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RELATIONAL EMBODIED PSYCHOTHERAPY

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"The heart yearns for contact - above all it yearns for genuine dialogue."

Richard Hycner

My Story

Psychotherapeutic Counsellor

My name is Phil Norbury. I am a psychotherapeutic counsellor in gestalt psychotherapy. For the last fifteen years of my life I was designing and maintaining gardens and through that work learned much about change, growth, and the interconnectedness of all things. When I began my own psychotherapeutic journey, I was delighted to discover gestalt therapy which fitted beautifully with my values and intuitions about healing and becoming. 

 

As a gestalt therapist I am committed to treating the “whole” person - body, mind and spirit. With a focus on the present I support clients to explore themselves - whether that be their feelings, traumas, fixed patterns of behaviour or their dreams, fantasies and desires. Like a flourishing garden, Gestalt therapy is diverse, sensory and spontaneous. As a practitioner, I never know where the work will take me or exactly what will make the difference for you. Instead I trust in the process and try to bring my authentic, curious and supportive self to every session.

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Online sessions

When the pandemic started and my work shifted online, I was skeptical that gestalt therapy could be done well via computer screen But one aspect of gestalt that I particularly love is its creativity and adaptability. I soon came to find that while certain aspects are missing (physical immediacy, possibility of touch etc.) there are definite benefits. Sessions can be conducted from anywhere, in a space in clients feel comfortable. And the ability to turn off the camera allows for all sorts of creative experiments which might otherwise be difficult when face to face.

Flexible and affordable

I offer a fee range between £50 and £80 and we can discuss what feels affordable and fair to you. I offer a free 15 minute consultation online so that you can get a feel of how I work and whether I am the right therapist for you.

 

Please get in touch to find out more. 

What is gestalt psychotherapy?

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Gestalt therapy was developed in the 1940s by Fritz and Laura Perls with the help of Paul Goodman and many others. It is a holistic approach and has integrated so many ideas such as phenomenology, field theory, existentialism, Eastern religion, experimental theatre and neuroscience that it is difficult to give a succinct definition. That being said, I will try to give a basic overview of what gestalt therapy is and how it is used below, including the three pillars of gestalt: dialogue, phenomenology and field theory. That way you can see if it resonates with you. Every gestalt therapist will practice their own form of gestalt which will emerge from their own intellectual and embodied understanding, who they are as a person as well as the clients they chose to work with. I will also touch on the kind of person I am, how I understand gestalt therapy and therefore, how I practice it

Who is gestalt therapy for?

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Gestalt therapy has been successfully used to treat a wide array of issues from anxiety, depression and bereavement to personality disorders, trauma and relationship problems. The best candidates for gestalt therapy are those who are interested in working on their self-awareness.

 

There is still a stigma about needing psychotherapy. It is seen by many as something which is only for people with serious mental problems or people who are took weak to sort out their own life. I really believe nothing could be further from the truth. At one time I also had these views, but now I see having a good relationship with a therapist as a fantastic support. While therapy may primarily be used by people who are going through hard times or working on some specific trauma or issue, gestalt therapy is a wonderful vehicle for ongoing self-exploration, expanding one's horizon of possibilities - what I call "becoming." Schopenhauer gave us the metaphor of life being like a bubble. Of course it won't last but doesn't it make sense to blow out that soap-bubble as long as possible." I feel this way about gestalt therapy and am continually finding new edges where there is room for growth.

Awareness

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Most of you probably have an idea of what awareness means, particularly those who do some sort of meditation practice - whether sitting on a cushion at home or walking mindfully in the woods. This kind of self-awareness is interested in our present moment experience - what is happening and how it feels. This includes thoughts, feelings and sensations. In typical meditation these "figures" are simply observed, without judgement, and allowed to pass. Gestalt awareness is like this - and may at times be exactly the same - but it can also differs in two subtle ways.

 

Firstly, in gestalt we do not simply notice these figures from a detached place, but we often expand and enliven them. A figure such as grief (which may be a mix of emotion and sensations) may have been long kept out of awareness because historically it has been too much for the person to face. But in a more supportive environment, that figure may be brought into awareness so the client can feel their feelings, integrate this experience, and let go.

 

Secondly, gestalt is a relational psychotherapy. It does not believe that people are independent, detached entities but rather intrinsically social beings who need each other for our own sense of identity and ongoing autonomic regulation. Even on a celluar level there is an incredible level of co-operation and contact between micro-organisms and viruses. Embracing this, gestalt therapists often ask questions like: "How does it feel to be here with me?"  "How are we doing?" "How is it to be seen my me?" Much of our suffering and pathologies are relational in nature. The shame we feel about parts of ourselves only makes sense from a relational perspective. Therefore, it also makes sense that the healing work must have a relational element also. Unlike other modalities, this lies at the heart of gestalt therapy.

