Friday, May 30, 2014

Case #84 - Help making friends

Lilly was bright and cheery, in a genuine way. I liked her livliness, and her friendliness. She did indeed brighten up the room. I gave her my personal feedback about this. How I felt easily connected with her, how I appreciated she brought herself into relationship, and how in a place of similiarilty, I found it hard to find anything I could be critical of.
She said she got a lot of positive feedback from others about this as well. But some people thought she was a fake, and was in fact really hiding other things.
Now, this could well be true, but it wasnt apparent to me. I asked if she could identfy things she was hiding, like anger, or meanness. She couldnt. I was not going to press this. Perhaps she was just a genuinely happy person.
I asked how old she was - 38; and unmarried. I commented on how odd this was - a lovely woman like herself, not able to find a partner. She couldnt explain it, other than to say that she did not feel the deep connection she needed to feel to have a partnership with man. As I suspected, there was no shortage of suitors.
She also revealed she had few friends. Again, this seemed rather incongrous to me.
She shared that as a child there was a large age gap with her older siblings, so she didnt really play with them. The village she went to school in had no other kids her age, so for many years of her schooling she did not really have a playmate.
This made thigns clearer - she had not really learned to socialise. Despite her happy manner, she somehow did not know how to make friends. Nevertheless, this still seemed a little odd to me, so I asked her to pick 5 people in the room that she would like to explore friendship with.
She had a hard time choosing. This was because she wasnt sure if there was a naturalc connection there. It seemed that, like finding a partner, she felt there had to be some kind of natural chemistry.
So I told her she would have to do the work of creating connection. It seemed that she was in a kind of passive mode about this, or at least, did not know how to do it.
The first person she chose I asked to come out, and she would have a conversation with them. Sure enough, she didnt really know how to start. So I helped her - to tell them that she wanted to be their friend, and was interested in getting to know them.
As she started talking with them, i observed that she was giving way too many judgements about them. Whilst this could be connecting if it was just one judgement, and they discussed it between them, she didnt seem to know when to stop.
She also revealed that there was a voice in her head which told her that this probably wasnt really going to go very far. I named this the saboteur, put a pillow next to her, and asked her to separate out from the saboteur, so she could continue the process uninterrupted
It became very clear that she didnt actually have many social skills. So I helped her develop a conversation, guiding her as to how to find a meeting.
This was an example where she needed practical assistance - coaching you could say. There were many therapeutic issues that we could go into over time. But most immediately the kind of suport she needed involved being taught some basic sklls that she had not got a chance to develop in childhood, and had never been able to work out. The deeper issues could be explored with at a later point - and even the saboteur exploration could wait. She needed an immediate expderience of something new, and the ability to sucessfully connect, that the experiment provided.
Gestalt is oriented towards embodied awareness, and is conducted in a non-structured way. Yet is is also not solely driven by insight. There is a time and place for the experiment - for trying something different. The aims of this are twofold - to increase awareness, and to engage in experiential learning. Timing is important - jumping into an experiment too soon means one may miss the relational ground, and not have a really energised figure to work with. But talking too much can reduce energy in a session, and the experiment brings freshness.
It also allows me to observe the person 'in action', rather than just their self reports. This gives me a much better understanding of who they are and how to work with them.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Case #83 - You have a hard life. Now connect with me.

Adelle had worked in a government employ, customer service position for 20 years. She spoke of how well she peformed her role (she was popular with customers), but she was fairly antisocial in other ways. Her workmakes complained about her, and she didnt make friends there. She wanted connection with people, yet was lonely, had few friends, but couldnt seem to get anywhere.
She told story after story about how people didnt appreciate her, how they were rejecting of her, and how painful her existence was.
I found myself feeling more and more irritated as I listtened to her. Instead of feeling kind or caring, I just wanted to get away from her - to reject her. I felt uncomfortable and restlesss.
I said, 'Adelle, right now this is not working. Your stories are driving me away from you rather than drawing me closer. I find myself frustrated and not wanting to listen. I need you to stop 'talking about', and instead just be present for a moment with me'.
She stopped, but was very nervous, was not looking at me (she had been looking around all the time she was talking as well), and was clearly distressed. However, it was not a distress I felt I could connect with.
So I stepped into an authoriative voice. I said, 'Adelle, you have a hard life. You are not connected to people. You are even losing me right now. Please, come into the present, look at me, and lets connect now. I am willing, but I need you to also be willing'.
She started to protest, but I asked her to stop talking. I had to really grab her attention. She was so wrapped up in her story of despair.
She stopped, and looked at me very nervously. I spoke softly to her, acknowledging how I was starting to be able to connect with her, and invited her to do so with me. She struggled, but was able to do so to some degree. As I felt her coming into the present, I was able to be softer, and told her so. I pointed out that whatever else was happening in her life, in this moment we were connected, and I was available to her. She slowly took this in, though oddly, almost reluctantly. Sometimes people are very caught in their stories and are reticent to experience something different, even though they long for that.
Sometimes it takes sufficient energy, along with a very direct intervention, to find a way through 'the fog' of their self-story.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Case #82 - Looking to father

