I feel very honored to join other members of the Gestalt community in writing here. I think there is a fundamental irony at play when we Gestalt people write about contact, or about Gestalt generally: Gestalt is the art of experience and interaction, and writing a post (especially when busting out the word “neuroscience”) is a unidirectional effort; an appeal of my mind to yours.
So, before going any further, let’s experience something together: Find a point directly in front of you upon which to focus your gaze. Holding your focus there, extend your left arm out to the left with a pointer finger raised, to where it is just within your peripheral field of vision. Do the same with your right, on the right side of your body. Keeping your eyes straight ahead, notice the left finger, then the right, and then take a breath and see both at the same time (wiggling your fingers can help orient). It may only happen for a moment, or you may be able to hold this for a long time, especially with practice. Regardless, notice what happens when you are able to take in this wide angle view. I would love to know what you notice. For me, my gaze relaxes, and I come in to touch with a movement and softness internally. If I am outside, I might use a tree or a rock instead of a finger, and I will see a new depth. If I am with a group, I see the Group as a whole. And if I am with a client, I might see a detail in their hand, or how they breathe while tilting their head one way or another. This activity is called “Owl Eyes”, and has been taught by trackers, who find their way by taking in a whole landscape of relationships and interactions between the rocks, dirt, wind, water, animals, and plants that create a community. Literally taking in the Gestalt.
I live in a town in Southeast Utah. Tucked into a landscape of silent, soaring desert cliffs and slickrock domes, this community is bustling in its third boom since European-descended people moved into the area: first it was cattle and the ranch wars, then came uranium mining, and now tourism. After the first two booms have come busts, where the money and enthusiasm for a cultural “we” dries up. Significant substance use, mistreatment of children, and alienation have followed for many. Those who have remained carry a legacy of generations of financial and relational resource scarcity that colors the culture of the town. Add in some who have come for the love of the desert, some who have come for the work, and the hegemony of the LDS church, and you end up with this place.
After a dedicated length of time with the Gestalt Institutes, I came here for the love of the desert, and to work as a therapist with kids and their families in a rural high school, and did so for several years. I found it took grit to work in this environment. Facing highly complex developmental trauma, my tool kit, and my whole being, from my time working in wilderness therapy, through graduating from both GIR and GEIR, and applying Gestalt as a roadmap for living, was stretched to the max. I began to look for other things to add to the sandbox for my clients. I was introduced to neurofeedback, which uses technology to help individuals train their central and autonomic nervous systems to build resiliency, autonomic flexibility, and attachment. Training myself with this, I have had a distinct feeling of “coming in from the cold”, and feeling at ease in the warmth of personal relationships. For many I work with, I will use this to help build a sense of a perimeter of a nervous system, essentially a contact boundary. I also learned EMDR for discrete trauma experiences, and now working in a private practice I get many referrals specifically for this intervention.
Learning and applying both of these approaches has required that I learn a tremendous amount about survival-defense circuitry, neuroanatomy and physiology, brain network anticorrelations, and even differential amplifiers. I have seen how neuroscience research in the last 10 years in a lot of ways validates Gestalt concepts that have been in circulation for more than a half century. I even considered writing a full piece about that here, and abandoned it in my first draft because it was hopelessly dry. If I have piqued your interest, please reach out and I would be happy to nerd out with you about how parallel current research seems to be with Gestalt.
However, at the end of the day the more exciting and remarkable thing for me is that even while being exposed to the cutting edge of applied neuroscience and technology, and even while using highly protocoled interventions, all roads lead back to Contact: that special way of being a self, and welcoming an other, that transcends all. There are so many exciting, weird, fun interventions to add in, but all will be facilitated through Contact. I imagine it like this: having set out from shore in a small boat, having explored a few islands, the map fills in some more. I may spend quite some time along new coasts, or stick to familiar coasts. Those islands may be new interventions to try, or becoming trauma informed. The entire time the boat is still floating on the water that is Contact. I’ll see you on the ocean.
