Updated: Oct 13, 2021
Hello everyone. Molweni, and welcome back to another episode of Fresh Perspective where we’ll be taking another look at life. And today with me, a very special guest and friend, Lianca Fourie. Lianca, welcome, thank you for being on our little show that goes out to millions and millions of people around the world, and gets listened to by tons of people.
Okay, okay, no pressure. (Laughs)
So, I’d like to start the session with a very easy question. And it’s kind of the way that you introduce yourself as well. So what is it that you do, Lianca?
I am a play therapist. So I literally studied seven years to learn how to play.
(Laughs) I love it. And is that specifically for kids?
Yes. Okay. So I do play therapy, it’s usually for children between the ages of 3 and 18, obviously. But the theory that we use in play therapy is called Gestalt therapy. It is almost more like a life philosophy and a mindset. So you can actually use the principles thereof on any age. So, yeah, it’s actually more a way of living than it is a way of therapy, I want to say.
Oh wow, I’m very curious now. So what do you mean by, it’s a way of thinking, or way of living? Maybe you can explain to us what Gestalt is in a few sentences. What do you do, how do you do Gestalt therapy?
Gestalt is a Dutch word. It means that the parts of the whole are more than the whole itself. So a person – you’re not just Francois the Imago therapist and relationship specialist, you are a father, you are a brother, you are a son. There are different parts of you that make up the whole. So when we approach life, we should think about all our different sides and selves, to be present within it. Gestalt is a lot about being present in the moment. Because we believe that power lies in the present. You can only change if you are really present in the moment. That’s where the power is. And it’s a lot about taking responsibility for your own life and your own emotions. So Gestalt is about being yourself, being in the moment, being present. And we can’t, like, within play therapy, it will entail that a child comes to you with a problem, and you can’t change the circumstances of the child, but you can work with the emotions the child is feeling now. You can’t reverse trauma that happened, but you can work with the results of that trauma in the present moment and you can try to strengthen the child to go back into the same circumstances, but with a self that is strengthened. So the child is more equipped to actually deal with what’s happening in their lives.
Oh wow. I’ve got many questions already. So how do you define being present? And maybe, link to that in the whole Gestalt mindset – being present and being yourself, what does that mean?
Being present starts with awareness. Awareness of yourself. And awareness – the way to open the door to awareness, emotional awareness and what’s happening around you, how you’re feeling, is through the senses. So sensory work is actually the first step of emotional work, and to become aware. A typical Gestalt approach would be to say, close your eyes. Become aware of your breathing, how your heart is pounding. If you are sitting, become aware of where your body touches the chair. So, to use your senses to open the door to emotions.
In the brain, the sensory part of your brain sits next to the emotions. So we use senses to open up emotions. In therapy, we will do Smarties work, to say – okay, close your eyes and pick a colour Smartie with your eyes closed. Ah, it’s the blue one. Tell me, what does the colour blue remind you of? The ocean? Wow. How do you feel when you see the ocean? Can you smell the ocean? Is the ocean hot or cold? And then, what does that remind you of? So, through the senses, you open up the emotions, and then the emotions flow.
Cool; interesting. In the light of that, what does it means to be yourself? So being present means really connecting to the present moment through the senses. But also, then, connecting to the emotions, either from the past or related to the past or the present through that sensory experience.
Did I get all of that?
What does it mean to be yourself, then?
To be yourself is to accept yourself with all your parts. So it is about taking responsibility for what has happened in your life, for your own feelings, for your own actions. And actually, to say, I can’t maybe change the things that happened in my life, but I do have the power to choose how I’m going to react on it, how I’m gonna deal with this. So it’s actually about taking responsibility. And a very easy or basic way to start doing that is to use I-language. And to use I-sentences. Instead of saying, you are making me mad, it’s like, I feel mad when that happens. So that’s the basic principle of taking responsibility, being present, and being aware of your own self, and your whole self.
So the whole self, being yourself, means – taking responsibility for all the different parts in your life. So would another way to say that be, you take responsibility for all the different roles you play for different people in your life?
Definitely. You are more than just one self. We always have a core self, that is, in all the selves there will be a fundamental Francois that is – there’s stuff about you that just makes you unique in who you are. But you’re different as a parent to when you’re a relationship specialist. Like, I studied seven years to play, but when I’m in my mother role, I totally forget what’s the right thing to do. How to stay calm.
When your child is pushing your buttons, you know. So usually my husband will ask, what do we do now when Elizabeth does this? And I’m like, I don’t know! I really don’t know.
I understand exactly what you mean.
