A Deeper Kind of Healing: How Getting Under the Surface Helps us Break Down our Walls

Written by Child & Family Therapist Holly Gilbert, MA, LPC

This Spring, I performed the dreaded task of weeding my garden. With my gloves on, I dug into the dirt, determined to pull the entire root up from the ground. There were several times that I was unsuccessful and would only grab the stem. I noticed that after some time, the weeds that were not fully uprooted grew back. This got me thinking about superficial care—when we only treat the surface layer of issues and expect long term results: when we confuse convenience with a cure.

I realized that in most areas of our life we are encouraged to address underlying issues; however, when it comes to mental health, we simply focus on symptoms. Why is this? If we knew we had a termite problem, we wouldn’t solely patch the holes. And we certainly would never prescribed surface level treatment to our landscaping. Yet, when it comes to our mental health we often are seeking to treat issues with skills, techniques, and easy fixes.  So, what exactly is the price we pay for this surface level approach?

  • We fail to go deeper into the therapeutic process and, therefore, focus on the breadth of solutions rather than the depth of the hurt. Superficial care is often more concerned with the outcome than the onset of issues. However, in Gestalt therapy, we recognize that instrumental change can only take place when personal insight is met with an awareness to present experiences.

For example, let’s say Mark comes into my office and shares that he is struggling with social anxiety. During our interactions, I notice that he breaks eye contact whenever I initiate a conversation. I begin to gently point this out to him in order to facilitate some awareness. Eventually, we explore his upbringing and the more volatile messages he heard in his home. As a result of his upbringing, he learned that to withdraw from social interactions—through means such as avoiding eye contact—was self-protective.

This past exploration deeply informed Mark’s present experience and will help produce more sustainable, long-term change. From the onset, I could have prescribed skills to address Mark’s anxiety or improve his level of intimacy. However, I believe that when we get to a person’s “truth” three things happen: 1) they develop a deeper layer of awareness to their hurt; 2) they encounter a greater sense of power over their experiences; and 3) they experience an increased level of investment in their change process. All of these things lead to a more sustainable and deeper process of healing.

  • We begin to view the person as a problem to be fixed. In our modern era, therapy has become less about the root and more about the results and this is detrimental to both how we view the healing process as well as how we view the person in general. In a conversation I had earlier this week about superficial care, I came to the realization that when we assume that people can be “fixed” through a series of tools, there is a level of dehumanization that takes place. To an individual who has already experienced a loss of power—whether through trauma, anxiety, or “normal” life transitions—this is unhelpful and can be detrimental to their sense of self.

In Gestalt therapy, we focus on the entire person being present to themselves as well as the therapeutic relationship and encounter. We expect and encourage the person to grow deeper in their awareness and rely on them to share their insight into their experience. I firmly believe that if therapy is not used as a platform that strengthens a person’s sense of empowerment rather than diminish it, we will not only impact their sense of self but also compromise their ability to encounter past, present and future experiences.

As someone who has experienced both the superficial care as well as the long term, sustainable care that promotes awareness, insight, and investment in the change process, I advocate for the latter. It is a privilege to spend my days sitting across from young men and women who have chosen to dive deeper than their surface level issues and invest in a longer but more sustainable therapeutic process. After all, don’t we owe it to ourselves to benefit from the same depth of healing that we offer our wood floors and our garden beds?

All Change is Incremental…

…and sometimes change is large, noisy, aggressive, and intense.  This is something we have all dealt with lately in our Gestalt community here in Columbus.  Losing our leader, mentor, trainer, supervisor, and friend, Norman Shub, left a large gap in our hearts.  It also threw us into a tailspin of organizing for the future while honoring the past and the legacy Norman had created in 45 years of changing people’s lives.

As most know, we have moved offices due to being in a space that became too large for us to manage.  We are happily adjusting to our new office space and supporting each other through the ups and downs that come with major life changes.  The special ability to support each other was instilled in us from working with Norman and it has helped us become a close knit group of therapists that know how to love and support each other.

What we’ve learned from Norman and Gestalt Therapy has also helped us be the best therapists we can be.  We are here to serve the community and continue the legacy of Gestalt Therapy and Norman Shub, but in our own, authentic way. We are constantly learning and constantly growing. We are excited about the future and everything that is to come.

