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I teach and practice Gestalt therapy, Career decision coaching, and Family Constellations work. As well as Australia, I teach workshops and training in China, Japan, Korea, the USA & Mexico. I am author of Understanding The Woman In Your Life, a book of advice for men about relationships with women. In my work as director of Lifeworks I provide therapy,  training and supervision. I am a Phd candidate, studying the interpersonal dynamics of power, and am currently director of an MA in Spiritual Psychology for Ryokan College, an accredited online institution based in LA.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Case #198 - Statements of truth

Marvin was a partner in a new startup company. His position was GM. His issue was in relation to the founder of the company, and CEO. They had been colleagues in a previous company, and were alumni of the same business school.
His issue was that the founder was implementing a business model which Marvin considered to be out of date. He struggled to see how he could work it successfully, although he was willing to give it a go. He was not happy about it, and felt somewhat disempowered by the situation.
So I set up an experiment - a chair to represent the founder, and the a symbol of the business model, which he put on the floor between them.
I asked him what he felt.  
He replied with his thinking: there were two responses - yes, he would try to integrate the model, and no, he didnt want to do it.
People often mix up thinking and feeling, and make a statement about their cognitive experience as if they have then got in touch with their feelings. This is an important category error, and leads to a lot of confusion in relationship, and the avoidance of key somatic awareness.
So I asked him to notice what he felt in his body firstly with the 'yes, I will try to integrate the model'. He reported feeling uncomfortable.  
This was a broad statement of feeling, but I wanted something more specific and precise, and therefore more contactful. So he took a few minutes, and then shared that he felt tense in his stomach.  
So I invited him to make a statement to the founder - in the empty chair - a simple one sentence statement starting with his feeling. He said 'I am tense that you are not current with the way the world currently operates'.
I repeated this process with the 'no' answer. He reported feeling worse, a pain in his right side. His sentence to the founder was, 'It pains me when we miss opportunties for growth.'
These statements of truth were simple, powerful, and came straight out of his experience.  
I then invited him to make a statement to the object representing the business model.  
He said 'I will update you'. This was a future oriented statement. I asked him to make a statement in the present. I did this 4 times, and each time, he started with the words 'I intend…'. The trouble with that, is that it represents a cognitive orientation, rather than something more immediate, direct, and about his actual experience of the business model.  
Finally he was able to make a 'now' statement: I dont agree with you, but I can accept you.
I checked that he was not pressuring himself to accept. He was clear - he felt calm in this body, which is a good litmus test.  
So, these were his authentic positions. They were not the result of 'shoulds' - social pressure or pressure from his boss. They arose directly out of the nature of the situation and his true feelings. As a result, they were more likely to stick, unlike compromises which result in the sense of loss of integrity.
The important thing about the process was that at each point, there was not big posturing - the authentic statements he arrived at were clear, simple, and came from his feeling, not just his thinking. They were present centred, and solid. Such statements are more likely to be carried through, and have a positive impact, than ones which contain more of the thinking process.
Gestalt orients us, always, towards direct experience, and away from our theories, mental constructs or agendas for ourselves or others. This is the phenomenological approach - a focus on the uniqueness of each person's experience.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Case #197 - Being right, or letting go

Irene was vocal in her advice and wishes for her daughter, but, her daughter was not listening.
I empathised. I have adult children, and I have agendas for them which they do not always follow. I have knowledge which they are not always interested in. I have experience which they dont seem to value much. Sometimes my input is not asked for, and not listened to. All these things disappoint me. And, that is, indeed, my own issue.
So, I shared this with Irene. She hardly took it in, and started complaining, with some bitterness, and a look of weariness.
I could see that Irene was quite fixated on the painfulness of her lack of control.  Again, I empathised, but this time, I asked her just what she was feeling about all this.
Irene responded with her judgements about her daughter. Again, I asked what she felt. Again, she replied with more complaints and judgements.  
I acknowledged her judgements, and then asked her very specific questions about her feelings, in the present, in her body. I had to keep focusing her, rather emphatically, on her here and now experience, and on her feelings. I told her - sometimes I feel sad, sometimes angry. 'What about you?'.
Irene started noticing. Tightness in her chest, tension in her stomach. She felt angry. Irene said 'like a flood'. I encouraged her to feel the anger, throughout her body. She was able to do so, feel it in every part of her. She calmed a little. I said 'whats happening with the flood now?'. Soon after, Irene was clearly holding her tears back. I encouraged her to allow herself to feel. She wept. Again, I suggested she allow herself to feel, in all parts of her body. She was able to do this.
After some time, she felt calm. This was the first time she had felt so calm in a long time. Her face changed.  
I pointed out that this was 'the solution'. I - or any number of others - could suggest to her that she 'just let go' of controlling her daughter. But this kind of ownership of her feelings had to come first, otherwise, that was simply an idea, which she might agree with, or not, but which wouldnt be translated into actuality.
The experience she had was one of coming back to herself, her own feelings, and allowing herself to be fully present, with herself. This resulted in taking the focus off her daughter.
Irene looked stunned. She had felt so convinced she was right, and her daughter was in the wrong, that all her efforts had gone into trying to reform her daughter.
Most of us are all a bit like this. We want to change the people we are with - our partners, parents, and our children. The sense of powerlessness that results when we are not able to can be a place that people, like Irene, are fixated on.
The Gestalt response is not to give more advice, good ideas, truisms, or behavioural interventions. The shift comes naturally, and completely, when we are truly able to be present with ourselves. The Gestalt methodology provides a way to do this, so the change comes through experience, from the inside out.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Case #196 - Playing with the wind

Amber talked described how she would faint at times. As she described this happening, it seemed clear it was under situation of stress.
I asked her to get in touch with her feelings as she was describing this. She felt a kind of pressure on her head. As we stayed with this, she talk about the feeling a lot of air around her head, pressing down on her. Staying with this figure, she described the air moving, like a storm, or even a hurricane. She felt buffeted by the wind.  
This seemed like an apt description of her experience - being swept off her feet, being overwhelmed by forces stronger than herself.  
So I invited another group member to 'be' the strong wind.  
Amber stood in front of, and the wind representative moved her arms like she was blowing Amber.  
Amber's response was shock- she drew back, tightened up, and look scared. So I stopped the representative. I gave Amber support - came closer to her, helped her stay with her breathing, be present, let go of the tension. Then we tried again. Amber's response was the same - fear, contraction.
So I stood behind Amber, so her back was leaning against me, put my hands on her shoulders, and helped her feel safe and grounded.  
Then the 'wind' came forward again. Amber was able to put her hands out, rather than withdraw, but she was still quite frozen. The 'wind' said she felt playful, even through she was coming on strong.
So I again supported Amber, to draw into herself the very energy of the wind, to be able to try to interact, and play.
This time she was able to do so, moving her hands as well, so there was a little dance of movement between the two.
We did this a few more times, as I encouraged Amber to stay with her breath, stay present, stay in her body, and feel the power of the wind in her body.  
As she did this, she was able to truly play with the wind, moving along with her.
She felt incredibly empowered, and reported feeling for the first time that she was not afraid of being overwhelmed.
We didnt go into the content - what this 'meant' in terms of the specifics of her life. Nor did we explore the context, as its like she had been overwhelmed by something or someone in her life.  
For now, none of those details were important. In some ways, such content can be distracting.  
For what she felt was a somatic level of integration - she felt the capacity to draw the power of the 'wind' - ie. wild energy - into herself, rather than defending against it.  
This is the kind of integration we work towards in Gestalt. Insight can follow, but the first and foremost thing is the experience of integration of polarities - of disowned aspects of self.  
This lays the template for an increased energetic capacity to be present, from which many other good and desirable things can flow.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Case #195 - Bullying reminds of abuse

Anastasia was a hard worker. She always performed her job at a high quality level. She was much valued in the different places she worked.

She and her husband moved to a country area. He was an engineer, she worked for a community welfare organisation. One of her co-workers was extremely difficult to work with. She reacted to Anastasia with burst of anger, accusations, and then would collapse into tears, blaming Anastasia for any problems which arose. After months of this, Anastasia felt she was walking on eggshells at work. She had to run projects with this woman, and the behaviour was making her feel sick. She felt anxious about going into work, and jittery about the unpredictability of her co-worker's reactions.

