Power, the Structure of Therapy, and Existential Responsibility

These thoughts and connections were fueled from something I came across in which a therapist was advocating for the use of workbooks and activities in order to, “make sure we get somewhere.”

I love both gestalt philosophy and gestalt therapy so I am going to take that phrase and hold it under some gestalt lenses.

The “somewhere” gestalt wants “to get” is: Here. Now.

Why?

*The power is in the present.*

Gestalt unapologetically wants to make its clients more powerful. In the past, I imagined one day opening a practice called “Power and Peace.” I appreciate how those words complement each other and seem to express the polarity of the *centrality* of peacefulness and a *reach* of power.  (Saying the “power” alone makes it sound like we want a bunch of narcissists or Napoleons running around?)  Psychological growth really seems like it’s made up of centralizing and expanding.

The reason the power is in the present is because it’s the only time we can DO anything. The past and future are extremely important too, but with a key difference. We can’t DO anything in the past. We can’t DO anything in the future.  Our power is within what we can do – what we can create.  The only time we can do anything is now. Here. Where you are. You can imagine doing something 5 minutes from now, but that’s you, now, imagining. If you’re under water, you can imagine breathing all you want but it won’t do you any good.   You need actual movements towards actual air.  I was really struck the first time I read PHG say, “the wholly inadequate motions of thinking.”  I was probably offended.  I treasure(d) my thinking.

Therefore, one of the results of gestalt therapy is the consistent movement closer and closer to the now. Closer and closer to one’s power. And also closer and closer to one’s peace. It reminds me of the phrase, “the only zen you find at the top of a mountain is the zen you bring.” The task is to learn how to appreciate the now. The better we do at that task, the less it matters what’s actually happening in the now.  This touches some ontological stuff – the appreciation or even amazement that this (life) is even happening.  This is a child-like quality that unfortunately a lot of us lose.  Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning is a great place to jump-start this concept.

So you see how the words look through that lens? Using a workbook “to make sure we get somewhere”… do we want to get better at living in workbooks? Not from a gestalt perspective. We want to get better at living in the now.  The now is where you can do things.  The now is where you can have fun.  The now is where you can find meaning.  The now is where you actually are.

The other key piece that ties in is the structure of therapy. From an existential perspective, the therapeutic growth is the increase of “responsibility” of authorship of one’s life: Yes, this is my situation. Yes, I have created it. Yes, I am responsible for what happens next.  Carl Whitaker said, “you’re responsible for what happens, not for what you say you wanted to happen.”

The benefit of leaving the canvas of the therapeutic structure blank for a client to use (as opposed to a workbook) is it’s the microcosm and bridge for the same concept in the general, larger (scarier, harsher) sense. By having a client *feel* the structure-less-ness, it provides a *safe* opportunity to examine the relation between creative-self and empty-canvas. It’s such a heavy relation. It’s such a scary idea that we’re creating our one chance at existence. A “structureless” therapy (a blank canvas) lets the client get the feel of the paintbrush, to splash around with paints, to begin to get mastery over certain types of strokes and previously unknown colors, to examine the painting and make critical decisions about its aesthetic satisfaction – to look at how and when the client turns away from the canvas or drops the paintbrush – and then supports the client in the often painful task (there’s always a good reason we drop the paintbrush) of picking it back up. The existential responsibility is the sense of holding the paintbrush and being open to the possibility you created the painting.

On the flip side, let’s go a layer deeper into this and weave.  It’s a paradox – or at least a misnomer – to say the therapy is structureless.  The interplay of canvas and paintbrush is the structure.  It’s a very specific structure.  And the therapist is very deliberate and heavy-handed in providing the canvas and examining the relation of creative-self and empty-canvas.  That’s the therapist’s one and only agenda.  Interestingly, what ends up on the canvas is the agenda of the client.   So, said in a different way, the therapist’s agenda is in support of (or at least in relation to) the client’s agenda.  It’s this interweaving of agendas Whitaker refers to when he talks about purposely “winning” the Battle for Structure and purposely “losing” the Battle for Initiative.  To put the therapist’s energies into words, it’s something like: “hey, we’re going to be examining your creative power and we’re not going to be doing anything other than that” (winning the Battle for Structure) while also: “in the end, I deeply believe you know what’s best for you.  I’d like you to be consistently fine-tuning your ability to check inwards to find your truths, so I’m not going to tell you what to do with your paintbrush.  Your paintbrush is yours and yours only.  And I’m really happy to support you while we play around with the difficult brushstrokes you’ve been hoping to improve” (losing the Battle for Initiative).

Here are two separate PHG quotes which will take us full circle back to power.  The first one contrasts on the continuum of “existential responsibility” and the second one is very clear about how we want our clients to be powerful.  (“Weapons” is a pretty powerful word, yes?)

