Friday, August 30, 2013

Case #20 - The frozen lid

Jane was provoked by the sharing in the group. She came up and was shaking. She did not want to talk about the content, which was fine. We just worked with the energy. I asked her to describe her experience. She talked about being frozen. I asked her for a metaphor to describe what she felt. She said, a frozen lid. I asked her to show me where in the body this was- lower stomach.

I asked her to speak as if she were the lid ‘I am a frozen lid’. She did this, and then talked about the way she sealed up the ‘edges’.

So I asked her to speak as the edges. ‘I am an edge’...and then she described other aspects of being an edge.

I asked her to put one hand on where the frozen lid was, and the other hand where the edge was (on her side). Then, to breathe into these places. This intensified her feelings. Her legs started shaking, so I encouraged this.

She felt a lot of sadness, she was crying. But she couldnt express anything.

So I asked her to wiggle her toes. She found this hard, and could only do it on one foot. Then, after a while, I supported her to be able to wiggle her toes on the other foot.

Then she started burping, many times. She said, this was familiar to her.

Burping in somatic terms is an excellent release, and the start of the movement towards expression.

Sure enough, she felt the upward direction of her energy, but there were not any words yet. So I encouraged the somatic release, and gradually, she was able to put some words to her feelings. I asked her to say them directly, as if the person who had hurt her was there.

This was the completion of a lot of pain she had silently carried for many years.

By asking her to express the feelings as a metaphor (lid, edge), we could then work directly with them. By asking her to own them, this focused her awareness, which previously had been diffuse and avoidance - naturally, no one wants to feel pain. 

By supporting her to stay with the energy and feelings in her body, we bypassed her thinking process completely, and allowed the natural unfolding to occur. If you stay with body process, this will always happen, because the body always wants to move towards healing.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Case #19 - Attraction and boundaries

Dee was a young woman who spoke of her fear. I said, what are you afraid of? She said, men. I asked her to clarify. She explained that she wanted male attention, but she was also afraid of it.

I pointed out that, as well as therapist and teacher, I was also a man. She said, yes, but I dont really think of you like that.

My focus was on bringing the issue into the here and now, and into the relationship. I wanted to use myself as an instrument in the process of bringing greater awareness and developing experience of relationship.

So I replied that the fact was, I was a man, so it could be useful to notice what that was like for her.

She said it was scary. I asked why. Because I might find her attractive.

What was wrong with that?
Because I might fall in love with her, and then create a difficult situation that she didnt want.

So I invited her to voice that to me, directly ‘I dont want you to fall in love with me, I am not available to you for that’.

She felt much better at declaring her boundary.

I then showed up with my experience. I said - I dont want to fall in love with you either. I do find you attractive, and that fact can exist within your boundaries, and within mine.

We then had a conversation where I made some statements about how it was for me to find her attractive, and how that was for her. She was at the edge of her issue - wanting attention, but fearful of it. 

So by exploring it in a safe way, she could have the experience of being ok, of being able to determine her boundaries and express them, and of dealing with attraction without it becoming too much. 

She felt embarrased at several points in this discussion, and so I shifted the focus back to myself, and my experience. I shared that I didnt find the whole thing very easy either - its something I wanted to push out of my awareness at times. So it was good to be able to name it with each other, and simply experience the connection of that in the present moment, without fears of it spinning out of control.

This was a new experience for her in a number of ways, and gave her the confidence that she could set boundaries, talk about the subject, and be aware of what we could call the erotic aspect of relationship, without that becoming problematic.

Gestalt emphasises authenticity, and that is used in the process to heighten awareness and bring that into relationship.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Case #18 - The mini holiday

Trudy lived with her aunt and uncle. The uncle considered her interest in psychology to be frivolous, pressured her about getting a job, criticised the money she spent on workshops like this one, and told her she needed to marry soon, being 26.

When I asked about what she felt in her body, she reported pain in her shoulders.

Somatically, this is generally linked to an overdeveloped sense of responsiblity.

And sure enough, she pressured herself a great deal about these matters. Getting a job, what kind of job, etc. I asked her what she wanted to do - therapy. But she felt like she needed practice, and life experience before she would be ready. I asked when that would be - ‘when I am older’ she replied. 

In Gestalt we always focus on specifics, so I asked, how old? 80 was her reply.

So, I enquired what kind of work she would like to do between now and then. She found it hard to think clearly about all this, due to the pressure she felt.

So I invited her to ‘take a break’ from the pressure, and have a little holiday for 1 minute. To just be present with me in that time. I observed something about her, something I appreciated. And I invited her to do the same.