She tried everything, including broaching the subject with the coworker. But no matter what Anastasia did, her co-worker would explode, or collapse. Anastasia felt like she was going crazy, and it seemed that others at work were also intimidated by this woman, who could be an incredible bully.

Whilst I spent time addressing some of the details of the issue with her, I was also interested in the direct experience Anastasia had. The feelings - in her body, as she experienced the behaviours of her coworker. Going into these feelings moved us out of the 'talking about' (or 'complaining about') mode, into direct experience. It also brought the reality of what she was dealing with into the present, into the session, so we could work with it directly.

In cases such as this it is particularly important to do this, otherwise the session can become a 'debrief'  - complaining, letting off steam getting sympathy. Whilst there may be some value in all of this, the focus of Gestalt is on exploring and deepening awareness and experience. By going into the heart of experience, we help the person go deeper than they can ofter go on their own. At the point things become 'too much', the person often goes into their head - thinking about, explaining, etc. At this point, I drew Anastasia back to the present, back to her feelings, and to see where and how she may want to express that.

In doing so, something deeper emerged. This was memories of the sexual abuse that Anastasia had experienced as a child. The way we found this, was by going into the body experience, staying with it, and then some memories and images started to arise - other times that she had felt powerless. The abuse experienced resurfaced, and again, I brought her into the present, so she could stay with the pain, anger, and powerless feelings, without being submerged in them. I kept her in touch with her 'outer zone' - what she saw when she looked around the room, and I invited her also to look at my face, and describe what she saw. This helped to stay present with the feelings, rather than dissociate. There is no point going into feelings, if they are too much, and the person simply disconnects - in ways similar to what happened in the abuse. That is why in therapy, one has to be very careful at just letting feelings arise, and ensuring that there is enough support for those feelings to be fully experienced. Cathartic therapies can be exciting to witness, and seem to yield dramatic results, but unless the person is sufficiently grounded in the present experience, such intense emotion may simply pass, and not be integrated.

So in Gestalt, we slow the person down. We are not in a hurry to get anyway, to resolve anything. The focus is on being present, in connection, and ensuring that each step of the therapy takes place with integration.

In this case. I also kept Anastasia in touch with me, to feel the support I offered in the moment, to take that in, to realise that as a 50 year old woman, she had resources, and the support externally - myself, her husband - so that she could bear the feelings which had been too overwhelming in her childhood.

After this process, when we came back to the co-worker, Anastasia felt some of her fear (and anger) replaced by an increased sense of solidity.

The problem is rarely 'other people'. It is our own resources in the face of what is happening. Hence, in Gestalt we always focus the person back on themselves, and support them to allow the new resources available in the present to provide a stronger base to address their unfinished business.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Case #194 - Solving a business problem with awareness

Tracy described her business problem: she was a consultant with a number of different businesses. One of her major clients was proving difficult to work with. This was her largest client, and she would go to the headquarters, to work with the staff there in her consulting basis - which included helping to identify problems in the running of the business, working with the staff to find solutions, and providing advice to management.
The boss there was treating her as an employee rather than as a consultant. He would frequently expect her to be there on a regular basis, and no matter how often she told him that as a consultant, she could come and go, as needed, he continued to press her for more time.
Tracy was irritated by this situation, but nothing she did seemed to change the attitude of the business owner. He didnt seem to be listening to her, respecting her boundaries, or willing to respect her boundaries and autonomy as a consultant.
Having heard Tracy describe the situation, I asked her to come into the present, and notice what she was feeling. She described her irritation, and the feeling of tension in her chest.
Rather than jump into a solution, provide her with advice, or try to solve her problem, I sat with her in silence for a few minutes. I invited her to stay present, and I did the same. I allowed all the elements she had described to float in my vision, and without making any effort, I stilled any inclination I had to 'do' anything. In this Wu Wei state, a question suddenly occurred to me. I asked Tracy if she had a specified number of hours that was spelled out in her consultancy agreement. She said no, it was just an 'as needed' situation, where the contract mentioned the total length of time - 6 months - but not the number of hours per week.
This became immediately clear to me - the problem was not the business owner, who was simply doing what all people do - press for the maximum return for the money he was spending on the consultancy. Rather it was Tracy - whose boundaries were not as clear as she thought. She had not specified just how long she would spend each week, and so she had set up a situation where the limits were fuzzy and unclear.
This led to an immediate solution on a business level; however it also opened up another level of more personal work that Tracy needed to do - being clear about her limits. The fact she had neglected to make her time limits clear in this situation actually reflected a more general difficulty she had in setting limits - in other business situations, as well as in her personal relationships.
In Gestalt we always focus attention on the responsibility of the person in front of us, rather than cooperate in their blaming - no matter how justified it might seem. That is the key to both personal transformation and improved business practices.
All such situations are influenced by personal context - what we refer to as the Field. In this case, the issue of limits and boundaries for Tracy is related to her experience of how limits were handled in her family of origin. Understanding more about herself, and her context, helps Tracy bring more awareness to how she operates in business.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Case #193 - Longing for intimacy and avoiding intimacy


Marge had been married for a long time - almost 20 years. She had tried very hard over the years to make her marriage successful, but in the end, she gave up. Her husband refused to come to counselling, and there were many problems which she was never able to deal with. For instance, their sex life was bad - he was rarely interested in sex, and when they did have it, he had little sensitivity towards her, coming very quickly himself, and leaving her high and dry. He also would treat her coldly at other times and generally found her 'too much' with her feelings, her high energy, her enthusiasm.
Despite all this, she had perservered.
Now, she came for therapy.
She had certainly suffered in the marriage - though it was not all bad, all of the time.
In this picture, her husband was clearly at fault. He had not treated her with enough care or respect, and had not been considerate of her needs - often blocking things she wanted.
This was not domestic violence, but there were certain aspects of the relationship which were reminiscient of that kind of extreme disrespect.
Was she a fool for staying so long? Should she have given up much earlier in the piece?
These were not questions I was addressing. I was more interested in the systemic dynamics, and from a Gestalt point of view, who was she in there, and what was her responsibility?
As we explored, some things became clear to me.
One was that she was a very speedy person. She talked very fast, she was bursting with energy, ideas, agendas, feelings. I appreciated this about her…but it was hard to get a word in edgeways, and when I did talk, I rarely had the sense she was really listening to me.
So, already theres one phenomena which we needed to explore. Her husband had not been available in  and for relationship. But - had she? As much as she desperately wanted relationship and depth and love and care…as I experience her, she was also pushing it away.
If I said something appreciative to her, she would be touch for a moment perhaps, but then quickly move on, talking, bringing up more and more material. It was like she really couldnt take anything in. She didnt know how to/was not willing to just pause, breathe, and feel the impact of another person.
So this was our first major set of experiments - I would interrupt her (an important relational skill in therapy), and bring her into the present, into her feelings, and invite her to notice how she felt about my responses to her. It was hard work, because she would quickly be off and racing.
I commented that as much as she yeared for relationship and connection, she also made herself unavailable for that connection.
This was the first of many interventions with her. It was essential - if I just stayed with the content, with her stories, with her regrets, with her aspirations, with her longings, I would be ignoring what was ACTUALLY going on in our relationship - which was that she was avoiding actual intimacy, between us. She was so busy longing for something or regretting something that didnt happen, she was not with relationship as it was on offer, between us. This was hard for her to grasp - she had a very good excuse for the last 20 years, in a partner who clearly was not available. That had taken the focus off of the question of her availability.
Now I was shining a spotlight of responsibility on her role, and she didnt like it. She needed care for her feelings - which I coudl easily do, as she was a likeable person, who had certainly sufferend. However, she also need me to not perpetuate the system, and be the 'neglected' on on the other end of her racing forward. I needed to be tough with her, to insist that this wasnt ok with me, and I was not willing to simply be 'talked at'. She found this very confronting, yet it was the only way to move forward with her, without getting coopted into repeating in some ways the dynamics of her marriage.
For this reason, in Gestalt we pay more attention to process than content, to what is happening in the therapy room and relationship, than what is happening outside of the room. Too much 'talking about' is a distraction from our primary focus on the 'what is'.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Case #192 - Topdog and underdog