Kyle Dern is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Utah and Colorado, Board Certified in Neurofeedback (BCN) by the Biofeedback Certification International Alliance (BCIA), and holds certificates from the Gestalt Institute of the Rockies (GIR) and Gestalt Equine Institute of the Rockies (GEIR). He lives in Moab, Utah, and practices locally and virtually.
“All you have to do is make contact, Mike”
I heard that more than once during my time at GIR. I tended to brush it off. I understood the message or at least I thought I did, but I can say now that it gradually sunk into my consciousness over the next several years, but boy howdy did it sink in.
At the time, I wanted more. As a newly minted, yet largely inexperienced therapist, I was no longer searching for bells and whistles, but I still craved a structure to hold onto. I wanted a methodology to follow and techniques to implement. I wanted a roadmap... a guidebook... a training manual.
“The key to therapy… and the key to life… is to make contact.”
As my clinical experience grew, and perhaps more importantly, as my personal work from Naropa and GIR started gaining serious traction within my relationship to my wife, I started to “grok” contact and relationship as the core fundamental of the therapeutic process, but life-in-general as well.
A large and unavoidable part of psychotherapeutic culture has to do with thinking in terms of symptoms, disorders, and diagnosis. While interesting and relevant, I always felt something deeper and more important was happening, but I didn’t know exactly what. As my clinical experience grew, I learned to see the world from a perspective of contact and contact boundary disturbances - deflection, projection, confluence, and all that. It was one thing to get it conceptually, and another altogether for me to grok it thoroughly and intuitively.
It started with my first day of Gestalt class at Naropa. The instructor asked a student to hold her hand up like she was giving a high five. Then she said, “Contact happens where boundaries meet,” and gently pressed her hand into the student's hand. That visual struck me and sticks with me to this day. The year after, I began to catch glimpses of it in play therapy during my internship.
How is this person making contact with the room? With themselves? With me? And hey, how am I making contact with the room? With myself? With them? Contact has become a lens with which I view the world and myself in it. How am I making contact with my body, my emotions, my thoughts, my community, my environment, my soul and spirit?
OK, but spiritual practice? Yes, of course. In Gestalt Therapy, we learn how to work with client resistance. And at the end of the day, we learn that it’s all about me, the therapist. When I experience resistance (to contact) from my client, or my wife, or whomever, I can blame the other person, or I can ask myself some potentially difficult questions. “How can I create an opening for contact?” and if I struggle in that regard, I dig deeper. “How am I showing up with this person?” “Where am I hooked?” “Where am I stuck?” Sometimes all this unfolds in the moment in a matter of seconds in the immediacy of the situation, and sometimes it takes weeks for me to unpack. But in the beautiful mess of the relational process, a path of development and integration for my own way of being emerges, and in it’s own way makes itself known. I just have to listen.
Often what happens is that I suddenly realize that the “guidance” (lectures) I have been giving my clients for the last several weeks and months are really meant for me, not them. I’m the resistant client, ignoring my own advice. Doh! And usually it all boils down to the simplicity of, “All you have to do is make contact, Mike.” But simple does not necessarily equate to easy, or straightforward.
“Trust is built by going through hard times and coming out ok.” Duey Freeman, MA LPC
Eventually I found the structure I was looking for in the “rupture and repair” models derived from modern attachment theory and often employed in attachment based relationship therapy modalities. Often what happens in a relationship is that some unconscious cue from one person triggers the other and starts a rapid downhill spiral of disconnection - a rupture to the relationship. The short of it is that ruptures are unavoidable and that we need to learn to accept them, and to quickly recognize them, and to skillfully repair them. Three things stand out to me here:
Acceptance. Accept that there will be ruptures to the relationship. Period. End of statement. The underlying meaning here has to do with imperfection. Accept it. To me that’s the beautiful mess of relationships and being human. We are going to “trigger” people no matter how hard we try not to. Its unavoidable. Learn to accept it and deal with it. Once I really grokked this, it blew my mind. Drop the notion of striving for perfection. It’s exhausting and a complete and utter waste of time.
