Sunday, September 29, 2013

Case #26 - Giving and receiving

Tracy loved traveling, by herself. She liked being an independent woman. She went home every few weeks for a few days, and that suited her. She had her own flat in town. She said it suited her husband, because she had high standards, and there would inevitably be arguments.

She felt her life was her own, and now that their son was fully grown, she didnt have to attend to family responsiblities. She enjoyed her lifestyle and her work.

However, her concern was that she started to feel panic when she was at home, after a short period of time.

Probing deeper, I asked about her parents. She had a certain amount of freedom when growing up - her mother was busy with a number of children, her father gave her certain privilidges treating her a ‘bit like a boy’, though he was also affectionate to her. However, when she got attention, it was often in the form of pressure to perform, or be a good child. The crux of the matter was this - the situation was either-or. Either she had attention, or she had freedom, but there was no middle ground.

Next, I suggested an experiment to explore how this was with her husband.

We stood up, facing each other. Hands curled up represented wanting attention. Hands pushed away represented freedom.

Straight away, she became upset. She said she didnt want to be in the wanting attention position, it was too much pressure and she felt paniced. 

I asked how often she felt, of her own accord, that she wanted to be in that position, naturally, with her husband. She said she wanted more freedom even than she had. I asked how much, without a sense of duty. She replied - twice a year for a few days back home, and the rest of the time her own.

This was not my model of relationship, but I was willing to accept it might be hers. 

So on that basis, we proceeded. She only wanted to be in the wanting-attention position very briefly, then she moved into the wanting-freedom position. She said she felt very uncomfortable in wanting attention from him.

So I reversed the situation. I play the husband, and put my hands in the wanting attention postition. Straight away, she started pushing away, very strongly. 

She got in touch with a lot of resentment. She felt that when she was with him, he always wanted something from her, and that she was always giving out, never getting back. So her anger came up, and the cycle became clear. She pushed away, he became needy, she pushed away more, etc.

So I suggested we add an additional hand position: giving. Clearly she had no more to give. But I adopted the giving position as husband, and asked her to be in the wanting attention/receiving position. 

This also brought up a lot of ‘grievance’ on her part. She felt like she had never really received from him, and that there had been too many years where she just gave and gave. 

Nevertheless, I asked her to come into the present, and just allow herself the experience of being given to, once she had expressed her resentment. She agreed, and was profoundly moved by receving. However, she soon felt uncomfortable - the cost of receiving was that she would again have to give, and she feared that.

So  deeper aspect of the cycle came into view.

So I suggested alternating. I would give to her, she would receive, then as soon as she got uncomfortable, we could swap. She could give back, to relieve her ‘debt’, (and I would receive) but only so long as she was comfortable.

Her rhythm turned out to be quite fast, only a few seconds in each position. However, she felt very comfortable with this, and she felt we did not overstay in either position.

The experience was profoundly insightful for her, and provided her an experience which she had longed for, but completely given up on.

The signfiicance was not that this was a ‘fix’ or ‘cure’ for the situation, but that it was an awareness exploration, which yielded a much deeper awareness of herself, her context, her participation in cycles, and also provided a new experience. 

Such new experiences as come out of Gestalt experiments are not ‘solutions’, but they expand a person’s world, and can provide a new reference point for what is possible. They can also provide a healing experience, when something has not been available from the environment.

The process was one that started with an exploration of the field context. Once that became clear, we moved into a here and now experiment. To do this, she had to feel it was not organised at all by any ‘should’, but could really be about her rhythm. 

Using myself as participant meant that I could tune into where she was at, what she needed, and get direct experiential insight into her system. 

It also meant I could respond in new ways. I modified the experiment to include the third gesture of ‘giving’, as this was clearly the missing, yet most signficant ingredient. It also allowed her to have the experience of being given to, without the cost being too high.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Case #25 - 10,000 arrows

Mary had been divorced twice, and was now living again with her previous husband, father to her son.

I enquired about the journey. 

They both ran a business together, but disagreed on the approach. Over time he had started becoming violent towards her. This continued over a period of years. 

He then demanded a divorce from her, and subsequently sought a relationship with one of the employees who worked in the business.

After being rejected by the woman, he asked Mary to remarry, which she agreed to.

He then continued to hit her.

Finally, after several years more, she drew a limit to the violence, and divorced him.

Some years later, they started living together again, this time with no violence, and she reports her relationship now as ‘satisfactory’, and she is not unhappy with it.

However, reporting all of this, of course she felt much pain coming up. 

I asked how she survived; she remembered what her own mother and grandmother had to live through (not violence).

I asked what she felt. Her reply ‘like 10,000 arrows are in my heart’.

I acknowledged that she held the pain in, rather than inflict it on others, but expressed my concern for the effect on her.