“An unknown number, perhaps a majority, believe they would have no troubles if the world would just treat them right. A smaller contingent does have, at least at times, a vague recognition that they themselves are responsible for the ills that beset them, at any rate in part, but they lack techniques for coping with them.” Techniques for coping?  How about psychological weapons:  “We wish to strengthen and supply [the client] with more effective weapons.”

How strong do you feel?  Do you feel like you have the weapons necessary to handle your current obstacles?  What brushstrokes are you being challenged to make?  What parts of your situations are you deeming outside of your control?

Full (Physical and Psychological) Makeover

I am extremely excited to finally offer this service to the public. My long term career goal to be a part of a facility that seamlessly integrates physical and psychological fitness is coming to fruition and I’m so excited to be turning the corner towards that goal.

I’ve trained a handful of people (friends and family) and have experienced immense joy from witnessing progress. There is nothing like achieving something today that you could not have done before. I am so excited to open this up for other people.

What I’m offering is a formal strength-training program (weight-training) coupled with gestalt consultations.  You can skip to the bottom of this post to see a quick outline if you don’t want to read the details.

Formal strength-training is probably different than any type of exercise you have ever tried. I became obsessed with it years ago when I started realizing the Central Nervous System adaptations and the psychological effects involved. I was an athlete through college and lifting weights in the off season was a regular part of the process. Once sports were done, I started learning about strength and weight-training from a very different perspective and, in conjunction with the health and psychological growth aspects of my formal education, began realizing what an amazing impact strength-training has.

I want to do a quick contrast between “training” and “exercising.” When you “exercise,” you do whatever fits for that day. Maybe you feel like going for a run, or doing some yoga, or jumping rope, or doing lunges. “Training,” on the other hand, has a very specific result in mind and it formulates a clear plan to get there. In this case, the result is functional strength. You literally get stronger.   And you KNOW you got stronger because pounds are an objective measurement.  One day, you won’t be able to move X pounds.  A couple weeks later, you move X pounds. You become able to do things that would have been laughable before. It’s very different than exercise.  There’s nothing wrong with exercise. I just get sad when I hear people who try exercising and then they get frustrated about the lack of results.

I also want to contrast strength-training with “body building.” Body building is a sport in which you train in order to go on stage and be judged for how you look. That’s not what this is. Yes, you will look better from strength-training.   Yes, you’ll be more comfortable in a bathing suit.  But that’s not the direct aim.  Understandably, a big component of exercise for a lot of people is the desire to look better.  I have no beef with body builders or people who exercise to look better. I’m just saying that’s not what this is about. You will feel better. You will BE better. And, as an additional bonus, you’ll look better.

Being a holistic therapist, the psychological and philosophical parts are where I find the deep worth and fascination. There’s a specific moment in strength-training when you feel yourself wanting to negate your responsibility.  You confront the realization that it’s you who needs to do the work in front of you. This realization starts to generalize to other areas of your life, your struggles, your challenges, your goals.  If there is any laziness down in the depths of you, strength-training will find it and give you the opportunity to clean it out.

Form and technique are crucial, for both safety and performance.  You learn how your body works as a whole.  You learn the correct structure of your parts in order to confront possibly the most difficult (physical) thing you’ve ever done – and to come out of the challenge unharmed. Focus and determination get developed. This, again, carries over: the confidence and focus from successfully overcoming legitimate challenges to your structure. You learn stabilization, groundedness, and centrality while taking on challenges to your range of motion. See how that phrase could be talking about the physical or the psychological? I love it.

In addition to the formal strength-training, you’ll learn two types of yoga.  I teach the opening portion of Ashtanga Yoga for the warm up.  It takes about ten minutes and this, alone, can change your life.  I was just talking to an experienced yogi the other day and she said, “if people would just take a few minutes everyday and do the first several Ashtanga movements, it will really clear up so much of what’s going on with them.”  Agreed.  That’s our warm up.  The other type of yoga you’ll learn is Yin Yoga.  Ashtanga and Yin are polar.  Ashtanga is active and powerful. Yin is passive. Yin is the “let go” yoga.  It is equally crucial to helping your body recover from the strength movements we’ll be doing.  The psychological and overall health benefits of both types of yoga are extensive and beyond the scope of this post.  If you decide not to utilize this service but you still would like to invest in yourself, learn Ashtanga and Yin.  In the Harrisburg / Camp Hill area, you can find Ashtanga at Befit Yoga and Yin at Om My Yoga.  I have no affiliation with either of them other than having gone to (and approved of) both.

Lastly, within this service, you’ll also receive two Gestalt Consultations a month.  In these, you’ll learn the functional flow of your awareness and techniques on how to clear your mind, free up space, and have more direction and control.  I’m not going to write too much about Gestalt in this post because it’s available elsewhere.