Ian wanted to work on his relationship with his father.
He was 41. His mother had died a year ago, after struggling with cancer for 8 years. During this time Ian had been her carer. He had an older brother who originally had volunteered to help, but after Ian started caring for her, she refused help from anyone else but him.
His father had been away working 6 months previously to the diagnosis, so was not there at the start. He had gone into business with someone, but that had gone bad, so he was struggling to deal with the situation.
So Kevin lovingly was there for his mother right to the end. He had a great deal of respect for her - she had been trained as a doctor, but when she emmigrated to be with his father, her medical qualifications had not been recognised, so she worked as a nurse. She was clearly a person who had her dignity, and who lived a good life.
Kevin did not have this respect for his father, who he felt had not treated his mother so well. There were many instances where his father's leadership in the family had not worked out so well.
Clearly, there were many complex issues here, that would take quite some time to unravel. The question was, what to start with, what was most important right now, and how could I respond to his stated need to improve his relationship with his father.
So I talked about myself. I explained I too had a very loving and wonderful mother, and a father who was often selfish and hard to be around.
As a consquence, it was hard for me to see my mother in a critical light, even if I wanted to find something to get a more balanced view. Ian concurred this was also his experience. I shared that I now realised that a certain amount of what my mother gave to me was about her need, and as a consequence my own boundaries were not always so clear. Ian nodded.
I also shared that my relationship with my father was never easy, and not particularly nourishing for me. Ian nodded again.
One of my own therapists had once asked me - well how much time do you want to spend with your father.
So I asked Ian the same question. This is when I discovered he was still living in the family home with his father.
I stepped into my psycho-educational mode. I generally do not do this - I like to work on a mutual level, and do not give advice. However, there are always exceptions. I told Ian that the statistis showed that grown men living in the family home were highly unlikely to get married. So I suggested to him that he move out on his own. I checked for his agreement. He did so easily - it seemes he might just have needed some poermission to do so.
I then asked him again about how often would be right for him to see his father. He said once a week, for  a meal. I asked for specifics, which are always grounding. Where? Ian said, he could cook a meal for him.  
Ian was so much in giving mode, that he didnt know when to stop. He had just spend a decade giving to his mother, and although his spirit might be admirable, it seemed he didnt sufficiently know how to draw limits. Further, given his attitude towards his father, to do something like that for him woud probably breed resentment in the background.
Ian agreed to my suggestion to go to a restaurant instead. Again, it seems he might just need permission from me as the 'good father' figure, to find his own need.
I asked how long the time at the restaurant would go for. Ian named 1 1/2 hours. I asked what he woudl like to talk about during that time.
He said that he normally would not share about his work with his father. But he would like to change that. I asked what else. He would like to enquire about his father's health. And then tell his father about his plans for the future.
This had opened up a space for Ian to build a new relationship with his father. There were still many things in the ground that needed to be addressed, but this was a start.
Ian needed a lot of practical grounding in these places. Thats something that fathers can give. But because he hadnt got it from his own father, he hadnt been able to internalise some kind of inner self care and direction. So by stepping into that position, I help him focus and identify just what it is he does need. This is like 'practice' for the way that he can move from looking down on his father, to looking up to him for something. By playing this role with him, I help him prepare, and also give him a sense of what would be nourishing in that place.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Case #81 - From crying to yelling

Jane was doing a process which involved surfacing 'aggression' - strong energies such as anger or rage, and bringing them into the relationship in a contactful way. In Gestalt we view agression as a useful force, necessary for breaking down introjects, or 'shoulds'.
Jane kept breaking into tears. When I asked her what she was feeling she reported anger.
This is not uncommon for women, who have been taught its not ok to be angry, so they move to the more permissible tears. This however saps their power, and is essentially an inauthentic expression.
So I supported Jane to come more fully into her body. To breathe down into her belly, and then to feel into her legs. The power was moving up her body - from her anger, into her eyes and tears. So I wanted to ground her, moving the power down in the ground.
I asked her to stamp her foot. She felt frozen at first, and found it impossible to do so. I continued to stay with her, working with her breathing, supporting her, and making it permissible for her to openly express her anger. This kind of explicit permission-giving is one role the therapist can play, using their authority to support authentic epression.
As I helped her ground, I asked her again to start stamping her foot. She found it difficult at first, but then did it softly. I asked her to connect with her anger, and let if flow down her legs, into her foot.
By increasing the strength of the stamp, I supported her to really embody her aggression. We then added a sound. I faced her, and matched the strength of her stamping, and the volume of her sound, so she could really feel met in that place of aggression.
This is the Gestalt experiment - moving from 'talking about' issues, into exploring the edges of unfamiliar behaviours that expand choices and capacity. In this process a lot of support is needed, and the experiment needs to come directly out of the ground of the client's issues.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Case #80 - A little girl, or a bleeding woman?

