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Boundaries & self-support

June 6, 2013

I want to come back to this blog, as the theme of boundaries, in the form of ‘containment’, has come back in my therapy process (probably, it never left!).

Self-support- knowing what I need and how to get it- is key in leading a healthy and fruitful way of being in the world. It can be as simple as recognising the feeling of being tired and being able to take adequate rest, to the ability to gauge how far to challenge yourself, when to say ‘stop!’ when you’ve had enough.

A month or so after my last post, I had a difficult, if somewhat traumatic, incident in my Gestalt therapy training. As an experiential course, and being new to psychotherapy, there is always a risk of misjudgement, be it from my or/ and the therapy tutor’s part. In my case it may have been a combination of both. I wouldn’t go into the incident here, except to say the theme of containment had a strong part to play there too; gauging how far I can go is part of my own self-support mechanism. Ultimately, it is my responsibility to say ‘Stop!’.

At its core, Gestalt therapy relies on the client’s intrinsic orientation towards health, so the client holds the key to their own well being. A therapist invites the client to test personal boundaries, as these inevitably orchestrates habitual behaviour patterns. Our habitual responses are in place as these were once necessary to deal with circumstances in our past, and our boundaries too have been set due to our life experiences thus far. These, however, may have little relevance to the client’s life in the here-and-now. So, to help access the client’s intrinsic healthy self-regulation mechanism, the therapist invites the client to becomes aware of fixed behaviour patterns and to experiment with different ways of being. To personally develop, we must take risks, and trust we would grow and learn from the potential pain (and oh my golly gosh, can it be painful!). Rather than the fixed patterns, we aim for a healthy and flexible response, and I love my main tutor therapist, Kay Lynn, saying: Responsibility in Gestalt is the client’s response-ability, i.e., their ability to respond in a creative and diverse way to any given situation. And choosing not to go deeper, or to get entangled in a destructive pattern, and to take risks, is all part of the process.

In my case, coming out of that period of painful recovery was a new lease of life. As I feel different, I see the world differently. This doesn’t become a Disney happy ending, and in fact, as long as I’m alive, the process never really ends!

The repercussions of realigning personal boundaries has had an effect on every aspect of my life. I chose to remove myself from my usual digital saturation, to have more one-to-one contact with a select few friends, and genuinely quiet time alone. I left Facebook, limited my Tweets and generally chose not to be in touch with people I don’t really know, feel good around and trust. That’s easier said than done. I put on a work hat to function with colleagues, and sometimes family, and to be functional and fulfil some of life’s chores and responsibilities.
Now, well, my ‘traumatic’ incident from a couple of months ago seems a lifetime away. And still, somehow, I find different layers to my experience of it in the here-and-now.

I had a drastic haircut. It’s seemingly superficial, even a cliche, and yet a risk in itself.


And right NOW now, I have two final assignments for my course, which I am ridiculously behind in, as it reaches its end. I applied to do the one-year option, as opposed to the five year training as a therapist, and I admit I am tempted to continue to the second year. I know I do not want to be a therapist, as I agree with Fritz Perls in his criticism of the limitations of verbal articulation, and would want to leave more of the creative exercises to stand on their own merit, without being explained away in therapy. And yet, I am very tempted to do a second year, as I feel I have barely scratched the surface with Gestalt.

On a darker note, I always somewhat distrusted doctors, as I believe they need to de-humanise a patient to diagnose them; to see the pattern of symptoms, solve the puzzle and cure an illness. There are exceptions to this, and I enjoyed reading a transcript of Dr Barry Bub’s talk on integrating Gestalt in medicine

In terms of therapists, I believe the latter process is reversed: a therapist needs to near de-humanise themselves in order to be totally present for the client. In the training, you work on your issues, so you recognise and contain them, and resist their entanglement with the client’s.
Both these mechanisms are useful, and arguably essential, and yet, I do not know if I want to be part of that system. I’d rather be the messy client, wrestling with life’s dilemmas, crying, deflecting with an armour of humour, constantly testing boundaries (I gave my therapist chocolates!), than the omnipresent therapist. Even as a client, I’ve decided to have a decent break. It’s also hard work.
On that note, I will focus on my neglected assignments. Was my posting a blog, mere resistance to working? Does it matter? Not in this moment.

From → Therapeutic

  1. leighah permalink

    Totally getting the not wanting to become part of the system of recognising and containing etc that goes with being a therapist and wanting to keep instead something of the ‘messy’ of being human etc! As a longish term therapist myself, with some Gestalt training in the mix of my trainings, I have been thinking similar things recently. I have actually stepped out of some of my work this year. Although I value some of Gestalt, it has also been the therapy modality in which I have found most personal pain (in terms of destructive not good pain) and also narcissism in practitioners and tutors….not saying all by any means! I have become afraid of being me, but refuse to be anyone other than my true self. But I find value in some parts of the modality also. I think the issue is the therapy world and being a therapist as a whole that I am wanting to be less involved in.Oh and I also want to add, you explain ‘self support’ in a most concise and clear manner…been such a source of bafflement to me and others what it really means in Gestalt…and you nailed it 😉 Thankyou for the post.

    • Dear Leighah, thank you for sharing your thoughts and some of your experience in Gestalt and therapy. I am glad to hear this post resonated, and I am sorry to hear of your pain- I suppose this is what makes us human!- I’ve recently gone back for more Gestalt therapy training, and although I don’t want to speak too soon, I have felt more robust in taking care of myself, and able to choose when and how much to be present and available with others… I don’t have much experience in other therapeutic modalities, although I have worked with integrative arts therapist, other body-centered therapists and such, I can’t quite compare yet (in terms of pain and pleasures). I think I hear what you mean by ‘narcissism’ of tutors and practitioners, and I wonder if that’s partly due to relative inclusion of such facilitators in group and one-to-one processes..? I personally enjoy witnessing facilitators, and hearing where they are, as I can relate to them more on a human level. I feel alighted when anyone leading a session steps too far from the client/s, for the sake of supposed ‘objectivity’, when I know they can be no more objective than I am, but merely hold a different perspective. I want to hear some of the latter perspective, in as much as the facilitator is willing to share. Perhaps for individuals who abuse this, to showcase their own authority and personal style, can be somewhat narcissistic. Perls-y himself was an example of the showoff Gestaltist, wasn’t he?

      I’ll stop rambling, to say thank you again for making time to share your thoughts. I wish you a fruitful time away from the therapy world, and would love to hear what this new space presents. Sounds like your authentic way of being will take you on a growthful and satisfying path. I hope so at least 🙂

      Self-love and support, and my very best for the end of 2014 and new insightful figures for 2015!

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