Case #17 - The stale story

Jake had mental problems. He had experienced a lot of suffering in his life; he had been in and out of clinics, been through a gamut of medication, and was doing therapy to try to deal with what felt to him like an impossible burden. His self esteem was low, and he did not have much confidence with people; he was very shy.

He spoke up, wanting to tell his story of suffering.

I interrupted straight away. My judgment was that this was a very old and well worn story that no longer served him, except perhaps to get pity, to feel sorry for himself, or to justify his ongoing suffering.

I told him I would give him a direction, to differentiate between what was pleasurable and what was painful. I asked him to look around the room, and identify which persons he felt pleasure in his body when looking at them, on a scale of more pleasure, or less pleasurable. I then asked him to pick the person he felt best when looking at. He chose his therapist, who was in the group. I asked him to describe to me what he felt. He reported warmth in his chest. I asked him to breathe into that place. He visibly relaxed, his face softened. Then I asked him to pick the next most comfortable person in the group. He picked the youngest member. So I asked him to do the same thing.

His experience after all process was one of peace and contentment.

This experiment cut across his sad story of suffering and put him in touch with what was enlivening, in relationship, in the present.

Gestalt works in the here and now. It may be useful to go into story, for the sake of providing context, or deepening understanding. But some stories are fresh, needing to be told and be heard. Other stories are stale, without novelty, and are self-reinforcing.

All stories are eventually brought into the present moment, which is where we have choice, a key focus of Gestalt.

Posted by Steve Vinay Gunther