By Matt Dunatchik, MSEd., LPCC

Gestalt Therapy in Columbus Ohio

From Band Aids to Foundational Change: The Power of Gestalt Therapy

By Stacy Ingraham, MSEd., LPCC-S

I am often asked why I decided to invest in learning and practicing Gestalt therapy, after utilizing other popular counseling techniques for several years as a clinician. My quick answer – I didn’t want to put “band aids” on my client’s symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other struggles anymore. Instead, I wanted be an agent of real, lasting change by helping clients get to the root of what’s keeping them stuck. This is Gestalt therapy. Now after two years of postgraduate training workshops, hours of individual consultation, observation of Gestalt therapy sessions, pages of reading, and working through my own stuff with Gestalt therapists, I’m starting to get it (while also realizing I have a long way to go) and am leaving most of my old counseling habits behind. Here are a few things I’ve learned:

  1. Gestalt therapy really works. While I’ve experienced the power of Gestalt therapy personally, I have seen real, foundational change in clients. For example, a couple who repeatedly blamed each other for their marital problems now owns their part, does not blame (most of the time), and has a more intimate connection than ever before because they have learned to protect the closeness in their relationship (an important concept we reinforce in Gestalt couples therapy). Admittedly, I do utilize other counseling techniques when appropriate or out of habit, yet my foundation is the Gestalt approach, and it really works.
  2. Learning Gestalt therapy is hard work. Integrating the concepts of Gestalt therapy is sometimes like speaking a foreign language (i.e. encountering a client’s behavior, working an introject, pointing out defenses such as retroflection, teaching awareness, building steel rods). And learning Gestalt therapy requires on-going self-reflection and change (i.e. heightening my own awareness, strengthening my own steel rods, being vulnerable, letting go of perfectionism). To be a skilled Gestalt therapist, I need to surrender to the Gestalt way of living.
  3. The Gestalt approach can be used in a variety of professions. The Gestalt approach is utilized by conductors of orchestras, athletic coaches, organizational consultants, dentists, law enforcement officers, educators, and many more. Gestalt child therapists utilize play therapy techniques such as sand tray, clay work, therapeutic games, music, and drawing. Gestalt therapy is also effective when doing family and couples/marriage counseling, and of course, group therapy. Basically, any professional who cares about being a transformational leader, building successful relationships, and contributing in a real way to their organization will benefit from learning the Gestalt approach.
  4. Gestalt therapy is effective when practiced alone and combined with other theories. This idea is debatable, depending on who you talk with in the mental health world. In my experience, mindfulness based approaches, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy, and Motivational Interviewing combined with a Gestalt theoretical foundation can be incredibly beneficial for clients based upon their presenting issues (trauma, addiction, anxiety, etc.).

There are many professional training and certification programs we have to choose from (and I’ve explored many). Deciding which ones best align with our values, goals, budget, schedule, and personality is key. Learning Gestalt therapy has been life changing for my clients and me. And while the struggle to learn and live Gestalt is real, it helps to remember that “all change is incremental.” Thank you, Norman Shub.

Five Ways to Be More Engaging in Conversation and Relationships

5 Ways to Be More Engaging

By Stacy Ingraham, MSEd., LPCC-S

Imagine if you felt heard, important, and respected during most interactions. We do not often leave conversations feeling this way, because many of us aren’t very good at engaging others. When we engage someone, they feel like they matter, are heard, and appreciated. If you care about the person and especially if you want to grow a relationship (personal or professional), learning the skills of engagement is imperative.

  1. Be a really good listener. Listen for details, so that you can ask specific follow-up questions about what they share. If you are preparing a witty response, planning a grocery list, or consumed with worry about what the other person thinks about you, you are not being a good listener.
  2. Be curious. People who are interested, are interesting. A common mistake many of us make is talking too much about ourselves. This can come across as though you are trying to convince that person to like you. Instead, ask open ended questions, so it requires more than a “yes” or “no” response. And if you have been listening, you will be able to ask those follow-up questions.
  3. Is your anxiety getting in the way of being present, or really with someone? If so, you may be putting too much pressure on yourself to be liked and accepted. Take a few deep breaths and trust yourself. A little anxiety is natural and motivating. Too much can be debilitating – consider seeking counseling or coaching if you can relate.
  4. Speak non-verbally. Make eye contact, smile, have an open stance, lean in, nod…. We are always communicating.
  5. Show vulnerability. Giving someone a genuine compliment, accepting a compliment, sharing how you feel about something and asking for help are ways we can be more vulnerable. For instance, if you are enjoying the conversation, tell them. If their smile is warm and friendly, let them know.

These skills do not come naturally to many of us. If you want some help, consider the following:

-Get connected with a skilled coach or therapist whom you trust to provide feedback with support and compassion.

-Seek feedback from friends.

-Get out of your comfort zone and practice. Take small risks in your everyday life by striking up conversation, making eye contact, and noticing when your body language could be more open.

-Watch Amy Cuddy’s “Your Body Language Shapes Who you Are,” and Brenè Brown’s “The Power of Vulnerability”

-Read Developing High Self-Esteem and Leadership From the Inside Out by Norman Shub, Gestalt as a Way of Life by Cyndy Sheldon