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Posts Tagged ‘experiment’

egg timerWe’re often admonished to, “think before you speak!”, and most people, most of the time, would probably agree there is wisdom to that statement. This gives rise to the problem of thinking for too long, and never speaking as a result. It also gives rise to the problem of waiting for one’s turn to speak at the sacrifice of listening. Dialogue can disappear.

One of the main ways trainee therapists prepare for practice is by practising on each other in small groups. A trio of trainees take turns to swap the roles Therapist, Client, and Observer. I remember being client in one skills practice session, and discussing the problem of thinking so much about what I wanted to say that I never got to say it. The person being therapist suggested an experiment: for the rest of the duration of the experiment, I could only take a maximum of 3 seconds to think before responding. They would hold the time boundary and demand I respond if it got to 3 seconds.

This was a very uncomfortable experiment for me, bringing me into contact with shame and anxiety. It also became very energising and liberating. Most importantly, it was an effective learning experience because it generated emotionally charged insights. This is gestalt at its most here and now, when the current moment is itself the power source driving the therapy session.

The lesson here isn’t that 3 second thinking is preferable. An experiment I’ve tried with people who talk a great deal to avoid uncomfortable silences is to sit in silence together until the discomfort starts to feel too great. This kind of experimentation has its roots in behavioural therapy, and usually has the aim of increasing the versatility of a person’s behavioural range. But even this isn’t the lesson for a gestalt therapist.

In gestalt therapy, the aim is awareness. What happens if? Where a behavioural therapy would say, “you are unable to respond in less than 3 seconds, so here’s an exercise for getting better at that”, gestalt therapy says, “you are unable to respond in less than 3 seconds, isn’t that curious? Let’s experiment with that and see what’s going on”.

It’s up to the client to create meaning out of what the experiment turns up. And that awareness is a powerful thing, because once I’m aware of something, I’m responsible for what I do with that awareness. I gain response-ability, and even if I shrug and let that awareness slip away again, that’s a choice I have made. Generally speaking, I find it to be good practice to spend some time contemplating what I need to do with what comes into my awareness; some discoveries come before their time and need to be let go.

Some people need more 3 second thinking. Some people need less 3 second thinking. In both cases, awareness is key.

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Image credit: http://www.aliexpress.com/promotion/promotion_60-second-egg-timer-promotion.html

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One of my interests is the interplay between group culture and individual experience. In gestalt terms, this would be field theory. It isn’t just that there is a relationship between group culture and individual experience. Group culture actively organises individual behaviour, and this organisation of the individual by the group can be experienced in a wide variety of ways, ranging from a sense of communion to a sense of dominion.

Christmas is a good (and topical, have you noticed?) example of this process in action. I don’t think it’s possible to not be organised by Christmas in Britain or in the West generally. It is possible to make decisions about how one responds to Christmas, but the existential position of having no choice but to choose still remains.

This year, I would like to use the twelve days of Christmas as an exercise in exploring twelve different perspectives on, and experiences of, Christmas. I’m going to outline an awareness experiment below, and my invitation is for you to send me the result (simon@silvercatpsychotherapy.co.uk). I’ll then publish submissions as blog posts on each of the twelve days of Christmas.

And of course, if you don’t want to blog your experience, you can still give the experiment a try. Though by way of a self-care warning, if this exercise takes you towards trauma memories, I advise not revisiting them unless you know that you’ll be able to soothe yourself afterwards.

Christmas experiment:

Sit and be still for a few moments. Take a few deep breaths, let your thoughts settle. Let the idea of Christmas emerge. Notice what thoughts and feelings arise in response. Notice what memories and anticipations arise. What sensations do you most strongly associate with Christmas? What bodily sensations are you experiencing now? Sit with all these responses for a few moments, then consider what Christmas means to you now.

That’s it! It’s a fairly simple experiment, though it can seem a bizarre thing to do for people who don’t already have some experience of therapy/meditation/mindfulness. It also contains most of the glue that holds my therapy practice together: asking people what they are thinking, experiencing, remembering, anticipating. Asking people what something means to them now (the now is important, as meanings change over time). In a word, reflexivity.

Now, if you’re interested in sharing your experience as a blog post, then my request is that you write it in the first person, present tense to maintain the sense of now-ness. Other than that, any length of post is fine. I’m happy to post submissions anonymously, or with a link to your blog, twitter, or whatever.

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My name is Simon Stafford-Townsend. I am a gestalt psychotherapist in private practice in Bristol and Cardiff. My private practice website is Silver Cat Psychotherapy.

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Following my recent guest cartoon on the Therapy Tales blog, I’ve been wondering a bit more about exploring therapy visually rather than exclusively verbally. Something I’m particularly interested in is “otherworldliness”, an experience of not belonging to this world, or of not being connected to the real world, or of otherwise feeling to some degree surreal/ethereal/disconnected. This is often referred to as “disassociation“, though I’m coming to understand a distinction between the two; otherworldliness seems to be more of an existential stance, whereas disassociation is usually a much more focused response. Same basic functionality at different scales I guess.

