Archive: Events

Sharpen Your Environment Awareness

DPZPTWJ07TAre you really aware of your environment? Most people aren’t. We spend out days in patterns and forming reactive behaviors that we tend to forget about proactive growth.  I once worked with a client who, at the end of her journey, stated ” What you’ve taught me is the realization that it who and what I am seeing, hearing, moving, is what is making the waves in my life. Understanding the why brings me to understanding the how.” I thought this was a beautiful testament to our online work together.

When I speak to groups about sharpening awareness, I tend to focus on the still Room test.  If you think you are qualified right now, in your space, to really understand how your environment impacts your emotions and moods, even recall of history, think again. For most people, we think we have a great grasp on how the world looks and operates. We are like race horses with blinders on. All we see is all we know, yet there is much more going on around us.

Take this simple Still Room test to start understanding what I mean when I reference the phrase ‘sharpening your environment awareness’. Then if you want to learn more, contact me. I can help you on an one-on-one basis (online or in-person) or I can come speak to your group to boost productivity and individual advocacy.


1. Think about any other room in your home right now other than the one you are sitting in.

2. On a piece of paper write down all the details that you can remember about that room.

3. Now write down three ways that room makes you feel.

4. Write down one memory you have of a sad emotion in the room.

5. Flip the paper over. Walk away from it for at least an hour. Set an alarm if you need to.

6. Without referencing the paper you wrote on, grab another blank piece of paper.

7. Spend 30 minutes sitting in the room picking apart details and thinking about happy and sad memories. Don’t write anything down. If you need to, set an alarm. Really focus on details and don’t have music or any other background distractions on.

8. When the 30 minutes is up, while still in the room, write down one sad memory you have of this room.

9. Now, go compare your current notes with the one you wrote down in Step number four. Is there a difference? Examine how your recall varies from the actual awareness of being present in the now of the room.


Benefits of Gestalt Therapy Online

Yes, I provide confidential Gestalt therapy to the online community. I also provide phone and in-person services and yes, I am HIPAA compliant.  Some of you may wonder what exactly the benefits of Gestalt therapy are.  Well, there are many. The effectiveness of the approach depend on your honesty level, personality, and if you feel this type of therapy is a great match for you. Remember, we’re all individuals and you have to work with a trusted therapist and within a comfortable landscape for you.


Gestalt therapy, developed by Fritz Perls, Laura Perls, and Paul Goodman in the 1940s, is an experiential and humanistic form of therapy that was originally designed as an alternative to conventional psychoanalysis. Gestalt therapists and their clients use creative and experiential techniques to enhance awareness, freedom, and self-direction. The word gestalt comes from the German word meaning shape or form, and it references the character or essence of something.

The main benefit of Gestalt therapy is to pull the fragments of your life together, creating an awareness of what works for you, what causes certain behaviors, and how to move forward in a healthy and happy manner that isn’t self-destructive. I believe once you understand your current situation and your reactive behaviors, you can truly learn how to navigate your life to its fullest.  Thus, there are many tools and situations we can use, together, to identify what is working and isn’t working in your present and past life.

If you’re pondering if Gestalt therapy is the right path for you, contact me. Let’s connect and talk about your situation and end-game goals. I have lots of different methods and Gestalt may or may not be the best for your specific situation.

Two Tips for Dissecting Your Dreams At Home.

I had such a great response to my prior blog post on dreams that I thought I would offer everyone some tips to do dream work at home. Now, you have to be careful. When you do dream work from home, without professional guidance, you can unravel some uncomfortable truths about your past, about your present, and about yourself.  If you know there are some painful truths buried, please seek out my services or the services of someone else who youdreams3 feel comfortable with.  Gestalt therapy is about the journey of living, successfully, in the present. Sometimes, however, the journey is a rocky path and there is no shame in seeking support to complete any part of it so you can move forward.

Ok, now to our two exercises. The first one I have dubbed as “The Rewrite Process.” This is where you take a dream and re-write it or tell it to yourself as if it is happening right now. After you do this, turn the paper over so you can’t reference it. Now, write the dream in the past tense- as you can recall it from when you woke up.  Remember, you’re covering the same dream but from two different positions. First, as if it is happening in the moment. Next, as it happened in the past tense and you viewed it from afar.

You want to compare the papers next and see where the differences exist, and there will be differences. Ask yourself how alive you felt in each experience and what emotions you felt in each experience. The results will help you work through what your unconscious mind is trying to tell you about a present situation.