Second. How do we repair? “All you have to do is make contact, Mike.” I’ll leave it at that for today, but suffice to say that in the process of making contact, particularly in situations of resistance and rupture-repair, we bump into our own blind spots and stuck points. We find opportunities to grow and integrate. We find the process of contact to be a spiritual practice.
If spiritual practice is an ongoing development of awareness and integration, then contact provides a vehicle for that on a number of levels.
Thirdly, As we learn in GIR, “Trust is built by going through hard times and coming out ok.” Well… Hard times are ruptures. And successful repairs lead to “coming out ok.” And with repeatability over time we build an earned trust or confidence in ourselves and our relationships. Trust and self confidence are built by going through ruptures and making repairs. As I have learned to navigate ruptures and repairs in my marriage, my trust in our ability to go through hard times and come out ok has skyrocketed, and I can take those skills into the rest of my relationships.
“Contact over time creates connection.
“Connection over time creates relationship.
“Relationship over time creates intimacy.“ Duey Freeman, MA LPC
When we speak of intimacy in relationship, for me it’s an experience that goes beyond words. I often ask myself what spirituality and spiritual practice really mean. I don’t often have an answer, and that seems about right. There’s something about spirituality that goes beyond words and answers. There’s something about the mystery. And in the experience of intimacy, we can experience and explore the mystery.
Mike Gathers started his career in engineering and management before a series of life changing events led him to the field of psychotherapy. He currently coaches men, particularly tech professionals and small business owners, to create a more fulfilling and satisfied life in work, love and play. A father of two teenage boys and husband for over 25 years, he enjoys climbing and biking in the foothills of Colorado.
How do I tease out how Gestalt is presented in my life and practice? That is a really difficult question to answer. I have become integrated through Gestalt training and Gestalt is integrated into my work in the world and my personal life as well. There is no separation: Gestalt is my way of being, not doing.
My journey into Gestalt began in 2001 during my Spiritual Psychology MA program at the University of Santa Monica. The technique we used was ‘empty chair’. Three chairs set up for counselor, client and whoever showed up in the process. Giving those parts of my consciousness a voice was my first experience into the body of knowledge and creative adjustment. My curiosity about what else Gestalt could offer eventually led to certifications in Gestalt Therapy (Gestalt Institute of the Rockies-GIR) and Gestalt-equine Therapy (Gestalt-Equine Institute of the Rockies-GEIR).
I found myself come alive through the experiential processes and raw inner work to learn the concepts and various ways making contact with myself and others. The cycle of experience was truly made evident when Duane Mullner would tell us that if you need to use the bathroom during a session, go. I was invited to be in contact with my bladder functions, my emotions, and my creativity so often stunted by fear and judgment. I learned that my breath and body are my means of grounding and returning to self.
I found my love of learning turned on by the various books, articles, and discourses about Gestalt and its place in healthcare, education, and coaching. I have over 100 books about Gestalt Therapy, Gestalt in related fields and many other books that stir and support my creative process.
Along with my Doctorate in Nursing (ND) and as a Registered Nurse (RN), I have integrated my Gestalt training as the Patient & Family Education Coordinator at Craig Hospital in Denver, as Associate Professor in Nursing at Colorado Mesa University, Grand Junction and most importantly in my work as professional coach, workshop facilitator and speaker. My book of memoir stories: Spoke by Spoke: How a Broken Back and a Broken Bike Led to a Wholehearted Life will be published by end of ’21. The healing, growth processes of Gestalt are evident in many of my stories. Check it out!
Additional training and certifications in Equine-Facilitated Learning (Human-Equine Relational Development, HERD, INC), equipped me to partner with the horse in facilitating group retreats for educators, caregivers, and healthcare providers. I combine the EFL with a creative arts process using the Mandala to help make the invisible, visible.
My own personal work with the horses took me another level of awareness and presence. Through my GEIR trainings and subsequent supervision sessions, the horses held me in my anger and assisted in healing those parts of so much hurt. I continue to ride horses weekly and keep that relationship-based learning going even into my eldering years.