This grounded her in the here and how, brought her more fully into relationship with me, provided her with a positive recognition (she reported that she received no encouragement, only pressure from her parents), and brought her into her sensory awareness. We use these grounding processes in Gestalt to get people out of their ‘stories’ and schemata.

What I proposed here was a Gestalt experiment.

She did relax a little, but found it hard. She couldnt give herself much of a ‘holiday’. 

So I checked with her, and came over, found the place on her shoulders which was painful, and pressed with my finger. This was not a massage, more bringing awareness to the point of tension, and sharpening her awareness of it - she is so used to it, she puts it in the background.

When I released, she was able to release.

We then tried the brief ‘holiday’ again, before discussing her job situation a bit more fully.

Then back to the ‘holiday’, which she again found difficult.

I expressed my sadness that this was so hard for her, and my concern she would not live to an old age if she continued to put so much pressure on herself.

This focused her awareness on the bigger picture, and the consequences of choosing to live with so much pressure. It also gave her the perspective that this habitual way of being was going to take her down a track that might not be the one she really wants to choose.

Gestalt, is all about choice.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Case #17 - The stale story

Jake had mental problems. He had experienced a lot of suffering in his life; he had been in and out of clinics, been through a gammut of medication, and was doing therapy to try to deal with what felt to him like an impossible burden. His self esteem was low, and he did not have much confidence with people; he was very shy.

He spoke up, wanting to tell his story of suffering.

I interrupted straight away. My judgement was that this was a very old and well worn story that no longer served him, excpet perhaps to get pity, to feel sorry for himself, or to justify his ongoing suffering.

I told him I would give him a direction, to differentiate between what was pleasurable and what was painful. I asked him to look around the room, and identify which persons he felt pleasure in his body when looking at them, on a scale of more pleasure, or less pleasurable. 

I then asked him to pick the person he felt best when looking at. He chose his therapist, who was in the group. I asked him to describe to me what he felt. He reported warmth in his chest. I asked him to breathe into that place. He visibly relaxed, his face softened.

Then I asked him to pick the next most comfortable person in the group. He picked the youngest member. So I asked him to do the same thing.

His experience after all process was one of peace and contentment. 

This experiment cut across his sad story of suffering, and put him in touch with what was enlivening, in relationship, in the present.

Gestlat works in the here and now. It may be useful to go into story, for the sake of providing context, or deepening understanding. But some stories are fresh, needing to be told and be heard. Other stories are stale, without novelty, and are self reinforcing. 

All stories are eventually brought into the present moment, which is where we have choice, a key focus of Gestalt.

Case #16 - Smiling eyes, scary eyes

Ingrid looked at me and said - you have smiling eyes.

I said, better than scary eyes.

I wanted to bring out the polarity - its great she felt safe with me, but thats only because she didnt see my scary part. And what about her scary part. My interest is moving towards a more full relationshiop, rather than just staying with the assumption of safety.

So I asked her when she had scary eyes, and talked about times for me - when I get angry, when I am hurt.

She talked about being angry. I asked for a specific example. She talked about her husband phoning her, she told him she was busy right then, and didnt really have time to talk. He talked for ages, and she stayed on the phone. This was a long term pattern.

So I proposed an experiment.

We stood up, faced each other, put our hands up, and then we replicated what happend with her husband, where he pushed past her stated boundary. I slowly pushed her hands back, so she had to step back or fall over.

Then I asked her to push back. She tried to do so, but very weakly. We did this several times. 

I encouraged her to hold her boundary. Finally she gathered all her energy and gave a very big push back - it felt strong. 

Then I asked her to play her husband, and push through my boundaries. This was too confronting for her - too big a step to be the aggressor.

So this time I asked her to not allow me to push through her boundary, but to just hold and meet my energy. She felt paralysed in her legs, and not a lot of strength in her hands. So I got her to bring her awareness down into her feet. After some time, I asked her to step forward, and I moved back. Finally, she got her whole body involved, and I was able to push back quite hard, as she was really using her force.

It felt like a very strong meeting.

This was a powerful experiment, where rather than talking about the situation, we brought it into the here and how, and between us. By involving myself I was able to feel exactly what was happening in the relationship, and to support her to move through her frozeness and weakness, into her fullness.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Case #15 - Colour blindness, blinking and emotional sensitivity

The case of Wang, weak perception, and the blink.
Wang was a bright young man. I wanted to demonstrate the phenomenologial approach. So I started by noticing his tshirt - a very boring looking brown.

He said he chose it because he is partly colour blind, and it looks green to him.

He actually used the word ‘weak’ in relation  to his perception of colour.

