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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His issue was that the founder was implementing a business model which Marvin considered to be out of date.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.

© Lifeworks 2012

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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)