“A group is any number of individuals who form a recognizable unit, cluster, or aggregation. Teams are specific groups of people with (it is hoped) complementary skills and abilities who join together to collaborate.” Kets de Vries
Within a team are people with different and complementary function. Their unique functions serve the team’s goals. These individuals are highly inter-dependent. Each team player is also an individual.
The team is considered “merely” group if people are dependent on being in the group, or have to be in this group (as in families), and conform to groupthink. Groups usually form a leadership that decides unilaterally on how the group exists.
Organizations are groups that may or may not be teams. In a team, its members have each a function. This function serve to support the goals of the team. The collective functionality of all the members of a team is more than the sum of its members. This means that putting the people together alone does not lead to performance unless the potential function of each individual within the group is realized.
Organizations that have healthy functioning teams experience smoother paths towards performance outcomes.
The motivation to work in a team is often a personal one. Motivation to work in a team is different from simply working for the money.
Being in a team brings along with it a sense of belonging and social interaction. Being identified with a team brings along with it a sense of pride. While teams are formed so as to fulfill tasks for the organization, teams also meet the needs of its members.
The members in a team function together to produce what is much greater than the sum of the number of people in it.
A well functioning team performs. Within this group are unique individuals. A group comprising of unique individuals who have specified tasks which are crucial to their goal is a team. In order for the team to thrive, the authenticity of each member of the team needs to be respected. This means that oftentimes, each member is met with the difference of the other. Sensing differences from oneself is a cause of fear that leads to inter-personal conflict.
Addressing individual needs and fears may well contribute to motivating team membership and performance. Most people have a powerful desire to be part of a group in which they feel recognized and understood. Belonging—being part of a social context—is essential for the development of self-esteem and self-confidence.
It is therefore useful for teams to have the space to reflect on these differences. This is best done with group reflection counseling, best with a professional that is outside the team.
A group of people working together does not make a team. Teams are built to perform tasks and fulfill their goals. Teams are also made up of unique individual who are mutually dependent. Each member in a team have a stake in the outcome of the task.
Setting clear, well defined goals
Strengthening the team is like oiling and maintaining a machine. Sometimes the parts need to be serviced, sometimes replaced. However, a machine is not useful if it does not in the first place have a well defined function. If your team suffers from fuzzy goals, and if priorities keep fluctuating, it is time to get this cleared up.
Conflicts exist. If team members are to stay the long haul, they would need to feel free to be their authentic selves while in the team. However individual differences do rub against each other. These feelings of differences cause anxiety in the members. Anxiety is usually the root of conflicts. Overt conflicts in team is damaging to the persons involved and hurt team function.
Getting a professional from outside the team is instrumental in identifying the conflicts and resolving them.
Attaining real consensus among members
To avoid conflicts, members of the team tend to fake their positions, giving opinions that they do not believe in. False consensus are damaging to the team. In many cases, this leads to bad decisions resulting in losses.
Providing a safe space for members to come clean with their expert views without fear of getting into conflict is a way for avoiding losses due to faulty team decision making. This space can be provided by an external counselor.
Identifying and resolving stalemate in decision making
Since individuals are different, these different point of views may lead to stalemate in decision making. When this happens, it is a sign that people have a stake in what is going on and are interested in the outcome. This reaches stalemates and slow dow the decision making process. Providing a safe space for dialogue is the way to overcome stalemates.
Enquiring non-Participation or passivity of members
When individual differences are not perceived as being appreciated or accepted, the underlying need is for the individual to disappear from the scene. Disgruntled or disillusioned members of the team may lose interest in what is going on. This will not be explicitly said, but acted out. People become passive and/or simply not show up.
Non activity of members in a team holds up the work process. Providing space for communication about the cause of disgruntlement and disillusionment is a way to improve member morale. It is also an opportunity for open dialogue about the participation of the member.
Leveling out uneven attribute of importance
Hierarchy is a part of organization. In a team, even though there is hierarchy, the members share equal importance to each other. If there is imbalance or discrepancy in the attitude of the team to individual members, this would lead to conflict and passivity mentioned above.
Member feedback and communication with each other are curative ways of dealing with imbalance of appreciation of the importance felt by members to each other.
Looking out for lack of mutual accountability
A functioning team is made up of members, all of whom are responsible individually for the outcome of the tasks. Members who fail to be accountable can hold back the work flow. Usually people have a reason for not feeling accountable or not wanting to be accountable for their parts. This is worth working through during counseling sessions.
Like any machine, the team needs care and maintenance. This comes in the form of taking care of the humanity that is involved in the team. Providing a space and time for counseling by a professional outside the organization is an effective way of achieving this.
