Archive for January, 2012

I look around the room at the couple of dozen people making a rough circle; some sitting, some getting coffee or tea, a couple of groups chatting. It’s coming up for the scheduled 2pm start, so I decide I’ll use the toilet then come back and call everyone together to get started. Off I go.

Returning about five minutes later, the circle has expanded and a steady flow of people is coming into the room. Before I know it, a couple of dozen people has become more like sixty or seventy, and I’m wondering what the hell I’ve got myself into. As it happens, I don’t have enough time to give that question full consideration; there’s an Open Space meeting to start…

That’s pretty much how the first event of The People’s Bristol 2050 got going. This is a response to another Bristol 2050, a business vision of what Bristol should look like in 2050. Co-ordinated by Business West, it “provides a clear statement about jobs, housing and infrastructure requirements to meet the needs of the area and to continue to develop and grow as the economic powerhouse of the South West”. As usual, these are the needs of the area according to business leaders; after all, business leaders have been doing so well in addressing society’s needs lately.

Whether historical coincidence or zeitgeist we may never know, but at about this time, Occupy Bristol had developed into two branches; one that wanted to move on from College Green, and one that wanted to resist eviction. The question of what happens to Occupy Bristol as a movement is one that will be addressed in a public meeting on Saturday 4th February, 2pm to 4pm, location to be announced (the facebook page for this is here).

Among the people who wanted to move on, the idea of developing a People’s Bristol 2050 to rival the business vision offered a new direction in which to aim some of the raw energy of Occupy. What these events demonstrate is that the Occupy Movement as a whole is a crucible from which many different things have the potential to emerge; it all depends on who directs their energy into the mix.

In more gestalt terms, the open space event on Saturday created a fertile ground with the potential to mobilise a wide variety of social actions. There is a buzz that I’ve noticed in every open space event I’ve been involved with, and I can only describe it as being plugged into a circuit of human power, rich with potential.

The downside to many open space events is that, as stand alone events, that buzz inevitably fades, leaving people with a sense of potential unachieved. This makes the People’s Bristol 2050 extra fascinating to me because the next event is already being planned for roughly four weeks time, with the intention being for a series of these meetings to take that buzz and develop it.

Except that there is no one centrally to develop it into anything; the idea is to support a process that challenges the people who turn up to take action for themselves. The idea is to move from a sense of “someone should really…”, to “I am going to…”. Instead of handing over power to someone else, the spirit of open space is to take a group of people and give them the minimum structure necessary to support self-regulation.

And to me, that sounds like gestalt therapy in action as a progressive social force.


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I’m going to be facilitating a planning event for a group of people intending to run discussion events for something called Bristol 2050. This is a development of the Occupy Bristol movement by people who are interested in ‘what happens next’, ie how best can Occupy Bristol evolve. The aim is to use the Open Spaces methodology to explore the kind of society people want to live in by 2050.

The planning event will itself be an Open Spaces event as that is the only meaningful way to learn an approach to group discussion that I will wax lyrical about another time. For now, what is needed are people who are interested in getting involved at this stage. The focus of the planning event is making Bristol 2050 as open to as wide a range of voices as possible, and how to make sure events run smoothly. An interest in evolving participatory democracy in a manner that is accessible for a wide range of people is pretty much the only pre-requisite; Open Spaces is very easy to get to grips with and is designed to be empowering.

If you’re free Saturday 21st January, then the training event will take place in the upstairs hall at The Trinity Centre in Lawrence Hill, 2pm to 4pm. Apparently there will be an indoor picnic in the downstairs hall all day and we’ll be welcome to drop into that.

Email me (simon@silvercatpsychotherapy.co.uk) if you’re interested. If you’re interested in getting involved and can’t make the 21st, then still email me, your support is bound to be helpful at some point!

I’ll elaborate on this in another post, as I see a large overlap between this process and the spirit of gestalt therapy. For the time being though, this is the call to arms, and I’d appreciate it if you could spread word to any Bristol-based people who might be interested.

