My wife and I started to see a couple’s therapist named Dori in Connecticut who was part of a larger practice trained in the Gestalt method. Her office was an upper room in a large, formerly residential house that had been refurbished into therapists’ offices. She primarily had us “mirror” each other whereby one of us would state an issue and the other one would repeat what the first one said starting with the phrase, “I hear that you feel…” This was very difficult and after several sessions it did not seem like we were making much progress. We were still angry with each other all the time. During one session I had expressed that I felt a lot of shame and that I was trying to get past that and that was the reason I had seen the psychic. And I did not like how my wife had shamed me into not seeing her. Dori suggested that I join a “men’s group” that two of her colleagues ran in the same building.
I showed up to the first session feeling very awkward and nervous. The group was made up of six men and two facilitators (Scott and Dave) who were trained in Gestalt, body centered therapy. I remember that first session everyone took their shoes off in the hall so I did too. I saw some other people bring in folding chairs so I grabbed one and set it up in the room. Other people sat on couches already in the room. Once everyone had settled in the facilitators went around to the group members and asked them if they wanted to “check in” or “work.” If a member checked in he would briefly describe how his week had gone and how he was feeling generally. If a member chose to work he would describe something that was bothering him and the two facilitators would probe him until they got to the bottom of the issue.
Often the method employed was called “pillow work.” If a member said they felt anxious about something (for example) the facilitators would put a pillow in a chair facing the member and say, “That pillow is you. Make you feel anxious.” Then the member would try to put himself into the mind of a person who would try to make him anxious. Often this process resulted in the member lashing out in anger and then breaking down crying.
Each member checked in or worked and I grew increasingly nervous as I felt my turn approaching. I remember one member, Rick, announced to the group that he was dying of prostate cancer. He had just been diagnosed with six months to live. He seemed pretty balanced about it. I remember thinking none of my problems were significant in comparison to his. When it was finally my turn and everyone turned to me I remember saying that this type of situation was very difficult for me. Scott told me he thought I was courageous for doing what I was doing. I did not believe him. I thought he was just trying to make me feel good about myself.