I asked how it was, talking to me, as a man - she said she felt safe. 

I told her that a man put those arrows in there, so as a man, I wanted to be able to help remove them.

I proposed that I would reach over, and, very slowly, with her complete agreement at each step, pull an arrow out.

I did this, laying the ‘arrow’ on the ground, and acknowledged how she had been hurt so badly.

I checked how she felt: she reported painful feelings, but also felt deeply touched, and a bit relieved.

So I repeated this process twice more, each time acknowedging a different aspect of her experience.

She felt some release, but also some numbness in her hands. This was an indication she had done enough.

Finally, I suggested that a ritual to be performed with the three arrows, and her a range of suggested options. She selected the ritual of burying them. 

So I told her a story of an imaginary journey we both went on,  into a forest, burying the arrows, giving acknowlegement, and leaving them in the earth.

Her experience at the end was one of lightness, and of being really seen and heard in that place.

I asked her to do homework, to repeat the process we had been through once a day, in her mind, with three more arrows, and then the ritual of burying them.

In this process I first mapped out her field, to understand the context sufficiently. I then used the fact of my being a man to be part of the healing process. I went slowly, checking how it was for her at each step, and providing lots of choice. 

I worked with the metaphor she gave of the arrows, taking it seriously, and making a start on the healing process. The significant factor was not the number of arrows removed, or the lifting of the pain as some kind of permanent thing, but the fact that we made a start, that it made a difference, and that she now had a way to deal with this herself. 

The Gestalt experiment here was designed directly out of the materials and words she provided, and it worked primarily because of the ground of the relationship that had been established between us. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Case #24 - The Abandoned Infant

I spent some time connecting with Jane at the start of the session. I noticed the yellow/gold top she was wearing. She said she liked fire colours, they brought warmth, and that helped deal with feeling sad. Jane explained how she liked being around people who were enthusiastic and bright; if they werent, she had no interest in them.

I asked her what she wanted to work with - she mentioned business, father, and boyfriend. I asked her to pick one, and she selected business.

Whatever the person chooses is fine, and is most likely to be close to the mark.

I asked what specifically was the issue - she reported being self centred, and going after what she wanted, regardless of others.

I acknowledged the positive aspects of this in business, and could also understand how it might grate with others.

Then she revealed that she longs for recognition, and that in fact she was adopted. Her own parents had abandoned her under a bridge.

This changed things significantly for me. To reveal such an important and difficult milestone means that she is entrusting me with something very personal and very core. Rather than just taking it as some useful and relevant information about herself, and the context of her self centredness, I took it much more seriously, as a deep cry for the ‘recognition’ that she said she needed.

I then understood also her need for warmth.

I asked her what she was feeling, but she couldnt identify anything at all. Apart from her legs were cold because of the aircon.

So I asked about feeling cold in relationship, and pointed out  that this was the opposite polarity to the warmth that she sought in relationship.

But I didnt want to spend time talking about it. I asked her how long she had been left under the bridge. She didnt know, so I asked her to guess. She thought a day. 

Clearly, she would have got cold over that time.

So, having elicited this memory of the traumatic occurance, I wanted to ensure that somethign different happened. I asked her if I could come over, and she could put her head on my shoulder.

She said, yes, this is what she had always longed for.

So we did that, and I asked her to just breathe in whatever warmth she could take. It took a while; for some time she couldnt do it. But then she started to; her breath came very fast, like an infants. Finally she slowed down; I asked her what she felt, and she said, warm but her legs were still cold.. So I covered them up with a cloth, and we kept going. She reported sounds from her stomach. I asked her experinece, she talked about trying to lose weight, and trying very hard to diet. 

Cleraly, this was about hunger, for emotional warmth. So I asked her, and then put my hand on her stomach as well, and asked her to breathe into the warmth.

We did this for a while longer, and then, giving warning, I pulled back.

She said she had been to many workshops, but never had this response to her issues.

The Gestalt process was guided both by a focus on the here and now relationship, and also by the field context, and what was missing there. Everything she had talked about came together - the need for recognition, the desire for warmth, her hunger and overeating, her survival-self interest.

So I supplied recognition at the most profound level I could, mostly non-verbal, and at the level of touch; as an infant communication is mostly experienced at the non-verbal touch level.

Facilitative work in therapy can be useful, but the most profound changes come through relationship. Getting attuned to the relational needs of the client is key, and then finding a way to meet those needs results in a profound impact.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Case # 23 - The alcoholic father

Mary has ‘issues with her father’. 

I firstly spend some time making a connection with her. I tell her what I experience of her already - enthusiastic, open, and of my response to her, which is warmth.

I ask her experience of me. She feels relaxed, thinks I am friendly.

