Volume 1, 1 (1991)


Volume 1, 1 (1991)


The British Gestalt Journal 1991, Volume 1, 1

Editor - Malcolm Parlett - Bristol
Assistant Editor - Pat Levitsky - London 
Production Editor - Ray Edwards - London
Editorial Consultants - Petrûska Clarkson - London, Marianne Fry - London
Editorial Advisors - Hunter Beaumont - Munich, Germany, Gill Caradoc-Davies - Christchurch, New Zealand, Gilles Delisle - Montreal, Canada, Maria Gilbert - London, John Leary-Joyce - St Albans and London, Flora Meadows - Glasgow, Scotland, Peter Philippson - Manchester, Gary Yontef - Los Angeles, USA

Editorial - Malcolm Parlett

Laura Perls: The cycle is the experiential reconciliation of regeneration and degeneration - Petrûska Clarkson 

A Memory of Laura Perls - Pat Levitsky

Recent Trends in Gestalt Therapy in the United States and What We Need to Learn from Them - Gary M. Yontef

Integrating Gestalt in Children’s Groups - Keith Tudor

Individuality and Commonality in Gestalt - Petrûska Clarkson

Sensing, Feeling, Thinking and Acting: Gestalt Therapy and Morita Therapy - Peter Philippson 

A Gestalt Perspective on Personality Disorders - Gilles Delisle 

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The British Gestalt Journal and its Publishers

The emergence of new life is exciting. Here is a new Journal with potential and promise; a specialised professional journal devoted to the advancement and study of Gestalt therapy in Britain.

The British Gestalt Journal is published by the Gestalt Psychotherapy Training Institute in the United Kingdom (GPTI). The Institute is a member organisation of the UK Standing Conference for Psychotherapy. It was founded in 1985 as a federation of Gestalt trainers committed to encouraging and extending the practice of Gestalt psychotherapy in the United Kingdom, particularly within established helping professions and agencies, and to working towards its more formal recognition in the psychotherapy and counselling community, as a contemporary approach of major significance. Launching this Journal is an obvious next step towards this goal.

An early decision was made that the British Gestalt Journal should not be an "in-house" journal for GPTI members only. The publishers hope and intend that contributors, subscribers, reviewers, and referees will be widely drawn from the different traditions and centres of Gestalt in Britain and that the Journal will be a forum-on-paper for all those seriously interested in the Gestalt approach. Another aim of the Institute is to foster interest and research in the further developments of the theoretical and practical applications of the Gestalt approach to therapy, teaching, organisational consultation and personal development.

Again, the publishers hope that inaugurating this Journal will contribute to this.

“Indigenous” Gestalt

The Gestalt community worldwide is expanding and there is more interchange between Gestalt practitioners from different countries. The British Gestalt Journal has a part to play in facilitating this trend and in dismantling barriers, particularly in Europe. Subscribers and occasional contributors from overseas will therefore be welcome.

At the same time a primary purpose of the BGJ is to promote Gestalt in Britain. If the philosophy and practice of Gestalt is to be appreciated and to grow in the British context, it has to be planted and fertilised here, so that it can survive a not always hospitable climate, and can extend its branches in the peculiarly British environment. As specialists in contact-making we need to find multiple ways to connect creatively and provocatively with British thought and British systems. Gestalt therapy, if it is to flourish, has to become so rooted here that it is regarded as indigenous, not as a foreign import.

As a professional community we also need to develop more of an autonomous identity. In a recent edition of The Gestalt Journal (1989, Vol XII, No 2, pp 57 - 71) Raymond Saner pointed out that "Gestalt therapy made-in-USA" has been widely exported, complete with American values and language. It is likely that we, the Gestalt community in Britain, have unwittingly taken on board (i.e. introjected) cultural themes and assumptions which are not intrinsic to Gestalt theory and practice but derive from the country it grew up in. The British Gestalt Journal will promote new thought and writing in a European yet English-speaking context.

