Volume 10, 2 (2001)


Volume 10, 2 (2001)


The British Gestalt Journal 2001, Volume 10, 2


Editorial - Malcolm Parlett 

Obituary: Sue Fish - Malcolm Parlett 

Obituary: Ruth Wolfert - Cynthia Cook

Reflections on September 11: When Therapist and Client Participate in the Same Trauma - Iris Fodor 

Psyche and Culture: an Exercise in Peer Supervision - Lolita Sapriel and Dennis Palumbo 

Improvising Gestalt with Children - Sylvia Fleming Crocker 

The Sense of Gestalt Therapy: Holism, Reality, and Explanation - Joel Latner 

Elsa Gindler: Lost Gestalt Ancestor - Susan Gregory 


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Tenth Volume

In the first editorial in the first issue of the British Gestalt Journal I began as follows: ‘Here is a new Journal with potential and promise.’ Now, twenty issues and ten years later, we want to register how that potential and promise have been realised. For this reason the editorial will be more far-ranging than usual.

We are proud to have published, in the ten volumes, no less than 125 Gestalt-related articles (including Opinions and Obituaries); 37 Book Reviews; 7 interviews with distinguished Gestalt practitioners; 60 Letters to the Editor; and, of course, 20 Editorials.

Our purpose when we began was (to quote from the same editorial) ‘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 … As specialists in contact-making we need to find multiple ways to connect creatively and proactively 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.’

How dated the quotation now seems! Gestalt therapy has become rooted here, and the British Gestalt Journal has undoubtedly played a major part in fertilising the growing roots. Along with new centres and expanding numbers of Gestalt-educated practitioners, there have been increases in professionalism, in theoretical sophistication, in public understanding of Gestalt applications, and in the building of international links of all kinds. In all of these, the BGJ has played a significant part.

An International Journal

Yet from the outset we wanted to be a journal that was in the first rank, a rigorous international professional journal, pitched at a serious level and publishing the best writing we could find. Rather than stand aside from world developments in the Gestalt field, we wanted to help make them. Contributors have come from all over the world, including Germany, France, Italy, Russia, New Zealand, Australia, Israel, and Ivory Coast, as well as from the USA and Britain (from the latter two countries, roughly in the ratio of 1:2). Our readership, too, is more and more international. As our reputation has risen, so have the subscriptions from overseas, and there is considerable scope for further expansion.

As we enter our second decade of publication, we shall be continuing to search for new voices from different national and Gestalt traditions. We intend to publish more translated material (as we undertook in the last issue in response to Frank-M. Staemmler), thus bringing the work of distinguished Gestaltists in Europe to more notice in Britain and other anglophone countries.

In encouraging intellectual and professional understanding of Gestalt philosophy and applications, we have sought to promote new thinking and writing. In the first issue we said we would discourage those who wanted to ‘fix Gestalt in some theoretically conservative “final form”’. We wanted a forum for a Gestalt professional community which had ‘to adapt, evolve, and find new directions if it is to be alive and fresh and relevant.’ These aspirations we have retained. But there was (and is) another side, of preserving the best of what we have already got. We warned, ten years ago, that we would ‘oppose tendencies to weaken the gestalt of Gestalt therapy – e.g. by excessive dilution, or unconvincing combinations with other approaches’ – and that is still a working principle.

Altogether, we have tried to draw a balance – indeed many different balances: between the theoretical and the more practical and clinical; between ‘difficult’ and easier-to- read articles; between women and men writers; between therapy and wider Gestalt concerns; between newer, lesser known authors and more established ‘names’; and between writing from Britain and from overseas. The feedback we get is that the balances are about right for our present readership.

But there are wider questions – like whether we should go all out for a wider readership of therapists from other theoretical persuasions and clinical traditions who might be delighted discoverers of what they are missing? Should the BGJ be a ‘showcase’ for Gestalt – with the necessary shift of focus? And there are all sorts of more immediate, practical questions that face us as editors, like should we commission more writing or wait and simply publish what is sent in? To what extent should we focus on particular concerns of the Gestalt community – like the all important questions of how to ‘justify’ the Gestalt approach in an increasingly sceptical clinical psychology atmosphere? And how much shall we take a lead in helping to foster the much talked about but still scanty ‘research into Gestalt therapy?’