Taking psychiatric medications is not the same as taking over-the-counter flu medication. When one gets a flu, one simply takes a pill and stops when the symptoms subside. With psychiatric medications, however, this is different. Having started on a course of psychiatric pharmaceuticals for mental health symptoms like depression, anxiety or psychosis, one must follow carefully the directions of the physician, and to consume the right dosage at the prescribed intervals. When the symptoms subside, or when one feels that the meds do not help, the patient should not simply stop taking the medication. He/she should first consult the psychiatrist who would advice the patient on how the dosage can be reduced.
This controlled reduction of psychiatric medication is an important measure of harm reduction. Why harm reduction? Psychiatric drugs are chemicals that alter the balance of one’s brain biochemistry. On consumption of these drugs, the body and brain cells adapt to the drugs. This adaption process does not happen spontaneously, but take weeks. Genes are switched on and off. A hormonal and a neurobiochemical balancing act takes place. When you decide to stop taking the drugs, you’d need to allow time for your balancing neurobiological system to adapt back to life without these medications.
Measures to take before thinking about coming off antidepressants:
Find support from the people around you. Going off these meds can be an unpredictable process. One my feel moderate to severe swings of mood, disordered sleep, anxiety and even rage.
Plan beforehand to take up some wellness and coping skills. Some of the most effective are body-based activities that require controlled breathing, like weight-training, yoga, swimming, dancing and meditation. Different people have different preferences.
Get support from a psychotherapist at least 6 months before you decide to reduce your medication. This will help you resolve internal conflictual issues that triggered the symptoms in the first place.
In the video below, Will Hall, a former psychiatric patient turned psychotherapist and harm reduction educator explains how and why coming off psychiatric drugs need special attention.
The world spun increasingly slow Days felt like months Hours felt like days Minutes felt like hours Volcanoes spurted their larvae All together They wanted me to feel their inner heat I didn't want to miss it I felt hot, very very hot I smoldered, I cringed, I felt as if I were turning to ash Instead I turned into glass Thick glass I refracted the glow of the molten larvae The larvae felt like tears Tears that would have otherwise remained retroflected, Flowed in hot fury I am thankful for the heat that changed me I have turned into a solid, transparent, reflective, smooth, supportive material This is a gift As the end drew near The volcanoes emptied out Heat turned to warmth It is now summer The sense of an ending There is sadness It is not grief because there is no loss Only gain As the last milliseconds crept by I felt the here-and-now like never before How long does the here-and-now last anyway? 3 seconds? 3 milliseconds? At the very end As we say our goodbyes for the last time at the door as we turn to look each other for the last time eye to eye The here-and-now is eternity.
Many psychotherapists are instructed, from the day they begin training, to abstain from almost any form self revelation to their clients. Different schools of psychotherapy have different ideas about how much therapists should hide their true beings from their clients. These vary in degrees. Some would go all out to clean out their online presence, some deliberately give their offices the blank look to hide their identity, some would go even as far as to work with the client withholding their facial expressions (by sitting behind the client, for example).
Is there reasonable purpose for this?
Some classical Freudians would argue that this is essential. They would shun even the idea of calling the client if he/she did not show up for a session.
I belong to the more humanistic category of psychotherapy, Gestalt Therapy. In our modality, the client and therapist as human beings take part in the psychotherapeutic process. If the therapist does not show up as a real person, it would not be Gestalt therapy.
How do we reconcile the differences in principles between psychotherapy schools with regard to revealing the therapist’s real face to the client?
The answer would have to come from developmental science itself: Tronick’s still face paradigm.
The still face paradigm was demonstrated by Edward Tronick et al. in 1978. This experiment is explained in the video below: https://youtu.be/vmE3NfB_HhE
The experiment involves having a mother play with the baby. We can see how baby and mother interact. The mother is then instructed to turn her face away. When she turns her face back to the child, she withholds her natural impulse to react to the child, and keeps her face emotionless. The baby reacts to the mother’s still face with painful despair. The mother later releases herself from withholding her facial expressions and the baby come back to life.
More modern-day scientific findings are proving that the practice of humanistic psychotherapies like gestalt therapy is congruent to supplying clients with the healing process. This experiment is one of them.
Clients suffering from panic disorder, depression, anxiety, OCD and trauma come to therapy to seek solace and inner peace. Can we imagine how it feels to meet a blank faced therapist in treatment? From the experiment, we can see how the mother’s blank face is the cause of anxiety in the baby. In gestalt therapy we believe in authentic verbal and non-verbal communication. Just like the mother with an expressive face, the therapist’s full presence is a source of solace. The client feels seen and her being is validated. He regains his lost sense of self. She finds her footing on solid ground.
