“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.