He then went on to say his sensory and interpersonal perception is generally ‘weak’. This leads to problems with his girlfriend. 

I brought myself in, and spoke about my own weak perceptive abilites. 

This personal revelation on my part provides ground for him to open up further.

He wanted to find out how to change or fix this.

I explained from a Gestalt point of view we are not interested in fixes, but in being more fully with what is, understanding the strengths and limitations of each persons style. And then, perhaps, expanding the range of possiblities.

So I asked for a specific example of where his style works for him. He would say something about it, then say ‘but’... So I stopped him at the point of his self-appreciation, and then shared my own examples of valuing where that works for me. 

The Gestalt way is often to lead with the self of the therapist, providing an example.

Then I asked about the limitations. He gave me a general response, so I asked for a specific example. In Gestalt we always want to ground issues in specific terms, to be able to work with them.

He gave the example where his girlfriend wants appreciation and soft words, and he feels he has already given those, so is resistant.  He finds it hard to really get what she is feeling.

I then introduced my observation of his blinking. It was a little unusual - often frequent, and sometimes quite marked. 

He had a little knowledge that he did that, but my invitation for him to be aware of his experience when blinking just brought a blank. So I invited him to look at some people in the group, and notice what happened with his blinking. That was too hard - he moved quickly, and didnt really notice.

So I asked him to look at me, and notice. He started making self evaluations straight away, but I asked him to just observe himself, and his experience, like a camera.

This was hard for him, and he didnt have much awareness. But at one point he did a big slow blink, and I asked him what happened just then.

He said he was avoiding contact.

In Gestalt we observe phenomena, and especially junctions, where things change, and investigate experience at that point.

We discussed avoidance, and I gave an example of my own, during a visit with my father.  Again, my own self disclosure brings the ground for further contact. 

He reacted with some emotion - he also has difficulites in communicating with his father.

We didnt have time to go into that, but it was flagged for further work.

This was a lot to cover already, so we finished the session. 

He was left with a very specific place to practice his awareness, as he was just at the beginning of doing so. He was smart, and always went to thinking, so the blinking gave him a somatic marker that could help him get in touch with his feelings, especially noticing when things got too much.

His capacity to tune into others could not be worked on until his capacity to tune into himself was first developed. And his ‘weak’ perceptual sense was to at least some degree potentially under control - as he interrupted himself with his blinking.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Case #14 - Sleep: holding on and letting go

Julee remarks that, sitting in the group she felt very relaxed, and sleeply. 

She has has had insomnia for 20 years. I asked what happened at that time, and she replies that she there were many things... she was very busy, and she didnt have much time for sleep. Rather than explore the context,  I decided to focus on her immediate experience, and create a Gestalt experiment. 

I explained that sleep is about letting go, and thats what she has been able to do in the group, in order to become sleepy. 

So if she cant sleep as a regular difficulty, she is obviously very practiced at holding on.

So I invited her to explore letting go and holding on with me, by grabbing a hold of my wrist. I then asked her to show me the kind of letting go she experienced in the class, and then the kind of holding on she usually did before she went to sleep. 

I noticed that her holding on wasnt that strong - mainly just a little with the middle two fingers. So I drew her attention to that, and asked her to experiment with letting go. It wasnt hard for her. 

This was a small experiment, but it gave her the direct experience of what she is doing, and a way to do something different. I suggested that when going to sleep she become aware of the ways she is holding on, and then remember how she let go of my wrist, and how she let go in the group.

The Gestalt experiment is about bringing issues into the present, and exploring them in an active, embodied and creative way. Where possible this is brought into the relationship between client and therapist. It also helps the therapist understand directly what is happening, rather that it just being described. The experiment provides a new experience and bring into awareness things that have been present, but not noticed, or the detail not seen. In Gestalt we understand that when you bring things into full awareness, they no longer remain stuck, unfinished or split...integration happens naturally. This is a Taoist concept.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Case #13 - Dream of blood

Liz had a dream that recurred.  I asked her to tell in, in Gestalt style, in the present tense - that is how we get clients into the here and now with a dream. 

Here is how she related it:

I am on a train, next to my mother. In front are two boys in black uniforms, teasing me. She get upset, and they walk away. Now one is peeing next to me on the train, discharging lots of warm blood out of his intestines. The floor of the train is warm red blood. I am scared. He just stands there with blood running out. The other body, same thing is happening.

When we get to the station there is a female doctor with lots of equipment, I am so relieved she is there.


I ask her what she is feeling, to connect her on a deeper and present level

...scared, the feeling of dying, all alone.

When she speaks as the boy, she says, I am losing energy, collapsing on the floor. Cant hold any lifeforce or warmth in my system. 

