A review of Gestalt Therapy: 100 Key Points and Techniques by Dave Mann.
Published by Routledge, London and New York, 2010, 282 pages.
Price: £12.99 (pbk).
This was a difficult book to review, and also a welcome challenge. In essence, this is an overview of Gestalt therapy in 100 mini-chapters of two or three pages each. My inner-tabloid would bill it 'a thought-provoking romp through the heartland of a powerful and often misunderstood approach to therapy'.
My congratulations to Dave Mann on pulling together such a rich and complex tour de force of Gestalt. I probably agree with Dave in about as many places as I disagree, which to me is the hallmark of an engaging text. Struggling to articulate my experience of that engagement, I have decided to demonstrate my experience through the ancient art of mimicry.
Here follows what I have determined to be my ten most relevant responses to Dave Mann's book:
Response 1: Technique in Gestalt therapy
I started out at odds with Dave over the inclusion of `techniques' in the title. He must have been anticipating my response, as I didn't make it out of Roman numerals before just this point being addressed. Dave admits to a similar feeling, but explains his change of heart by asserting 'we do use techniques in gestalt therapy, but we do not lead with them' (p. x). For me, '100 key points and techniques' as a title suggests that, at least in part, the book will tell me what to do; i.e. I will learn Gestalt techniques to use with my clients. Technique as a process could be said to arise out of my contact with each client; 'a technique' is something that gets applied to someone by someone else. A Google books search revealed an interesting tendency for other books in this series to talk about 'borrowing techniques' from Gestalt. I would have liked to have seen Dave challenge this outlook by spitting out 'and techniques'. Consider-ing the other five books in the series all carry the same sub-title, I found Dave's change of heart unconvincing.
Response 2: Hit-and-run Gestalt
The classic problem with any work that covers a wide breadth of material is that there is rarely the space for in-depth exploration. Consider my point about technique above; that's a 186-word overview of a topic that could quite happily be a paper or chapter in its own right. I get my point across but cannot really allow much room for discussion. Dave manages existential phenomenology in two pages. Impressively, he manages to get across the essence of the particular point he is covering, own the stance as his own, and place himself in relation to differing views in the field. The trade-off is that the book is pulled more in the direction of Dave Mann's Gestalt than the field of Gestalt as understood by Dave Mann. That I now do not have space to explain fully what I mean by that is a case in point.
Response 3: Embodiment
I found the book as a thing-in-the-world very pleasing to hold. Most excitingly, the book is a convenient size for carrying around in my satchel meaning that 1) it became satisfyingly dog-eared within two weeks, and 2) was immediately to hand when I had a question to ask of it (and it is important to bring a question to this book, see Response 5). I particularly enjoyed getting a sense of Dave being embodied in his writing, making his presence in the text particularly strong. I found his writing style at once conversational, professional, knowledgeable, and accessible. My overriding sense was that Dave could have been in the room reading the book to me.
Response 4: Format – the fragmented journey
Dave structures his book as a journey; a structure that, for this book at least, I didn't get on with. Firstly, I had in mind immediate comparisons with Joyce and Sills (2001), and Clarkson (2004), where the metaphor of the journey compliments the structure of the book. I felt the journey metaphor to jar with the 100 pieces of Gestalt, as presented. Secondly, whilst Dave advises sequential reading over dropping in, my attempts to do so left me feeling queasy. The trouble/glory of the book is that each of those 100 pieces is a highly condensed morsel of Gestalt. I found sequential reading to be like trying to eat a bar of 90 per cent dark chocolate for breakfast!
Response 5: Format – need constellates the reader/book field
'A need organizes the field, the field talks back and a new need forms and so the process continues' (p. 120). The '100 pieces of Gestalt' format really came into its own when I came to the book with a need. I was writing an assignment when I received this book, and the moment I came across a concept I wanted to contemplate, the book was a fertile ground out of which a clear figure emerged each and every time. And, through the reading, I developed new interests in different sections of the book. Overall, I found reading this most satisfying when my journey through it became haphazard and butterfly-like.