Jane talked about difficulties she had with her live-in home help. The woman did not always listen to what Jane asked for, and did not always do things to the standard Jane expected.
I pointed out that this was a complex relationship. The woman was both employee, and also a kind of family member, in the sense she was residing in the house, and very much connected with what was going on, even if in the background. I also pointed out that this woman had her own feelings  and needs, which had no airspace.
The roles here were overlapping and mixed. The woman was younger, so there was an additional complication of perhaps some kind of  mother-daughter dynamics going on.
The lack of attention to these complexities, and the focus on only one role relationship can lead, as in this instance, to unstated tension and conflict, which in a work-relationship arises as resistance, often passive aggressive. The dynamics of power make relationships complex. People can to some degree put aside their personal needs in order to fulfil the requirements of a job. But these boundaries can easily get blurred, and the capacity to set aside one's own needs tends to be more limited that many people realise. The personal almost always interjects into the professional, and hence the importance of attending to 'fuzzy' issues in a work setting such as feelings. Ignoring them often leads to them going underground, and the classic 'top-dog / under-dog' dyad forms.  
An experiment then would be to play out this dyad with Jane, with her playing both roles - herself and the housekeeper. In this way, she gets an insight into what is going on beneath the surface with her home-help, and also she gets a chance to make explicit her anger, frustration, as well as other feelings such as superiority and hostility.  
The nature of the topdog/ underdog cycle is that the more resistant the underdog role gets, the heavier the topdog becomes - exerting pressure, yelling, using 'shoulds', threats, etc. But the underdog role just goes underground, passively resisting, digging their heels in, 'forgetting', or doing a half baked job, or being careless. They might say 'sorry', or 'I will try harder next time', but these are just part of the excuses that keep the cycle going. The topdog, who feels they have the power, gets increasingly frustrated.  
The only way to step out of this cycle is for the topdog to move away from shoulds, and notice feelings - personalise, rather than trying to wield their power to solve the situation. The underdog role needs to take responsibliity, and make the resistance visible.
This is what we facilitate in a Gestalt dialogue between the two sections. Jane's housekeeper may be her employee, but the same dynamic is also an internal one, within Jane.  
By bringing these two parts into dialgue internally, a resolution and integration can result, that combines power with feelings.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Case #191 - Soft woman, hard woman

Mandy wanted to work with her vulnerability.
So I stepped straight in, and started sharing some of my own vulnerable feelings (including some internal emotional pain) in that moment. She also shared about her feelings of pain.
So we spent some time connecting, me revealing my own vulerability, and checking in with her about her experience.  
She apprecaited the connection, and relaxed somewhat, reporting changes in her feelings.
She metioned wantint to become 'softer' as a woman, but the difficulty of doing so in her work, where she was known as being a very tough businesswoman. She wanted to join with some of the women employees in more relaxing activities such as flower arranging, but she didnt really know much about it. Regarding some of her previous clients who had been helpful to her - she did not call on them once she moved on - she wondered if this was too hard?
I apprecaited both sides, including the need for her to be tough in negotiations, and hard end decisions. She said however, that she felt the conflict between wanting to be one way (softer), and the demands of business.
I acknowledged the complexity of moving between the 'I-thou' and 'I-it', and the challenges of changing hats and roles with employees and clients. I shared some of my own experiences in trying to do this.
This helped build the ground between us, including  my sharing my own vulnerabilities in the process.
I then suggested an experiment. She would stand up in one or other of the two positions, which she named 'soft woman' and 'manly woman', facing each other. I facilitated a conversation between the two. At first, the 'manly' side was oppositional, saying 'you are too soft, its not possible to survive in the world if I am like you'. After some dialogue back and forth, the soft side acknowledged the pain of being so busy, not enough time to spend with family or children.
When she came over to the hard side, she collapsed in tears. I supported her, as she could hardly stand, with the pain.
I gently encouraged her to put her pain into words. Finally she said 'yes, its too much, I need more of your softness'.
A little more dialogue, and the process was complete - she felt integrated, calm, and able to bridge both sides. Gestalt emphasises wholeness, and integration is the result of bringing split polarities into contact. However, this cannot simply be a technical exercise - the relational ground needs to be built firstly


Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Case #190 - Down the authentic river

Jerry wanted to talk about parenting. Something I had previously said had triggered him. He related an incident about the previous day, where he had played ball with his son in the morning. In the evening, his boy wanted to play again with him, but he pushed him away and told him to play on his own, because he was very busy. But then later, he felt sorry about doing that.
He explained that he was under a huge amount of pressure. His wife didnt work outside the home, they had financial goals they wanted to achieve,  he had worked hard to get where he was in his career, and afraid if he slackened off, his income would go down in a competitieve field.
I observed the universality of his dilemma - torn between differing responsibilities - work and parenting.  
We discussed these difficulties for a while.  
He had also cottoned onto something I had said about authentitity. He said how hard it was for him, as he had these different pressures and pulls - what direction should he decide in?
I asked him what he would like to do - he said, more exercise - he never used his gym membership. But…he couldnt see a way to change things to create more time.
So I invited him on a fantasy experiment: to 'float down the authentic river'.  
I asked him to describe what an authentic day would look like.
Jerry said he would work 2 hours a day. I asked him the detail. He would get up, play with his son, do some caligraphy, then some tai chi. He explained how he used to do a lot of tai chi, but for over a decade simply had not had any time. He had recently met a tai chi teacher, whom he wanted to learn from. I asked about the rest of his day. He would do some exercise, then play more with his son when he came home from school.
He said - 'but this would mean I would not enough income, we would have to live off our savings, and that would have an end'.
This was a real world practical dilemma. The he mentioned he was in charge of a staff of 500.
So I made a creative suggestion. 'You could take some of your authenticity into the workplace. You could direct your 500 employees to do an hour of caligraphy first thing every morning. Or an hour of tai chi.'
Jerry said that there was pressure from his bosses, and pressure from the clients, so more than one day of this experiment would probably not wash with them.
I pointed out that there were examples of people doing this kind of thing in business, and productivity going up, even though working hours went down.
We discussed this for a while - I wanted to ensure he understood what I was suggesting.
Jerry reported feeling very releived. There was, after all, some way to bring authenticity into his life, and into his workplace, without giving up what he wanted.
Gestalt affirms the principle and practice of authenticity. The focus is on 'what do you want' rather than 'what should you do'. There is life energy available if we can help people tap into their authenticity, and act on it. Of course, we cant do what we want, every minute of the day - there are social adjustments. But mostly people err on the side of those adjustments, and move away from their own life energy. The point is to start somewhere.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Case #189 - The skillful blast

Cynthia wanted to do some therapy work, but was not clear on just what to choose. I asked about her background - she was a social worker. She had been divorced for some time; she wanted a family in the future, but was not ready at this point.
Her issue as it emerged, was a current problem at work, to do with problems 'managing the team'. I asked a series of questions, focusing her on questions such as - 'what exactly, who exactly, when exactly', before we arrived clearly at the problem.
One of her employees was not pulling his weight. She and others in the team were compensating by increasing their own workload.
It was clear to me - she was avoiding conflict. I asked about whether this was also the case in her previous marriage, she agreed.
I asked if she had ever had a good fight. She thought for some time, and replied that once she was so frustrated with her mother, so many things had built up, that she blasted her, told her all her opinions. It had been 'refreshing', and had not seemed to damage her relationship with her mother.
This was an important template for me to work with.
So I invited her into a thought experiment first - to imagine 'blasting' the employee at work. She smiled, and was happy to imagine that.
I then proposed a more challenging experiment - to put a chair in front of her for the employee, and to imagine he was in front of her, and 'blast' him.
She agreed.
When she did so, it hardly seemed like a blast to me.
But she was shaking. So I moved closer to her, put my hand on her back (after checking with her) to support her. She said she had a violent feeling in her chest, but was trying to calm herself.
Instead, I invited her to be with that violent feeling.
I told her that I would rate her blast at 10%; she told me for her it was more like 50%.
I then showed  her what I would do if I played her role - I did a little demonstration blast, where I spoke strongly and did not mince my words.
Cynthia's response was a fearful one -  that she did not want to be a bad person - putting others down, or being mean.
This was a self belief, or introject, but I didnt want to go into that in the moment.
So I outlined to her the theory of separating out person from behaviour.
I put out two pillows on either side of the chair. One I said was the person, the other the behaviour.
I invited Cynthia to talk to them alternately. She easily did so - acknolwedging the personhood of the employee, then in a powerful voice and powerful words, outlining the unacceptable behaviour.
She felt calm, and pleased that she had been able to 'blast', without being destrutive of the other person.
Aggression is a topic of interest in Gestalt. It is not seen in negative terms. It is life energy - which usulally becomes overly suppressed according to social norms and rules - or introjects - that a person 'swallows'. This increases passivity, reduces assertion, and leads to a loss of life energy. The person doesnt really know who they are, what they want, and they dont bring themselves fully into relationship.
In this case, Cynthia's avoidance of conflict was an avoidance of her own aggressive energy. Whilst there is no doubt, aggressive energy can be destructive, its also destructive to turn it inwards, or to fail to express it when appropriate. This was the problem at work - her accepting a higher workload rather than holding someone accountable - and was likely to be a large part of the failure of the marriage.
But Cynthia needed a great deal of support to be able to get in touch with and express the full extent of her feelings. Ultimately, she needed to find a way to do so, and reconcile her values. This was provided the through process of the Gestalt experiment, finally culminating in the skill of separating behaviour and person. Without the actual experiment, this would remain simply a 'good idea', or just become a kind of skill to practice. What was significant here is that her understanding represented an integration, resulting from the combination of the challenge of the experiment, her own risk taking in the process, and then being taught the skill. These come together in our goal in Gestalt - the integration of new way of being and understanding, into the person's being.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Case #188 - Difference without rejection