I ask her to come into her body - this connects the dream experience with her current somatic experience, and brings it even closer to ‘who she is’.

...she feels a bottomless bucket in her chest. I ask her about how much warmth she feels in her system right now. She reports 30%.

I give her feedback - bringing her somatic experience into relationship. 

My experience of her is that she is a very warm person - I would say 70%.

I ask her about this gap - and give her an experiment - can she turn her warmth up and down.

This allows us to start working with the emergent issue, warmth.

When she turns it down, she feels like collapsing, heaving and cold in the intestines.

She says, she actually often feels a pain in her small intestines, like needles. And she is very subject to the cold - hard to breathe in winter.

I ask her to come into her small intestines now. 

...she feels heavy, dam, humid, not moving.

She reports that she is not good at receving on a physical level. Its hard for her to get enough nourishment from food - she is skinny and needs to take supplements. If she is touched, she gets scared. It takes some effort for her to relax. She is not much into sex. She wants the physical touch, but more like a child.

I ask her to ‘be’ the blood in the dream - to explore the warmth…

...she says, I am warmth, full of life, full of nutrition. The boy is rejecting me, I am getting out of his system, I am not needed by him.

I ask her in what ways this fits with her life, connecting the dream experience with her real life.

...she talks about the way she rejects life...its too much, too much trouble at times, doesnt feel understood, an internal male voice telling her she should die.

So I ask about her father...he always pulled away. As a child, he was very closed, didnt talk with her, just watched TV or shut himself away. His face was stern and solid. She felt sorry for him, acted like a boy to try to please him...just wanted to see him smile and happy.

Now as an adult, when she sees her father, she feels sick in her stomach.  He looks to her like a little child, wanting his mother. 

So, now its clear. As a child she needed the warmth of the parent, her father, but in fact it was her warming him up, and she never could. The task was too much for a child, and it drained her of her life energy. Now she doesnt have a good base of warmth to draw from, she has a habit of feeling drained, of giving more than she is getting. This makes her generous and motherly towards people, but internally she just feels pain and emptyness. 

This split represents a rejection of life, and she is in a quandry, an impasse.

Reaching this point, we dont resolve the impasse, but what we do is bring awareness to it. In Gestalt, all change starts with awareness...

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Case #12 - Dream: twins, water, mother

Dreams, daydreams and stories are all similar: they provide us with access to the whole person. 

Jesse had composed a story about two twin boys. They were both playing at the side of a dam. The main character, lets call him Tony, was afraid of the water. The other twin, Jack, wasn't. Jack was in the water, playing, and ribbing Tony, telling him to come in. Tony held back. Their mother had died some time ago, and they were in the care of a step mother. Tony had a stone in his pocket, a keepsake of his mother. Jack grabbed the stone out of his pocket, and threw it into the water. Tony rushed in after it, and then found he was ok in the water. He forgot about the stone.

The issue with Jesse was he was hesitant about marrying his girlfriend. He loved her, but he didn't feel confident about a long term future, and he couldn't come to a solid decision.

We explored this dream, by getting Tony to identify with each character. As Tony he was scared of the water, of plunging in. As Jack he was spontaneous, comfortable in himself, playful. As dead mother, he was loving, young, soft. As the water, he was deep.

His experience of mother here was important, as his own mother had been cold and distant, and this was part of his difficulty in relationship with women - he was afraid of getting too close, afraid that the coldness would come into the relationship.

So what was clear here is his connection to a deeper, warmer, feminine part of his experience. This was the motivator for him to jump into the water. It was also clear that he needed the help of his ‘twin’, someone who did not fear, and would take that image of the warm mother, and ‘throw’ it into the water.

So I asked him if we could play it out. I would be the twin, take the keepsake from his pocket, and throw it into the water. He agreed, so narrated ‘now I am taking the keepsake, now I am throwing it into the water’. He imagined himself going into the water after it. Then he felt relaxed.

This was a profound experience for him. He felt still, settled, and able to contact a deeper place within himself, that was not so troubled by his concerns about the future of relationship. As in the story, once he was ‘in the water’, he didn't need the memory of the mother any further.

It was clear though that several things were necessary here. Firstly, that someone else helped him - he needed the ‘twin’ to direct his attention to the warm mother that he longed for. Then, his natural movement was towards that place. Finally, he could really be with himself, no longer split into the part that wanted to dive in, but was hesitant, and the part that just moved forward into life. He felt the two come together. He had the feeling of connection with the deep, warm, feminine in his heart, so he was able to dive into life, and relationship, without hesitation.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Case #11 Father, mother, girlfriend

John was having difficulties in feeling solidly committed to his girlfriend. He wasn’t sure about the relationship.

