skill to be learned.
So we practiced - she acknowledged: 'yes, I did that' (e.g., looked away, pulled away), and then she said 'sorry'.
The Gestalt experiment allows us to explore, in very practical ways, the issues that someone raises…to find new outcomes, to try out new ways of being. The result is always new awareness - not just cerebral, but embodied and connected with the emotions.
This brings a sense of integration and completion, even though issues such as this are never 'resolved' in some kind of final way.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Case #151 - Digestion - the cure for talking too much.

Odetta said that she talked too much, then felt depleted.
I noted to myself that characterlogicaly, this suggested issues to do with orality, and unmet needs.
She said that she had problems with two different women.
I asked her to pick one of them, and have a dialogue with her, by imagining she was on the other chair.
My instruction was to start with her feelings. Odetta described them as being like a rubber ball in her guts.
I asked her to imagine pulling the rubber band out of her guts, putting it her hand, and the expressing those feelings to the other women.
I did this because I wanted her to be present with her trauma, but not get bogged down in it. From my past work with Odetta, I knew she could easily get lost in her feelings. By pulling the feelings out, she actually could get more in touch with them.
Her expression was then 'I want to throw the ball at you'. This suggested aggression, but in Gestalt we never assume, so I enquired, as she still had not shared her feeling. People often do this, find ways to avoid being in touch with their feelings, or avoid expressing them directly.
So I focused her awareness on this 'emerging figure' as we say in Gestalt. Then she said to the woman 'I like your groundedness'.
I then invited Odetta to say what it was that she wanted, in the present, from the other woman.
Asking her to say this in the present is very important, otherwise people easily get lost in their feelings.
Odetta told the woman 'I want to know how you stay so grounded'.I got her to swap chairs, and reply as the woman - she said 'its because I have positive beliefs'.
I asked her to swap chairs again. Odetta, speaking as herself, said '..but I can't do that'.
This is an important juncture. It means that Odetta is caught in the experience of her powerlessness, likely a historical feeling, as she was a perfectly capable woman, in her current life. But in her 'talking too much', she couldn't take in an instruction or a suggestion - I had found this previously in therapy..that she really didn't take much in.
So I asked Odetta to pause for a moment, and really digest what she had heard. This interrupted her pattern of 'I don't know what I want or what I feel'. Her talking too much was skating on the surface. Yet, to go deeper required not just Gestalt experiments, but taking time slow down, and integrate the nourishment she had been given.
So I left her with this, as homework.
Facilitating process can be supportive, but its also important to know when to allow someone space to integrate. Too much activity is exciting, but not so useful in the long run. And with someone with oral issues, they need to find the place where they are 'full', as otherwise they will keep on talking, and keep on asking. So the therapist has to draw a boundary line.










~

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Case #150 - Distracted...or defiant?

