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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.

© Lifeworks 2012

Contact: admin@learngestalt.com

Who is this blog for?

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

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Gestalt therapy demonstration sessions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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