You may be wondering, well what does Gestalt work look like? At a basic level, it is about my presence, acute awareness, my availability, and response to others in the moment. I focus my work on assisting my patients, clients, and students in awakening to who they are. My work is direct, loving and to the point.
I realize and utilize my own Superpowers…I can create interactive, engaged sessions for all age groups. I make it mandatory that any class, session or training I am involved with …is FUN! Or I get bored and so do the others. And you might remember that boredom is a mis-use of creative energy!
My preferred method of group engagement is of course in a live, in-person setting. Yet with the pandemic restrictions of no or limited physical contact, I pivoted to the Zoom platform I quickly learned ways to keep people in contact, engaged and laughing. I use these methods for group interaction, feedback and team building activity. My nursing students and I held Zoom wellness sessions for people with traumatic brain injury, elders, and foster family groups. I knew I could deliver in that on-line environment and my students learned as well…all while being engaged in the processes.
I experiment like crazy! I often never really know if something is gonna work. I trust that I will be able to respond if I stay grounded, in contact and breathe! Sounds like a Gestalt session, would you agree?
I have also remained in contact with my teachers, Duane Mullner, Duey Freeman and Victoria Story. They were my pillars of learning of Gestalt, they live it, they love it. They keep me grounded and share the essence of Gestalt in conversation, through supervision and modeling a life well-lived.
I encourage you to continue to delve into the endless possibility of Gestalt in your life and work. It’s really all about the living, the loving and the growth of a healthy human being.
You can see more about more work at my website: www.drterrychase.com. I invite you to contact me directly for a conversation. I love to listen and hear about the creative process going on in your life too.
Terry Chase, ND, MA, RN, CEIP-Ed
Unique in her field, Dr. Terry Chase offers a deep and multi-faceted background of advanced education and hands-on experience in healthcare. Currently, Dr. Chase is Associate Professor of Nursing-Mental Health/Leadership at Colorado Mesa University, Grand Junction, Colorado. In addition, working as a professional coach offering individual coaching and group experiences for growth and transformation.
Dr. Terry Chase is an RN in good standing with the State of Colorado. Advanced education includes a Doctorate in Nursing (ND), University of Colorado’s Health Sciences Center, MA in Spiritual Psychology, University of Santa Monica, an MA in Exercise and Sports Science, University of Denver, and BA in Physical Education and Sociology, Western State College in Colorado.
Currently, serving as Board Member on the Temple Grandin Equine Center, Colorado State University and Rocky Mountain Health Foundation, Grand Junction. Dr. Chase is a self-motivated, highly educated individual who has lived fully with spinal cord injury for 33 years active in all things outdoors, including kayaking, cross-country skiing, hand-cycling and whenever possible, riding horses. She lives in the shadow of the Colorado National Monument with her partner Sharon, their dogs, Bucky and Shamly, and cat, Mayzi.
In the mid 80's Beth Protho, who founded the Gestalt Institute of the Rockies transitioned from being the Director of the Institute to move to Florida. After she left, the Institute struggled and waned for a bit. I decided to put effort into rekindling the Institute and often would refer to myself as the re-founder of the Gestalt Institute of the Rockies (GIR). Over time with the help of many we became vibrant, teaching many students, creating a place for people to deepen their skills as a therapist as well as deepen their lives. We hold the ideal that Gestalt is a lifestyle, not just a set of therapeutic techniques. We like any other institute have had our challenges, however, I am proud of the work we have done. I believe we have contributed significantly to the field of Gestalt Therapy and to students who have graduated from GIR. I feel most satisfied when former students express that GIR is where they learned to really become a therapist.
Now is the time for another transition. I have decided to transition out of the leadership and teaching full time at GIR at the end of this coming trimester. (If you have desire to experience my teaching at GIR please join us for the spring). I will continue to co-lead and teach at GEIR as well as continue my private practice. My desire have more flexibly in my schedule to travel, teach and mentor. I also desire time to write, relax, be with my horses, nature and those I love.