Looking Forward, Looking Back

Sensing the direction for our future is an ever more pressing requirement. The recent founding of the Friends of the British Gestalt Journal has been one of the most important developments in the life of the Journal. Not only did the Friends save the BGJ from insolvency and disappearance two years ago but now they are meeting regularly. Their willingness to offer both a supportive presence and some practical help as well as money, has made the whole feel of working for the BGJ a different (and dramatically improved) experience. New possibilities seem affordable both in terms of money and effort / time. Whatever new directions the BGJ may take in the future will be discussed with Friends, whose sponsorship of the BGJ is essential to its remaining a top-quality publication. (A list of the current Friends appears on the inside back cover, and they deserve the thanks of all readers.)

The ten years have included another development. We have moved from being published by the Gestalt Psychotherapy and Training Institute to being a completely independent publication.

We have found that not being affiliated to any one institute or centre or Gestalt tradition has given us more freedom and made us seem more accessible to a greater range of readers (and writers). The BGJ is increasingly being seen as a central bonding force and forum in the British Gestalt community. We welcome this very much, albeit without relinquishing our strong commitment to maintaining a presence on the world Gestalt scene.

Although we relish our autonomy, it is worth expressing, on our tenth birthday, our appreciation to Maria Gilbert, Petruska Clarkson, and the late Marianne Fry who (with the editor) were the first board of teaching members of GPTI and therefore the first publishers, for giving us a lot of encouragement and editorial freedom. Other founding supporters and makers were Ray Edwards, who energised the BGJ coming into existence at all; Richard Evans and the Artemis Trust (who gave us start-up funding); and Pat Levitsky who, with Judith Hemming, Ray Edwards, and myself, formed the first editorial group.

In terms of the wider Gestalt publishing scene, into which the BGJ fits, the picture is very different now compared to a decade ago. Three new Gestalt journals in English have appeared since we began: Gestalt Review, the e-journal Gestalt! and the Australian Gestalt Journal. Book publishing has also grown rapidly. The Gestalt Press (formerly the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland Press) has become the largest publisher of Gestalt books and there are strong links between the Press and the BGJ. Both The Gestalt Journal (which began in 1978 and which is shortly metamorphosing into being the International Gestalt Journal) and The Gestalt Journal Press have continued. In the five decades since Perls, Hefferline and Goodman’s Gestalt Therapy appeared, the last decade has been notable for being the ‘written’ Gestalt decade.

While the Gestalt reading public has expanded, there are publishing uncertainties ahead. Much Gestalt writing and dialogue now appears on the Web; communities of specialists are in more rapid touch; and more and more people are moving into the internet era and downloading what they want to read. Publishers of books as well as of editors of periodicals and academic journals – we are all questioning what is likely to happen as the technological revolution continues. However, foretellers of doom for the printed word have been finger-wagging for some time. For ourselves, at least at present, subscriptions and sales are increasing. We are also told over and over that readers appreciate ‘the bigness and yellowness’ of the Journal. You, the readers, seem to like the BGJ as a physical presence, almost a designer object, twice a year. Long may it last.

Writing and Experience

Differentiating between an actual physical product and the virtual realm of content, exposes one of Gestalt’s enduring polarities – the tension between (to put it simply and inaccurately) the left and right brains.

Some of us emphasise the primacy within Gestalt practice of direct, felt, sensory and bodily-based experience and point to the limitations of ‘talking about’, let alone such aberrant activities as abstract theorising and academic journal-writing that are far removed from the realm of direct experience and deep personal work. I know for myself that learning to be embodied, and discovering how to feel and sense and ‘be’ a body, were crucial in my own transition from being an academic researcher to a Gestalt practitioner. So I have some strong sympathy for the view that we can easily over-intellectualise and in the process lose the embodied reality at the heart of what we do or say we do.

Others, by contrast, bemoan the fact that we Gestaltists still write very little about what we do, and that other therapies are preferred to ours because of their more substantial literature, their systematic research, and their robust intellectual traditions. They argue that unless Gestalt therapists embrace the academic and wider psychotherapeutic world and its values and priorities, Gestalt therapy will disappear as an independent force. Again, I personally have much sympathy for this view, and it shows in editorial intent: to increasing the intellectual standards of writing, thinking, conceptualising in the Gestalt community. So, while some may over-intellectualise, we may be, as an overall community, ‘under-intellectualising’.

Conference Differences

The tension and feelings around these differences among Gestalt practitioners (and centres) can be marked at times. This became evident for me at the 8th triennial conference of the European Association of Gestalt Therapy, in Stockholm in September, 2001.

