Case #164 - Building ground

Bethany came forward to work. She was clearly shy. I made some comments, about myself, my own slight nervousness, my interest in meeting her. She didn’t say much in response. There was a slightly awkward silence between us. I let the silence be there, noticing what I was feeling, staying present with her.

I invited her to ask me questions, so it wasn’t just me asking her questions. In other words, I made it clear this was a two way relationship - building ground for an I-thou connection. She mentioned feeling insecure. I talked about my age now, and that I felt less insecure these days than when I was younger. She said her father was my age. I shared that I did feel insecure when I had first started doing therapy, and that insecurity continued for a few years. She asked me if I ever felt insecure in my current life. I replied that I did, in small ways, at times; but that I was more comfortable with that, and with not-knowing all the answers. For instance, not knowing what we were going to talk about in this session. These self disclosures were all building ground in our relationship. I was being authentic, transparent, sharing both my strengths and vulnerabilities. I also was showing my own trajectory, from being younger, to the present.

I noted our differences culturally, and that I knew very little about her Chinese background. She shared some aspects of her cultural background. I asked her what she noted about our differences - she said, that I was a stranger, and a man. I invited her to ask about me, to get to know me. She asked about my curly hair, and I explained my Jewish heritage. We were slowly building ground.

She then made a general comment, asking about how unfinished business was dealt with. I said I was more interested in specifics, than addressing topics in general. This is the Gestalt awareness focusing process. I shared about some unfinished business of mine - again, leading the way in being authentic, showing my willingness to dive into personal awareness. This provided the ground for her to respond to my question, about some unfinished business of hers.

She talked about her parents fighting at night, in the same room, on a regular basis, from the time she was very small, until she left home. She spoke about wishing she could magically go back, and change that experience. I could see her emotion, and acknowledged the pain she felt. She spoke of feeling very alone in that place.

I invited her to notice her experience in the present, stay with her feelings, breathe, and connect with me. We then spent some time cycling between these elements. I would acknowledge her, and her pain, talk about my sense of connection to her in that place, acknowledge the difficulty of her experience, invite her to get in touch with her body. After this cycling, she started taking what are called ‘integrative breaths’. These have a particular character, of a more settled nature. They represent the person taking something in, letting go, an embodied shift.

We finished up. There was a whole world yet to be addressed, but we had taken an important first step. We had built relationship, dived into unfinished business in a way which moved towards healing, and she had experienced for the first time, someone else with her in that place in which she had been so alone. She had gone back to that place, and found some healing.

It is the quality of relationship in the place of previous isolation that is even more important than just the intensity of the emotional experience, or the emotional release. It provides the basis for new type of experience, where pain is met in ways which were not previously possible.

Posted by Steve Vinay Gunther