One particular source of otherworldliness is the experience of parental neglect in childhood. I was thinking about how to express this in a cartoon, and came up with the ten frame strip below. I wanted to do without words but, to be honest, the lack of words created a sense of unbearable silence for me.

The Stolen Child, of course, is a poem by W. B. Yeats, and one very successfully put to music by Loreena McKennitt. My thinking here is that the old folk warning about faeries beguiling away children is actually sound parenting advice. The effects of parental neglect are profound. In my cartoon above, I show a child being left in a room for a day and a night. This is metaphorical. The child’s emotional experience is of a loss of contact, play, and love that lasts beyond its endurance. The abandoned child does not cry for attention because it has given up hope of getting any. Following that abandonment, the child seeks out a new world, and this is where the abduction by the fae comes in. People who fit the descriptions for schizoid and schizotypal character styles have often experienced significant parental neglect.

Loreena McKennitt’s song is beautiful. I recommend re-reading the cartoon as it plays:

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My name is Simon Stafford-Townsend. I am a gestalt psychotherapist in private practice in Bristol and Cardiff. My private practice website is Silver Cat Psychotherapy.

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Yesterday, I contributed a guest post to the Therapy Tales blog. “Time-capsule” is about one of the long-term benefits of therapy that isn’t measured by CORE and the like.

If you don’t already follow it, Therapy Tales is an ingenious exploration of therapy via the medium of cartooning. We are given a view of two sets of legs to set the scene of therapist facing client. This set up gives us the stable ground against which the figure of each strip’s exploration emerges.

When I’m processing a therapy session, I try to draw a simple cartoon depicting the session. This seems like an impossible task. Too much happens in 50 minutes; there’s too much information; there’s rarely a simple, easily defined focus; there is an abundance of nuance and possibilities. And yet, it is always possible to sum up a session with a drawing. How do I explain this? Well the clue is in the name: gestalt therapy. What I draw in my process notes is the gestalt of that session.

Cartooning has the potential to distil a large amount of information into a simple set of images. It is easier to hold onto these images than it is to hold onto the information from which they have emerged. However, once I meditate on those images, think about them, or play around with their arrangement, I recover huge amounts of information and discover new connections between them. I also find out a great deal about how I am relating to this particular person by attending to which events I give greater prominence to, and which events I sideline. The combination of operating non-verbally, and allowing an image to emerge spontaneously, engages my intuition and gives me something honest.

I enjoyed creating a cartoon about therapy. I think I will bring images into my blogging more.

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My name is Simon Stafford-Townsend. I am a gestalt psychotherapist in private practice in Bristol and Cardiff. My private practice website is Silver Cat Psychotherapy.

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This post has been moved to The Bristol Therapist: Resentments and regrets: working with unfinished business.

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Today I have passed a new blogging milestone: my first guest post on someone else’s blog!

It’s actually something I put together on Storify, a site that encourages the telling of social (media) stories by pulling in twitter posts, facebook statuses etc into a blog post. I see lots of tweets that spark off gestalty thoughts in me, so this was a first attempt at putting those thoughts into writing.

So without further ado, I suggest you all make your way over to Reversal experiments: @suey2y vs the seasick as hosted on Diary of a Benefit Scrounger.

@suey2y is the twitter account of Sue Marsh, a campaigner for disabled rights who recently led multiple smackdowns on the Government by beating them over the head with the Spartacus Report.

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This is a brief check-in from me to draw attention to a new collaborative blog I’m involved with. It’s called Sex Positive Parenting. In a dramatic act of doing exactly what it says on the tin, the aim of the blog is to pull together bloggers who are parents trying to bring up their children in a sex positive way. Consequently, the writing so far has managed to be both amusing and provocative in a contactful way.

My first contribution to the project is “what are you having? A baby (boom, boom)…”, in which I start to explore the importance that gets placed on whether an unborn child is male or female.

I’m excited about the long-term possibilities for blogging with Sex Positive Parenting. I find blogging incredibly supportive for my development as a practitioner because the process of writing helps me focus otherwise quite fleeting thoughts into something solid and clear. I’ve been wanting to do something similar around my thoughts and feelings on parenting but don’t want le chat d’argent to become a parenting blog.

So Sex Positive Parenting will be a great focus for some of the trickier parenting stuff, at the same time as being a chance to experiment with a different writing tone. There will undoubtedly be overlap between what comes up for me there, and my work as a therapist, so I expect some of those thoughts will take a gestalt form here.

In the meantime, I recommend the blog not just for people with kids but for anyone wanting to cultivate a more sex positive attitude generally. For twitter updates, follow @SexPosParent.

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