Yuri sat in front of me. I remarked that he seemed very serious. He said he was nervous. So I engaged him in conversation - I commented that we both wore glasses. I told him a story about snorkeling recently, and not being able to see clearly without my glasses.  
I noticed a pendant he was wearing, and remarked on it. He told me it was an Narcotics Anonymous  symbol.  
He had used drug extensively, so I asked him about his history. He said he had used pot, meth, and also gone to jail.  
I told him I was a drug virgin, I had only had drugs a few times in my life. I told him about my wedding, without alcohol.
The point was for me to reveal myself, to show my limitations, to remove myself from an expert position, and to reduce the spotlight and any possible consequent shame for him. I put him in a position of knowing more, which in the case of drugs, is true.
I asked him his feeling in the present - he felt heavy in the chest. I asked how heavy - in kilograms. He said about 60kg. I remarked that thats quite a weight to carry around. I pointed out that he wasnt born feeling that weight, so where might it have come from? He was unclear. So I asked when he started feeling that weight. It was when he was 12 years old, so I asked what happened at that time.
He said it was entering into High School. He had previously been open, but he started hiding who he was.
So again, I took the spotlight off of him, and talked about myself. I shared about the way I had hid important things about myself to my peers, during my high school years, and how that changed dramatically when I went to matriculation college, and how I decided to stop hiding, and through a difficult process, reveal more about myself to others.
Yuri listened intently, and asked me some questions about my experience. I asked him in more detail about what he was hiding. He said that it was about being different, if he had a different point of view, and was not going along with others, that he would be rejected. This also made sense culturally (Japanese context).
I invited him into an experiment -'the first step'. I suggested that he and I talk openly, and explore any differences, in a way that we both come out of hiding. I told him I was very comfortable with differences, and ok if he didnt agree with me about topics - I was a safe person to do this with.
We started talking. I started with obvious difference - in culture in age, in life experience, in parental status, etc.
We got to the topic of diet - I am a vegetarian, he is not.
I explained that this wasnt for me just a 'we are different' topic. Although I never hassle people about their dietary choices, internally I disagree, and consider that killing animals is unecessary, and therefore I see it as unethical, and not ok. So I came out of 'hiding' to reveal that this difference was in fact a difficult one.
This gave Yuri the experience of encountering a real difference, one which was full of emotion and energy, and yet, it being communicated in a way which made it ok to hear each other's thoughts and feelings.
I set the example of coming out of hiding, declaring a part of me which I normally did not reveal- the strength and judgements I hold about killing animals.
We were able to have this conversation, and Yuri found that it was still ok, we were still connected, I was not rejecting him.
I asked about the weight on his chest - it was down to 10kg.
In Gestalt we are very intereted in difference. Its seen as a signnifcant opportunity for quality contact, and is grounded in notions of authenticity in the context of relationship. Part of what we offer in the Gestalt process is an opportunity for people to be fully themselves, without being either rejected, or agreed with. This is an important part of the healing that takes place in a Gestalt dialogue. Not because some wounded part is healed, but because of the experience of connection alongside difference.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Case #187 - You should die

Jeremy spoke about the issue of bullying. He had been bullied as a child, and it was an issue for him still.
He referred to a phrase which had been spoken to him during the bullying: 'you should die'. This had stuck with him, and he now sometimes repeated it to himself.
I asked him a number of questions about the details - when did he hear this, under what circumstances, how old was he, who said it to him.
I wanted to form a clear picture of the context of this phrase.
I did not 'Gestalt' this phrase immediately. In fact, I took quite some time, to have a conversation with Jeremy about bullying, about my own childhood experiences, and the feelings they had left me with.
I shared that talking about the subject, I felt heavy. I had various of my own memories come up.
Jeremy's rhythm was slow. The conversation was slow. I was not thinking particularly clearly - I told him, I had no creative ideas occuring to me at all. My feelings were sluggish, and I also reported that.
As something occured to me, I would bring it up. I mused out loud about how people could be so mean, and he agreed.
I told him I would like to surgically remove those awful words from his brain.
But we just hung out, in that space. There were periods of silence. I affirmed my sense of connection to him.
This was building the ground of relationship, and allowing the natural development of figures without forcing them. This was what we call remaining in the 'creative void', or Wu Wei.
He said 'those words are set in concrete'.
Immediately, I had something to work with.
I moved into experiment mode - I invited him to work with this metaphor.
I asked him to give me an image of the 'set in concrete'. He talked about the colour red, and a sword and shield. I asked him to 'be' those items, to speak as 'I'.  
He said that the words were burned into the shield.
Then he said, 'theres warmth. I asked him to 'be' the warmth. He said that he was in fact sunlight, coming towards the sword and shield.
As sunlight, he could actually transform the shield, through a chemical process. As sunlight his words were 'I want to live'. he could change the word 'die' to 'live' if he came in contact with the shield.
I then invited him to a conversation with the sword. The sword said that it was afraid of change. This was a moment of vulnerability.  
He didnt quite know, as sunshine, how to deal with this. So I stepped in to help him shape the conversation - acknowledge with empathy the vulnerability of the sword, and reassure it that change was ok, for the good.  
The sword relented, I guided him, as sunlight, to come to the shield, and accomplish the transformation he had spoken of.
He sat in silence for sometime doing this. Then he opened his eyes. He was bright, and sparkling, and said the change had occured.
It was important with Jeremy not to rush into an intervention/experiment like this. I needed to build the relational ground, to meet him in his rhythm, to not try to fix things. As a result, his own creative growth processes kicked in, and all I had to do was support their emergence.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Case #186 - Doubts about marriage

