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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.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Case #171 - Peaceful warrior

Belinda had a lot of energy. I acknowledged that in this moment of contact with her,  feeling my own experience of high energy, as well as my feelings of solidity, openness, interest, and feeling grounded. She said she felt those things as well, and acknowledged the connection between us in this place.
I said I was interested to see where else connection might be - thats one place, and I want to fill out the picture, with more detail, more complexity, rather than ride on the easiness of our similiarity in that regards.
Belinda said was curious about what we would do next; I remarked I felt the same, as I do not have an agenda for sessions or a plan.
I invited her to ground that curiousity in the present, and I would do the same. I invited her to ask me some questions about myself. I asked her what kind of work she did: she was a trainer. She then contributed that she was authentic, and courageous. These were starting points…but what I wanted then was to then find the grounded and specific versions of what this meant - I asked her for some examples.
She talked about how she was willing to break through her own limits, not stay stuck, even if it was difficult. Again, I wanted to bring that into the present, so I asked her what she felt as she told described this capacity she had. She reported feeling strong, lots of energy. She also said that the tips of her fingers were shaky.
So, there was a part of her which did not completely reflect her identifiation as strong and confident. I asked her to 'be' her shaky finger. Then she commented that she sometimes felt shaky when angry.
I asked what she might be angry about. She replied that she offered so much in her programs, but it was hard to enrol the numbers she wanted. She felt very frustrated by that.
I could understand, and I talked about my own experience of putting out something of quality, and feeling frustrated when I didnt get the numbers I wanted to enrol and take up my offerings.
This again created a place of connection between us, and she felt heard and understood.
I wanted to encourage her to keep going - the shakyness in her fingers indicated some important expression that needed to occur..and in Gestalt we exaggerate things in order to bring them more fully into awareness.
So I suggested extending her angry feelings into action - what would she do. She said she would like to wake people up…again I built on that, joining with her, saying how much I would like to do that as well, a 'zen slap'. She said she would like to shake people up. So I invited her into a thought experiment - to imagine 'waking up' people, by giving them a zen slap, and I got her into the mood by describing a picture of walking down the street doing that zen slap. With my encouragement, she imagined this for a minute.
She was delighted, and satisfied. She was expressing her anger, in a very specific way which expressed her frustrations.
She said she felt peaceful. It was a different kind of strength she felt now. Her comment was 'peaceful warrior'. This was the point of integration. Her energy, her normal high energy 'breakthrough' orientation, was now tempered with internal stillness and steadiness.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Case #170 - Yes, I am not listening