The Gestalt Institute of the Rockies will continue under the very capable guidance of Joan Rieger as director with Stephanie Joseph as faculty. I have the utmost respect, confidence and love for both Joan and Steph and know they will continue (as each have for a number of years) to bring exciting creative energy to the classes and intensives. I am grateful to them, all the students that have been a part of the institute and all the faculty that we have been blessed to have as teachers and mentors along this path the last 30 plus years.
GESTALT and Befriending Grief
Here at the Gestalt Institute of the Rockies we observe and define Gestalt thus: How we perceive, organize, and make meaning of our experiences in an I-Thou relationship.
Perception is seeing the world and the other with one’s eyes, one’s senses (felt-sense), one’s heart and one’s mind. Perception is a verb. Perception is not only seeing but receiving what is seen and having an internal experience of what is seen. We not only see the tears on the face of a grieving person, but also, feel the pain of loss in our own internal processing system.
We organize what we see and feel, so grief becomes our reality also. It is so important to value that we have our own experience of grief while the other has theirs. We empathize with the other by being able to integrate a visible grief process through our own perceived experience.
HOW we perceive and organize our experiences helps us to make sense and/or find meaning in the “grief event.” We are meaning making human beings. We will take time to observe and integrate an external experience if it makes sense to us. There are many things in life that are very important to another but are dismissed by us because we may not be open and/or ready to find purpose, value, meaning in that external event.
AND, as gestalt practitioners, we are relational and believe in the inter-dependence of all human beings and all creation; therefore, the I-Thou. The “other” is treated as a person and not an “it.” The “I” is experienced as subject, not object, and is present as an equal in an I-Thou encounter.
The theory of Gestalt Therapy takes a back seat to the organic personal experiences that come from embracing the fullness of our daily lives, by living life and not interpreting, explaining, or analyzing.
The above definition of Gestalt supports an understanding of the process of grief. We can be certain that the experience of grief will accompany us through our life span. The rhythm of “hello/goodbye” is a most natural phenomena. We leave one developmental stage and move to another quite organically. We say goodbye to the loss of a loved one and meet the full impact and meaning of that person’s life for us. Thus, how we perceive, organize, and find meaning in our losses will set a pattern (a gestalt) in how we prepare for a life of surprise or a life of fear. We begin to embody our losses by opening doors and opportunities never experienced prior; or we remain entrapped and fearful of moving forward. I suggest that the task of “grieving well” is to befriend our grief.
It is easy to acknowledge that change is a part of life. The reality seems to be that most of us kick and scream when loss disrupts our familiar routines and patterns of living. To grieve is to be “heavily burdened.” Grief will overwhelm our daily schedule. Grief has its own narrative and will invade every cell in our body.
I believe that most of us plan to control our life vs living from a place of uncertainty; of surprise. I believe the acknowledgment, acceptance, and expectation of grief as a part of life may be easier to process than the ongoing denial of grief. Grief presents in each experience of loss with its own profile, intensity, and time-line. Our challenge is to LISTEN to the requirements of grief. The paradox of grief is that the more I intend to control the process of grief and/or avoid my grief (it’s been 3 months, I should be done with this); the stronger the sensations of my grief and the longer that grief will occupy my daily life; moment to moment, hour to hour, day to day, year to year. I believe grief asks of me respect, patience, surrender and a listening mindful attitude. As the quote below states, grief has its own course and wisdom.
Staying congruent with the Gestalt principle of embracing our polarities; grief involves loss and gain. How can there be a “gain” in grief?
I am struck by how grief and love emanate from the heart chakra. The depth of grief is generally reflective of the depth of love for our subject of grief. I suggest that both love and grief have their own course. Grief renders us broken hearted. I’m also aware that a broken heart is an open heart. Might grief and love be 2 sides of the same coin? Can one exist without the other? Might love become the motivation and driving force inviting us to “stay with” our grief?