Response 6: The map with no map
I was somewhat disorientated when I discovered the book was lacking an index. For me, this reduces its effectiveness as a reference material by reducing the available options for navigating content. Projecting wildly, I can see an argument for leaving out an index to encourage a more relational engagement with the text. It would also at first glance seem as though 100 themed points is index enough. However, for my butterfly-like reading style, an index can make the difference between finding what I'm looking for and fluttering to another book. When I looked for what Dave had to say about Gestalt experiments, I quickly found 'Point 47: Creative experimentation'; only later did I notice 'Point 79: Experimentation' and then 'Point 45: A setting for challenge and experiment'. An index entry for 'experiment' would have pointed me to pp. : vii, xi, 8, 16, 56, 61, 95, 105, 122, 127, 132-135, 138-139, 153, 158, 171-172, 192, 195, 213-215, 220, 222-224, Book review: Gestalt Therapy: 100 Key Points, Mann 67 229, 234, 236 (and no, I didn't; I searched using the Google books preview!). A better index entry would then differentiate thematically, creating an intricate network of back alleys and byways through the text. The book is by no means damaged by its lack of an index. However, a second edition with a good index would be markedly stronger.
Response 7: Chewing and swallowing
Pleasingly, despite the reference to techniques in the title, Dave does not offer up any Gestalt techniques for introjection and mechanical application. There is no pillow-bashing protocol, no list of experiments for use in particular situations. Instead, there is a lively discus-sion of the essence of various aspects of Gestalt theory and practice. An intelligent and creative therapist could easily go away and experiment with adapting their approach in the light of what they had read. I personally found Dave's suggestion to consider a presenting issue as 'a symptom of the person's field rather than of the individual' (p. 246) made attending to the wider field a more accessible concept for me, allowing me to develop my practice in the light of my enriched understanding of theory.
Response 8: Chewing and spitting out
I took issue not only with Dave's stance on, but also his portrayal of, the issue of developmental theory in Gestalt. Arguing that 'a common criticism of Gestalt is that it does not possess an adequate developmental theory' (p. 207), Dave asserts that 'developmental theory is implicitly contained within field theory' (p. 114), and goes on to cite Stern's work as a good fit for Gestalt. My objection to this portrayal is that, as Kenofer's (2010) broadside against Morss (2002) demonstrates, the issue of developmental theory in Gestalt is by no means settled. I disagree that Gestalt needs a developmental theory, and I am unconvinced that a developmental theory is implicit in field theory. Dave does not seem to acknowledge this controversy.
Response 9: Contraindicated for
I would steer Gestalt trainees at the start of their training away from this book and towards a wider range of texts that undertake more in-depth and discursive explorations of the fundamentals of Gestalt. My feeling is that whilst the strength of Dave's presence makes an interesting and provocative encounter for the practising therapist, it is potentially overwhelming for the trainee learning concepts from scratch.
Response 10: Recommended for
I would recommend Dave's book to Gestalt trainees who have already spent time chewing over the fundamentals and begun to practise. I feel that what sup-ported me most in engaging with the strength of Dave's presence in the text was my experience of practising Gestalt and familiarity with the theory. Professionals looking for a good reference book or a challenge to their own views on Gestalt will get a lot out of the 100 morsels and Dave's presentation thereof. For trainees and therapists in other approaches, I think this book would give the impression that Gestalt is a much broader, richer, and coherent approach to therapy than the techniques it often gets reduced to would suggest.
Clarkson, P. (2004). Gestalt Counselling in Action. Sage, London.
Joyce, P. and Sills, C. (2001). Skills in Gestalt Counselling and Psychotherapy. Sage, London.
Kenofer, B. (2010). Paradoxical themes of development: the case of developmental theory in Gestalt Therapy. British Gestalt Journal, 19, 2, pp. 5-15.
Morss, J. (2002). Don't develop: A critique of the role of developmental theory within gestalt therapy. International Gestalt Journal, 25, 1, pp. 73-92.
Simon Stafford-Townsend is in his final year of training on the MA in Gestalt psychotherapy at the Sherwood Psycho-therapy Training Institute. He is currently conducting research into Gestalt dream work, a subject he finds fascinating. He has a private practice in Bristol, where he lives with his wife and their two cats. He has also started a blog at www.lechatdargent.wordpress.com where he experiments with taking a Gestalt theoretical outlook on life in general; he would welcome any feedback.
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