Gestalt and the Intellect

Gestalt therapy, as both Yontef and Clarkson separately point out in this issue, has suffered as a result of its past anti-intellectualism. Particularly in Britain, with a powerful psychoanalytical tradition and establishment, the lack of a strong intellectual tradition in Gestalt has contributed to an under-appreciation of what Gestalt is and what it has to offer.

Too often, as we know, Gestalt therapy has been casually dismissed as some kind of left-over alternative fad from the sixties, lumped in with "humanistic therapy", downgraded to "therapy techniques", caricatured as a way of "releasing blocked emotions", regarded as appropriate for only a limited range of patients, and misunderstood, over-simplified, and misrepresented to an extreme degree. That this situation exists and is maintained is a scandal, and the only ways for the situation to change are if those who practise, teach, and experience Gestalt-in-action become more communicative and assertive. There is a need for more public talks and conference presentations, for new educational videotapes (some in circulation are over twenty years old and look very dated); as well as for progressively more training opportunities. And supporting all this, we need more of a written tradition within Gestalt: dissemination of ideas and approaches comes about, certainly in Britain, mainly through the medium of print. So there is also an urgent need for Gestaltists to describe and explain Gestalt in ways which do justice to it, which show how solid is its foundation in existentialist and phenomenological thought, field theory, psychoanalysis, holism, and gestalt psychology. We need to show connections between Gestalt theory and Gestalt practice, and build bridges to the rest of psychotherapy and other fields of application.

I mentioned "past" anti-intellectualism. Yet some would say, even now, that "Gestalt cannot be learnt from books, it has to be experienced", or that the "last thing that we need is for Gestalt to be academic." Well, it is true that it is difficult to convey what is phenomenologically and poetically true about human experience in ways which are authentic, vivid and intelligible, and to generate theory grounded in a recognisable reality; difficult, yes, but necessary. Unless we do so, we shall not get across that Gestalt therapy is truly a profound synthesis of alive human wisdom, a practical way to focus intelligence and sensitivity on the problem of life. We cannot get the full experience of wine, or of Zen, through reading books about them - but they help, they open windows to fresh notions. A written tradition can crystallise and document knowledge-in-practice; clinical and other applied experience can be accumulated.

As editor, I want to go further: I want to say that this Journal will actively foster intellectual enquiry and encourage the expression and debate of ideas and theory. The bias against the intellect needs more than a minor correction. Any appreciation of the early history of Gestalt therapy, and the formative 1930s period of Fritz and Laura Perls' creative synthesising, shows how paradoxical, indeed how historically perverse, the turning away from ideas, philosophy, and intellectual argument has been. Gestalt therapy grew as a result of the Perls' eager swimming in the many and competing currents of psychological, philosophical, and political thought in Germany during the Weimar period. The first break from psychoanalytic orthodoxy was an academic-style theoretical disagreement with Freud over the place of oral resistance. The intellectual tradition continued in New York, during the period that Gestalt therapy emerged by name: at this time, around 1950, an assertive group of intellectuals, artists, and therapists met regularly, there was no distinction drawn between personal work and vigorous exchanges of ideas - they were completely interwoven. If Gestalt has not subsequently attracted to itself a whole generation of those who love ideas, or those who honour intellectual process as one variety of experience, it is not for want of a tradition.

In Conclusion

A few points remain, to be said briefly. First, please write for your new Journal. Preference will be given to those who take the trouble to write lucidly and who make good contact with their readers. If you have difficulty in writing well, or at all, please get help and support.

Second, a journal such as this provides another set of beacons to indicate "What is Gestalt?” - That enduring and difficult question. Obviously, so much can be accommodated under the umbrella of Gestalt that a student of Zen, a Jungian analyst, an existential psychotherapist, an holistic medical practitioner, a psychodramatist or bodywork specialist can all find much which is recognisable. Yet the presence of extensive family resemblances should not blur the fact that Gestalt has a distinctive identity: it is a synthesis of various ideas, theoretical outlooks, and methods which (remembering my schoolboy chemistry) is a compound, not a mixture. I shall therefore oppose tendencies to weaken the gestalt of Gestalt therapy - e.g., by excessive dilution, or unconvincing combinations with other approaches; equally, I will not encourage those who want to fix Gestalt in some theoretically conservative "final form". Given the changes which have occurred contemporaneously with Gestalt therapy's life, the context in which it now exists is vastly different from forty years ago: growth and change are part of the essence of Gestalt and clearly it has to adapt, evolve, find new directions if it is to be alive and fresh and relevant: doing this, while holding on to its essence and its unique vision, is the art and skill, and these the Journal will promote.