Therapist trying to be the superior, in control and still faced, seem almost inhuman, especially in the presence of clients who are emotional and suffering. The dead face, in my opinion, is traumatizing.
Authentic presence when being with the other has a calming effect on the other person. This is how our nervous system normally functions from the day we are born.
On this topic, I am not advocating being exhibitionistic. I do not believe that therapists should be opinionated or take up too much space from the client. I do, however, believe in real human presence.
Psychopathology is not disease. It is suffering that emerges in the relationship between people. The suffering comes largely from chronic and acute loneliness. Loneliness can only be cured with being with the client in his/her darkest moments.
Gestalt therapy is an effective an efficacious form of psychotherapy (Roubal, 2016). Gestalt psychotherapy is practiced by certified psychotherapists trained and supervised in the modality. Anyone who is interested in having gestalt therapy as a treatment for psychological and psycho-somatic stress or pain, or for the treatment of systemic issues regarding relationships in families or organizations, should seek a gestalt therapist who is actually trained and licensed as one.
Gestalt therapy is often described as a humanistic and holistic form of therapy. What this means, is that when a client comes to a gestalt therapist, he/she can expect to be met with a trained person who has been treated with gestalt therapy him/herself. Here I emphasize the person as an instrument of treatment, as opposed to other instruments like medication, techniques, advise or exercises.
Established gestalt therapists have identified observable behaviors that one can expect of gestalt therapists at work. This is documented within the gestalt therapy fidelity scale, or GTFS (Fogarty et al., 2016).
So, what do Gestalt therapists really do in the session?
Developing awareness. It is said that “knowledge is power”. Awareness, however, takes the client way beyond empowerment. It leads towards self-agency and healing. When a client approaches therapy, he/she is really looking for healing answers. This knowledge is given to the client through newly acquired self-awareness. Gestalt therapy acknowledges awareness as encompassing 1) inner emotions feelings, 2) behavior, speech and actions, and 3) thoughts, judgements, beliefs. Developing awareness is not what the therapist does per se. Its intent is, however, central to the work.
Working relationally. Clients usually come for therapy with a target complaint. This complaint is very valid to the goal of the therapy. It is not unlike going to the doctor with a health complaint. Gestalt therapists, however, handle the complaint differently from doctors. The therapist pays attention to the client’s interaction with the therapist in the session and the therapist pays attention to his/her own resonance with the client in the session. The therapist has no pre-determined agenda. For example, a client comes in with complaints of insomnia. The therapist focusses on the client interaction with the therapist in the session. There is no judgement on part of the therapist. She allows the client to freely express himself. She pays attention to the differences between them. She notices how the client talks quickly with flat affect. She notices also how she feels “heavy in the head” as the client speaks. Giving attention to this dialogical interaction, the therapist and client gain awareness of the client’s mode of being in the world. The client learns of the psychological burdens that keeps him up at night.
Working in the here and now. The therapist asks the client about his immediate experience. If the client mentions a disappointing day at work, the therapist would notice his facial expressions and tone of voice as he recounts his experiences.
Phenomenological practice. The therapist would bring these feelings to awareness of the present moment, thereby helping the client to describe and deepen his sense of theses experiences and gain better understanding of the presenting issue.
Working with embodied awareness. The client is encouraged to observe his emotions and bodily sensations. The therapist may notice the client’s shallow breathing, for example, and mention it. Through this deep embodied understanding the client is encouraged to try new movements. He realizes that he has choices.
Observance of the resonance in the relationship. The therapist is sensitive to the context in which the dialogue takes shape. Themes emerge. Emotions emerge. The therapist shares with the client her experience of what emerges. The client is empowered, with this awareness which is otherwise unconscious to him. He is provided with the new learning of his role in his past, present and future relationships.
Working with client’s mode of relating. The therapist acknowledges the client’s relationship pattern as these emerge during the session. In gestalt therapy, both therapist and client co-create the space in which they reside. They explore how they impact each other in the relationship.
Adopting a spirit of experimentation. Like in a kaleidoscope, small changes in movements lead to complete change in form of the pattern. The therapy session is like a crucible of life. The client is encouraged to experiment with new ways of being: simple moves within a session like a movement of the hand or uttering a sentence to somebody on an empty chair. The therapist supports the client with these experiments. They explore ways in which he can integrate these experiences in the world outside the therapy session.
