Case #202 - Integrating warmth and cold

I invited Sandy to notice her present awareness

I declared my own awareness - firstly of her - my experience of her warmth, her smile, and then at the same time, her tears, and at the same time, some tension she had mentioned feeling.

I also offered my own awareness of myself - feeling touched by her openness, and my feeling of peacefulness, openness, and being happy and connected. In Gestalt, it’s not just about starting with the client’s awareness, like an interrogation - it's equally valuable to start with one’s own experience as therapist - it opens up the way for the client to feel comfortable to share themselves. So then I asked her what her current experience was. Sandy said she felt fear…and then some terror.

I asked how those feelings may be connected to me. In Gestalt we want to take generalised experiences, bring them into the here and how, I and thou. This enables us to focus awareness, and work with it directly, and immediately. Sandy said she was afraid of my coldness, she wanted to see me smile. I acknowledged the validity of her perception: I said, “yes, you see my coldness, and it’s truly, I do have some within me.”

It’s important to recognise the grain of truth in what the client sees. Sandy talked about her feeling of a ‘cold wind’. So asked her to personify that, and ‘be the cold wind’. At the same time, I drew her attention to the fact that outside of the room, there was in fact a strong wind blowing - we could hear it! This was the perfect setting for what was happening in the room. This utilises ‘outer zone’ awareness - sensory awareness, of the environment.

Sandy said she wanted to feel the warmth again, to see my smile. Her hands were raised when she said this. So I offered to reach out, and touch her hands - offering her contact, but not smiling ‘for her’. She said her hands felt numb. This indicated that as much as she wanted contact, she was not fully available for it. I asked her to tell me about being cold. She said her father was warm and understanding, but her mother was cold, and still is, even 50 years later.

I suggested that she try a new experience, with her mother. I invited her to imagine I was her mother; I reached out to touch her hands again, and we moved our hands together. I checked her experience as we did this. She went from feelng warm, to cold, and back and forth. Finally the warm feelings stayed steady. There was a great sense of connection between us. We hugged - the natural culmination for both of us to this experience. I said,“I embrace both coldness and warmth, in you as well as me.” In making this statement I wanted to underline the integration of the elements that had previously been polarised - coldness and warmth. At this point, it was not simply an interpretation, or insight I was offering her. It was an echo of the integration that she now felt in her body.

Posted by Steve Vinay Gunther