Third, a personal note of appreciation - I want to thank Ray Edwards, the production editor and definitely the anchor-person of the venture; without him the BGJ would not exist; it was his dream which has become our reality, his committed involvement which has led to your holding this journal in your hands now. Our thanks are also due to the Artemis Trust for financial support and the Gestalt Centre, London, for a donation.

Finally, let us remember Laura Perls, co-founder of Gestalt therapy, who died on July 13th 1990. Two short tributes follow. Jerry Kogan has also written, for our next issue, a more extensive appreciation and assessment of Laura Perls' central place in the history of the Gestalt movement. In the meantime we dedicate this, the first issue of the British Gestalt Journal, to her memory in a way she would have understood and welcomed; by celebrating the birth of a new Gestalt venture.

Malcolm Parlett

Laura Perls

The cycle is the experiential reconciliation of regeneration and degeneration*.

A memorial service for Laura Posner Perls was held on Sunday, December the 16th, 1990 at 2.00 pm at the Ethical Culture Society, 2 West 64th Street, New York City.

The Four Last Songs of Strauss accompanied the tributes and memories. These are Spring, September, A Time to Sleep and At Dusk. I had just returned from the Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference in Anaheim California where 7,000 psychotherapists had gathered to learn from and honour the oldest generation of psychotherapists among us today: May, Hillman, Mary Goulding, Ellis, Lowen, Frankl, Whittaker, Friedan. Many of these, however alive and vital, are steadily approaching the dusk of their lives; grand men and women all who have made contributions of lasting value and importance to the science and art of Psychotherapy as we know it today. It seemed right and fitting to miss the last day of the Conference to attend Laura's poignant and wintry memorial service. Even though the two sites were 2,000 miles apart, her place was assuredly in the ranks of those greats who have been the inspiration and role models for so many of us. As someone who, two decades ago, had first been touched by the influence of Gestalt in the city of Johannesburg, South Africa where Ego, Hunger and Aggression was written, I was grateful to be able to bring to the awareness of the assembly both the gratitude of South African Gestalt therapists, and the enduring appreciation of the Europeans, whence of course Gestalt originally sprang and whither it is gradually returning even as this new European British Gestalt Journal is born.

Petrûska Clarkson 

* Heraclitus. Quoted in Guerriere, D. (1980). Physis, Sophia, Psyche, (p 88), in Sallis,J.& Maly,K.,(Eds),(1980). Heraclitean Fragments: A companion volume to the Heidegger/Fink Seminar on Heraclitus. University of Alabama Press, Alabama.


A Memory of Laura Perls

The first time I spoke to Laura Perls was on the telephone. I was living in Washington DC at the time and although the capital city of the United States, Washington is considered to be a bit of a backwater as far as the mainstream of Gestalt therapy is concerned. Nobody ever seemed to come to Washington to present a workshop. If you wanted to experience the master Gestaltists you had to travel either to New York or Cleveland, or to California.

Laura was nearing eighty at the time, and I had set my heart on meeting her and experiencing her work about which I had heard so much. That was in 1985, and nobody could have guessed that she would continue working for another five years before her death last year.