Another exercise that you want to try is considered a “part of me” process. What you want to do is list all the objects you saw in the dream. For example, if you’ve dreamed about Robert Downey Jr. (yes, the actor) making milkshakes and your grandma’s house- you’d write down 1) Robert Downey Jr. 1) Milkshakes 3.) Grandma’s house.  Your next step is to write the phrase “part of me” next to each item.

Next, write down a one to two sentence that puzzled your about the dream. Follow this by writing down why it puzzled you.  Now go back and write down how all the objects in the dream made you feel. Your sentence structure should look something like this, 1. Robert Downey Jr.  Party of me.  Handsome.  2. Milkshakes. Part of me. I don’t like them. 3. Grandma’s House. Part of me. Comforting.  I was puzzled by the dream because I don’t know Robert Downey, Jr. and I don’t like his movies. I felt upset that he was at my grandma’s house.

Once you have the basics down, you should take the time to reflect upon the dream and what you wrote down out loud. If you have to talk to an empty chair or a wall, do so. Spend a good twenty minutes talking through your dreams and your notes.  Identify emotions and how each part of you noted on paper can related to your present day life.

Want to do more intense dream work with my guidance? Let’s talk.

Gestalt therapy and your “ah ha” moment.

I work with many clients, in person or online, who want to understand their present circumstances. After all, the point of Gestalt therapy truly is to be aware of your environment and your current behaviors. The problem I see, however, lies with many people focusing on  trying to become too aware of the details without absorbing the emotions and energies associated with particular situations.

For example, someone may focus on the color of a room’s paint when they should really be responding to how they feel about the room itself. Does the room, maybe even the paint, spark an emotion within and what is the emotion associated with?

a ha moment cover

One exercise you can do at home deals with concentrating on the environment, not the details, to achieve an “ah ha” moment. Here’s how to start. First, you need a pen and a paper. Next, sit yourself in the middle of your bed. Be still. If you can, set your cell phone alarm for three minutes and try to be as still as possible within those three minutes.

Now, write down five things about the three minutes of stillness using “I” phrasing. For example, “I couldn’t stop thinking about a problem at work no matter how hard I tried.” This shows that you’re disassociated from your present because of tension or trouble at work. Or, “I feel tired” is a good one. You can then accept you’re tired in the present moment, which will lead you to examine why you’re tired. Perhaps you woke up early or couldn’t sleep because of a problem you’re currently dealing with.

The key to discovering more “ah ha” moments within your life is to focus more on your feelings and less on the details of your environment. If you focus on what you feel within an environment, you will learn more about being present within it versus recalling décor details.

If you want to explore how to move forward with this exercise, or other techniques, please contact me. I can provide confidential online services to further discuss your specific circumstances.

Dreams and Gestalt Therapy.

Frederick (Fritz) Perls is considered the “father” of Gestalt Therapy. The basic concept of Gestalt Perls believed that unresolved conflicts from the past had a great deal of influence upon present behavior, and that these conflicts needed to be “worked through” (Perls, 1969). Dreams were a cornerstone of this type of therapy because of the dreamsenergy and reference work it provides to help people better understand the present.

When working with myself, my patients often discover just how powerful dreams can be when seeking insight into our day-to-day lives and possible hidden issues that we can’t see within the present.  You see, Fritz Perls felt that dreams were highly symbolic and made extensive use of interpretation and I couldn’t agree more.  I believe dreams are a subjective presentation of the person and that there is a sense of wholeness in every image.  By using dreams as a part of therapy, we can better connect to the meaning of what may be parts of ourselves that are veiled or living within a fantasy during waking life.  The meanings have to be carefully talked about, sometimes even talked through using an empty chair as a “third” party.  And we can always evaluate the idea of the intrapsychic dream landscape.  For example, was that angry dog really someone angry at you or yourself angry at a situation.

Dreams are powerful and there are many ways to decipher what they do and do not mean. I tend to believe our unconscious mind is always trying to help our conscious lives by providing clues to not only unraveling what is nagging us, but by presenting options for us to address, work through and then discover how to apply solutions in everyday life.

If you’re just as fascinated by dreams as I, let’s talk. I have plenty more information to provide to you and consultations are always welcomed. Don’t forget to follow me on Facebook for daily updates on this and other subjects related to Gestalt therapy.

The Unbroken Spirit

gypsy flamenco artistThis Saturday January 25th I will host my workshop “The Unbroken Spirit” in Toronto. It is a gestalt flamenco workshop for stomping out old beliefs that don’t help us so that we can rediscover our own inner truth.