Bethany asked a question about how to deal with conflict with her mother. She said her mother would not listen to her - rearranged her personal items, even though she had told her many times not to do it.
I admitted that sometimes I was in that same position as her mother - not really listening to my wife for instance. I shared this in order to bring myself authentically into relationship with Bethany in an authentic way, and to set up a certain parallel that I had her mother in some ways, though I was admitting it my faults - not something her mother ever did. Doing this also put me in the spotlight and not just Bethany. This is important to foster the I-thou relationship - shifting exposure back to the therapist.
Rather than get into a discussion of the topic, I suggested we move into an experiment straight away. When a theme - or 'figure' in Gestalt terms - becomes clear, then we can move into action.
I suggested that I play the role of her mother. I invited her to make a direct statement about a specific example which she had conflict with her mother over: 'when you move my things', and her feeling - 'I get really angry'.
As she said this, her eyes started moving back and forth. She looked very angry.
Playing the role of her mother I owned my passive agressive behaviour, in a way that the mother would not normally. In this role as the mother, I said 'I know you want me to leave your things alone, but I am not going to. I dont really care that much about what you want, I am going to do what I want'.
Bethany settled down. She said she felt much calmer. She of course had never heard her mother own her defiance and aggression, so for me to give the inner voide to the mother's position was a moment of authentic contact.
Bethany then reported feeling sad. She looked incredibly sad to me. She started folding into herself, pulling her head down. I asked her to stay with me, to keep looking at me. This is important, that the emotion that arises stays in relationship, rather than the client collapsing into their world, alone.
As she looked at me, there was a very sharp look in her eyes. She reported feeling a lot of pain. I invited her to really let me 'see' her pain - to look at me, and show me through her eyes what she was feeling. As she did so, her emotion intensified and she was on the edge of being overwhelmed with it. I encouraged her to stay with me, looking at me. She said she found it hard to stay present. So I grounded her by asking her to look at my face - especially so she could see my eyes - there was so much feeling in her eyes that she was expressing. She found it hard.. I asked her to describe what she saw when she looked at my face, even prompting her. She did express that, and this brought her more into the present moment. Its important to ground people, especially when they are feeling very strong emotion. One of the ways is to use what we call the 'outer zone', which takes a person into their senses, and by doing so, brings them right into the present.
I the asked what might have happened that hurt her so much.
She didnt know.
I didnt push her.
People become aware of details when they are ready to. In Gestalt we dont push past what the client is willing to bring into awareness…we bring them to the edge of that point, and give support, thats all.
So I came back to our connection, to what I saw in her eyes; as she talked about her pain, her eyes were moving back and forth, so I asked if there was some anger along with the pain. She had not been aware of it - another awareness limit most probably. And, we always respect those limits, and make contact with what is available from the client.
As we worked through this, Bethany felt more connected to her feelings, and to me. This was clearly important, as her connection with her parents was so fraught. There was much more to explore, especially about her anger. But that was for the future. We need to be content with significant - if small - steps of integration for clients, as we are not trying to 'prove something'

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Case #169 - Watching the hands

Marcie spoke about her difficulties at work - she would get frustrated, angry, and then feel guilty about it.
I enquired whether there was a 'should' there, and sure enough, this was the case - 'I shouldnt get angry'. This was a workplace etiquette sense that she had picked up, but it reinforced her family of origin messages.
However, I neither wanted to get into the workplace dynamics, nor the field context - these would be appropriate for later work.
Instead, I had noticed, as she was describing her difficulties, she was using one hand to show how she 'pushed away' her angry feelings.
In Gestalt we pay attention to the phenomenology of the person, in the present moment - Fritz Perls defined Gestalt as 'the philosophy of the obvious'. In this case, the most obvious thing was her hand movements.
So I pointed this out, asked her to do it again, and enquired as to what she felt doing it.
This is an invitation to take the person more deeply into their experience, to bring awareness to expressions that are usually out of awareness.
Marcie reported feeling tense inside. I could see she was holding her breath, so I encouraged her to breathe more deeply.
Next I pointed out that this was not just an action of resistance, but, as with all such phenomena, had its own validity. In Gestalt we are always *for* actions, and try to go with the flow of them, looking for the positive side of the 'creative adjustment'. Gestalt is defined as 'therapy without resistance' - a kind of Daoist attitude.
I asked her to do the action again, stay with her feelings, and notice what words came up.
The sentence was 'you are not respecting me'.
This now became apparent - the pushing away motion was in fact an attempt to draw a boundary - likely a healthy one. It was in response to someone stepping over her boundary.
Thus the pushing away was actually an appropriate and natural organismic response.
As I reframed, this, and asked her to do it again, she started feeling more positive.
Now I offered her a sentence (called 'directed dialogue'). I suggested she try saying 'I respect myself by drawing a line where you step over my limits'.
She felt much clearer and stronger saying this.
We went on to deal with related matters..
By working in this way, the therapist never pushes, but follows. In this sense, we are working with the person as they are, and finding the healthy organismic dynamic, inside of what may at times appear to be dysfunctional behaviour. When this comes to awareness, there is support for something different to happen, but this occurs from the inside, rather than from our helpfulness, our wisdom, or some kind of more fleeting cognitively derived insight.

© Lifeworks 2012

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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)