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Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday to you
Happy birthday le chat d’argent
Happy birthday to you!

Today marks one year of blogging as le chat d’argent. There’s probably a neat autobiographical case study here on the undoing of retroflection, so maybe I’ll write that up some time. That seems a bit serious for a birthday celebration though; besides which, I’ve not written in any focused way on modifications to contact yet so it would also be jumping the gun.

So how to best mark one year of blogging? As I ask that question, I start to imagine a retrospective from three perspectives: my favourite posts, my most read posts, and my most discovered posts.

I seem to be developing a theme of threes lately, so will continue with that trend.

And if any of you regular readers want to join in with your favourite le chat post from 2011, then please comment; I’ll welcome the feedback.

My three favourite posts from 2011

Really, this would be better titled “the three posts from 2011 that I currently favour” as I imagine I’d list a different three this time next month. I don’t think I’ll put these in an order of bestness and instead take the three that most stand out for me.

In which case:

1) The psychopathology of boredom for the irony win of writing a convincing piece of therapeutic blogging on boredom as a result of being bored.

A) Zen and the art of improvisational therapy for contributing to my ongoing efforts to assimilate and blend my current level of understanding of zen and gestalt.

i) How to spot an end of level boss: a four point guide for seamlessly uniting Final Fantasy VII and Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces into a list based post that is changing people’s lives even now (probably).

I also like these three posts for having titles with good form.

My three most viewed posts from 2011

The wordpress dashboard provides a statistics section that allows me to indulge my secret love of numbers.

Unfortunately, wordpress blogs seem to attract a certain amount of bot traffic whose purpose seems to be to trick bloggers into clicking through to another site. Presumably this is related to website traffic generating income or providing an in for malware.

In any case, it means it’s hard to be sure how many of these visits are actual people, and how many are the digital footprints of some bizarre swarm of coded bots. The internet makes for a surreal ecosystem.

In ascending order then…

3) Weeping for Narcissus: a review of Black Swan with 205 views.

2) Gestalt essentials: the meaning of ‘gestalt’ with 212 views.

1) Frozen face syndrome with 224 views.

My three most discovered posts from 2011

The wordpress dashboard also lets me see which search terms have resulted in a click through to which particular post.

For my private practice website, this sort of thing is important because what I really need is to be on the first page of google searches for phrases like “therapy bristol“. One SEO tactic is to ensure that links to my site use the keywords with which I want to be found (hence my case in point in that last sentence). Apparently anyway, Google’s search algorithm is a secret so no one really knows.

For my blog this is more about interest and attracting new readers. So, writing my review of Black Swan meant I ended up with lots of therapy-oriented Black Swan searches (mostly some combination of “Black Swan narcissism”). Presumably that means writing about current hot topics from a niche perspective is a way of attracting bursts of new visitors.

More interestingly, that suggests much in the way of figure/ground composition and need constellating the organism/environment field with respect to internet search engines (I know, I’ll put it on my future posts list!).

In the meantime, it turns out that I can’t actually find out what I thought I could find out, so I’m going to hastily adapt. Here is a list of some of the more interesting search terms that have brought people to my blog:

“in gestalt psychotherapy what does it mean if x, y, and z happen”; brilliant, I commend anyone who puts things in terms of x, y and z.

“cbt can be used as a toolkit whereas gestalt is more holistic”; I’d say this is more a question of therapist style, but yes, this is certainly the stereotype.

“advantages of the monster technique – gestalt therapy”; MONSTER TECHNIQUE! One Google search later, and here is the monster technique for the curious.

“do you have a problem in your life flowchart”; one of those awkward questions.

“is black swan suitable for children”; as a public service I would like to categorically state that no, it’s really not.