Wanda had some doubts about getting married.
She definitely wanted children.
She loved the man she was with, and wanted to get married to him.
But she had recently consulted a psychological professional who had told her that she should just accept that she wouldnt have kids, and get on with her life. These kind of authoritative pronouncements are highly problematic from my point of view, and are the opposite of the phenomenological approach we use in Gestalt - working from within the person's reality, rather than imposing ideas from the outside.
Wanda was upset, confused, and not able to find a clear path forward as a result of working with that professional.
I asked what the central issues were.
Wanda said that she was concerned about her partner's financial stability, and the financial stability in his family (whom she had not met).
She mentioned he was not happy in his work, and not earning a great deal.
She had lent him money to study massage, but the work he had got was not working out very well.
I said - this seems to be about boundaries. This is core in Gestalt work - to clarify boundaries, to differentiate between one persons needs/thoughts/feelings and the other. What often happens in relationship is what we call 'confluence' - the dissolving of boundaries. This appeared to be the case here - who is minding whose business becomes blurred. And accompanying that, there are feelings of powerlessness and rage.
So I asked her a simple question: what is the minimum amount you require him to earn. She named a very modest figure. I asked if she thought it was possible. After some discussion, she agreed.
I then suggested that this was her clear bottom line. The rest was none of her business - how he earned that money, whether he enjoyed his job, etc.
I suggested that she also need a boundary around how much complaining she was willing to listen to from him about his work situation.
Immediately, she felt much more relaxed.
But she still felt some tension. This was because he gave money to his family, even when he didnt have enough.
Again, I wanted to help her draw a boundary.
This time, I asked about how she wanted their finances to be - separate, or shared.
She said she wanted them to put equal amounts into a joint account, and them make joint decisions about how that money would get spent.
I pointed out that this arrangement had an inviolable boundary. That is - her partner coudnt spend money without her agreement under this arrangement. He could for instance request to send some money to his family, but it wouldnt happen without her agreeement.
This again calmed her, gave her a sense of boundary, control and the possiblity of how to do that in relationship.
There was one more thing she said. She was worried about her partner bringing his family neurosis into their marriage and into the child-to-be.
Here I stepped into my own viewpoint. I told her, at my age (56), with the experience of raising kids, having grandkids, having seen many relationship, I had an opinion. I wanted to share this with her, with the understanding it was my perspective, not the truth. I then told her I thought no matter who she married, they would bring their family baggage with them.
I said, 'are you ready now to marry?', and she agreed - her fears were put to rest.
Next, I asked about having a baby. The previous psychological professional had been very negative, and Wanda was still uncertain and distressed about her future as a result.
She said they had been trying to conceive for some time, but hadnt. So, I suggested they take fertility tests, to find out the facts firstly.
Depending on what the results were, then there were a range of choices available. If the tests came out clear, then it is possible that some psychological dynamics were at play, and those could be examined.
Its important in therapy not to get too 'magical' in its thinking. Practical, grounded approaches are most helpful for clients, and a heirarchy of explanation works from the physical up to the psychological. Starting with more esoteric explanations for a situation such as not getting pregnant is in my view an ungrounded and unhelpful place to start. Gestalt takes a holistic view - looking at a phenomena from as many levels as possible.  


Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Case #185 - A heart to heart connection

Trisha's husband, Mac, was in the group. They were a couple in their late 50's. After Trisha's personal work, the group gave feedback. They were impacted by her deep but wordless feelings.
Mac however, was silent.  
I invited him to give feedback.
He said  that he was glad she was able to feel supported. But in Gestalt terms, this is not the feedback we are after. What is important is not simply appreciation, approval, or acknowledgement. The inclusion of self is essential - the impact someone's sharing has on the other person, especially on an emotional level.
Mac found it very difficult to share on this level. He seemed as wordless as Trisha when it came to feelings.
So I invited them to sit in front of each other.  
I asked them to place on hand on each other's chest, to breathe, and look in the other person's eyes.
They did so, and there was clearly much emotion going on.  
I invited them after some time to see if they could say a word or two, expressing their experience.
Trisha said 'connected'.  
Mac said 'me too'.
This was a very strong intervention, meaning, this would not have naturally occurred. Such interventions always need to be thought through very carefully, weighed up, and permission sought. They can have a radical effect on people, opening up whole new experiences, outside of their famliarity or comfort zone. But they can also be impositions, and of little use unless people are really able to integrate them.
This experiment provided the scaffolding for a level of intimacy in this couple. The question is whether such an experience opens up possibilities for them, or is a little frightening, and they simply go back to safer and more familiar ways.
This is the reason that ongoing therapy work is so important. Single interventions, no matter how powerful, need to be embedded over time. We need to check back as to the impact, how much the person was able to absorb, and whether they may need the therapy process to proceed much slower. There is no point going at the therapists's pace - it is the client's pace that is important. When we do experiments, we try to find the right balance between challenge and support. 'Right' meaning what is right for the client - our brilliant ideas are of little use if they are too far/too fast.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Case #184 - Isolation, awareness, resistance

Trisha's issue was that her teenage son refused to go to school.  
As she spoke, I could see a great deal of emotion on her face. Her eyes were teary, her forehead wrinkled, her mouth shook a little, and she also seemed very timid and scared.
Although I very much wanted to explore the issue with her, I also wanted to check in with how she was feeling, as simply diving into the story would have been disrespectful of her process, and of attending to the relationship between us.
She wanted to tell me more, but I interrupted her.  
I asked her again how she was feeling. But she seemed unable to answer.
Again, she started telling me a story, this time about previous therapy work she had done, related to a miscarriage.
I asked her how she was feeling. She replied by launching into another story about the suicide of a relative.
I interrupted her.
Whilst these stories would all be important and have relevance, to simply proceed without attending to her in the present would have been neglectful.
Yet, focusing her attention on the present was not something she was willing to do.
I remarked that I would not keep pushing by asking for her feelings as clearly she did not want to talk about them, even though they were strongly present.
I also said I was not wiling to go into the stories, I wanted to stay in the present with her.
So I shifted gears and talked about myself. I told her that when I was upset, I liked someone close by. I wanted to know from her what the right distance between us was. She said 'this is ok'
In this circumstance 'OK' is not a feeling, its an evauation. And she was so quick to declare it, I was not sure that this was really true.
So I proposed an experiment. I moved closer, and farther away, to find the right distance for her. She kept saying 'this is ok', wherever I went. I asked her to tell me if it was better or worse. Again, she seemed reluctant to do so, to take a stance, to ask for what she wanted.
So I moved very close. She said she was tense - clearly too close. I moved much further away, and she said it was too distant. So I moved somewhere in the middle, and she said she was comfortable with that.
This was important, to get her to own some of the therapy, otherwise I could see she would just either follow what I wanted, or complete resist.
Next I sat with her - at the distance she had specified, acknowledging her feelings, telling her I was comfortable with them, and fine to sit with her in that place. I did not push for words. Occasionally I would say something about my observation or my experience. And more occasionally I would ask her about her experience. She said she was lonely - I asked how much: she said 50%.  
I asked her to look at me, and breathe, and stay with her feelings.
She would do this for a while, then look down. At those times, I would acknowledge she was pulling into herself, into her lonely place After a while I would invite her to come back into the connection.
This went on for some time.
After a while, I asked again how she was feeling, and she said 'comfortable'.
I drew the session to a close. There was a whole worldless world there. And we had taken some important steps into that place.
You can not push a client, demand they become authentic, or show up, or take responsibility. But to proceed with therapy as some kind of facilitation exercise without any of those things is a waste of time. So, we have to be with the client in some way that involves as much contact as they will allow. In cases such as this, that involves work on my part, building a bridge to the client's world, finding ways to make clear, simple contact, in the present, and not be distracted by the stories of trauma, or induced into doing too much work on the client's behalf.  
The work we did do - where she admitted her loneliness, and brought some awareness to the way she created that (pulling back from contact), may seem very small, but is very significant. The refusal of her son to go to school is paralleled by her own tendency to isolate. Bringing more awareness into her process is an important start.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Case #183 - Guardian angel Ninjas