My first comment to Marcy was - I need to ground myself to start with. I was feeling a little flustered, and needed to come into the present. I often found myself tussling with Marcy; it was hard work doing therapy with her.
In Gestalt, the therapist needs to ensure that they are available, and if not, then declaring that is bringing oneself into relationship, so the client knows 'who' they are on the other end of.
The first thing I noticed was her clothes. They were beautiful - traditional Chinese. I commented on that. Not as a compliment to her per se, but because I appreciated them - more in the way of acknowledgement, recognition, and saying something about myself.
I told Marcy that it was easy for me to tussle with her, and I didn't want to do that. I told her I liked her resilience, and also felt irritated and a bit cautious with her.
This kind of authenticity is essential from a Gestalt point of view. To simply work with the client, and ignore my own experience does neither of us a service.
Marcy understood. She often had this experience with people - though they often would not articulate their experience directly.
Next she told me 'I don't dare to show my gifts'.
I asked what these gifts were. And whether she could show them to me now.
When people make general statements, we always invite them to make them specific, and in the present. That makes them available for contact.
Indeed, as I asked this, I saw her tears form.
In that moment, the content was not important. What was significant was a sense of connection in that place. I acknowledged this.
This is what I found difficult about Marcy - it was normally very hard to bring her to this place of contact. No amount of questions, sharing, interventions would drop her into present, open hearted contact.
So, here she was, available, and I stayed with them moment, with her. There was a deeper sense of connection.
Now we were able to do some therapeutic work.
She said her issue was that she couldn't focus on things, was distracted easily. She was interested in so many thing.
I shared with her my own difficulty in not being distracted at times. Such sharing promotes a sense of connection, of shared humanity (in Object Relations terms, Twinship).
This sounded like an embedded pattern, suggesting the field.
So I asked Marcy about the phenomena of distraction and losing focus in her family, growing up.
She explained that her mother had a lot of pressure and expectations on her. But that her mother was also very inconsistent in her response. So Marcy learned to be very rebellious to the pressure.
I shared that I also was a kind of rebel, could be very defiant.
Again, this helped her feel connected, and made way for deeper explorations.
This was also useful, as there is a great deal I know about my own defiance, and that can help me understand something about her rebelliousness, and know what to ask.
Marcy explained how she would like to do meditation regularly, but because of her rebelliousness, it was hard to do this.
So I firstly asked her what exactly this would look like - Marcy needed a lot of grounding, as she often talked in a very abstract way. She said she would like to do 30 minutes, twice a day. Once at 7am, the other time before bed.
I knew from her description of her rebelliousness, that there would be a reaction to this idea, unless it really felt comfortable for her. Getting the details allowed her to name what suited her, and to own that herself.
And, at the same time, I wanted to surface her defiance. So I asked about that part of her…what it said to this schedule.
Of course, the underdog part said - 'no..not committing to more than 5 minutes per session, twice a day'.
I invited her to dialogue between these parts, and the agreement in the end was that she would absolutely do it at least 5 minutes twice a day, and more if she felt like it.
This was a point of integration. It is important not to just go with someone's grand agendas for change, or to do healthy things, even though that might be very good for them…because in the end, unless they do it with their whole being, the underdog will undermine - as she put it 'be distracted and not focus on things'. That was sign that she was split, and it is these splits we pay attention to in Gestalt.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Case #149 - Fear of knives

Catrina talked about a fear of knives.
When she was 6, she was with her father. She had to make the dinner, by herself.
She cut the veggies in hurry, and slipped on a potato, cutting her finger. There was blood.
She hid it from her father, and never told anyone about it.
As she was telling me this, she was holding her finger.
This was the present dimension of her pain, which I brought attention to.
In Gestalt we generally want to bring things into the room, into the present; to bring awareness into the body, into relationship.
So I suggested a Gestalt experiment. I brought in a knife.
I told her it was inert - it could not jump up. It was at my command. The emphasis in this process was on safety, within the risk - that is the way a Gestalt experiment is conducted.
I put the knife at a distance. Then slowly, in stages, brought it closer.
I touched the handle first. Then the flat of the blade.
I instructed her how to touch it. I then showed her how I could touch the sharp blade itself and not get cut - simply putting my finger on it, without moving.
I demonstrated all this.
Then I invited her to follow the same steps, with her uncut hand.
When it came to touching the blade, I got her to put her finger on my finger, where I touched the blade.
I told her I was there to support her all the way.
This was of course a deeply emotional process for her.
After she successfully touched the knife, and its blade, I brought her to the future, playfully: 'what do you think you husband will say when you come home and are able to touch a knife! How surprised will he be!'. Because she had this knife phobia, she never cooked, so her mother had to stay with them, to cook.
I pointed out that she now had the freedom that her mother no longer had to stay in the house.
This was future pacing - anticipating the result of the changes, extending the effect of the experiment.
Then I did the same slow process with her other hand, firstly with her ring finger.
Then we did the same thing with the finger which had been cut.
Even after this, she still had fear in her body. The knife incident represented more than just the traumatic experience. Her father never gave her any nourishment at all; and her parents would fight, and threaten to cut each other with the knife. So the fear of knives went deeper.
So I played a game - I pulled an angry face, and she startled. I told her my angry face was a 'fake', I was not really angry. So I would count down and then pull the face - increasing safety. Then she was to pull an angry face back. The experience was very intense for her. She screamed, very loudly.
She felt an aching in her chest. We did this several times, then repeated standing (to mobilise the energy). She screamed again, a very sharp sound. I touched her chest as she screamed - to bring awareness to the centre of the pain and anger.
Then she felt her aggression, and wanted to hit me. I took a pillow, and she hit very hard.
After this, there was no fear left.
An experiment like this evolved, starting with the theme, and then developing as the energy unfolded. The client essentially directs what happens, and I pick up the clues, and create the setting.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Case #148 - Balancing Masculine and Feminine