He had a dream. He and his girlfriend were making love. His father and mother were behind him. His father was a young man, confident, strong. 

He was uncertain, he didn't want to make her pregnant. His father came forward, and he felt relief.

You could have a field day with this if you were a Freudian, but we operate differently with Gestalt. Gestalt is about integration and ownership, so we identify as all parts of the dream. They give us access to our own polarities and selves.

So I asked him to ‘be’ each of the other parts of the dream. 

As himself, he was hesitant, holding back.

As girlfriend, he was wanting with all his heart, no weight.

As father he was open, clear, healthy

As mother he was deceptive, shadowy, not wanting to be seen, hiding self.

There was an alignment - father with girlfriend, both confident, solid, and himself with mother, both uncertain, not solid, hiding out.

This made sense, as his mother was very cold towards him as he was growing up.

So we explored this coldness, and specifically, how he himself was cold in relationship in a range of ways. We looked at how this coldness manifested in his ‘cold feet’ with his girlfriend, and his difficulty committing.

We explored the coldness, what he called ‘emotional blankness’, his unfeeling side. He connected this to his experiences of depression and especially meaninglessness. 

Stepping into awareness of his coldness was empowering, as he could see it was about something fundamental he brought into relationship. To have a different experience, he would need to find ways to ‘warm’ himself up, without needing to get that from an external source (girlfriend).

This is based on the principles of awareness, Gestalt notions of responsibility, and being with ‘what is’. His coldness is not something that is going to change - its embedded in how he brings himself to relationship. But he can increase his awareness, and choicefulness, and understand how it manifests in relationship.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Case #10 - Fear, aggression, pleasure

Bridget was a very sensitive person. She had previously had very bad allergies, and was both physically sensitive to the environment, as well as easily scared.

She talked of how hard it was for her if someone was angry at her. She felt very vulnerable, even if there were just disagreements with her partner. 

She said ‘my body is not my body, I am numb, no sense of boundary’. 

So it was hard for her to be in her body, and especially when someone around her was displeased.

This was a focus on other people, and what state they were in. So I wanted to come back to her, and her agency.

I asked about her own faults. She talked about times she could be stubborn, or insensitive to others.

I talked about my own stubbornness and insensitivity, to make the relational connection, and open the way for a conversation that wasnt just about her being exposed.

She said she could make her eyes very sharp, silently pushing the other away. 

I asked her to imagine her eyes, pushing like that. She said ‘they are red hot; I could kill someone with them’. I encouraged her to stay with the red hot eyes, and burn into people. She spoke of an image of smacking someone in the face. 

She had been taken advantage of sexually when she was a young woman, and she had a lot of anger towards men.

So I asked her to imagine smacking the man who did that to her. Again, finding her own agency, rather than being the passive recipient. 

She felt her power, and I asked her to notice the rest of her body. She felt powerful, in her muscles, skin and legs.

Previously being in her body had felt ‘like torture’. But now it felt good to her.

We talked about her sexuality. For many years she had been sexually timid, afraid, and could easily freeze with her partner.
I asked her to imagine being sexually aggressive with her husband. The image appealed to her a great deal, and gave her a sense of how aggressiveness could be something she owned rather than disowned, something pleasurable, and something relational. 

We explored other areas of her life where she could find ways to be playfully aggressive - e.g. throwing a baseball with her son.

She felt splendid.

In this session we started with her vulnerability, and being ‘scared out of her body’. This powerless position was very familiar to her, and had been a feature of her adult life experience. It interfered with her intimacy with her husband, and her ability to be in robust communications.

This position of ‘being hard done by’, was at the opposite polarity to someone that impacts on others. Even though it was silent, nevertheless, by identifying her experience as the ‘pusher’, we could access her own anger.

The somatic marker of this -her eyes, was the key to deepening her experience of her anger. Visualising being aggressive carried this out. 

This is in no way encouraging ‘acting out’ of aggression towards others. Rather its about stepping into the opposite polarity so it can be integrated into the whole person.

The shift was dramatic. No longer did she feel sensitive, powerless, afraid, or dissociated. She not only ‘turned the tables’ on her aggressors, but she could feel herself moving towards being active sexually with her partner, something that had not happened for a long time.

The discovery of the possibility of aggression being playful, whether in sex, or with her son, was new to her, and gave her a different perspective.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Case #9 - The solution is not to give a solution

Jane has an adolescent son. She is having trouble motivating him, and is conflicted about whether to pressure him about doing well at school, or give him space to find his own level. He spends a lot of time on the internet.