I enquire as to the differences and similarities, her father, and I.

The differences: he criticises how much money she spends; he drinks too much at times, and she worries about that, tells him so.

The similarities: he is supportive of her, and encouraging.

She reports that her mother confides in her, complains to her about her father, and grievances against him.

I ask her to identify feelings in her body. Stuckness in her chest, tension in her back and neck, some tightness in her stomach. We spend some time while she breathes into that.

Then I project myself into being her father, imagine what he might say.

Playing her father I say: 

- ‘I want you to step back; the choices I make in my life are my decision; you need to get on with your own life’.

- ‘I want you to understand that your mother and I will work things out in our own way, please dont concern yourself with our relationship.’

- ‘If your mother complains about me to you, I want you to pull back, and tell her you dont want to hear about it.’

After each of these statements I asked her what she felt; she reported feeling relieved.

At the end, I asked her to breathe fully into that feeling of release and relief.

She wanted to bring up another issue in relation to him, but I asked her to stop there, and just be with the feeling of relief for a while.


In this process I started directly with the relational ground, as I knew her issue was her father, and I wanted to explore the ways in which I was also in a position like that. By doing so, I could move easily to seeing just what her issues were, and whether I experiened them as well.

Differences and simliarities help define our relationship, and separate me from him, but also provide a point of joining, and keys to establishing mutuality between us.

Clearly, the family system is parentifying Mary, and this is unhealthy. 

So by imagining the position of the father, I am able to deliver a message about this, that will more likely have an impact on her. This is simliar to a family constellation statement.

Evidently, there are issues with alcohol, but we cant tackle them all at once, and the clearest thing is that she has to stop rescuing her father. So hearing from him the message of existential responsiblity can help her pull back, and focus on her own needs. 

The relief was an indication that we were in the right direction. The initial somatic checking ensured I had a base line, and could track changes.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Case # 22 - A Wolf At The Door

Matt was a successful entrepeneur. He had spent much of his adult life learning about himself, doing courses, reading self help books, and building his positive momentum.

Recently divorced, his life had taken a new turn, with a new relationship. His previous wife was very critical, especially of his financial and worklife. Although he was successful, and had a very socially conscious business, he was not wealthy. She had always attacked him for his lack of what she considered financial success.

He came to me after experiencing a panic attack at his workplace. He had been ‘paralysed’ for most of the day. 

A trigger appeared to be a conversation he had in the morning with his ex wife, who demanded that he instantly drop his morning plans and come to pick their son up because her car needed to go in the garage. As usual in her communication with him, she was harsh, blaming and critical.

However, a number of other events had also happened recently - he lost out on a big contract he was expecting; a number of large accounts were late paying; he was doing a lot of positive things, including writing a book, to build his career, but none of them paid immediately; a previous joint venture partner was suing him; and finally, he looked in the bank account and there was only $100 there.

I asked him how he felt, telling me about all this. He kept responding with his ideas about what was going on, his recounting various histories...but I interrupted him, and directed him to report his bodily experience.

He said that previously, during the panic attack, his whole body had felt in a straight jacket. Now, he felt vulnerable, frightened, especially in the chest. 

I asked him to focus on these feelings...he noticed heat, and a layer of fear. He said it was like a foreign invader.

He then gave the analogy his father used to give - the wolf at the door.

Normally when his confidence was up, he was ok to deal with challenges. But right now, when his confidence left, the wolf would be able to get him.

I suggested that it was like the wolf was not only at the door, but standing over him.

So I invited him to imagine the wolf was on top of him. He said ‘its saliva is dripping on me’. So I told him to feel himself pinned down, and hear the panting of the wolf, and feel its saliva dripping on his face. I instructed him to breath fully, feal the fear throughout his body, and stay present. I told him that he would feel a huge amount of energy in his body, and that if it got too much at any point, he could stop the process.

He did this, and his whole body jerked in spasms. After some time he opened his eyes, and reported, being surprised, that he felt so much energy in his body.

I then invited him to imagine he was the wolf, standing over Matt, dripping saliva. I aksed him to speak to Matt, and give him some messages.

After some time, he opened his eyes. All his light bulbs went off. He said ‘its acually a wise wolf’.

He realised that he was identified as a sheep, and from that position, he was weak, unassertive, vulnerable and his confidence undermined. The wolf was his disowned self, full of the power to deal with the challenges he was facing, personally and professionally.

In this process, I used identification, and especially starting with the clues that the body experience provided. I follwed the assocation of ‘invaded’ as its was clearly about more than just a palpable threat, he had been paralysed with fear - a very immediate experience of danger. 