Phenomenology

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Phenomenology is a philosophical tradition that began in the early 20th century by Edmund Husserl. He was interested in how people make meaning and takes human experience as the starting point of any inquiry. We can doubt any philosophical statement about the world but we cannot doubt our own subjective experience. "Husserl believed that knowledge begins with wonder, the sort of wonder we see in a child's eyes as they experience something for the first time." (Mann, D.)

 

Husserl was a mathematician and tried to bring a scientific rigour into the world of philosophy. He thought we could study people's experiences from a neutral stance and thus gain knowledge of an objective world. However, such a neutral stance is quite impossible. In the therapy room, the therapist themselves becomes "an inseparable part of his situation" (ibid.). I may be tempted to think that I have an angry or resistant client in front of me but I must ask myself what part I am playing in that anger or resistance. As a white, male therapist, I will undoubtedly perceive a female, person of colour differently that another therapist of differing gender and race. This awareness that all phenomena has a context and perspective comes under another branch of gestalt known as field theory.

 

While I do not believe a therapist can ever observe from a neutral stance, that does not mean that we should not try to hold back our own judgements, values, prejudices and goals when we meet our clients. 

Field Theory

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Simply put, a field theoretical approach sees behaviour as a function of the person-environment field. Everything has a context and the meaning of a behaviour cannot be understood separately. Laughter at a funeral will have a different meaning to laughter a a comedy club. One student's B grade could have a drastically different meaning to another's depending on their chosen university's threshold, their parental expectations etc.

 

Anything that exists in the present may be part of a person's phemonenal field - their culture, beliefs, biology, goals, traumas, sexuality, unfinished business etc. In the therapy room the therapist also becomes part of their field. Acknowledging this, a gestalt therapist must also consider how their field shapes their experience of their client. If a therapist has been cheated on by a romantic partner, how will this influence their response to a client having an extra-marital affair? Therapists can and will bring their own traumas, unfinished business, shame and values into the therapy room. This is unavoidable, but through awareness and dialogue there is potential to learn and grow.

 

Another aspect of field theory that I like is the principle of changing process - we never step into the same river twice. Just because something held true at one point, doesn't mean it will next time. My son gives me ample opportunities to realise this. When I am trying to get his nappy on and resists furiously, I remind myself of this principle. I give it some time and try again. More often that not the field has changed in some way and what seemed impossible without force one moment, becomes possible another.  This may seem obvious, but as we grow up, things tend to become fixed in our minds and bodies. We tell ourselves that something is not possible for us any more or that I am this kind of person, I can do this and I can't do that. But all we really know is that such was the case in the past. Now things are different and we don't know until we try. It may be fear perpetuating this fixed belief or pattern. In session with my clients we may experiment with this, look at the fear, consider what might support the new experience.

Dialogue

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Dialogue or dialogic relating is my favourite aspect of gestalt therapy and has its roots in the philosophy of Martin Buber. Buber wrote about the distinction between the I-it and I-thou modes of relating. While "both are essential in the every day give and take of human relating," (Mann, D) the I-It mode has become dominant in the western world. In this mode we relate to each other in objectifying ways, use each other for our own gain, relate in fixed ways and so on. In contrast, the I-thou mode is concerned with being in relationship, rather than doing and achieving. Some may see this as the feminine archetype.

 

When we are in dialogue there is trust and surrender in what is happening together - what we call the in between. As a gestalt therapist it is my role to be available for this I-thou contact even when the client is not. Many people have been so starved of parental attunement, intimacy and acknowledgement that they are not able to relate in this way. For some it is too painful to hold eye contact for more than a split second. I have experienced this many times with clients and found that with an ongoing, supportive relationship, people can begin to heal their relational wounds, allow themselves to be seen and become available for an I-thou moment.

 

I would stress that I-thou relating is not the goal of therapy. As soon as it is made the goal it necessarily becomes I-it. Instead, these moments are like flowers that bloom when the conditions are right and that can be cherished for their spontaneous expression. In dialogue there is a continual flow between these two modes of relating. With my clients I try to stay in the present moment, experiencing the client with a non-judgemental and curious attitude. The effects of really being seen and understood can be slow to occur, but can also be profound - more so than any one technique. I can remember one such experience in my own life that was perhaps the starting point of my own therapeutic journey.

 

In dialgoue, I try to enter the phenomenological world of my client. My goal isn't pure empathy, but what we call inclusion. It is like tasting the other's experience - seeing things from their point of view - without losing one's own sense of self. I may share my perceptions of the client or observations that might be useful, and I may also share what is happening for me, particularly my bodily sensations. This can seem strange to people at first. You might wonder how sharing that I feel tight in my belly can help someone suffering from depression or anxiety. The point is to show how to be present with what is happening in one's whole being. More often than not clients begin therapy desensitized and dissociated from their body. The work then invariably involves regaining this awareness so that we can become whole, heal the traumas that live in the body and become better equipped to know what we feel and what we need and want.

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