Sarina was very sad. She said she wanted to balance masculine and feminine within herself.
I noticed her socks - they were red. She said that a master who she followed told her that red was not a good colour to wear - it was too masculine. So now she tries to wear grey colours. She said she was desperate to balance the masculine and feminine energies.  
She had had a successful life. She had been a mayor, the editor of a newspaper. Men liked her.  But she had given up her job because she felt herself too much in the masculine world and did not want to become more like that. Again, she reported feeling sad, and unhappy.
She drove a small jeep. She liked driving jeeps. But she didn't want to drive a big one because it would be too showy, and again, too masculine. There was a conflict within her.
I asked her to choose something to represent that conflict - she chose a red candle. She wanted to put the candle to one side, not have it between us. But when she did that, she started to feel panic.  
She recognised that the  the candle represented her mother. And I was in the father role.  She said that she had lived her life to please her father, and his ambition.  But now, she didn't want to live for anyone else.
So, I took the opportunity of being in the 'father' role to give her some supportive messages. I told her her- its ok to be yourself, to wear red if you want, to drive a jeep if you want; its ok to live your own life. Then you will attract a man who likes you, just the way you are.
Her response to this was to tell me that she would like to take me to the movies.
I took this as an indication that I had shifted roles from representing father, to being more a peer, a man she could get close to, go out with; the erotic dimension of this was coming forward. She was showing me her vulnerability and her yearning, and so I acknowledged this to her.
She came back to her statement about balancing the masculine and feminine.  So I told her a little story. I made it up - about a woman who was capable, and a man who met her and liked her capability. I talked about the man being able to have a balance as well, to show his softness. About both of them moving between masculine and feminine capacities.
A story such as this gives a sense of permission, provides possibilities which may be desired but not as yet achieved. Her indication of vulnerability towards me meant she was in a space to take this in.
I gave her the homework, to light a red candle each day, and to do something that felt feminine for her. She needed to feel herself moving into her feminine, and clearly red was a colour that was important to her - she wore the red socks, even though she wasn't 'supposed to' according to the master.
The emphasis in Gestalt is on the person finding themselves, developing the areas they want to. In this case, masculinity and femininity are very much socially defined. So I wanted to help her explore what that meant for her, to define her own self of self within that. I did not want to replicate the 'master' who imposed his ideas of what it meant to be masculine or feminine.  
Finally I told her another story - of Amelia Earhart, who flew solo across the oceans when this was beyond the sense of what society believed a woman could or should do. This provided her with both an example (support) and also a metaphor, which should could use to construct her own sense of herself as an adventurous woman.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Case #148 - Balancing Masculine and Feminine

Sarina was very sad. She said she wanted to balance masculine and feminine within herself.
I noticed her socks - they were red. She said that a master who she followed told her that red was not a good colour to wear - it was too masculine. So now she tries to wear grey colours. She said she was desperate to balance the masculine and feminine energies.  
She had had a successful life. She had been a mayor, the editor of a newspaper. Men liked her.  But she had given up her job because she felt herself too much in the masculine world and did not want to become more like that. Again, she reported feeling sad, and unhappy.
She drove a small jeep. She liked driving jeeps. But she didn't want to drive a big one because it would be too showy, and again, too masculine. There was a conflict within her.
I asked her to choose something to represent that conflict - she chose a red candle. She wanted to put the candle to one side, not have it between us. But when she did that, she started to feel panic.  
She recognised that the  the candle represented her mother. And I was in the father role.  She said that she had lived her life to please her father, and his ambition.  But now, she didn't want to live for anyone else.
So, I took the opportunity of being in the 'father' role to give her some supportive messages. I told her her- its ok to be yourself, to wear red if you want, to drive a jeep if you want; its ok to live your own life. Then you will attract a man who likes you, just the way you are.
Her response to this was to tell me that she would like to take me to the movies.
I took this as an indication that I had shifted roles from representing father, to being more a peer, a man she could get close to, go out with; the erotic dimension of this was coming forward. She was showing me her vulnerability and her yearning, and so I acknowledged this to her.
She came back to her statement about balancing the masculine and feminine.  So I told her a little story. I made it up - about a woman who was capable, and a man who met her and liked her capability. I talked about the man being able to have a balance as well, to show his softness. About both of them moving between masculine and feminine capacities.
A story such as this gives a sense of permission, provides possibilities which may be desired but not as yet achieved. Her indication of vulnerability towards me meant she was in a space to take this in.
I gave her the homework, to light a red candle each day, and to do something that felt feminine for her. She needed to feel herself moving into her feminine, and clearly red was a colour that was important to her - she wore the red socks, even though she wasn't 'supposed to' according to the master.
The emphasis in Gestalt is on the person finding themselves, developing the areas they want to. In this case, masculinity and femininity are very much socially defined. So I wanted to help her explore what that meant for her, to define her own self of self within that. I did not want to replicate the 'master' who imposed his ideas of what it meant to be masculine or feminine.  
Finally I told her another story - of Amelia Earhart, who flew solo across the oceans when this was beyond the sense of what society believed a woman could or should do. This provided her with both an example (support) and also a metaphor, which should could use to construct her own sense of herself as an adventurous woman.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Case #147 - A wall dissolves

