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

Tuesday, 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'.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Case #172 - Playing father

Nancy was wearing an outfit I really liked. It was made of soft, natural looking materials; the design was muted, complex and unusual. The style was a little bit traditional Chinese. So thats the first thing I noticed about her.
I told her so. I put it in terms of my experience looking at her clothes - what I felt and experienced.
She told me she was a clothes designer, and thus she had designed this outfit.
I told her I felt very comfortable with her designs, and really liked them. So I wondered about whether that meant that I would also be comfortable with who she was.
Nancy seemed very nervous. Her hands shook a little. She didnt say a great deal. She said she felt nervous, with me looking at her, and wondered what I was thinking. I explained that beyond my positive judgements about her design taste, I was just interested in being present with her, and letting things evolve.
I invited her to ask me some questions. She did, and I shared something about myself. I did this because I wanted to take the spotlight of of her. Her nervous state indicated to me the possibility of shame - especially indicated by her wanting to know what I thought. But rather than telling her more of my thinking, I moved to a greater degree of vulnerability, giving her the chance to find out from me what she wanted.
Nancy was concerned about what was going to happen next - where this was going.  
I told her, I was not concerned. I was comfortable not having an agenda, and not knowing what we would work with, or how we would do it. This is the Gestalt way - to not operate according to a plan, to be present with what emerges.  
Nancy relaxed a little.
In fact, she said that she realised how little she was actually present in relationship, most of the time. We sat there, in silence, for a minute.  
Then she said that I reminded her of someone. Her father.
She explained that she had not really connected with him, not spent much time with him, avoided contact with him generally, and when he was dying, she mostly stayed away.
She said how bad she felt about this, guilty, sad.
I invited her to either talk to her father on a chair, or I could role play him. She elected for the latter.
So, I invited her to tell 'me/father' whatever it was that she really wanted to say, but couldnt before.
She immediately knelt on the floor in front of me, held my hands, put her head on my hands, and started crying.
She asked if she had to use words, or could just say things in her mind. I asked her to use words.
So she started talking about all the things she was sorry about, regretted, felt bad about: staying away, making excuses, not being there for him when he died, etc.  
She was crying deeply, saying all this. She asked for forgiveness.
The the role of her father I told her that one thing that was important was that she forgive herself.
I told her that I could see a great deal of pain as she spoke. I told her that I also felt pain at her behaviour. And thus, the pain was shared. I also told her that, as her father, I was a little bit more responsible for the pain in our relationship, and that she must have been carrying some of it on my behalf. This comes from Family Constellation understanding of the greater responsibility of the parent for burdens.
I told her that I would carry my own pain, and what mattered to me was her finding her happiness.
This touched her deeply, and she let go a little.  
I also said that for her to stay away as she had, she must be feeling something like anger. She denied this. So, either she was not in touch with this, and it would be explored in later therapy, or something else was going on in the system that masked this anger. However, this was enough for now, and I noted the issue for another time.
She felt much lighter - she had let go of something. She felt much strengthened. And she felt much more connected to her father.
Classical Gestalt uses the empty chair to do this kind of work. But I prefer to play roles myself, as I can then enter more fully into the client's world, and participate more actively in the Gestalt experiment.
Although there was clearly a context to her distancing from her father, it is important in a Gestalt session to just tackle one thing at a time. To try to attempt too much leaves insufficient room for integration. We are more interested in what can be integrated than by covering a lot of ground.  


Thursday, February 4, 2016

Case #172 - Playing father

Nancy was wearing an outfit I really liked. It was made of soft, natural looking materials; the design was muted, complex and unusual. The style was a little bit traditional Chinese. So thats the first thing I noticed about her.
I told her so. I put it in terms of my experience looking at her clothes - what I felt and experienced. 
She told me she was a clothes designer, and thus she had designed this outfit. 
I told her I felt very comfortable with her designs, and really liked them. So I wondered about whether that meant that I would also be comfortable with who she was. 
Nancy seemed very nervous. Her hands shook a little. She didnt say a great deal. She said she felt nervous, with me looking at her, and wondered what I was thinking. I explained that beyond my positive judgements about her design taste, I was just interested in being present with her, and letting things evolve. 
I invited her to ask me some questions. She did, and I shared something about myself. I did this because I wanted to take the spotlight of of her. Her nervous state indicated to me the possibility of shame - especially indicated by her wanting to know what I thought. But rather than telling her more of my thinking, I moved to a greater degree of vulnerability, giving her the chance to find out from me what she wanted. 
Nancy was concerned about what was going to happen next - where this was going.  
I told her, I was not concerned. I was comfortable not having an agenda, and not knowing what we would work with, or how we would do it. This is the Gestalt way - to not operate according to a plan, to be present with what emerges.  
Nancy relaxed a little. 
In fact, she said that she realised how little she was actually present in relationship, most of the time. We sat there, in silence, for a minute.  
Then she said that I reminded her of someone. Her father. 
She explained that she had not really connected with him, not spent much time with him, avoided contact with him generally, and when he was dying, she mostly stayed away. 
She said how bad she felt about this, guilty, sad. 
I invited her to either talk to her father on a chair, or I could role play him. She elected for the latter. 
So, I invited her to tell 'me/father' whatever it was that she really wanted to say, but couldnt before. 
She immediately knelt on the floor in front of me, held my hands, put her head on my hands, and started crying. 
She asked if she had to use words, or could just say things in her mind. I asked her to use words. 
So she started talking about all the things she was sorry about, regretted, felt bad about: staying away, making excuses, not being there for him when he died, etc.  
She was crying deeply, saying all this. She asked for forgiveness. 
The the role of her father I told her that one thing that was important was that she forgive herself. 
I told her that I could see a great deal of pain as she spoke. I told her that I also felt pain at her behaviour. And thus, the pain was shared. I also told her that, as her father, I was a little bit more responsible for the pain in our relationship, and that she must have been carrying some of it on my behalf. This comes from Family Constellation understanding of the greater responsibility of the parent for burdens. 
I told her that I would carry my own pain, and what mattered to me was her finding her happiness. 
This touched her deeply, and she let go a little.  
I also said that for her to stay away as she had, she must be feeling something like anger. She denied this. So, either she was not in touch with this, and it would be explored in later therapy, or something else was going on in the system that masked this anger. However, this was enough for now, and I noted the issue for another time. 
She felt much lighter - she had let go of something. She felt much strengthened. And she felt much more connected to her father. 
Classical Gestalt uses the empty chair to do this kind of work. But I prefer to play roles myself, as I can then enter more fully into the client's world, and participate more actively in the Gestalt experiment. 
Although there was clearly a context to her distancing from her father, it is important in a Gestalt session to just tackle one thing at a time. To try to attempt too much leaves insufficient room for integration. We are more interested in what can be integrated than by covering a lot of ground.  


© Lifeworks 2012

Contact: admin@learngestalt.com

Who is this blog for?

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

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Gestalt therapy demonstration sessions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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