Lucinda brought the issue of pleasing her mother. She described the situation as a bottleneck - how she would force herself not to feel emotions.  
She said it was hard to ask others for help. Not everyday things, but in deeper ways, when she felt stuck.  
I asked her for an example.  
She worked for a firm, but wanted to strike out on her own, open her own practice. She had talked with her boss about this, but not done it as yet. She wanted to talk more with him, to make sure that she would still have his support, but she had not done so.
She described 'not being able to lift my head up, to grow'.  
I asked what was holding her head down. She said her father.
So rather than talking about this further, I moved directly into an experiment with her.
I played her father, and held her head down. She tried to push her head up. I made sure that it replicated her exact experience, including just how much pressure I applied, and the exact position (as per her description and guidance).
I felt aggressive, and uncomfortable as I played this role.
She pushed up, I pushed down. We were locked in that position. I understood her stuckness.
She wanted to ask her mother for help. But her mother didn't offer help. Lucinda was angry about this, and asked 'why' she didn't help.
In Gestalt we see 'why' as an unhelpful question, deflecting from a more direct experience. In this case, that her mother was simply not available (for a variety of reasons), and attempting to understand why would not help; in fact it kept Lucinda in her avoidance of her feelings.
When I declined to engage with the 'why' question, then Lucinda felt her anger towards her mother. But I didnt want to dwell there, as she was still stuck in the position. So I asked who else she could ask for help to. She said her grandmother.  
But then, she said her grandmother would not be strong enough to get her father off of her.
So I invited her to ask, right now, out loud, for help. She said, 'theres no point'. This was her collapse, her unwillingness to ask for help. So I encouraged her, to try asking anyway. I asked who she would like to come help her. 'A woman' she replied. So I coached her on how to ask for that. She said 'but I dont have enough emotion, I am not in touch enough with my emotions to show in my voice how much I need help'. I encouraged her to ask anyway. She also wanted to ask the woman to 'kill' her father. I said, just ask for help to get him off you, and we can deal with your anger later.
So she made her request: 'I want some women to come help me'...and 4 women in the group came and pulled me off of her.
This was a powerful moment.
I said, 'now you are free to grow up'.  
She lifted her head, felt her freedom. There was deep emotion present.
I pointed out - 'you called for help, it came, you are free now'.
I called the women who came to help her 'guardian angel ninjas'.
Now, she felt her anger, towards her mother and her father. She had wanted her mother to come rescue her. I pointed out that her mother was also stuck, and would probably never be able to hear her call. She wanted her mother to change, and it probably wasnt going to happen in this lifetime. Lucinda needed the reality check of this, so she could feel her feelings on the other end of the lack of support.
Then she said 'I want to punish him' (father).
So I moved to another experiment. I said, 'ok, I will be father again, now punish me by pushing my head down'. She gleefully moved to do this, and the straight away, felt very bad (as I did, in father's role). She said 'I dont want to do this, I dont want to be that person'.  
Now she was feeling very deeply. This was a powerful turning point for her.
Finally, I suggested that the aggressive anger she felt could be directed into growing in her career - striking out on her own. She could use her energy to do so, in a place she had felt stuck before.
The Gestalt experiments are very important to help people transform. They provide power experiential learning, as compared to cognitive insights. The insights which follow from the experiment tend to be much more deeply embedded, not just 'helpful ideas', but integrated transformation.  

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Case #182 - Rejection in the imagination only

Barry was a conservative man, quiet, and unused to sharing his feelings.
We had some discussion about this. He said that one of his issues was fear of rejection, and his sense of alienation from others.
I asked how alienated he felt in the group: I want to take a general issue, and bring it into a more immediate context, one that can be worked with immediately. Otherwise people easily stay at a generalised level of an issue; I want to 'sharpen' the contact.
He said he did pull back in the group, out of the fear of rejection.
In Gestalt, we always encourage interpersonal contact, in the place of the fantasies that people have about others. So I set up an experiment where group members shared with Barry the amount they accepted or rejected him - expressed in terms of percentages. I set it up this way to be very precise in the feedback. Barry had a broad notion of rejection - but in fact people reject and accept different aspects of a person all the time: its a spectrum.
One by one, group members spoke of feeling between 90-100% acceptance of him. Barry was very surprised - he expected the number to be much lower.
However, he also said he didnt fully believe them. I asked by how much. He believed them 70%.
I accepted this - we always work with where people are. I said that even at this rate, the acceptance was still significantly higher than he expected.
I checked for his feelings - they changed singificantly, from alienation, to a cautious sense of belonging.
'Good contact' in Gestalt consists not only of positive contact and feelings, but also negative ones. To know where one stands with others, including the difficult parts, is a more authentic position and gives useful points of dialogue. In future sessions, I would explore with Barry and the group, what was in the 10% they didnt accept him. Thats useful information, and rather than remaining unsaid -  silently projected in Barry's mind - to actually talk about this results in grounded relationship.
Good contact is the grounded experience, in the here and now, of being with oneself fully, and with others fully - as we are, and as they are. It involves moving out of the realm of imagining into a much clearer connection.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Case #181 - Love fixes an abnormal knee

Jane asked about working with body symptoms.
She talked about her knees - one knee felt 'normal', the other 'abnormal'. She explained this meant her right knee felt fine, the left one she felt pain in, a 'lack of power', and that she didnt 'get enough support' from it. So she walked in an unbalanced way.
I was curious about these words - support, lack of power, and normal vs abnormal. The latter words contained some explicit judgements. I kept asking about her experience of the various words, but mostly she replied more about how she thought.
The focus in Gestalt is on experience - otherwise people stay too much with their stories or interpretations about their experience.  
I asked her - 'if we were friends, and I you were to ask me for support, what would that look like?'
Her reply was it would be to help her feel more relaxed. This gave a clear relational direction for the work.
I said that I felt a kind of spontaneous desire to support her, and wondered how that was for her.  
I asked her about the association she had with 'normal' and 'abnormal'. These words contain some potency of judgement, indicating there is some significant energy with them. I often pay attention to such 'power' words a person uses, as they generally indicate important figures.
Jane said that there was such a thing as a normal family life, and there were abnormals ones. I asked about the latter. She said where parents yelled at kids, like her parents did - that was an abnormal family life. I replied that parents did, in the course of normal parenting, yell at kids, so what was different about her experience?
She then revealed that her parents had never done something with her that indicated love. I didnt question this, just took it at face value as her experience. She said she now saw them in a different light - but again, this was about her thinking, not her feeling.
I then got it - my sense of warmth towards her was cocreated - she was drawing out the nourishment with her embedded longing, and I was automatically responding, in a parental kind of way. I remarked on this - I spontaneously wanted to give something to her.
I asked how that was for her. She gave me a thinking answer, so I asked her to notice her feeling. This was hard for her - she was not used to recognising and taking in such nourishment.  
Its important to keep a person focused on their feelings, as otherwise the intensity and power of the therapeutic relationship and interventions is diluted.
I proposed an experiment - I used the word 'love' - as she had indicated this was missing from her parents. I said - 'for a few minutes, we can sit silently, and I will send some love towards you, and you just need to receive it'. I made it clear this felt natural and spontaneous to me - I was responding to something in her, so it was real in that sense.
We did that.  
I checked how that was for her. She said her eyes, which had been dry before felt better - I noticed they seemed a bit watery. She felt relaxed and calm. I asked how her knee felt - rather surprised, she noted that  her knee felt much better, more balanced, less weak.
This arose from noting my natural response - this was not an artifice of therapy. We use our own spontaneous reactions in Gestalt to guide us - positive or negative, both are valuable.  

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Case #180 - Colourful beauty

Wendy came up enthusiastically. She seemed very nervous, and asked me what she was supposed to do. I explained that I was not going to direct her. She mentioned that her parents had many strong ideas of what she should do. Clearly, she was trying to queue me in to the role of directing her; already there was a lot of information I received about her field.  
Instead, I focused on the present: I reported what I saw - her black and white chequered jacket, a black and white shirt, her jeans, boots, and square glasses.
This kind of noticing the obvious has several benefits. Its grounding, for me, and the client, and brings us into the present. Its a way of making contact, allows the person to be seen, without interpretation; and it can invite their own meaning making to emerge.
In Wendy's case, she offered up that she chose dark colours in clothes, because she thought thats what other people would like. Again, she asked me what I wanted her to do now. I again declined. She was clearly very other-oriented.
I told her instead that I was interested in her 'dark side' - following on from the dark colours she said she chose.
I shared with her some details about my own 'dark side'. She then told me that in fact she would prefer to buy bright colours, but wanted to fit in.
She clearly had a big issue about doing what others wanted.
I could have gone into this, and into her parents expectations etc. But she was so extremely oriented in this way, I wanted to do something significantly different.
So I told her I was intersted in her inner world, her authentic self: her colourful preferences. I asked what colours she would pick if she bought the clothes she wanted. She named several colours. I asked the best one - she chose green (which had been the first one she mentioned).
So I asked her to have a little fantasy picture involving the colour green. Her picture was: a willow tree by a river.
I invited her to imagine herself as the willow, and decribe herself. She said 'I am beautiful'
I then told Wendy, 'I am interested in your beauty'.
I asked her to come into her body, and into the connection with me. I said this again: 'I am interested in your beauty'. She had not realised I was talking to her, as she had simply been identified as the tree in the fantasy.
She laughed, and tried to squirm out of the experience. I asked her to stay present, stay with me in connection, and stay with her feelings.
I repeaated again: 'I see your beauty'.
(I will note that Wendy was not an outwardly beautiful woman in the normal sense of the word. So this was not a description of her appearance, but of her inner self).
She found it hard to stay present, and take this in, but she tried for a little while.
I asked her to feel her own beauty as we stayed looking at each other. This was very challenging for her, and after a while she shifted the conversation.
It was clear that was as much as she could take in.
I was doing what we refer to in Gestalt as 'following the figure'. Starting with the outer figure of her clothes colours, and then following on with the figure of her authentic choice - the real Wendy - the colour green, her beauty. In this way, I am following the flow of her awareness. I am interested the points at which the client interrupts their awareness - in the first instance, its the orientation to what other's want. But once we got past that interruption, the flow evolved naturally until the next interruption - being with her 'colour', her beauty. Whilst I could then work with this interruption, its important to also respect the natural limit someone reaches, and return to the subject another time.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Case #179 - 0% present = zero intimacy