She is asking me for advice, for solutions, and for guidance.

Of course, theres a part of me that would be happy to give her parenting advice - after all, I raised 5 children. Theres lots of opinions I have about what could be helpful.

However, I decline her invitation, and focus instead on her feelings as she tells me about the situation. She jumps around - remembering a positive experience in a parenting class, anticipating things not going well for her son. Its hard to keep her in the present, with me, and with her feelings.

I talk about some of my feelings when raising my adolescents. That creates some space for her to open up and talk  about being anxious and tense. But while doing so, she is smiling. I comment on what I see and what I hear, and ask her how that difference is for her. 

She talks about trying to put on a happy face, rather than always being worried and glum. To some degree this works for her.

But her tension shows that it also doesn't work enough. 

So I keep focusing on the present, on her experience, and talk about my own difficulties at the time of my kids being that age.

Little by little, she allows herself to feel more.  I ask her to breathe more deeply. 

She reports feeling lost. I suggest that rather than offering her solutions to get out of this lost place, I stay with her there for a while. I propose one minute, where we are both together in that place. 

She relaxes, and then starts to feel an internal warmth. I notice her hand on the side of her stomach, around the ribs. I bring her awareness to this point. Normally she feels anxiety and tension in her stomach. Now she feels warmth. I invite her to breathe this in more fully.

Now she is feeling more deeply, and then starts crying. She is opening up to be present with her deeper feelings. Both sadness and warmth are present.

This is the point of integration.

Finally, I offer her a parenting principle I learnt that was very helpful to me. Now she can receive it from a place of open heartedness, rather than as an intellectual idea.

The importance here is that rather than coming in with the solutions she kept wanting (and kept reporting that others had given her), I stayed her her resistance, invited her to stay with the present, stayed with her in her lostness, which allowed her to be more fully with herself in that place. The focus was relational rather than behavioural.

Case #8 - Distrust towards men

Gabriella had a 4 year old boy, and was 5 months pregnant to another partner, Jose, who liked to be referred to as her boyfriend. They had been together for 2 years. 

She felt conflicted about her relationship with men. Jose was supportive and keen on having the baby. He had another child to another woman who didn't live with him, and was 9 years old. 

Gabriella felt a lot of anger towards men. Her father had been aloof and unreachable, and rarely complimented her. So she felt both a longing towards men for kindness, but also a rejection of any sign of distance.

Jose was with her, but was hesitant to be fully committed and marry her. She felt a lot of anger towards him about this, and that distanced them. But then she was scared he would leave. Either way, she hardened herself, and did what was familiar - figured she had to be strong and depend on herself. 

The trouble was, when she did that, she distanced herself further from the support and kindness she longed for.

So I invited her to bring this into the present with me - I was a man after all. I invited her to tell me what she distrusted about men. Then to tell me that directly - ‘I distrust that you are going to be kind, I distrust that you are not just here for your own self interest’ etc.

She was reluctant to tell me those things directly, but I encouraged her, saying I felt steady and sure of myself, and could handle it.

So she did. I asked her what she was feeling - a little numb. So I asked her to breathe, open up to her feelings. She got in touch with her anger. I asked her to tell me again, with anger.

She did so, and then burst into tears. The fact that I was listening to her, did not pull away or react, but just stayed steady touched her deeply. I told her I felt my care towards her in that place. She stared sobbing. She was so used to pushing men away with her anger, that to find someone still there was a new experience for her. 

As she steadied, she said that this was a powerful experience she would take with her. Knowing it was possible to have her anger and her need heard at the same time fulfilled a deep longing she had had since her childhood.

This was not necessarily an all time ‘curative’ experience. But it was a profound new experience, and as such something she could integrate, and it could become a new part of her, a knowing and strength and confidence so she didn't feel like she always had to ‘hold up the world’. 

Of course, that increased ability to be vulnerable could then create positive cycles in relationship, so she could end up with a different type of outcome from the one which was familiar. 

The Gestalt process involved paying attention to the context of her experience, then creating an experiment to allow a new experience of relationship. I used myself, so I could respond directly to her, and thus establish an ‘I-Thou’ connection. 

By focusing on the therapeutic relationship, I lay the groundwork for the relationships in the rest of her life to change. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Case #7 - The giver and the marbles

Changchang was in her 50’s. She was a very kind person. In fact, she was very caring about everyone around her. But she revealed that she was unhappy in her marriage. She didn't fell fulfilled, she felt lonely. 

It turned out that although she had friends, lots of social contact, and was well regarded, she still felt unhappy and lonely. 

