Volume 1, 1 (1991)

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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

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