But I’m aware that my mother-self is not as good to react in the correct way like my therapist self will do and will know. So I’m aware of that, and it’s okay. Sometimes we should just say, it’s okay to be like that.
I like that a lot. It makes a lot of sense, Lianca, because when you work with other children, you’re not as emotionally invested. So it’s easier for you to be present and remember what the right thing or the right way is to approach something, and not allow your emotions to interfere. But with your own children, and in my case my children and my wife, being a relationship specialist as you call it (I like that – I’m gonna use it. Relationship specialist), it’s harder. Because you’re emotionally invested. So the perspective you have is kind of cluttered within that context.
Yes. And it’s much easier to desensitise ourselves at work than it is to not feel emotions at home. We do feel a lot of feelings at home.
Yes, because I’m guessing – I’d like to hear your view on it – we’ve got more expectations at home.
And expect things in return.
They say, being a parent is nothing else than managing your own anxieties. (Laughs) And anxieties usually appear when there are expectations not being met. So it’s exactly what you are saying.
Okay cool. But how do you help kids that are so small? You said, from age 3 to 18?
Wow. How do you help small kids to realise, I need to take responsibility? How does that work?
I first want to say that I LOVE working with children. I think it’s a lot less complicated than adults.
Does that include teenagers?
Oh – teenagers are my favourite. They say it like it is. They don’t like people to be fake and they can smell fakeness from a distance.
So the conversation is actually quicker, to be honest, and right to the point.
Sorry, I interrupted you. So firstly, talk to me about young kids, how do you do that, and then let’s talk about teenagers.
Okay. So – if a child is really, really young, you work with the emotions. You’re not gonna make them understand why they are doing what they are doing. So we work with the emotions, and we try to teach them how to handle and manage their emotions. So it’s okay to feel all of the emotions. We accept all feelings, but we limit actions.
So – it is not about just being permissive about feelings but there’s no consequence for you. You may be angry, but it’s what we do when we are angry that makes it acceptable or not. So the very small kids, we handle the emotions and teach them how to manage their emotions.
Can you give us an example?
Yes. So, I think a lot of three- to six-year-olds - the parents phone me and say, my child is out of control. She’s so angry, she hurts other kids, you know. My kid has anger issues. Okay. So then the child comes to me, and we see – we will use emoji stickers and see how the child’s heart is feeling, and what is making you feel that way, where does the anger sit in your body, very Gestalt – where does it sit in your body. If the anger can talk, what will it say? And then you actually realise, oh. Because anger is a secondary emotion. There’s always another feeling hiding behind it. So the child will say, the anger will say I hate my baby sister! And then we can say, it sounds as if your baby sister is making your life a bit challenging? Accepting the feeling. And then, She always gets the attention from Mommy! Oh, so now your baby sister is here, you have less time with Mommy? What do you usually do when you get angry? Oh, I hit things. And then we will say, what else can we rather do when we’re angry? Let’s think of ideas. And then we can make a cool-down jar with ideas of alternatives to handling or managing anger. Rather throw balloons or get a punching pillow that’s your angry pillow that you’re allowed to punch… you get the idea.
Yes. So as an option – so maybe if it’s like a violent reaction, which maybe sounds a bit strong to use with kids – but like, it’s a physical action – do you suggest something like that? So instead of punching your sister, your baby sister, punch the pillow? Or do you say, let’s even move away from that? Is that not a good option?
So, we will say that there are anger rules. We are allowed to feel angry, but we are not allowed to punch something or someone. We are not allowed to break anything, not allowed to say bad words. Let’s see what we can rather do that’s healthy ways of handling anger. When we feel the anger is in our hearts, or in our tummy, or wherever they said the anger is in their body - what else can we do? But what you are saying, is we want to even try to prevent the anger from becoming an outburst?
I’m asking, yeah.
And that is when we do parental guidelines, when we give parental guidelines. We will try to help the parents to diffuse the emotions even before it results in a tantrum or an anger outburst. But that’s for the parents to do and to learn. So they get a lot of homework from my side to do.
(Laughs) Okay great. And I’m guessing they’re quite grateful because they know what to do? Because they phone you and they don’t know what to do. So they don’t mind homework.
Yeah. It’s that typical thing of, why don’t we get a manual when we get the baby?
So, just like – your child doesn’t know how to handle anger. They’re not born with it. You as a parent don’t know how to teach them how to manage their anger. So within the playroom, I try to diffuse the child’s feelings, teach them responsibility, to become aware of it. But the other part of my job as a play therapist is to help with parental guidelines on how the parent can go home and diffuse the anger, and teach the child the emotional vocabulary as well. For them to be present as parents, to become aware of their own feelings, but the child’s feelings. Yeah – it’s all about being aware.