At the final session of the conference there was a procedure for evaluating the conference. People (in designated sub-groups) gave their reactions in the form of movements, sounds, or through painting. Others were invited to write down their reactions. At the coffee break I spotted a large sheet of flip chart paper on the wall covered with writing. Having been daubing paint rather aimlessly, I was interested in reading something, something more consciously reflective and articulated. So I wandered over. I discovered that the paper contained only one word repeated many times, rather like an Andy Warhol poster: WORDS WORDS WORDS WORDS appeared about fifty times in neat rows. Bemused, I speculated that the anonymous writer was communicating a ‘Get out of your head’, ‘Listen to your body’, ‘Come to your senses’ priority, and that the conference – using overwhelmingly a medium of talk – had become aversive.

However, at the same conference, there were others who avoided this session altogether because they did not want to take part in some big participatory event in which movement and expressive enactment might play a part. At the conference one sentiment was replicated over and over: ‘Give me something a little more substantial and intellectual to chew upon, please’ was the message a number of Gestaltists were communicating. Some bemoaned that the ‘standard of many papers was poor’ and that much of the Gestalt on offer was parochial, trite, old-fashioned. They were expressing a widely held view in our community – namely, that many Gestalt therapists are out of touch with wider currents of thought and enquiry (complexity theory or developments in neurobiology, to name but two). From this vantage point, the field as a whole is not professional enough, not research-minded, not ‘leading edge’ in a way that cuts any ice outside the Gestalt community, which is seen as small, inward-looking, and ageing. Psychological therapies as a whole have developed at a fast rate, often criss-crossing the territory that Gestaltists have often claimed as their own; and the Gestalt community does not take sufficient lead or fight back. So the argument goes.

From the beginning of our publishing the BGJ, we have argued for cross-talk and synthesis of a kind that is often missing. We acknowledged at the outset that it was indeed ‘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… 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.’

Our belief is that just as articulating what we sense and feel alters and often extends our experience, so does good writing change and clarify our appreciation of what we do and of what Gestalt means. It is deeply necessary for a fully alive and convincing professional practice.

‘Academic’ Writing

At the same time as standing for intellect, imagination, and theoretical dialogue, we do not want to swing too far. Specifically, we are aware of a new kind of writing that we wish to discourage. With the professionalising of Gestalt in Britain has also come a move to linking training with acquiring academic degrees. As a by-product, the conventions of academic writing are creeping in to what is being submitted to us. The difficulty with the form is that it is often sterile. Innovative ideas have to be hedged around with qualifications; references (read or un-read) are liberally sprinkled; displays of knowledge are paraded for the sake of it; and anything quirky or eccentric in the writing style has to be ironed out. The overall effect leans towards boredom and stodginess. In terms of the continuum, this is writing at an extreme distance from the phenomenal and the actual – to the point of losing the distinctive voice and presence of the writer.

The trend towards more academic writing we shall seek to subvert. A strength of the Gestalt approach lies in its diversity of voices and styles, in the radical centre-ground of what it means to be human and alive and creative. Our writing needs to carry this human pulse, as well as stimulating the intellect.

The Contents of the Present Issue

This long reflective wander through the byways of editorial thinking leads us to the present issue.

We begin with two obituaries. Sue Fish – a much-loved trainer in Britain and co-founder of the Metanoia Institute in London – died in June of 2001. Out of her own particular history she created a ‘one-off’ brand of Gestalt, captured not so much in what she wrote but inspiringly evident in her creativity of practice. We honour Sue’s contribution to Gestalt psychotherapy here in Britain with an account of her life adapted from a tribute written for her memorial service by several of her closest friends.

Ruth Wolfert was not widely known in Gestalt circles in Britain. However, through her landmark article in the British Gestalt Journal (Volume 9, No 2), she reached many people and revealed herself as a Gestalt thinker of stature. We were delighted to learn, from reading Cynthea Cook’s tribute, how important writing the article had been for Ruth, and we are glad its publication occurred before she died. (It appeared a few weeks before).

We have been wanting to acknowledge the tragic and important historical events of September 11 and what has happened since. We invited Iris Fodor, who lives on Manhattan, to write about her experiences and to reflect on them for us. This she has done, in an article which is moving, professionally informative, and deeply personal. New York is not only the birthplace of Gestalt therapy as we know it, but it also has one of the biggest concentrations of Gestalt practitioners anywhere on Earth. It seemed appropriate and timely to include this contemporary reflection.

Next, Lolita Sapriel and Dennis Palumbo engage in a fascinating dialogue about the ways in which their differing cultural roots inform, support and complicate their work. Coming from their common ground as Americans and psychotherapists, they engage the reader in considering their differences, the contrasts of their life experiences, and how these come alive and are played out in the consulting room.