Befriending our grief gives credence to the presence of love.
“Think not that you can guide the course of love (grief); for if love (grief) finds you worthy; it will guide you” From the book The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran.
The perception of non-duality and wholeness invites me to experience love and grief as an enriching and fulfilling experience throughout life. From this perspective, love and grief are not two separate experiences associated with two separate events. Love and grief are embraced as a rhythmic dance of contact and withdrawal. In love we connect; in grief we isolate and withdraw. Grief is an inward process of self-regulation and organization. Love is the outward expression of connection. Grief may even invite a deeper understanding of love as love may invite a deeper understanding of grief. The task of befriending our grief may shepherd a new perception of living life from surprise as opposed to fear.
By Duane Mullner LPC
Faculty Gestalt Institute of the Rockies
I want to thank you all of you who have worked, studied, learned, grown, laughed and played with us over the past years. We have been around for many years in a number of different forms and creations. This institute was originally established in 1969 as an experimental and teaching Institute that was originally called the Gestalt Institute of Denver. Over that time period many came, learned and went about their lives, most hopefully changed for the good. In the 70’s there was a transition and Beth Protho along with George Dovenmuehle established the current Institute, the “Gestalt Institute of the Rockies”. After a few years Beth and George moved out of state, the Institute waned a bit and eventually I picked up the pieces and re-established the Institute under the same name in the mid 80’s. Since that time the main people involved in teaching have been Duane Mullner, Victoria Story, and myself. A few years ago Duane took a year sabbatical and Victoria retired from teaching at the Institute. We asked Joan Rieger to join us as a co-director and teacher and more recently we asked Stephanie Wolff to join us as faculty. We have been through many transitions, wonderful people have come through our doors and we are now in another transition.
As I sit here and write this brief history I am touched in many ways. I am touched by the length of time we have been around in one form or another, I am touched by the other faculty that I have been privileged to work with, I am touched by the students who have come through our training and the level of skill that they have left with, the incredible level of skill they have developed way beyond what they learned here. I am touched knowing we have changed peoples lives in so many ways and touched by the community we have been a part of for so many years. I am touched by the memories of certain people as they sat in the circle, sometimes smiling, sometimes in awe and sometimes with eyes full of tears. I am touched by people sharing that this Institute changed and in some ways saved there lives. One of the things that has effected me the most has been the frequent statement that the training here is what has helped them become a truly competent therapist. I am touched by the transitions we have made through the years to keep pace with the changing world of therapy
This past year has brought a change and transition once again. In November we began the process of examining our direction and format. As we examined we determined we wanted to make some changes. Some of these changes are based on our own growth as people and professionals, some based on what we want to offer in training. On the personal level I am moving away from the everyday running of the institute and will be focus on the teaching aspect, writing, The Coming Home Project, deepening my equine work and integrating nature based work into my personal work. As an institute we are creating a new structure, a new website, new marketing, a new location, new monthly blogs and most importantly new energy to move forward with bringing this work to the world.
As I have traveled and taught throughout the US and parts of the world including the Middle East, the UK, Canada, New Zealand and Australia I am deeply aware that what we offer is substantially different that what is being offered in other trainings and modalities of therapy. We offer something unique, expansive and creative. We ask that you delve into your own process as a person and therapist. We ask you to experience relationship not just talk about relationship as a thing to attain. If you were to ask any therapist if they are relational with their clients they would say, of course. I believe that how we promote this level of contact and work with healing relationship is qualitatively different than what is expected in most training programs, most therapies and in fact, most relationships in general. We ask you to be affected as much as your client, we ask you to create openings for the other to step into, we ask you to be the “I” or the “Thou” in all relational interactions of your life. Substantially there is no real separation between therapy and life. We only really have one “hat” to wear and that “hat” is ourselves.
We invite you to share in this transition, growth, and creative process with us as offer something that is beyond the tools in a toolbox approach to learning, therapy and living in this ever evolving world of therapy and life itself.
Duey Freeman, MA, LPC