The Iceberg metaphor.
Freud famously said, that like an iceberg, your conscious mind is only 10% of you. Most of who you are is submerged in your unconscious, affecting every decision you make and every action you take. In fact I like to think of my thoughts as merely the white noise of my life. They are full of the stories I’ve been telling myself for 50 years about the way the world is, and more often than not, they don’t serve me very well! What I notice most of all is the repetitive nature of these stories and their resistance to change, how about you?
Gestalt simplifies this theory while still subscribing to it, we deal with simply what is in awareness and what is out of awareness. The work of therapy is about building awareness so that unconsciously swallowed beliefs can be regurgitated and digested. This is where choice and freedom come in and where Gestalt proves itself as an existential therapy. You are responsible for your life, only you have the power to change what you choose and how you choose to engage with life. The work is in building awareness around the unconscious beliefs and stories which have influenced you to make meaning of the world in your specific, individual way. For example, I have ideas about what constitutes a good mother. When I became a mother, these beliefs caused me torment and guilt as I perceived myself unable to live up to the ldealistic attitudes in my unconscious. Sound familiar, all you mothers out there?
So what’s in your Unconscious?
Good question! Everything that we have experienced in the past is sequestered into that submerged, unconscious part. All the attitudes and understandings we have grown up with, the accepted cultural ways of doing things, as well as your specific, unique set of experiences and meaning making which has resulted in a sense of ‘me and my world’. Some of this serves you and a large part of it does not. It has been swallowed whole without much chewing or digesting, and it influences how you behave and who you believe yourself to be. How many times do you hear people say, ‘I was told that I can’t sing’ or some such limiting belief which has become the bedrock they have built themselves upon. I love seeing these beliefs fall away in therapy, and watching as a much greater, freer self emerges.
Part of my training during the four year Masters of Gestalt therapy was in the philosophy pf phenomenology. This is the secret weapon that we have as Gestalt therapists to explore these submerged regions with our clients. Simply, we were taught to try to approach things, including clients, without judgement or predetermined belief. This means to explore the here and now experience of things rather than the interpretation of the phenomenon. For example, when someone starts to cry, its almost impossible for me not to have a reaction, however, my interpretation is less useful than checking out with them what is actually happening. So a phenomenological response might be, ‘I see your tears, and I’m wondering whats happening for you?’ This invites my client into a beautiful process where they can explain exactly what is happening in the here and now moment, often a revelation to them, they may be having tears of joy, sadness, shame or delight.
Much of the work of therapy is around regaining awareness of these submerged beliefs. They can be quite easy to spot and work with, as they appear in our words and actions, forming the underlying landscape of our lives. The beautiful thing is, that as they emerge and change, much like a beach eroded by sand, the landscape also changes. You will notice less rigidity in how you bring yourself to life, and lots more choice. Life can appear to open up, the image I use with my clients is that of a bird in a cage realising that the door is open and the bars of the cage are melting away. It is a beautiful process to witness and one I feel privileged every day to be a part of.
This website emphasises choice and freedom as the gifts of therapy, here is the road we take together to get there!
Work with me
If you would like to work with me use the contact form on my website to get in touch. I practice in the inner west of Brisbane.