Brittany spoke about having a picture of a wall in her mind, that she felt quite scared of. She talked about not being able to get through it. She felt distress, demoralised, and that it was blocking her way.
In Gestalt we are always interested in anything that looks like 'resistance', a wall being a clear example. Rather than trying to get through it, we explore it, through a Gestalt experiment.
So I invited her to 'be the wall'. I asked another person to come up, and they would swap. The volunteer would play the wall, they would swap, the volunteer would be her, and she would be the wall.
In this way I facilitated a dialogue between her and the wall.
She was initially very scared of the wall - wanted to run away. She identified the wall as 'solid', 'secure' and 'dead'.
I helped her find a distance from the wall where she could stay, and not run. I encouraged her to breathe, to stay with what she was feeling, to stay with the experience of being in the proximity of the wall.
Gradually her fear subsided. She started to be able to feel her own solidity. To feel more secure in herself.
This allowed her to stay with the 'dead' feeling. I brought her into the present, into her breathing, her aliveness, in juxtaposition with the deadness.
This conjunction of polarities is very powerful, as the split parts of the personality start to make contact, something shifts.
Brittany was able to breathe life into parts of herself which she had deadened, out of fear. Her sense of solidity increased. Her disowning of the wall transformed. She was able to find her steadiness, her fear reduced, the wall no longer a barrier, allowing her to now move forward in her life.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Case #146 - Safety and the scream

Molly had an issue about feeling safe in the group. Her sense of unsafety was about peoples needs being cut off, including her own.
I asked what she wanted - to be accepted and recognised.
This was a very general statement. In Gestalt we always want to get specific, personal, and present.
So I invited her to address her sense of safety with specific people, and to identify what her needs are that might be cut off by me.
I also invited her to outline in what ways she wanted to be accepted and recognised by me.
I also suggested that she enquire specifically about where it was I accepted or rejected her.
This is about grounding broad fears directly into relationship. Its about establishing interpersonal boundaries in the here and now, for instance between me and her.
She had mentioned also a dream about her mother - who had beaten her, and then a second dream where her mother took pieces of her puzzle away, and was very angry at Molly.
These dreams gave me clues to aggression being present. In the Gestalt fashion, this is about disowned aggression on Molly's part. However, I did not approach this directly to start with.
I suggested several experiments.
Firstly, to look around the room and pick 5 people. Then, to tell each person the percentage she felt safe with them, and the percentage she felt unsafe. This helped bring the general topic of fear into contact, and actually was a way to facilitate good contact.
Secondly I invited her to pick a woman who most reminded her of her mother. Then, to tell her the ways she was similar to, and different than her mother. This is a Gestalt way to bring someone into the present relationship, helping to draw a clear boundary, whilst acknowledging places of apparent familiarity.
She kept drifting into her story about her mother - 'talking about' as we say in Gestalt. I kept pulling her back into the room, and the present. This drifting away signified that there was energy there, and work to be done, but this was part of a much larger picture of her unfinished business with her mother, that I did not have the time or space to go into here. If we could have a series of ongoing sessions, I would then attend to this. But sessions need to be managed, and my estimation was that it was more important for her to stay in the present, as at times our stories about the past can become a little too fascinating, at the expense of life in the present.
Next, in response to statements she made about wanting to strangle her mother and sister... I invited a representative for her mother and sister to come forward in the group. I gave those two people a blanket, and also a blanket to Molly. I then invited all three to 'strangle' by twisting the blanket in their hands.
This was a safe way to encounter aggression that was clearly in the family. It allowed Molly to feel her aggression, own it, and express it non-destructively. It also allowed her to experience the climate of aggression - what was familiar - in a way which was different - her mother and sister also expressing their aggression in a safe way...which in turn supported her to bring it more into the open.
Next I brought the process to the connection between Molly and I. Asked where she felt scared with me. She said things like 'you might see my dark side', 'you might abandon me if you see my anger and judgement'.
I told her I welcomed those parts of her, and was willing to see her anger and judgements. She spontaneously emitted a loud scream. I said 'I am a little afraid of the intensity of your scream, and mostly excited'. In invited her to name some judgements.
The significance of this was grounding her fears in the specifics of the therapeutic relationship, and to stay present with her during the exploration of those fears, in an authentic way. She could bring that part of her into relationship, and experience something novel - support and presence.
I then invited her to look around the room again - she reported feeling her power. I said 'and what about safety'. She replied 'for the first time, I feel quite safe'.
In this sense, the 'fear of others', was more to do with her own difficulty being with herself, being able to be authentic with others, and be met in that place. In this way, the Gestalt process pays attention to what is needed in relationship, and ultimately brings the centre back to the client, so they can really see how they 'create their own reality', to use a contemporary phrase.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Case #145 - Allowing nourishment in

