Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Case #2 - What are your limits?

A young man came with issues about his girlfriend. He was keen on continuing the relationship, but she wanted distance, and though she said that she loved him, it seemed she was losing interest and wanted a less involved connection. 

He felt frustrated and didn’t feel much power in the situation. It seemed like the ball was in her court, and apart from pressing his suit, he didn’t know what to do. She was indecisive, and not clear about just what she wanted.

So we explored who he was in that place. In Gestalt, we are less interested in finding solutions, and more focus on increasing awareness. So the question ‘who are you’ in a variety of circumstances is key.

So although it seemed he was in a position where he didn't have much choice, the first place to start was to find his own boundaries. The defining of self is assisted by defining boundaries.

So we explored questions such as 

• what is the minimum amount of contact that is enough for you?
• How long are you willing to ‘wait’ for, before needing to move on?
• What is your expectation of the level of personal interaction?
• What do you want in the long term?
• While in this separated period, what are the limits and rules that you apply to yourself, and ask her to apply to?

By identifying these limits he was able to see that he wasn't just in a ‘begging’ position, and could find his own solidity, even though it wasnt a solid situation.

In Gestalt we see boundaries as being very important to promoting good, clear contact. Gestalt provides ways to understand how boundaries become distorted, and this helps us to understand the ways a client is out of balance and can find themselves more fully in relationship.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Case #1 - Trevor and doubt

Trevor was in a relationship with a woman, and had even proposed marriage to her. But he was still not completely certain that she was the ‘right one’. He felt more comfortable with his decision as we went through the therapy, but some doubt remained. He felt that their values were aligned, that they loved each other, and that they could have a good life together. But his doubt kept undermining him - was there someone out there who might in fact be an even better match?

He kept trying to overcome his doubt - tell himself that this was not rational, or reasonable, or helpful. He tried to think about the positives about her. But the doubt kept surfacing, and undermining their relationship.

So in therapy we took several approaches. 

Firstly, we looked at context - this is the Field Theory orientation of Gestalt. His father had a lifelong affair  with another woman. So Trevor grew up with this triangulation. So when it came to committing to marriage, he found himself doubting if in fact there may be ‘another woman’ out there, who would ‘steal’ his attention.

I invited him to play out a conversation with his father and his father’s lover. Telling them how their relationship affected him as a child, and how it continues to haunt him. I invited him to notice his feelings - sadness, anger - as he spoke to them.

This conversation helped to finish the ‘unfinished business’ from his family. By inviting him to notice his experience in the present, it allowed him to get some support in the therapy, and to move his energy in his body. Unfinished business is also stored somatically.

But there was more work to be done. We needed to work with the polarity: confidence/commitment, and doubt/uncertainty. Gestalt works a lot with the integration of polarities.

So I invited him into another Gestalt experiment:  imagine talking to a friend, and being a doubting kind of a person - that is, externalising and owning the voice of doubt in his head.

What happened next was interesting. He started doing the opposite - telling the friend how she should in fact have more faith.

I recognised this and pointed out that he was now speaking with ‘the voice of faith’. This gave him an experiential recognition of another, alternative voice.

So now, when he starts hearing ‘the voice of doubt’, he will be able to also listen to ‘the voice of faith’, which will counter the undermining effect of doubt.

This was achieved, not by giving him advice of what to do, but through creating the circumstances for a new experience: this is the emphasis in Gestalt therapy.

© Lifeworks 2012


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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