Gestalt work with children and families has a lengthening pedigree. Sylvia Crocker continues in the practical tradition – established by Violet Oaklander – in describing her work with children in the American Mid- West. The strengths of Crocker’s descriptions are in the application of basic Gestalt concepts to the complexities of engaging with the systems in which children live and work out their lives. She shows how therapeutic flexibility and openness to field conditions are necessary for success.

Joel Latner’s wonderful essay, ‘The Sense of Gestalt Therapy: Holism, Reality and Explanation’, provides some important reflections on Gestalt therapy and its underlying basic philosophy. It takes the form of an account of a meeting between the author and a great British philosopher, Isaiah Berlin. The nature of the meeting is ambiguous. As Joel has written: ‘I am convinced that we are, in health, dreamers all… dream life is not to be contrasted with “real life” but with waking life; we need to strive to allow the creative dreamer in us to exist when we are awake as well’ (Personal Communication). This essay – based on an encounter with the philosopher, or summarising some of Latner’s themes emerging out of his Gestalt theoretical explorations over a long career, or exposing to wider view a personal dreamlike experience, (or any combination of the three of them!) – breaks new ground for the British Gestalt Journal. We are always seeking to push the boundaries and to provide a diversity of kinds of contribution, and we are very pleased to be publishing this essay.

Susan Gregory’s fascinating article about Elsa Gindler is in homage to one of our community’s ancestors. While we want a Gestalt therapy that is capable of looking forward from the present time, we also need a sense of our history. What becomes clear is that the usual list of fore-runners and influential thinkers is only a partial list. There are others who pre-dated Gestalt therapy thinking and method and have been overlooked. We encourage others to write about other unrecognised figures.

Our intention throughout the ten volumes has been to build a strong Letters to the Editor section, and it has indeed become fuller and more robust as time has gone on. In this issue there are important statements from Peter Philippson, Judith Hemming, Des Kennedy, Bill Critchley, Trevor Bentley, and Dolores Bate, all of whom pick up themes from the last issue. Stephen George raises an important question. The linking of different themes across successive issues of the journal through the correspondence columns is a distinctive feature of the BGJ.

Always eager to launch new kinds of article and writing, we are excited to be including the first of a new regular feature called ‘Out in the Field’. We intend that each issue from now on will include profiles of Gestalt practitioners working in different specialist areas. Mick Dunn and Neil Harris are two people working with adolescents and their families. Here they describe their work and thinking about applying Gestalt. Mike Turton and Clare Crombie will be our regular staff columnists going ‘out in the field’ to meet those applying Gestalt principles and methods within their specialist areas. Mike Turton is the writer of these first two profiles.

We are glad to welcome back John Harris, who reviews Jay Earley’s book on working therapeutically in groups. Harris is always an interesting writer and on this occasion is also a stern critic. The review (and the book) are significant additions to a literature which is very slim, considering how much Gestalt therapy is carried out in groups, and the review is well worth reading.

Earlier in this editorial, I mentioned the need for balance in each journal. This particular issue contains more American writing than is usual. This was not intentional but simply reflects what has been sent to us and was ready for publication. We want to stress, again, that we are an international journal, and that writers from all over the world are welcome to send us manuscripts. But I would particularly like to encourage a flow of new British writing – essential for our long term health.

Sale of Back Issues at Discounted Prices!

After ten volumes, we need to reduce excess stock. We are therefore organising a Sale of Back Copies of the British Gestalt Journal. All back copies in print are available at half their usual prices (excluding postage and packing). You will find a listing of the contents of each issue towards the end of the Journal, and an order form is provided as an enclosure. This offer lasts till April 1st, 2002. Buy now – a number of journal issues will shortly be sold and out of print.

Malcolm Parlett

Letters to the Editor:

Complexity and Gestalt: A Response to Trevor Bentley’s Paper in Vol.10, No.1 - Bill Critchley 

Reply to Bill Critchley - Trevor Bentley 

On Existence and Emotion - Peter Philippson 

Money -  A Secure Base for Love? - Judith Hemming 

The Nature of Perception: Response to Gordon Wheeler and Malcolm Parlett - Des Kennedy 

Gestalt and Spirituality - Dolores Bate 

Evidence-Based Gestalt Therapy? - Stephen George 

Out in the Field:

Gestalt Therapists Working with Adolescents and their Families - Mike Turton 

Book Review: 

Interactive Group Therapy by Jay Earley - John Harris