I moved into a directly dialogical mode with her. I told her - I feel very comfortable in your presence. I have a sense you are very forgiving, and theres lots of space for me to be myself, and you will accept me. She agreed - thats how she was with people. 

I told her how much I enjoyed this feeling - like being very safe. She nodded and said that was important to her. I told her how I could imagine the ways I might taking advantage of this feeling - of confiding in her, or leaning on her, or accepting her warmth. As a therapist, it was a little difficult for me to stay in the position of authority, or a professional, or giving to her, because I could feel my own need arising in the face of her generosity.

She nodded - she could recognise all this, though it rarely got put into words so directly. It happened most of the time with her in relationships of all sorts.

I also noted how I felt a bit uncomfortable in some way that was hard to define. She only wanted to give, and she had a lot to give. But was she able to really receive. Could she receive something from me?

Tears came to her eyes. That she said was difficult. 

I also felt touched by the moment. We stayed in that emotional contact, in silence, for a while.

But she couldn't take in anything from me. She was almost compelled to give. It wasn't balanced.

So came up with a Gestalt experiment. I found some beautiful glass marbles in the room, and put them in my hand. I said, I am going to give you a marble, one at a time. I want you to really take them from me, as if you were receiving a gift.

She agreed, and we did this. I did it very slowly, looking at her, making sure she was really receiving from me. She was shaky, her vulnerability emerged, she was crying as she took each marble.

She said it was the first time she could remember for a long time really taking in something from another person. She was always the giver, and thats how she got her recognition. But it was eventually empty, because the flow was not two way, and relationships tended to stagnate as a result. Hence her loneliness, despite being well regarded and having many friends.

Here I used my own experience in the dialogue. Rather than talking about the rest of her life, we brought it into the present, and the experiment was between us. So her new experience was possible, because I was investing myself just as much as her.  I brought awareness into a relational transaction that was normally automatic and out of awareness. By bringing my own experience in (rather than a judgement), she could accept it, and be open to something different. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Case #6 - Mark: Discipline and freedom

Mark was 33. He grew up in India with his mother; his father was not in the picture at all. He was sent to an alternative school, where there was plenty of freedom for students, but not a lot of guidance.

He came to Australia in his early 20’s, and partied hard, and worked even harder.

Growing up, his mother was always working; he hardly saw her, even though they lived in the same house. 

She came to Australia 5 years ago, and bought a house, which he now lives in. She is making up for lost time - they spend more time together now than at any point in his growing up.

Mark was smart, handsome, confidant, but just couldn't seem to get a girl, or at least hold a long term relationship.

There were many issues to be tackled. One central one was support vs freedom.

Mark had grown up with plenty of freedom, both at school and at home, but not a lot of structure, or support.

So I brought this into the session itself. I suggested I play one of his teachers at school. Firstly I played the role of a teacher who gave lots of freedom, and checked in with how he felt. It was a familiar experience for him - the pleasure of his freedom, but at the same time, a feeling of lostness.

Then I played the teacher he didn't have: giving him clear structures, but also giving him encouragement.

This brought tears to his eyes, and his underlying anxiety decreased. At the same time, it was unfamiliar, and he felt a certain rebelliousness. 

Next we swapped. I played him, and he played the teacher setting structure and giving support. This was very pleasurable for him. He felt more solid.

This set up a number of themes which we went more deeply into: structure, support, encouragement, anxiety and rebellion. I asked him to identify places in his body where he felt each of these experiences. I then asked him to draw a picture containing each of the elements.

I gave him homework to draw a series of these pictures.

He came back the following week with a major realisation - he had never been able to bring together these separate areas - structure was restricted to work, freedom to his partying, and his desire for appreciation led to a kind of manipulative behaviour in relationship. 

As his awareness increased of each area, he was able to start integrating these separate aspects of self.

Through this process we used the Gestalt experiment to embody and play with the different facets of self, we brought past experience into the present, we created new experiences to heighten awareness, and we explored these experiences in terms of body sensation. We used the creative process of art to deepen awareness further, and the therapeutic relationship to provide a safe space to bring all this into dialogue.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Case #5 - The angry rash

Lian came to me because she had a skin rash on her face which she couldn't get rid of.

I asked about some contextual information - her life, her stress levels, her healthy, diet, exercise, and family.

She was young - early 20’s, and already meditated. She had tried many health treatments, but nothing had got rid of it.

She was a quiet person, and said people often didn't notice her, except for her rash.

So I asked her to imagine that she was the rash, to describe herself. She said things like:

• I am red

• I cant hide

• I am sensitive

• I wont go away

• I am pushing people away

• I am ugly

• I am inflamed

I checked with her what she felt in her body when she made these statements. She reported feelings sensitive, hot, and uncomfortable.