As Chanelle sat down, she commented on being distracted by something in the room which was out of place. She talked about how her attention often wandered; it was hard for her to stay focused on something. She said she was often not fully present, or not for very long.
I shared with her my own 'fog', especially when I woke up, but also at other times during the day, when I would drift off a little.
I asked how present she felt right now, with me, and commented that for me, it was about 85% - and told her about the 15% which was going on in the back of my mind. She said she was about 80% present.
I told her that some mornings I was only 30% present, and asked about her.
She said, with her husband, she was often 0% present.  
I asked her feelings - sadness.
I commented that to have intimacy required one to be present, so it seemed there was a lack of intimacy in her relationship.
Chanelle was a little surprised - she had equated intimacy with what you do in relationship, not how you are.
I pointed out that to be present required a sense of being in ones body, and senses…so this could be a good place to start.
To give an example, I told her some of the things I saw when I looked at her - without evaluation, simply reporting to her. This engages the senses, what we call the 'outer zone' in Gestalt. It is present centred, moving away from projections into the future or past.
I invited her to tell me what she saw.
She talked about my socks, which were colourful and had a flag on them. I told her something of my personal context, related to that.  
I checked in with her feelings. She sad she felt numb, with some pain in her shoulders. Staying with this, breathing more deeply, she started to feel some pain in her heart - a sense of contraction. As she told me this, she showed me by making a fist. I got her to stay with the fist, and she talked about feeling angry; as she squeezed her fist, she felt it more deeply.
I asked her to look at me, and show me how angry she felt.
She did that, and then reported that she couldn't focus on me anymore - a sign she had reached a limit.
She sighed…as I brought this to her attention, she got in touch with her sadness…she had an image of a white boot.  
Then this was replaced by an image she had of thorns.
She reported feeling much more peaceful.
These thorns clearly indicated that there was more anger to be processed, but this was enough for now.  
Not all things can be solved, all at once!
Finally we spoke about intimacy, with her husband, and the ways in which that could increase the intimacy without 'doing' anything different, but just being fully present with herself, and then the other person.
She had an experiential understanding of this now, as well as a clear path to the unfinished business of anger and sadness which was absorbing her attention away from being present.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Case #178 - An exquisite moment of shyness and connection

Alexis spoke of being shy. She said 'I am often in my world, others in theirs'.
As we conversed about this, she described how even her husband talked about her not letting him in.
I asked about her daughter, who was 20 months old. Alexis said her daughter was very similar to her, very shy.
I shared with her that I also had an inner world that, despite my apparent outgoingness, others rarely had access to.
I then asked about her daughter again…Alexis said that there were two things which worked in terms of connecting with her daughter: firstly getting the right distance - not overwhelming her; and secondly, proximity - being close enough as she needed comfort.
These two paramaters gave me the keys to Alexis.
I invited her to stand up with me, and find the right place spatially in relation to me - expressing the right mix of distance and proximity - I used her exact language, that she had talked about in terms of her daughter's needs.
She moved around in order to find  find the right place in terms of distance from me, and then she came and stood slightly behind me, so I couldnt quite see her, but at the same time very close to me, just touching.  
I felt a wave of emotion, as did she. I felt deeply touched, at this interaction, wordless though it was. I shared that with her. After some time she then moved around in front of me, and reached out her hands. We stood there, holding hands, for a long time. The moment was exquisite, and profoundly moving.
This is the potential of Gestalt therapy, to move with the wave of awareness, with a minimum of words, and a maximum of grace. To explore the edge of contact - what we call 'good contact'. To find the balance between respectful space, and yearned-for closeness. This can lead to such encounters which we term the I-thou.  
Such experiences are transformative. Not in some intellectual way, of purely 'insight', or 'understanding', or advice or explanation. This is experiential learning at its best - to actually participate in the Gestalt experiment, as we call it, the 'safe emergency', which is intense enough to be real, to take people to their edge, but not so much as to overwhelm.
Alexis has had a life time issue with her shyness. Now her daughter is also shy. But in her daughter's vulnerability and simplicity, its apparent to Alexis what is needed. This provides the keys for what Alexis needs. An experience of this kind of contact is nourishing and healing, and in adult life, rare. Gestalt offers the opportunity to provide the space for such moments. We can't engineer them, just be present, be with the client, and set up an experiment with the right ingredients.  

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Case #177 - An exquisite moment of shyness and connection

Alexis spoke of being shy. She said 'I am often in my world, others in theirs'.
As we conversed about this, she described how even her husband talked about her not letting him in.
I asked about her daughter, who was 20 months old. Alexis said her daughter was very similar to her, very shy.
I shared with her that I also had an inner world that, despite my apparent outgoingness, others rarely had access to.
I then asked about her daughter again…Alexis said that there were two things which worked in terms of connecting with her daughter: firstly getting the right distance - not overwhelming her; and secondly, proximity - being close enough as she needed comfort.
These two paramaters gave me the keys to Alexis.
I invited her to stand up with me, and find the right place spatially in relation to me - expressing the right mix of distance and proximity - I used her exact language, that she had talked about in terms of her daughter's needs.
She moved around in order to find  find the right place in terms of distance from me, and then she came and stood slightly behind me, so I couldnt quite see her, but at the same time very close to me, just touching.  
I felt a wave of emotion, as did she. I felt deeply touched, at this interaction, wordless though it was. I shared that with her. After some time she then moved around in front of me, and reached out her hands. We stood there, holding hands, for a long time. The moment was exquisite, and profoundly moving.
This is the potential of Gestalt therapy, to move with the wave of awareness, with a minimum of words, and a maximum of grace. To explore the edge of contact - what we call 'good contact'. To find the balance between respectful space, and yearned-for closeness. This can lead to such encounters which we term the I-thou.  
Such experiences are transformative. Not in some intellectual way, of purely 'insight', or 'understanding', or advice or explanation. This is experiential learning at its best - to actually participate in the Gestalt experiment, as we call it, the 'safe emergency', which is intense enough to be real, to take people to their edge, but not so much as to overwhelm.
Alexis has had a life time issue with her shyness. Now her daughter is also shy. But in her daughter's vulnerability and simplicity, its apparent to Alexis what is needed. This provides the keys for what Alexis needs. An experience of this kind of contact is nourishing and healing, and in adult life, rare. Gestalt offers the opportunity to provide the space for such moments. We can't engineer them, just be present, be with the client, and set up an experiment with the right ingredients.  

Friday, April 1, 2016

Case #176 - Acknowledging stopping, and meeting longing

Liila talked about a previous relationship she had 12 years ago.  
But before she continued sharing, she turned to the group and asked people to not take any photos of her.
I commented that she was taking care of herself.
I asked her what kind of care she might want from me in the process - this is bringing her directly into relationship with me.
I asked her feelings - they were in her chest.  
As she stayed with her feelings, Liila talked about two forces - which she demonstrated with her fists - attraction and stopping. The first were pushing into each other.
I invited her as an experiment to have a conversation between the firsts.  
They continued to be locked - both in the conversation between them, and in her physically pushing them together.  
This is what we refer to as the 'impasse' in Gestalt.
So I asked her to intensify the pressure - push the fists harder into each other. In Gestalt we often exaggerate experiences, to highlight awareness.
She became tired. Then the 'stopping' arm just let go, and the 'attraction' arm moved up, open, in a reaching out position.
The 'stopping' fist said 'I am tired, I am just letting go now'.  
The other fist - now an open hand, remained open, and she held that position for some time.  
I asked what happened with the stopping force - she said, 'I have let go'.
But I pointed out the stopping force also had something valid to say, and I asked her to give that a voice. I suggested that this stopping fist was a self protective force, stopping her from reaching out and getting hurt again, being too vulnerable.  
I pointed out that remaining - as she was doing - in an open/longing/reaching-out position too long would also tire out her arm.  
So I reached my arm out, to hold that hand which was open.  
I said - 'this is the connection you are reaching out for. If you dont get met soon enough, your self protectiveness is useful. But if it stops you reaching out altogether, then you miss out on bringing your longing into relationship.'
We stayed there for some time - a place of deep connection.
This brought her many awarenesses...
I brought myself into relationship with her at the point when she took a step into her vulnerability. Rather than just 'facilitate' her, I included myself, and closed the gap. This is an example of utilising the internal dynamics a personal have, for the purpose of brining them more deeply into the experience of relationship.  