Dianne was a young woman, small in size, and with lots of energy. She often spoke in a 'little girl' voice, with a pouty edge to it.
She expressed her frustration that she wasnt getting what she wanted in our process. She had 'heard it all before', and 'there was nothing new here'.
Apart from the content, she sounded like she was throwing a tantrum. I asked her how old she felt and she reported five years old.
In therapy, it may be relevant and appropriate to work with someone at a 'regressed' age - to find out what they need in that place, and respond to it. This however is long term therapy, and is not always approriate.
I chose to work with Dianne in the present. In this dimension, all choices are being made currently, and what is important is the grounded reality. I made this decision because Dianne seemed quite stuck in the little girl mode, and in some ways, to work with her in that place would be to feed into a way of being which was not very viable in relationship.
So I asked her to listen to her voice, and to come into the here and now with me. I drew her attention to the fact she had a 26 year old body, she was a woman, and she was a peer with the group of other adults.  She pouted, and I drew her attention to her choices in the moment, again inviting her to choose to come into the now.
I asked her to sit up - she was slumped over, and to stick her chest out, rather than hiding herself. She did so, and immediately looked different. I asked her to breathe into her female organs - ovaries, womb, uterus. To really feel her womanhood; to look at the other women in the group and connect to them as a peer.
She said - this is really hard…so I gave her encouragement and feedback as to the difference in my experience of her.
Still, she struggled to stay adult. I asked her again to come into her body. It was then she revealed she had not had a period for 4 months. There was no medical reason - it stopped after an upsetting incident - the break up with a boyfriend. But this had also occured before.
I pointed out that her sense of womanhood seemed to be dependent on external factors, rather than internally solid. She listened, acknowledging this.
So I confronted her with what she was doing - staying a little girl, unwilling to grow up, be a full woman, and be strong and independent of what others thought of her. I told her I would support her coming into her fullness, but not agree anymore to her little girl helplessness. I asked her to speak with her body - to tell it that she was going to live as a woman, to accept herself as a woman, including her fertility and bleeding, and was not going to let external factors of any sort diminish herself.
I drew the process to a close. I wanted her to sit with what we had done, rather than continue to try to draw more from me. Her process was to become more self referenced.
I gave her some homework - to follow the phases of the moon each day on her phone app, and to continue talk with her body, affirming her womanhood.
This was a 'classic' style of Gestalt. Whilst I am generally oriented towards the comtemporary approach which uses a relational philosophy and practice, there is also a place for the more confrontative style, which insists on adult choicefullness, responsiblity in the present and self support. These can be harsh if pushed too far, or used in the wrong way or at the wrong time. But sometimes this is necessary as a wake up call to someone, if they are ready in some way to work with this message.
In long term therapy we have the spaciousness to explore the context of the choice to stay a little girl. There is always a 'good' reason for this, and to do so in this sense is not a 'resistance', but what we term a 'creative adjustment'. So we believe that its important to work *with* the person, including their 'stuckenss'. People mostly need support, understanding, and 'working with' them, rather than against.
However, there is a time and a place for being respectfully confronting. The challenge is to be aware of my own buttons in the process - what is organising me to confront, and what is in fact confronting for me. This is all material which can also be brought into relationship. Gestalt is not an exclusively empathic therapy, nor is it a confrontive one. The point is to find ways to achieve authentic meeting - that is what is transformative.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Case #79 - Are you safe, or unsafe? Or both?

