Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Case #125 - Fear turns to excitement

Martin came with the issue that during the group meditation period, he had felt some tension in his stomach. I enquired whether this queasy feeling was familiar - it was not usual.
He wondered if it was related to being a young child, and having a medical emergency, which his mother told him about later.
I asked him to go into the feeling in his body - it was a shaky feeling. As he went into it, his face softened, tears were in his eyes, and he said he could hear his grandfather and father's voices reassuring him.
I asked then about his family context -his field. He said he was loved and supported by his parents, and older siblings. He had a healthy and loving childhood experience.
So fear was unusual for him in his current life.
This was somewhat unusual in therapy, and meant that his fearful feelings in his stomach had a different meaning than what it may normally mean for someone with trauma and unfinished business.
He said he was not a big risk taker, leading a comfortable and settled and happy life, both at work and home.
This sounded great…except that the feeling in his stomach indicated that perhaps he wanted something a bit more. I explained that fear is the precursor to the experience of excitement, which is what happens when fear is integrated into one's being.
So back to the fear, which I suspected indicated a yearning for more risk, and thus more adventure in his life. He agreed.
So I asked him to give me a vision in three areas - personal, work, and relationship.
His personal vision was being on top of a tall mountain he had climbed.
His relationship vision was a long road trip in a motorhome with his family.
His work vision was creating his own company, based on a progressive vision.
As he pictured these things, he again had tears in his eyes, and reported feeling deeply grateful to life.
I explained about how support helped convert risk, anxiety and fear, into excitement, and we explored what kind of support he might need to enable these things to happen.
This case shows how important it is to approach people's experience from a phenomenological stance - not pre-interpreting what any particular symptom means. We do this by bracketing presuppostions, theories etc, and being present with the meaning it has for the client.
The result is the client feels heard, seen and understood, and we can know more precisely just where to work with them. It would have been a waste of time going into his family background to try to search for a source of the fear. It was evident he had a healthy upbringing, and there was nothing that he displayed to suggest that he was avoiding something. This allows us to work more with the present, moving into the future. Gestalt work is just as much about the future of the field, as the past of the field, both of which are worked with in the present.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Case #124 - Meeting in spite, hate and acceptance

Abby spoke sharply. She was annoyed by another man in the group, and the way he expressed his feelings. She was critical, and somewhat condescending.
I was interested in her energy, more than the words. There was a sharpness, and liveliness about her manner that I wanted to engage with. I asked her to personalise the feelings. She admitted to feeling sadistic towards me. And she showed me a particular action with her hands. I was feeling quite engaged with her - her explicit willingness to show her aggression, and authentically express it.
I did not feel defensive at all. Instead I was interested in her energy, and wanted to meet her in that place. I invited her to show me again the aggressive action towards me, using movement with her hands.
I invited her to stand up, so we could both mobilise and move some more. I asked her to show me with her face and hands what she felt. She did so, but also used sharp angry words. I ignored the words, and matched the energy - she showed me a hostile face, so I made a hostile face back. I was careful to match her as exactly as I could, neither less, nor more. Every nuance, every move I reflected back. Both in terms of expression, and the anger behind it. I did not feel angry towards her, but I summoned my angry feelings and used them to meet her. When she showed spite, I showed spite back. I encouraged her to put less emphasis on the words, but she sill wanted to use them. She amped up - with stronger, more hateful words, and energy, and I kept pace with her - not using any words back, only energetic meetings.
This escalated. She wanted to hit, so I got a pillow and encouraged her to hit it. But this wasn't enough, she really was furious, and hateful, and voiced hate at the human race. I asked her to personalise that, to whom exactly what she so hating and despising. She said - 'father, mother'. But she kept speaking about the human race - two eyes, two legs. I kept drawing her into the present - 'I have two eyes and two legs'.
Then she went inwards, talking about hating herself as a human, wanting to stab herself. She clutched her hands at her chest. I pointed there and asked what she was feeling. It took several times repeating my question until she spoke about how much she just wanted to kill herself - a retroflection of her energy and hatred. I kept pointing to where she was clutching her chest, and asked her about the feeling. Tears appeared in her eyes, and her hatred and anger towards me was now mixed with other feelings. She softened, there was an opening of vulnerability.
At this point, I moved forward and held her. I could see that the hatred was never ending, and that no amount of matching it was going to satisfy her. I could see both the window of vulnerability, and could also see she was out of control. So I held her, and allowed her to both cry and rage. She was clutching onto me with one hand. The other hand, I encouraged her to hit my back. She did this, as well as squeezing me aggressively with that hand. It did not hurt me. I was fully grounded in the moment, in my body, with all my resources available.
Then she started to soften and sob. She cried 'father', and was wracked with intense emotion. I supported this for some time, and then asked her to look at me. She could hardly do so. I wanted to bring her into contact, with what was available in the present.
She went back into her sobbing, and after holding her, I again asked her to look at me. We did this several time. Finally, I could feel her letting go into me, and held her, with the same firmness she had been grabbing onto me. After some time, I sat down with her, as she was now quieter, and allowed her to curl up and be held by me. She became completely quiet and calm, and I asked her to really take in the nourishment available to her in this place.
This process entailed the Gestalt element of relationship. Dialogue was less about words, and more about energy, emotion, and meeting. By staying with her, and meeting her in each place she went to, she was able to move forward. I originally moved from her words, to the experiment, which involved meeting her anger. To stay with the content of her words would have been distracting from the relational interaction going on underneath. Gestalt is always oriented towards process, towards embodied energy, and towards bringing things as far as possible into the present therapeutic relationship. As I went down this track, she was able to move into a place of openess, and then taking in the nourishment she had been wanting but pushing away previously. By representing this taking in/pushing away, with her two hands, she was able to move past that impasse place.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Case #123 - In search of the elusive feelings