It was with a mixture of nervousness and "chutzpah" that I finally dialled Laura's number. What I wanted to know was whether she would be willing to come to Washington DC to do a workshop. I would offer my house and would be able to gather together a substantial number of people, all eager to meet her. I dialled her number and was sure I would get through to a taped recording and I was ready to leave a message for her to call me. What I was not prepared for was that on the second ring she answered the telephone herself. I was so surprised I didn't quite know what to say, so I told her my name and that I had expected a tape, not her. In her clipped English, still reminiscent of her German mother-tongue, Laura gently retorted: "And what would I want a tape for when I am here, sitting by the phone?" I said I thought she might have a secretary. "A secretary? What do I need a secretary for when I can answer the telephone myself?" By this time I was beginning to feel more relaxed and was able to tell her why I had called. "I can hear the urgency in your voice," Laura said quietly, "but you see, they have fixed me up with a terrible schedule. I seem to be travelling non-stop for the next six months." And she reeled off a list of names of towns all over the USA, a punishing schedule of weekends away from her Manhattan home. "Perhaps they have forgotten," she said, I thought rather timidly, "that I am already almost eighty years old." There was humour in her tone, but I sensed a tiredness too. I told her how much I admired her for being able to continue to do so much at her age and what a wonderful role model she was for me. "I had to learn to be strong," she said. "Don't forget that I lived with Fritz. It was long enough to learn how to stick up for myself. You couldn't live with Fritz without learning to do that."

Then she asked me a lot of questions about myself, and I was struck by her immense patience and the fact that she could take the time to be interested in me, even though I was a total stranger to her. I found myself telling her about how I had taken up the study of Gestalt therapy in mid-life. "And what did you do before that?" she asked. I told her that I had brought up two children and had learned several languages, having lived in countries all over the world, and I told her also that I had, many years before that, worked on a newspaper and on the radio. "It's obvious to me," she said, with pointed humour, "that you have been in the field of communication before - and of making contact." I laughed then. It had never occurred to me before that there might be a connection between what I had done before and what I was doing then, and I was amazed that in a short telephone conversation Laura had been able to make that connection for me.

It was a wonderful conversation and I was more than ever determined to meet her after we finished speaking. And so it was only a few months later that I was able to travel to Bethany, Connecticut where a friend of mine, also a Gestalt therapist, had invited Laura to do a workshop.

On meeting Laura I was mainly struck by her agility for a woman who was one week from her eightieth birthday. In fact, the whole Gestalt community was getting ready to gather together in New York to celebrate the occasion. (As it happened, later we celebrated, but due to an accident Laura was unable to be there in person). At the workshop she was amazingly nimble. She was a petite woman wearing a hunter-green wool suit and comfortable shoes and I was impressed by her rather pert, bird-like expression. She had the bearing of a much younger person and it would have been easy to forget her age if she had not asked for a footstool so she could put her feet up when she took her place in the room. But even with her feet propped up, Laura did not lose her graceful posture. And as she sat there, she exuded an imposing but gentle presence that lasted throughout the workshop, which was as exciting as I had anticipated.

Laura had a way of making each person feel intensely important to her when she was working with them. She had a quiet way of speaking, slowly, in short incisive sentences, very much to the point, and then she would pause between working with each person in the group and say a few sentences on the theoretical aspect of what we were dealing with, like a mini-lecture from Ego, Hunger and Aggression and this I found most rewarding.

Among the memories I have of that workshop was something that happened at the very end. When the group was dealing with unfinished business, one of the participants was feeling "stifled" with emotion which she could not express, and despite Laura's intervention it was obvious that her work was incomplete. Prior to that workshop I had been attending a course in trance work and Gestalt, and it seemed to me that this was a heaven sent opportunity to demonstrate what I had been learning. I summoned up the courage to ask Laura if she would allow me to attempt an intervention to try to help this woman and Laura readily agreed. I will always remember this as an expression of Laura's humility and of her confidence both in the ability of each of us to help the other and in the power of learning from each other. Thank you, Laura, for this experience.

Pat Levitsky

Book Reviews:

Gestalt Counselling in Action by Petrûska Clarkson - Hunter Beaumont 

Personal and Professional Development for Group Leaders: A Training Course by Chris Cherry and Marea Robertson - John Leary-Joyce 

Letter to the Editor:

Techniques and Strategy - Ray Edwards