“essentially, the gestalt approach to dreams is to become and experience as much of the dream content as possible. this is in contrast to an analytic approach in which the dream’s meaning is interpreted; either as your way of symbolically coding what you know to be true but want to avoid knowing (freudian tradition), or as your way of manifesting collective archetypal forces (jungian tradition)”; so it turns out that Counselling Directory google search paragraphs of article submissions because they have a policy of not duplicating online content. Alas, that there paragraph is from Dream a little dream of me, my blog post about the gestalt approach to dreams. I thought it would make a good article but got a Dear Le Chat rebuff email. Woe.

“according to gestalt theory, the menu of a diner for a hungry woman would be”; a clear figure against the ground of her hunger. Or a confusing mass of words if she’s ego-bound and unable to form clear choices.

And finally, the somewhat extreme question, “are you going to slay the dragon or is society going to eat you up monomyth”. Well, are you?

Welcome to 2012

And so that’s one year of blogging done, and the second year lays ahead like some sprawling landscape. The Queen’s Jubilee, the Olympics, the end of the Mayan long count. All these things lay in the year ahead.

In the meantime, let us eat (birthday) cake.

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Having previously lamented a dislike of list-based posts in my character assassination of Father Christmas, a so-called Facebook friend pointed out that I’d previously blogged a four point guide to defeating end of level bosses. Ok, so she didn’t directly call me a hypocrite but I think we all know the word was hanging in the air (and the first person to accuse me of projecting will get a prompt ‘I know you are but what am I?’)!

Clearly then, I’m about to present a list-based post. And, as this is early January, the handy topic of New Year’s Resolutions is flowing fairly consistently down my twitter feed. So, a gestalt take on New Year’s Resolutions it is.

Process goals

In simplest terms, a process goal is a direction rather than a destination. A process goal is ‘I’m going to improve my fitness’, whereas an outcome goal is, ‘I’m going to run the London Marathon’. And so on. This is highly relevant to gestalt because, as the mighty Yontef has pointed out in his equally mighty Awareness, Dialogue & Process, the goals of gestalt therapy are process goals.

More specifically, the process goal in gestalt therapy, according to Yontef, is raising awareness. That is very different to the approach of a therapy like CBT where the outcome goal is changing thoughts and behaviour. Gestalt, after all, points to a paradoxical theory of change in which change is the natural by-product of simply being (as opposed to trying to be). Simply being is incredibly difficult given how much effort years of socialisation have put into informing each of us who we should be and what we should do. Simple doesn’t mean easy!

So, taking process goals as a journey, here’s a three stage breakdown that, as an added bonus, lays some groundwork for a later post on the gestalt cycle of figure formation and destruction. I spoil you, really.

1) Starting the journey – motivation

In terms of the gestalt cycle, this is fore-contact, the stage at which support for action is generated. For me, the most important starting question isn’t what am I going to do? Or, what is my end goal? The most important question is why? Why am I doing this? What’s my motivation here?

Take two of the classic New Year’s Resolutions, giving up smoking and losing weight. What is your motivation for doing either? Because you genuinely want to or because you think you should? There is a subtle but powerful difference between those two motivations. Mainly, proceeding from a should-based motivation will likely lead very quickly to the infamous topdog/underdog split.

That is, the part of you laying down the law and demanding that such and such should be done becomes a domineering topdog that gets resisted by another part of yourself that doesn’t want to change; this becomes the underdog. Topdog and underdog then expend much energy wrestling with each other, which is all rather futile considering that both characters are in fact the same person.

As a general rule, if you force yourself to do something you don’t feel a genuine need to do, then you will sabotage yourself at some point. Making motivation incredibly important; find the things that light an internal fire and you’ll find that your ability to wrestle with the difficulties you come up against will be much more doable because you’ll be doing it whole-heartedly.