So the parents also get equipped, you know. That’s awesome. Because that’s – in my work as a relationship specialist – (Laughs)
It’s a big part of the process, is understanding what am I feeling? What’s this emotion called? Because like you said, underneath the anger are other emotions. That’s actually the real emotion that we need to get to so we can express that.
Okay. Now let’s talk about teenagers. I also love working with teenagers.
So as the child grows up and as they get older, you will include more responsibility work within the play therapy. I think teenagers are so awesome to work with because they are so honest. Another thing with Gestalt is, when there’s unfinished business, we need to have dialogue and that’s where your work correlates with mine. We need dialogue to close unfinished business.
So typically, a teenager will come to me and I think you can agree, their biggest issue in life is that they don’t feel like they’re being heard.
So they don’t feel that their feelings are being acknowledged, and they don’t have parents that make them feel that they are listened to and being understood. Because being a teenager is complicated. I mean, I think I see children between the ages of 10 and 12 – we call them tweens – they are pre-teens – the hormones already start here to confuse the child, and to bring up emotions. And then being a teenager is full-blown hormones and emotional rollercoasters, and stuff. So it’s very difficult. And then, your parent or parents maybe don’t realise that they need to shift their parenting style from parenting to more… you actually taught me this, I just want to say this. I was in one of your workshops. You taught me that a parenting style should shift from parenting to mentoring to a more friendship-type relationship after –
That sounds brilliant, tell me more! (Laughs)
So – parents also need to become aware that they can’t handle their teenager the same way that they handle them as children. Because then they are not going to get to the real problem. They are just going to want to handle the perceived problem that can be tantrums, anger, doors being shut or whatever. But they don’t connect with the teenager. And when the teenager doesn’t feel connected, they won’t share. So we really need to connect before we can correct.
So with the teenager, we will diffuse the emotions, we will do a typical activity of putting your parent in an empty chair, having a dialogue with your parent to just let the emotions flow. Maybe to close the circle. Because a child and a teenager, when they feel like they’ve handled something and it’s finished, they can actually be finished with it. While adults say, yeah, I’m okay. But I’m not actually okay. So we can maybe close the unfinished business cycle through dialogue in the playroom. And then we will also try to teach them, okay, how can we be responsible for our own emotions? If something like this happens again, what can you do? How can you approach your parent? Teach communication skills to be able to share your feelings within a safe way, without feeling guilty about it, or without making it about the person directly. So making it safe to communicate.
That’s awesome stuff, Lianca. What fascinates me about working with teenagers in that way, is the example you shared as well. The empty chair dialogue. Talking to your parents even though they’re not there, can actually close that loop.
Yes. It can, definitely. So something that you also taught me, Francois, (laughs) -
No, no, stop that (laughs).
I’m honest. See, it helps to go for therapy to be a therapist (laughs). Something you taught me in Imago therapy, is to start with an appreciation. And then to link the appreciation with an emotion, to go into the opposite emotion and then to try to resolve that. So I’m gonna use that in an example. Hello Dad. I like it when you spend time with me. It makes me feel special. A time that you don’t make me feel special, is when you are working all the time and you’re not spending time with me. That makes me feel like I’m not important. I need you to spend more time with me or take me on a date during the weekend, and I need you to not ignore me when I speak. So I will facilitate the process of this dialogue within the session, and we like using a plastic inflatable called Bob to make it more real (laughs). Or draw a picture of your parent and put it on the chair, because remember, we are using the senses to open up the emotions.
That’s so cool. I’ve never tried that. Amazing. Thank you. I’ll use that. Very cool.
I think your wife is very good with sensory work. Expressing the sensory on paper, or –
Yeah. My wife, for those of you who don’t know, my wife is an artist. And brilliant.
Amazing. She’s an amazing artist.
An amazing artist! (Laughs) And do you sometimes get the parents in to actually have the dialogue? Or do you feel like that’s not necessary when you’re working with teens, because they are able to close the loop in that way?
Ooh. That depends on the child’s temperament. Some teenagers would not feel safe getting the parent in. So some of them, I would ask them, do you feel like this is something you would like to do in real life? Is it something we should try with daddy or mommy inside the room? Or do you feel more comfortable for it to be just in the empty chair? Or would you rather write a letter to them? Or, I will just refer them to you.
(Laughs) Okay. Thanks, Lianca.