Brian and Melanie were having a dialogue during a group process. Brian was talking about how important trust was to him, and how it took him some time to open up. He had to have a sense of trusting others first. Melanie asked him what exactly he meant by trust. Brian tried to explain - he observed people, watched their behaviour, and then decided if they were communicating in a way he felt comfortable with.
Melanie was not completely happy about this. She spoke of feeling uncomfortable with her experience of him - she didnt like being observed like that, and further, she wasnt sure of what might happen if she unwittingly offended him.
Brian said it was about feeling safe - that was important to him, and he took care of himself in that way. Melanie said - 'I am not sure I feel so safe with you.
Brian reiterated about the importance for him of whether or not he felt safe enough in the group to open up.
I stepped in, and asked him if he had really heard Melanie. He nodded, but reiterated his position of needing safety. I pressed a bit harder - yes, that was fair enough, but was he aware of ways that he might actually be unsafe for others?
Brian shook his head. I tried to give some examples, from my experience with him. I pointed out that even though I found him fun to be around, I imagined that if, as Melanie said, I unwittingly did something that he didnt like, he might just 'dump and run' - cut off, become silent, pull back, or pull out.
Brian agreed those things might happen - he sometimes did that - but again, he came back to his assertion that he would only doing that if he felt unsafe. I spent some time trying to open up the possiblity that in fact others might feel unsafe on the other end of him.
Brian could simply not grasp this, so I stopped. We had reached the edge of his awareness, and the limits of his willingness and ability to move past that edge.
What is relevant here is the way we can so easily see others agression, their unsafety, but it can be so hard to see our own. This is the way many people occupy the victim position - there is always a 'good' reason that they can find, in terms of what the other person did.
What is really challenging is to take full responsiblity, which means seeing the way one is at cause in what happens, and this includes the way we migh make others unsafe. To do so requires owning what I call your 'Unvirtues' ( This means to recognise not just your good intentions, but the parts of your personality and behaviour that are out of awareness, which may not be so virtuous.
To do so means to be willing to recognise that we are composed of many 'selves', some of which others may find difficult. People may be able to do this in theory, but in practice, when confronted by another persons's perspective or experience - as in this example - this can be very difficult to do.
In Gestalt we talk about polarities - the splits in self. One part is put out of awareness, and our search is to discover that, own it, and therefore be able to bring it fully into relationship. This is a difficult journey which takes intention, willingness, and support.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Hong Kong and China workshops coming up...

Workshops coming up:
Hong Kong 6-8 June,
Personal Growth/Spiritual Growth
- see below

Shanghai 10-15 June,
Gestalt intensive

下一个即将到来的工作坊在2014年6月10日-6月15日! 请传播。更多信息,请电133-1176-7286,电子邮件:huangjianhe@vip.163.com或访问

Steve Vinay Gunther : 澳大利亞利斯莫爾人,
何為靈性?如何去修行實踐? 它和心理治療的方法有何相似或不同之處?這些問題將透過審視所組成靈性和療愈的原則、實踐和體驗來進行探索和詮釋。
在工作坊中,老師將會把靈性修持的整個架構圖清晰地展示給大家,有了這張靈修地圖,我們在回歸靈性的路途上會很清楚自己在哪個階段,或哪個位置, 離目的地還有多遠。
課程時間: 6月6 – 8日(10:00am – 6:00pm)
課程費用: HK$4800
上課地點: 本中心
入款帳號: 中國銀行(香港)分行: 012-5511-00-9663-6
帳戶名稱: WE CENTER (恒●慧)
注: 凡在5月15日前報名者優惠價HK$4300
本中心傾心提示: Steve Vinay Gunther 是值得推荐給朋友們的一位老師, 課程詳情請參閱附件。

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Case #78 - Loneliness in relationship

Tad, a young man, described how he had been sent to boarding school from 7-14. He would see his parents for 2 months each year during the holidays, and some of that time, his father would be away working.
So he talked about his lack of emotional connection with his father, and his sense of loneliness. He mentioned other things like a fear of the dark. I asked about how he saw his loneliness - he both liked and disliked it - on the one hand, a sense of doing what he wanted, on the other, the painfulness of it.
I asked about his spirituality, as this can be a significant resource. He had done some Vipassana retreats, and had his own philosophy, but there were no strong faith markers, so that was not going to be relevant here. If he had some, I would have got him in touch with them.
I asked him how he experienced me as a 'father figure' person. He said he felt very comfortable with me, supported and able to communicate clearly, including on an emotional level. Although this could be expected, its often important to put such experiences into words, as it intensifies and acknowledges the experience.
I pointed out that he will likely pull the 'loneliness need' into relationship, and a too-heavy draw on a partner. So I invited him to notice how much of that he felt with me. Then I asked him to go around the group looking at each partipicatnt, and noticing how his loneliness felt in relation to them.
This was inportant as a way for him to be more aware of how he brought himself differently into relationship with different people, and how they also affeted his feeling.
I asked what he watned from me, and he said to be known in the place of his loneliness. I pointed out that he had areadly shared a lot with me, so rather than asking him more about his experience, I would tell him something about myself in that place.
I shared some experiences I had of being isolated from my parents when I was young, and then my adult experience of a lack of support from  my father. This was to both create a connection with Tad, a shared place of experience, and also to show him how I understood, and dealt with those things.
The quality of contact between us was deep and steady.
We are always looking to the 'here and now, I and thou' in Gestalt process. That is, to take the theme being described, and bring it into the actual present, rather than a global issue. And then as much as possible, to explore (experiment) with that, either with the group, or with the therapist.
Continuing work here may include getting in touch with the feelng of lonliness, and then contrasting that with the experience of being with another. But what is equally important is the experience of contact, so that he is known, but he also knows me and where I am in realtion to him.

© Lifeworks 2012


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