I then explored with her each of the statements. I said ‘tell me about red’, and helped her to explore what red meant in her life. She told me about a sad memory of Chinese new year, with lots of red colour around, but her father did not return home.

Other statements also yielded stories. When she talked about hiding, she expressed how she wanted to hide from her mother, who beat her.

I asked her about pushing people away. At first she couldn't explain that to me - she was a very kind person, who always wanted to do things for other. But as we went deeper, it became apparent that she used being the ‘giver’ in relationship to not allow people close to her. To accept from others means to let them come closer.

The one that yielded a lot of power was ‘pushing people away’. I asked her to say that to me directly: ‘I want to push you away’. This brought up a lot of energy, once she got over her shyness. I invited her to push against my hands, so she could embody the pushing away. She did this tentatively at first, and then more and more strongly. All her energy came through her hands. 

I asked her what she felt: anger. So we worked with her embodying her anger.

I only saw her twice, but she reported to me some time later that her rash had mostly cleared up, and that she was able to be more assertive in her life and relationships.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Case #4 - Sexy and celibate

Tracey had been married for 12 years, and had a child. She was not unhappy in her marriage. She got on very well with her partner. But they rarely had sex.

At the start of their relationship, she had gone overseas for a year. During that time she had a very intense and very sexual affair. She ran away from it, came back home, and got married. But it took her a long time to get over the experience, and she had still not integrated it.

This is a classic example of both unfinished business, and polarities in Gestalt.

While she was talking about the matter, I asked her, what do you feel now. This is a classic Gestalt question. 

She had many, complex feelings. We went into those somatically, taking time to work through the sadness, intensity, and ungrounded nature of the experience. Its not necessary to go into ‘the past’, because the past is present, and everything that we need to deal with the unfinished nature of the past is available to us to work with, now.

We also did some polarity work. Her wildly sexual self, and her happily-married self. Her stepping over boundaries, and her conservative non-risk taking self.

In this conversation, I got her to exchange places as she played out both sides of her personality.

I also checked for the feelings she had on each side. I invited each side to criticise the other: ‘you are too wild’, ‘you are too boring’.

After some conversation, the two sides came closer together, and agreed on some middle ground. This happens naturally, with the right kind of support, and leads to integration of our splits, as Fritz Perls called them.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Case #3 - Joan the upset client

Joan was a client in her mid 50’s. She had plenty of money and two grown daughters, to different husbands. She was divorced, and travelled a great deal.

Joan was not happy. She felt a lack of confidence professionally, to put into practice the many years she had spent studying. She felt misunderstood by people, and unsupported by friends. She felt that she always gave out to others, but people weren't really that interested in her. She was resentful and stuck.

Therapy with her was not easy. She wanted solutions, but then she rejected any kind of suggestion. Most fundamentally she wanted empathy and understanding. In many ways, she also just wanted sympathy.

After some time, I felt uncomfortable simply confirming how bad things were for her all the time. She was reluctant to recognise her role, and any time I pointed out that she had something to do with it, she tended to become defensive, and angry at me for being unsupportive.

She wanted to take most of each session just relating how bad things were, and how badly she was treated. Again, I felt uncomfortable just sitting there listening to this, in some way simply supporting her staying stuck in this painful and unproductive view of her life.

Yet when I interrupted her, she would become irritated and critical of me.

Not an easy therapy!

I introduced the idea that what was happening out there in the world was also being reflected in our relationship. That the ways she didn't feel listened to or supported were sometimes things she felt with me. And that some of my reactions to her may be similar to the reactions other’s had towards her.

At times she was interested and open to this, and at other times she just wanted to go back to her familiar stories.

One time I introduced some things I was wanting to work on with her, rather than spend so much time listening to her stories. She was highly offended, and very angry afterwards. She wanted to end the therapy.

So in relational terms, this is an example of what we call the ‘tear’ in the fabric of the relationship. Its the therapist responsibility to ‘repair’ this, by doing the work of acknowledging and reconnection.

So this is what I did - acknowledge that she had experienced what I did as cutting her off, and how much this upset her and stirred up angry feelings. I acknowledged how I was impatient to move the therapy forward, and how I felt stuck simply listening to her stories. I acknowledged that the way I tried to bring more presence and liveness into the therapy didn't work for her.

She felt soothed by this, and its probably the first time in her life that someone acknowledged to her their part in the dysfunction in relationship. In that sense, healing came out of the experience, and the result was that part of her was strengthened.

Still, there was a lot more work to do...

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© 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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