I think emotions can be so sensitive. You should be cautious not for it to explode, and I think you are very good with diffusing those emotions with both parties involved.
Thank you once again, Lianca. Really – I’ll do the EFT as we discussed afterwards.
I claim back from medical aid.
(Laughs) I also wanted to ask you, what – because I see you as a really connecting, and caring, and brilliant person. That’s why I love chatting with you and connecting with you. Your turn for the EFT, right.
Bring it on.
That’s why I wanted to chat with you on Fresh Perspective because I think you do have a fresh perspective. How do you feel like your work changes or has changed you?
I started with a very easy question and now we go into the deep stuff.
Oh, you’re throwing me in there. And I’m someone that needs to think about what I’m thinking about (laughs). You’re putting me on the spot. How has my work changed me?
I’ve come to realise that we are all just human. Like that song. We are only human, we make mistakes, we are going to hurt each other. But it is okay, as long as we want to grow from it, and as long as we are learning from it. So to embrace life as it throws you some curveballs. To acknowledge all feelings, accept all feelings. And then, to try to just be yourself within your feelings and the circumstances that you are in. And then to try to really grow from it, and say, okay. How can I use this to grow within myself, but also to help other people? So, to build empathy.
Because I think, when we care more about ourselves, and more about each other, that’s ultimately how we’re gonna change the world, you know. And I think people are stuck in ways that they really don’t know how to change. They really don’t know how to accept negative feelings. The negative feelings of others, and how to manage that. I mean, when your child is being defiant, it’s a struggle for a parent to overcome those feelings, because you as a parent then also feel rejected by being a parent. So it’s made me more aware of, that we are only human. That life is going to throw you curveballs, negative feelings, and it’s okay. That we can actually use this to care more for ourselves and for each other.
Makes sense. And you did well. You didn’t even prepare for that question. You haven’t prepared for any of the questions, so you’ve been doing well all along.
No, I wish I could! (Laughs)
If I can link to what you shared now – for me, working with people, and the way it changed and keeps on changing me, is it links so much to what you were saying. It’s realising that we can’t be perfect. Knowing a lot of stuff and understanding how it works doesn’t mean we will perfectly implement it. And that’s something that I really have to keep on embracing and understand because I want to do the things I know. But the way I, especially in terms of parenting and in my marriage, I just see it as – when I know better, I do better. So when I realise, oh, I didn’t actually implement something that I already know, or I missed something - I know that I try and do better. That’s the best we can do.
And that’s exactly one of the things that I try to teach parents as well. When your child feels good, your child is gonna act good. A child that doesn’t feel good, doesn’t act good. So we can’t expect our children to behave better if they don’t feel better. And how are we going to get them to feel better? We need to accept their feelings. We need to say, all feelings are okay to feel while we limit actions, to still be the parent. But as parents, we tend to just want our children to stop. Stop feeling negative feelings. Don’t do that, that’s not necessary. It’s nothing to cry about, stop it.
And then we, we tend to throw out more commands and threats. And you know, a very spirited child will see that as a challenge and want to challenge the challenge. So then you don’t connect at all. And when we don’t connect within the relationship, there’s not gonna be growth. We’re not gonna feel better. So we’re not gonna behave better. So then we’re just stuck.
Yes. Okay, I’ve got one more question, I know you have to go play.
I need to go play (laughs).
What do you feel is your superpower that you have to give to the world? Usually, I call it a fresh perspective. What’s your fresh perspective, fresh take on the world? But Nicoliene my wife told me, I should rather ask people what their superpower is that they feel they have.
You know what, I think this is something that maybe was spoken over me since I was a little child. So it’s something that I’ve maybe grown into, or maybe it was a temperament trait that was seen by me from a very young age. But I would say, it’s joy. To try to be joyful. And luckily, joyful can manifest in being playful. So just, maybe, to be joyful. To share joy. That’s my way of sharing the love. You know, you can have joy in difficult circumstances as well. And I think as a therapist, I want to teach children that to be joyful is more a choice than it is a result of something. Because the children I see are very broken. I mean, we are all broken as we have said before. But to be joyful is to choose despite all the things that happen in my life, I still can take responsibility for my own emotions and own actions, and be joyful still in my core self. So I would love that to be my superpower, joy. Express joy.
It is. Lianca, I’ve known you for many years now. And when you said that, I was like yes, it’s true.
I’m very grateful that you agreed to share your insights and your passion on the podcast.
It was so nice to be here, I feel very privileged.
Thank you, everyone, for listening, and tuning in. Remember, if you change your perspective, you can transform your life.