Liza spoke about eating too much, as well as not being able to sleep very well.
Food is always a very big and complex subject in psychotherapy. It connects to body, to family, to self image, to feelings, to history, to orality...
So it requires careful attention.
As Liza spoke, I saw her mouth puckering, and commented. This phenomenological observation is done without evaluation, simply noticing, and inviting the client to state their own experience and meaning frame.
I pointed out that food is most ostensibly about nourishment, and asked about her experience of being nourished. This is a field question - eliciting the context for her of nourishment.
She replied that her experience was one of neglect. Her parents sent her to a kindergarten where she lived for 5 1/2 days a week.
She relayed a clear memory of waking up from a nap there one winter's afternoon, feeling lonely, cold and scared.
She described how in the kindergarten she would eat a lot, in fact she developed the capacity to 'eat anything'.
In her current life, she said she ate 'all the time'...'too much'.
She talked about being very close to her grandfather, his favourite. But she couldnt take in love from him - for example he wanted her in a birthday photo, but she went somewhere else in the house instead to eat something.
This spoke about her difficulty in relationship, even when there was care there - it was clearly hard for her to take in other kinds of nourishment. Eating was evidently her 'creative adjustment', her way of surviving emotionally.
I wanted to recreate the scenario where she had been asleep as a child, as her waking up was a figural moment of trauma.
I asked her to lie down, as a 2 year old, and told her I would be there to support her. She reported feeling an aching in her back, so I put my hand under that place. The aching moved to her shoulder, so similarly, I put my hand under there. I instructed her to stay with her breath, coming into her experience.
She said it was easier to breathe out. So I invited her to imagine breathing out the pain, and breathing in nourishment.
Many feelings arose during the process, which I kept checking on with her. Pain, then the feeling of an ocean, then cold, shaky. I continued to encourage her to stay with her experiences, to know I was there with her, and to breathe in nourishment.
I could see that, as with her tendency to breathe out rather than in, her capacity to take in nourishment from others was not only low, but she had a lifelong habit of reverting to her trauma, and then feeding herself in compensation.
Such patterns take a combination of things to change. Support, and empathy is one. At times, a certain kind of focused energy is another. Because I could see her tendency to revert to trauma, even in the face of nourishment (viz her response to grandfather), I pushed her to stay in the present. I kept bringing her back to the present, her present experience, her awareness of me there with her, her grounding in her breathing.
After a long time, her experience shifted, and she felt warm and peaceful. At this point I told her that she could 'wake up now'.
She cried out 'papa', and took my hand. I said 'I am here; take in some nourishment, and feel the pain at the same time'.
This represented an integration, between the feelings associated with the trauma, and the present reality where other forms of nourishment are available.

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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)