Case #118 - Aaaaaahhhhh. Oooooohhhh

Marlene came forward. This was my first encounter with her.
I said - “I am interested to get to know you, and this is a two way process, so I would also like to hear your curiosities about me.”
In Gestalt we are oriented towards a horizontal relationship, developing mutuality, and that includes the client knowing about me, as much as I know about them. This has to be done carefully of course, so that I am not inundating them with information about me, nor inappropriately disclosing more than they are comfortable with, nor doing so for my own needs. This is about enhancing contact and creating the grounds for deepening relationship. So Marlene made some observations about me, and asked some questions (e.g. about the ring on my necklace). I told her some things about myself, and asked about her as well. This is more naturalistic than the therapist driving forward with personal questions, where only the client is exposed. It also creates a ground for safety. I told her the ring was connected to my birthplace, England.

Marlene told me she grew up in the mountains until she was 20, in an isolated place, without running water, or any houses nearby. The environment was completely beautiful, and dangerous - snakes and other wild creatures to contend with. She grew up resourceful, competent and capable.

She expressed this with a gesture of her arms, open wide, and a wonderful sound ‘aaaahhh’. This was expansiveness embodied.

She then joined the rest of the world, and wanted to learn to fit in. It was hard for her, as the expectations of being a woman were that she was coy, delicate, and feminine in that sense. Her fearlessness didn’t really fit into that.

Nevertheless, she wanted to learn to fit in, to be part of society, to discover a different sense of herself as a woman.

In her marriage she found ways to do this. She was very conscious about playing a role, being dutiful (as a choice) towards her in laws, and constraining her expansiveness. I asked her for what that gesture was. She made a small circle with her hands, moving towards each other, and a sound ‘ooohh’, with the cadence going down.

I asked how she felt. She said, “patient.”

This is not strictly a feeling, but indicates a state of being. A chosen state for her. This was important to acknowledge, because of it’s importance to her. And at the same time, I was also interested in her as a person inside her dutifulness and patience. But this was not something she was ready to reveal to me. So I said - “when I see your gesture of expansiveness, I feel excitement. When I see your gesture of fitting in, I feel sad.” This is not a commentary on her. It's a genuine statement of me, as a separate being. She may not feel sad, but I do - that’s about my values, which may be different to hers. This is also contact.

In Gestalt contact is about meeting, often at difference, as well as the joining of similarity. I asked Marlene her experience in the present. She said,“clarified.” There was a lightness about her manner.

She experienced being seen, and met in these places. Just as she was. Further exploration and sessions could unpack much of this, both the context, as well as the experience. But for now, this was a powerful meeting.

In Gestalt we are less about trying to do something, trying to get somewhere, and more about being present with what is, with the person as they are. In this place, healing can take place, and new possibilities can open up, of their own accord. This we call the Paradoxical Theory of Change.

Posted by Steve Vinay Gunther