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Case #175 - Anxiety, options, contact

Frank was nervous, so I invited him to ask me a question. I often prefer to take the focus off of the client, and put it onto myself. A good way to do this is to stop asking the client questions, and ask them to question me.
Frank wanted to know how I dealt with traveling so much - the changes in time zones etc, and still keep healthy.  I explained some of the factors - I enjoy travel, am flexible, meditate and have a good diet.
I also said, 'I like change and variety'.
Frank revealed that he did not cope well with change - he got anxious easily.
I shared how I dealt with my anxiety by risk taking - not thinking much about negative things that could happen.
Frank said that he managed his anxiety by preparing thoroughly. But that he couldnt switch off - he would constantly think about what was coming up, and how to prepare.
I asked him about the context for this in his family (ie a Field question). He explained that his mother was very meticulous in preparing for things - in other words, thats how she managed her anxiety. The day before a school excursion, she would instruct him to make detailed preparations for the next day.
In other words, she taught him to be anxious, and also taught him how to deal with that anxiety.
He said 'this is the only option I have to deal with my anxiety'.
In Gestalt we are interested in expanding options. I asked if he would like more ways than one to deal with it.
So I invited members of the group to share how they dealt - in a healthy way - with anxiety. People shared many things.
These were new ideas for Frank. He was moved to see how many people struggled with anxiety, and in the process, he gained new options.
I suggested he consider these as a menu, and when he felt anxious, he could choose one.
Such behavioural choices are often the way that therapists head. Whilst expanding options is useful, it very much depends on more fundamental factors, including a person's readiness to do so, their resistance, emotional anchors etc. So its something I would monitor in ongoing therapy, to see if its as 'simple' as simply hearing new options. It may be, and it may be that the support of the group could be something that Frank would take in, and integrate.
I did want to take a second step with him, and not just leave it at a list of possible 'solutions', as expanded as that may be.
So I suggested that we now address something of his interpersonal anxiety.
I asked him to look around the group and notice who he felt least anxious with, and most anxious. I then invited him to ask those people to take part in an experiment. The person he was least anxious with I got to sit next to him. The one he was most anxious with - Mark - I asked to sit opposite him.
I suggested Frank tell Mark what it was about Mark that made Frank feel anxious.
He said that Mark reminded him of his father - who would yell at him and hit his hands when he got something wrong.
I invited Mark to reply. Mark said that he was different - he never hit his kids, and was not the kind of person to yell.
I checked with Frank for his feelings - he felt calmer.
We repeated this process several times, with Frank telling Mark what he was anxious about, and Mark telling Frank more about himself.
Frank felt calmer and calmer.
We carry around ideas of who other people are, but these often have elements of projection - disowned aspects of self. This was the first step for Frank in getting a reality check about his anxieties - which were generally  based on his imagination. It also gave Frank the experience of how to deal with interpersonal anxieties - through open and authentic dialogue.
In Gestalt we talk about 'good contact'. This is an example. Being present with another person, sharing your fantasies, checking them out, getting feedback, hearing the reality of the other person. These are grounding experiences, seemingly simple, but rarely performed.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Case #174 - Non material success

John was a young man; he raised the issue of his first girlfriend, who left him. He met her at University. Subsequently, he started a business, and invested some money that he had saved up from working. But now he had to close the business, and his girlfriend had left him, because she didn't feel he was successful enough.
Of course, this is just one half of the story. There were probably other things going on for her that she couldn't communicate, or he didn't understand. But anyway, this was his experience. He was heartbroken, and started crying as he was talking about the situation.
I responded to him, telling him I was touched by his openness and authenticity. He was being real, vulnerable, and I highlighted that this in itself was of great value. Whether he went on to become successful or not, this was something that I valued, and that I suggested a woman with similar values might consider important, perhaps more so than his net worth.
Again, he went to his sense of not being enough, of failing, and of losing a woman who mattered to him.
I was empathic - these losses feel very real, and difficult to navigate for anyone.
I also came back to the here and now. There was a young woman in the audience. When John talked about himself, so openly, I saw her nodding - I could see she was appreciating his honesty. And when I commented about the value of his authenticity, I could also see her nodding. So I pointed this out to him - that my feedback was being reinforced by a young woman in the group, who clearly echoed what I was saying.
She spoke up, and gave him some feedback to this effect as well.
The scene was very moving for everyone.
My focus on the present, on the actuality of who John is, and the way he brought himself to contact, helped to take him out of his story of woe, and his sense that he was not much good. This was reinforced by my feedback, and the feedback of the young woman.
There were introjects underneath his story of himself, but we would have to work with these another time.
What was important was to acknowledge his reality, his feelings, at the same time, bring him into contact, into relationship in the present.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Case #173 - Awareness: the leaping off point

Bruce was nervous. So I invited him to ask me a question. He wanted to know how I came to be a therapist.
I gave an answer on a number of levels; some of the details of when and how I became interested in therapy, how I into Gestalt, and then became a professional.
Bruce had said that he would like to be able to help others professionally, and that his goal was to beocme a counsellor.
He had used a variety of drugs for over 20 years, and now wanted to help others in the same position.
Firstly, I talked about the limitations of being a helper - how even though I was in the helping professions, and in the role of a professional helper, the Gestalt approach is more oriented towards 'being with what is', in an existential sense, than try to fix people up.
I outlined the limitations of the helping/fixing orientation, from Bert Hellinger's concerns with the superior position that involves, to Eric Berne's characterisation of helpers still being in the 'alcoholic game'. I talked about my own pleasure and perhaps compulsion to 'be helpful', and the ways I reflected critically on this at times.
I talked about all this as I wanted to give Bruce a self reflective orientation to entering the helping professions, and therapy in particular.
I also talked about the breadth of his life experience being very useful, to the degree to which he 'digested' it  - cognitively making sense of it all, emotionally healing the traumas and unfinished business, and somatically, integrating the various blocks of energy in his body. It is this digestion/integration process which is more important to the practice of therapy, than the techniques, skills or theories.
As Buber says:
'The deciding reality is the therapist, not the methods. Without methods one is a dilettante. I am for methods, but just in order to use them not to believe in them'.

I then suggested I could do a very small piece of somatic work with him.
There were a number of years worth of 'digesting' therapy work that I could do with Bruce, but I wanted to just do something for now, that would be useful, but not open up the whole world of his addictions, their context, and the impacts on multiple levels.
So I asked him to think about the first time he used drugs (12 years old).
As he did so, I asked what he felt in his body.
He reported shrinking (crossed his arms and pulled his body in) and a shaky feeling in his solar plexus.
I asked what the shaking and shrinking were in relation to; he said 'protection'.
So I asked him to put both hands over his solar plexus and breathe.
He said there was 'everything' in there - justice, sadness, fear, longing. I didnt want to go into all that - a lot of therapeutic work. But I put my own hands over my solar plexus, to try to get a sense of what that might be like. This kind of extension of experience is called 'inclusion' in Gestalt, and its useful to do in a Gestalt experiment - alongside the client, joining with them.
I could get some sense of the wounding that Bruce may have felt, in order to protect himself through the use of drugs. I suggested this could be a self-therapy practice he could do himself. Its also a place I would revisit many times in subsequent therapy - the conjunction of pain, protection, feelings, and the somatic location of all of this.
This kind of bringing awareness to a key point in body-time is one of the central mechanisms of Gestalt process. Such awareness naturally leads to movement. We notice what might stop that movement ('creative adjustments'), and address that in the present - the way someone holds their breath, or squeezes muscles so they dont feel, or distract themselves by certain thoughts or behaviours. By bringing the interruptions also into awareness, we help restore the natural flow. Once someone is able to stay with this flow, they will naturally move towards their own healing. This is what we call 'organismic self regulation'.

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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)