Why flamenco?  Flamenco is about truth and spirit.  It is said to have developed as a result of the Spanish inquisition, when so many people were cast out and down, including Moors, Jews, Gypsies, and dispossessed Christians.  These diverse peoples escaped to largely uninhabited mountain regions, creating their own community.  Flamenco is thought to come from two Arabic words meaning “Fugitive peasant”, and came to be the song, music and dance of these people.  The songs were at that time often about suffering and death, expressed with passion and conviction.  In doing so, it strengthened the people, and they endured as a result, with their own beliefs in tact.

Flamenco is, as Esmeralda Enriques states it, an expression of contrasts – of strength and personal power and vulnerability.  Everything about it expresses and encourages the expression of our own truth in who we are.  It is, therefore, the perfect vehicle for stomping out old beliefs and rediscovering who we really are.

Guitarist Nuno Ribeiro, passionate lover of flamenco, will be there to accompany us on his guitar as we dance, and Esmeralda Enriques, whose dedication to flamenco is surpassed only by her knowledge of the culture of flamenco and her own dance, will guide us through the final transformation.

For more information about this workshop and how to register, visit

 Maryanne Nicholls is a Toronto based, certified Psychotherapist offering a balanced approach to mental health. Please visit for information on her services, or contact her directly to find out how she can help you reclaim the joy of living.

La Guitarra

Gypsy Guitar Player, by Marvin Steel

Gypsy Guitar Player, by Marvin Steel

Last week I wrote about genius and duende.  This week I want to give a poetic instance of this in Federico Garcia Lorca’s poem “La Guitarra”.  One english translation from D. E. Pohren’s book “The Art of Flamenco”, is

The cry

of the guitar begins.

The crystals of dawn


The wail

of the guitar begins.

It is useless to silence it.

It is impossible

to silence it.

It cries monotonously

like water cries,

like wind cries

over frozen peaks.

It is impossible

to silence it.

It bemoans

distant things.

It is the hot Southern sand

craving white camellias.

It is an arrow without destination,

the afternoon without tomorrow.

Here is a beautiful and powerful spanish recital of that powerfully moving stanza … enjoy!


Maryanne Nicholls is a Toronto based, certified Psychotherapist offering a balanced approach to mental health. Please visit for information on her services, or contact her directly to find out how she can help you reclaim the joy of living.  Sign up for her upcoming workshop The Unbroken Spirit, on celebrating our beliefs through Flamenco.

On Genius and Duende

spark of enlightenmentOn January 25th I am hosting a workshop called The Unbroken Spirit.  It is a workshop designed to explore our beliefs and make them our own through dance, specifically through Flamenco.  I will say more about this workshop, and about flamenco, throughout January.  Today I want to focus on the concept of spark of genius, and a related Spanish concept, duende.

“I’m a looser!”  “I am never going to get this!”  “I guess I’m just not cut out for this.”
Sound familiar; this feeling of utter misery and dejection?  This belief that I am not going to realize my dreams because I’m just not good enough, or smart enough, or … ?
What if what I realize in my life isn’t entirely about me or because of me?  That I personally contribute something to my dreams, and fate – the universe – contributes the rest.  What if all I have to do is show up (as Woody Allen says) and be ready?  The Greeks and Romans thought so.
Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love speaks of the idea of the external genius – or genie – that periodically visits us mortals in her TED talk On Genius. She begins by speaking of the anguish that every creative person goes through in trying to capture those moments of creativity that move us.  If we believe that we should be able to capture those moments on demand or at will, this can make us truly miserable.  But on the other hand, if we see them as gifts  that enlighten and delight, that turn on a light within us, then our misery disappears.  It is the difference between “having” a genius and “being” a genius.
We can think of this as a source of divine inspiration that comes into our lives from time to time and leads us to great and wonderful creativity.  It is not something we can conjure up or control; it is outside of us.  But when it enters our lives, it enriches us and all those around us.  It is a universal gift.  All we have to do is be open and ready for it when it comes.
Elizabeth went on to give an example of a dancer  who, in a rare moment, transcends his or her part and becomes the embodiment of the dance, shining and stopping time, as if “lit up with divinity”.  At these times, the spectators would shout God! God! God!, or Allah! Allah! Allah! in honor and recognition of this rare moment.  When the Moors settled in Spain, this morphed into what we hear now as Ole! Ole! Ole! during bull fights and flamenco.  When a flamenco dancer, singer or guitar player is so inspired, he or she is said to have duende.