The client leaves therapy with new awareness and is armed with choice. In the case of the client who has had insomnia, work with a therapist in the gestalt modality can be effective. The client works on his self as a whole, rather than only with his sleeping problems. The client is not his illness. He is a person who has feelings and relationships. Working on his self-awareness, the client gains agency over himself. In therapy, he experiments with ways of being. He finds answers to questions that affect his life. He gains better understanding of his past, present and future. He gains self-compassion. He learns to let his body rest at night.
Fogarty, M., Bhar, S., Theiler, S., & O’Shea, L. (2016). What do Gestalt therapists do in the clinic? The expert consensus. British Gestalt Journal, 25(1), 32-41.
Roubal, J. (Ed.). (2016). Towards a research tradition in Gestalt therapy. Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
Contact for gestalt therapy in Singapore or recommendations internationally
Psychotherapy is healing through the psyche. What is the psyche really? Does it reside in the brain? Not only. However, if it were so, then what is the brain? The brain is an inseparable part of the body. The body is the brain and everything material about a living person. The psyche is affected by the environment in which the individual is exposed to. The body responds and reacts to the environment throughout the life of the person. The environment is the external part of the body. The environment includes the physical as well as the social aspects of the person’s life. Psychotherapeutic practice that integrates work with the body is holistic. Not all psychotherapists work with the body. Those who do, work on the premise that the route to emotional and mental well-being is body-awareness and care.
What are emotions for?
Emotions are actual physiological reactions that tell us how to behave and react to the environment presented to us. Emotions are triggered by our body’s interaction to the present in the environment. Emotions can also be triggered from our imagination, dreams and fantasies. Emotions are necessary for us to live and thrive in our social and physical environment.
Emotions are felt in the body.
When we get anxious, we feel our heart racing and our skin sweating. When angry, we feel heat. When ashamed, we get red in the face. Whether or not we acknowledge these emotions in our minds, the body feels these emotions. People who are not in touch with their emotions often actually do have feelings. They simply “think” that these feelings are not present. Not feeling emotions is a way of protecting oneself from being emotionally hurt and weakened. Just because the mind is not able to acknowledge the emotions, it does not mean that the emotions are not felt. People stop themselves from feeling emotions through actions like tensing muscles, shallow breathing, numbing the sensory organs or storing/losing fat.
A study by Nummenmaa et.al (2014), provides us with interesting graphics of body maps related to different human emotions. About 700 participants were asked to color outlines of bodies in such a way as to describe how their bodies feel in response to stimuli that evoke particular emotions. They were asked to color the bodily regions whose activity they felt increasing or decreasing while viewing each stimulus. The results are represented in this the graphic below. Bright yellow shows high activation, while blue to green shows deactivation of the part of the body when the emotion is perceived.
In psychotherapy, emotions are not only acknowledged as mental states, but also as physical states. The work oscillate between talking and listening to the narratives, feeling the sensations in the body, and identifying the emotions underlying. We work to integrate these different aspects of emotional perception. I sometime describe this as defragmentation; to bring disconnected parts back into an understandable whole. This works for all symptoms presented and especially well for clients who are surviving trauma.
Integrating the feelings in the body with the emotions and then the thoughts that accompany these sensations are integral to the psychotherapeutic work. In my practice, the emotion-body awareness link is worked on at the beginning of the client’s therapeutic journey. New clients, especially, need assurance that this process is effective.
Nummenmaa, L., Glerean, E., Hari, R., & Hietanen, J. K. (2014). Bodily maps of emotions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(2), 646-651. https://www.pnas.org/content/111/2/646
How can we visualize the evolving psychotherapeutic alliance in dialogue? The psychotherapeutic dialogue is an important source of data for psychotherapy outcome and process research. Micro-analyses of dialogical turns within the therapeutic session support the understanding of the therapeutic method. This paper introduces the Helbig Method of Dialogue Analysis. This method is founded upon 4 pillars: 1) that dialogue is implicit action between persons that is supported by explicit verbally uttered content, 2) that the individual’s mode of inter-action within the dialogical dyad reflects the person’s relationship theme or pattern which plays out in the here-and-now, 3) that dialogue is an intersubjective process that leads to the development of new intersubjective configurations, and 4) that the observer-researcher’s phenomenological involvement plays a part in the analytical process. In this study, a 28-minute video-recorded gestalt therapy session is selected. The transcription of the session is coded using the instrument, the Core Conflictual Relationship Theme Leipzig/Ulm. Results obtained from this study are quantified graphical representations of the developing relationship between therapist and client. Simple to operate, scalable and practical, this method is designed for use by therapists and researchers who are interested in tracking, comparing and/or contrasting the developing psychotherapeutic alliance in a single or in multiple psychotherapy sessions.