So in the Gestalt way, we step right into the experience of danger, but with sufficient support. Then we move into the other polarity - being the dangerous one, leading to a healing of the split.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Case #21 - Wild woman

Cynthia had recently seperated from her 3rd husband. They had been together 20 years. She wanted to work with a dream.

I instructed her to tell it in the present, as if it was happening, blow by blow.

She said:

I am asleep on the couch. He comes and hugs and kisses me. He is telling me that he just bought a new house, got it cheap, with a big shed. It has a new bedroom and ensuite.

We walk to my house and theres a boy there who takes a large piece of timeber, throws it through the windown. Now John (husband) comes and his phone rings, he sayd that he has to talk privately now, so I figure he has a new girlfriend.

I then asked her to play some of the roles, and describe herself in each. 

Firstly was the House - she said ‘I am new, shiny, good quality, much better than the old house. Happy, large, spacious.’

Then John - ‘I am happy, want the house, its a miracle to buy it, I am strong, got a purpose’

Then the piece of timber that went through the window  - ‘I am hard, strong, powerful, the old house has no value, I just need to show its broken, make a big noise’.

Then the boy - who was 13 in the dream - ‘I am mischievious, strong’

Then the new girlfriend - ‘I am interested, curious’

This all took some coaching, as Cynthia kept wanting to tell me her interpretations of what each element meant. But in Gestalt we are looking for direct experience rather than pre-made judgements or associations. So I kept directing her back into an identification with each element, and naming her feelings rather than her thoughts.

I asked her what stood out most - the boy. Playful, out of character.

So then I relate it to her current life - what would be something that would be out of character?

Cynthia said - to stay out all night, have a big bonfire, a party on the beach under the moon, then sleep on the beach. 

She said she would like to bring John, but ‘he doesnt like to see the wild woman in I learned to dampen it down..he cant handle the expectation he feels to be a certain way’.

She explained that she tried to get him to come to rock and roll dancing with her for many years, but finally gave up.

I suggested that she stop putting herself on hold, and just go to the dance classes by herself.

I then ask her to imagine saying something wild to John, something out of character. I would play the role of John, and she could say it to me directly.

- She woudl tell him she wanted them to both give up their jobs, get a yacht, and sail the seas, wherever the currents took them, she would cook, and they could write poetry together.

I then asked her to say something every stronger to him, this time, something a bit challenging.

- She told him she was tired of his drug taking, and was angry at the last years she had wasted, waiting for him to do something different. She wasnt going to take any more promises, only actions.

I gave her feedback on her process - she was very clear, grounded, and in my non-defensive position as John (something he normally found difficult of course), how much I appreciated her directness.

I invited her to be even stronger, harsher, more wild.

She made some more statements about herself, her limits.

Again, I gave her feedback.

She felt very much strengthened.

In Gestalt we design experiments to explore figures which arise. Here there were many figures in the dream, but we went with what had the most energy for her - doing something uncharacteristic.

This translated to being wild, strong, and putting herself forward, both positively and negatively.

I participated in the experiement by playing her partner, and giving her feedback. This helped make it more real for her, and also created a sense of saftey to try out a new way of being.

Gestalt is about trying out something different, with support, focusing on the key issues that arise in awareness - dreams are very good for accessing these issues.

© 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.

Because this is aimed at a professional audience, the blog is available by subscription. Please enter your email address to receive free blog updates every time a new entry is added.

Gestalt therapy sessions

For personal therapy with me:

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

© Lifeworks 2012




Informed Consent & Rates


Gestalt Therapy Defined





Book:Advice for Men about Women


• English






Greek ελληνικά

Hindi हिंदी








Russian Русский

Serbian српски

Chinese 中文

Japanese 日本語

Arabic العربية

English Bahasa České Deutsch Español Filipino Français ελληνικά हिंदी Magyar Melayu Italiano 한국의 Polski Português Română Русский српски 中文 日本語 العربية

If you are interested in following my travels/adventures in the course of my teaching work around the world, feel free to follow my Facebook Page!


This Gestalt therapy blog is translated into multiple languages. You are welcome to subscribe


Interested in Gestalt Therapy training?

Contact Us


Career Decision Coaching


and here


Gestalt training and much more

For Men

Here is a dedicated site for my book Understanding the Woman in Your Life

The Unvirtues

A site dedicated to this novel approach to the dynamics of self interest in relationship

Learn Gestalt

A site with Gestalt training professional development videos, available for CE points

We help people live more authentically

Want more? See the Archives column here

Gestalt therapy demonstration sessions

Touching pain and anger: (40m)

Permission to feel: (54m)

Marriage after 50: (1h 17m)

Serafina - Angel wings: (45m)

Barb Wire Tattoo: (37m)

A natural empath; vibrating with joy: (39m)

Dealing with a metal spider: (51m)

Interactive group: (1h 57m)