Ultimately, ‘I want to do x’ trumps ‘I should do x’ because the former is your agenda, whereas the latter is nearly always an externally imposed agenda, however internalised. If that ‘I should give up smoking’ or ‘I should lose weight’ is actually connected to a felt need of ‘I want to be healthier’ then start with that need. There are lots of things you can do to be healthier that don’t involve giving up smoking or dieting, so think of them. Suddenly, you realise, ‘well, I have always wanted to take up tango or karate’; great, so now take up tango or karate! Your health will likely improve because both are great exercise.

There is very little point in resolving to do something unless you have a genuine interest in doing it. Genuine interest proceeds from a personal need, and is motivational.

2) On the journey – experience

In the gestalt cycle, this will be contact, the stage at which action takes place and contact is made with what is being done. This is the realisation that taking a walk is as much about stopping to smell the roses as it is about arriving somewhere, and that makes the quality of the journey important.

This is another reason why doing something because you should do it leads to self-sabotage; the things that we are under obligation to do (unless they coincide with what we also want to do) are unsatisfying. They are unsatisfying because a significant part of us (our dear friend the underdog) doesn’t want to do them. And so we actively resist the very thing we are doing. Picture that supermarket scene where the parent is dragging a screaming child around. Parent = topdog, child = underdog. Is either side of that conflict getting any satisfaction from their shopping trip? Exactly.

The same thing applies for a resolution. What a great start to the year; ‘this year I will expend as much energy resisting something I don’t want to do as I will forcing myself to do what I don’t want to do in the first place’. And so your experience of that journey becomes stressful and unsatisfying.

My point here is that, having proceeded from a good motivation, the experience of the journey needs to be satisfying enough to sustain the effort you’re going to be putting into it. People who get satisfaction out of challenges are all about this part of the journey; the experience of being challenged is rewarding in itself. Most people get satisfaction out of some degree of challenge; for some, that’s diving in at the deep end, for others it’s moving slowly out of the shallow end. And if you find challenge overwhelmingly frustrating, then don’t challenge yourself! After all, lots of people could do with a resolution of ‘I will take it easy on myself this year’.

There is very little point in resolving to do something unless you are going to experience what you’re doing. For one thing, only by being in your experience will you be alert to the relevance of what you’re doing. For another, if you skip the experiencing of what you’re doing, it won’t be very satisfying.

3) Finishing the journey – destination

In the gestalt cycle, this will be the post-contact stage where the satisfaction of completion is experienced and the figure of interest is withdrawn from. This is sitting down after a job well done, sighing, basking a while in the after-glow, and then letting the whole thing go.

Eventually, you will lose interest in whatever you’re doing, either because the need you set out to fulfill has been fulfilled, or because the need is no longer there. This is absolutely the number one reason why I prefer process goal therapy to outcome goal therapy. Frequently, the goals a person has when they come into therapy change over time, or the thing a person wants to change is actually what’s holding them together, or it’s not the real issue but the one they think they’re allowed to get help with. And so on. And this is why gestalt therapy focuses on raising awareness, and lets change happen as a natural by-product rather than aiming for a specific change.

In terms of process goals, the destination isn’t the pre-destination of an outcome goal: eg, I’ll have arrived when I’ve lost however many stone. Rather, arriving is a felt sense of completion: eg, I feel satisfied with how much fitter I feel now and no longer need to push myself. Remember the topdog/underdog conflict. If you get halfway to your pre-destined target and feel that’s good enough BUT continue pushing yourself to achieve that target, you’ll be straight back in that supermarket with the screaming child! It is literally the case that you don’t need to do any more than you need to do. And the sign that you’ve done what you need to do is losing interest.

There is very little point in resolving to do something when you’ve already done as much as you’re interested in doing. If anything, the effort it will then take to soldier on in the name of the final goal will likely ruin much of what was satisfying and turn the whole thing sour.

In conclusion

As the Staff-Tow Uncertainty Principle states, the more we focus on outcome, the less we can focus on process, and vice versa. Setting process goals for New Year’s Resolutions may not allow for smashing ever higher targets, but it will allow for living a more satisfying 2012.

Happy New Year!

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