The training includes three weight-training days a week: Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 6.30am – 7.30am.   Yes, you only train 3 days a week.  Yes, you’ll get serious results from only 3 days.  But I do HIGHLY recommend you do the Ashtanga and  Yin portions on the other days as well, preferably Ashtanga in the morning and Yin in the evening before bed.  You just need a few minutes.

The price is $530 a month, due at the first Monday of the month.  I can’t imagine working with you for more than 8 or 9 months.  By then, you should have a firm grasp of how your body works, the correct form and technique to keep you safe, understand how strength-training works (concepts of adaptation / over-training / over-reaching / linear progression / deloading / supercompensating), and what the other variables are (active recovery, sleep, hydration, nutrition) in order to carry on by yourself and continue having a blast with it.  You’ll have an Excel Spreadsheet with your lifting logs and you’ll know how to use it to keep making progress.

A great example for anecdotal purposes is my wife, to whom I introduced strength-training a couple of years ago.  She’s now having so much fun doing it on her own and she comes home and is proud to tell me about the “PR” (Personal Record) she set on a specific lift on that day.  You become excited about getting your body to do something that it couldn’t do before.  It also changes your relationship with those “other variables,” like hydration, nutrition and sleep.  Those things start to fall into place with ease because you quickly realize if you’re not fueling your body correctly, it’ll show up in your performance.  This is largely why I’m calling this program a “Makeover.”  And if you’re willing to track those other variables, I can help you stay accountable in that area as well.  Apps like Myfitnesspal allow you to track your food/water intake and easily email it to me.

Last but certainly not least, we can have up to 5 people in one training group.  It’s very valuable to watch others train in order to learn proper form.  To encourage you to find someone else to take this journey with you, I’ll drop the price to $600 a month ($300 a person) if you find a partner.  The only caveat:  the partner needs to be a similar height as you.  We will be squatting and it’s impractical to change the squat rack height for each lifter.   It doesn’t matter if you start at different levels of fitness.  Height is the only thing that matters.  If we have someone who is 4’10”, they can’t lift with someone who is 6’2″.

Please email me at kip@gestaltdevelopmentcenter.com in order to get things started.  The first person to respond will set the height requirement.  :-p

And since I’m so excited to get this service off the ground, I’ll throw in a free Withings Scale (“Smart-Body-Analyzer”) ($149 Value) no strings attached, yours to keep, to the first person who starts up.  I also have one. I love it.  It tracks your weight and your body composition (how much muscle / how much fat) and wirelessly syncs it with your PC and phone so you can see your progress.   It would be really neat to start tracking those things as soon as you get started and then watch the numbers change as you go.

This blog is still really new and there’s not a lot of traffic to it yet, so I’m not sure how long it will take to get the training group formed.  Please check with me via email to see where we’re at.  We might have gotten several groups formed or we might have different times and days for the training groups.  We’ll see.

 

Here’s the outline as promised above:

 

Price:   For one person, $530 a month.  For two people, $600 a month ($300 a piece).

Training schedule:   Monday, Wednesday, Friday.   6:30am – 7.30am.

What you get:

– Formal, linear-progression strength-training.

– The beginning portions of Ashtanga Yoga (active yoga).

– Yin Yoga (passive yoga).

– Two Gestalt Consultations per month.

– Optional: Other Variable Tracking (Nutrition, Hydration, Sleep, etc.)

– To the first person who begins the program: a free Withings Scale to keep ($149 Value)

Timeline:  The first month and a half will feel pointlessly easy.  The next month and a half will feel pointlessly hard.  After 3 or 4 months, you should be noticing some serious differences as your system adapts.  After 8 or 9 months, you should be ready to take over on your own and not need me anymore.  The timeline will vary slightly for everyone, depending on what your status is when you start, but it’ll be very close to those markers.

How to get started:  Email me ( kip@gestaltdevelopmentcenter.com ) to see if those times/prices are still available.

 

 

 

Contact Boundary and Serenity Prayer

Grab a piece of paper.  Write “Not Me” on it.

The world existed before you did.

[ The serenity to accept the things I cannot change ]

Now write “Me” on the paper.

You have arrived with the world.

[ The courage to change the things I can ]

Now draw a circle around “Me” in order to distinguish between “Me” and “Not Me.”

[ And the wisdom to know the difference ]

This “wisdom to know the difference” is, in gestalt terms, the ‘contact boundary.’  It is the line that distinguishes You from The World. If you wouldn’t have drawn the circle, how would you know where one ends and one begins? The clarity, function, and effectiveness of that ‘line’ is the difference between feeling powerful and feeling helpless, between feeling peaceful and feeling deep chaos.  What can you control? What is yours?  What belongs to other people?  What are the laws of the universe? What can you control?

[By reading this post you are acknowledging you’ve read and agree to the first post disclaimer]