Lenny wanted to feel. He was not in touch with his feelings, at all.
I asked at what point he had lost contact with his feelings. This is a field oriented question, paying attention to context.
He said before the age of 30 he felt them more. I asked what happened when he was 30: he got married; for 3 years. We were now 13 years later, and he had not remarried.
Clearly, something happened at this point. I asked him what - it seemed that the trauma of whatever had happened in the marriage had somehow been associated with him cutting off from his feelings.
I said - 'so its a woman that hurt you'; he agreed.
So I asked a woman to come up from the group. I found the right distance for her to sit. We experimented with different distances, and at each distance, I asked him how he felt. He was able to differentiate. If she was too distant,  he couldn't sense her at all. Too close, and he felt some pressure.
I then invited him to notice how he felt sitting there with her. He reported a sense of wanting support. This was significant for him, as he had explained that normally he was a person who supported everyone else - one of the reasons he suspected that he had distanced himself from feeling.
So I asked him to express this to her directly - that he wanted support from her. I asked how she felt when she heard this. She actually didn't feel much. I could see this was because she was not really taking the process of the experiment - or him and his feelings - very seriously. He did not have any big dramatics, no strong feelings, so it was hard for her to respond. When men have buried their feelings, sometimes its hard for women to perceive anything there.
So I explained to her that this was actually a very vulnerable process for him, to sit in front of a woman, that he had wounds that meant he distanced from feelings, that he found it hard to express himself, and that it was hard for him to ask for support.
I did this as an intervention to support him, and to support her to move into her own feelings. Somehow, she seemed to be also distancing from her feelings - perhaps affected by the field effect as we call it in Gestalt.
She reported wanting to support him and feeling kind towards him.
So, back and forth - I asked him what he felt on the other end of her intentions and feelings... then to express that to her... then what she felt hearing that... and to express that to him. In other words, I supported a dialogue between them.
In this process a variety of things happened. He moved towards receiving support from her, then automatically found himself wanting to give support. She moved away from offering support as he became less receptive, then back towards him as he again expressed his vulnerability and need. This was the dance of relationship, unfolding before our eyes.
At each juncture, I asked him how he felt. This was very hard for him to identify and express, but he was able to notice small changes -  like feeling tense, or feeling strong, or his heart beating, or feeling 'swollen' though he couldn't necessarily identify the specific feelings.
I then asked him to hold out one hand as the giving one, the other hand as the receiving one. Then I asked her to hold both his hands, and for him to give with one, and receive with the other. This was another version of the Gestalt experiment, that expressed what was happening in the process, and embodied it, to help focus the figure of awareness.
He could do this for a little while, but then reported feeling dizzy, and 'swollen'. So I asked her to sit back down, and did a little more exploration with him. However, he was not able to identify the feelings any further. The dizzy showed he was actually feeling too much to handle it. And the swollen indicated that he was very full of feelings. But as he was unable to identify them, it was time to stop. As homework I asked him to continue to monitor his feelings, and see what he could identify over time.

© 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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