Pino - Flamenco in Red

Pino – Flamenco in Red

Duende means having soul, expressing authenticity with passion and with no apology.  In the flamenco world, it is a spirit that temporarily possess us, an essence that shines through us and is more than us.  It begins with our own passions and beliefs that are turned into dance and song and music for the eyes and ears of everyone, expressing the spirit or genius, not of that person, but for all people who are touched by it.
What do you strongly believe in?  What moves you to express through song or dance or music?  Have you ever experienced a moment of genius, or duende? 
Maryanne Nicholls is a Toronto based, certified Psychotherapist offering a balanced approach to mental health. Please visit for information on her services, or contact her directly to find out how she can help you reclaim the joy of living.

No Time Now!

What is it about this time of year that makes it so busy, even if we haven’t booked a single party or bought a single present?  481-extremely-busy-I’ve been trying to book time with friends for a phone call or a coffee and can’t seem to find even half an hour free.  This year I can claim particular reasons, but it happens every year regardless of whether I have reasons or not.

Honestly, I’m not a fan of this season.  Even given that it brings family and friends together, most of us are so wound up that there is not much room for genuine closeness with those we care about most.  I remember a few winters going away to a remote cabin and walking in the woods for a week.  It was wonderful.  I saved my quality time with friends for January, when everyone is getting over all that food and coming back to the Now.

Perhaps I’ll find a way to do something like that once more.

It may be that I’m anxious about what might happen.  After all, there were few Christmases when I was growing up that were without incident and unwanted excitement.

What about you?  How do you experience this season?

Maryanne Nicholls is a Toronto based, certified Psychotherapist offering a balanced approach to mental health. Please visit for information on her services, or contact her directly to find out how she can help you reclaim the joy of living.

Balance during Season’s Greetings

Next weekend is the beginning of Chanukah, and US Thanksgiving, a wonderful start to a month of eating and drinking for life balancemany of us.  It’s also one of the most difficult months for many because it holds so many expectations and obligations.

Especially during this time, without sounding like a drudge, it’s so important to maintain a healthy balance.  Being in balance means being in balance emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually.  If we are out of balance in any single aspect of our lives, we end up being out of balance as a whole.

Think about it:  if I’m upset or anxious about something, that’s when I’ll trip and sprain my ankle, when I binge on chocolate, neglect anything physical that nourishes my body, “relax” by vegging out in front of the TV, and skip those things that bring me spiritual renewal because I’m “too busy”.  If I mentally worry over something, that’s when I walk out in front of a car or drive through a stop sign, when I’m not really present for my family, and when I make absent-minded or unintentionally bad decisions around my physical health.  If I overwork and neglect what really matters to me, I become emotionally depressed and survive on donuts and coffee. On the other hand, if I’ve suffered from some illness, that’s when I pay more attention to what I eat, and take the time to care for myself emotionally and spiritually.  That is, until I end up with something that can’t be fixed in a short time.

Primarily though, during this season of what is meant to be a celebration with family and friends, but what can be for many a season of high anxiety and aloneness, it is our emotional well-being that we must nurture.  Here are some things that might help you get through this time not only sufficiently but well …

  1. Take care of your emotional and spiritual needs every day.  This may mean a special moment with your loved ones, quiet time every morning or evening, meditation, prayer, or a simple commune with nature.  Make it work for you, even in a day bursting with obligations.  The few moments you devote to your own well being will make all the other moments in your life flow.
  2. Exercize every day.  Simply by taking the time to care for yourself physically every day puts something in the overall balance bank in your favour.  This may be the time to sign up for some fitness classes, yoga, pilates, or if you’re really hurting, a personal trainer.  Check out Brian Kotoka’s website for more information on what is out there for you.  If you really have very little time for this, commit to walking everywhere you can – make it work for you!
  3. Nourish your body as much as possible with healthy food choices.  Instead of eating when you’re stressed, try a hot bath, a long walk, or a good book.  See for information that can help you do this.
  4. If you are suffering physically, get help! If it’s a chronic soreness, check out a physiotherapist or related care giver (for instance; if you’ve worked up muscular stress, try a massage or a reflexology treatment (; perhaps you are feeling a lack of energy and your doctor can find nothing – seek some supportive naturopathic treatment and advice (  These are only a few suggestions and suggested resources.  There are many other resources out there for you.

The thing is that you don’t have to suffer during this next 30 days.  It’s your choice and there are many resources and people out there who can help you make this time truly worthwhile.

Maryanne Nicholls is a Toronto based, certified Psychotherapist offering a balanced approach to mental health. Please visit for information on her services, or contact her directly to find out how she can help you reclaim the joy of living.