Volume 11, 1 (2002)

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Volume 11, 1 (2002)


The British Gestalt Journal 2002, Volume 11, 1


Editorial - Malcolm Parlett 

A Gestalt Therapy Model for Addressing Psychosis - Margherita Spagnuolo Lobb 

A Gestalt Therapy Approach to Transference - Peter Philippson 

The Here and Now: A Critical Analysis - Frank M.Staemmler

Interviewed by Malcolm Parlett - The Excitement Point and Other Matters - Gill Caradoc-Davies 

Editorial - Malcolm Parlett 

A Gestalt Therapy Model for Addressing Psychosis - Margherita Spagnuolo Lobb 

A Gestalt Therapy Approach to Transference - Peter Philippson 

The Here and Now: A Critical Analysis - Frank M.Staemmler

Interviewed by Malcolm Parlett - The Excitement Point and Other Matters - Gill Caradoc-Davies 


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Miriam Polster, 1924-2001

The death of Miriam Polster, on 19th December, 2001, is a significant loss to the Gestalt community world-wide. She was one of the most renowned, talented, and beloved trainers in the world of Gestalt therapy. As staff members of the Journal, and on behalf of our readership, we extend our sympathies to her husband, life partner, fellow trainer, and sometime co-author, Erving Polster. We mourn the loss of Miriam Polster, celebrate her life, and appreciate her important contribution to Gestalt therapy.

Miriam was born on 7th July, 1924 in Cleveland, Ohio into a family that was loving, Jewish, devoted to learning, and supportive of her love of singing, to which she remained passionately devoted all her life. She took her bachelor's degree in music and then went on to study vocal performance at the Cleveland Institute of Music. Soon after, in 1949, she met Erving Polster and they married in the same year. This was before Gestalt therapy appeared, (with the publication of the founding text by Perls. Hefferline and Goodman in 1951) and before the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland began in 1953. Erving became one of the founding members of the Institute. Miriam, with two school age children, returned to university to study psychology in 1962, received her PhD from Case Western Reserve University in 1967, the year that also marked her joining the faculty of the Cleveland Institute.

In 1973, the Polsters published their book, Gestalt Therapy Integrated, a result of a powerful collaboration of talents. For many students, including myself, this was an intelligent, accessible, and useful introduction to working as a Gestalt therapist. It is believed to be the Gestalt therapy book that has been most widely read.

1973 was the year, too, when Erv and Miriam Polster moved to San Diego. When asked what had prompted their move from Cleveland, Ohio to southern California, Miriam's answer was a single word: 'November!' However, there were other factors, including that they wanted (in Erv’s words) ‘to start something on our own in a new setting'. In Cleveland, too, Miriam was always likely to be thought of as 'Erv's wife'. This changed in San Diego, where they set up and co-directed the Gestalt Training Center in La Jolla on a completely equal footing. Miriam, in Erv’s words, was now 'totally her own person' and an 'immediate hit’ with ‘people recognising her excellence very quickly'. As Eva Gold and Steve Zahm have written (for Gestalt Review): 'Women students, trainees and patients, hungry for a female model, saw in Miriam a woman who was comfortable with her power, who could be tender and tough, refined and boisterous… She never took a back seat to men.' In 1992, she published Eve's Daughters: The Forbidden Heroism of Women, in which she encouraged women to find their own heroic myths.

Miriam's and Erv's centre in San Diego became the focus and venue for their joint training activities for the next quarter of a century (and it continues today). They attracted psychologists, psychiatrists, and other helping professionals from all over the world, who travelled to take part in summer programmes. These gained a formidable and favourable reputation. They also travelled abroad a lot, including regularly to a several European countries. For a number of years in the 1990s they taught a course annually at the Metanoia Institute in London. In the workshops they ran, Erv and Miriam worked both together and apart, but were always regarded as a very close team, with complementary styles of working, an amazing rapport, clearly shared values, and much good humour shared between them. Their devotion to each other was very obvious.

John Reis has written about Miriam in the following terms: 'She was superbly able to access and make available, to her patients and students…and her friends, her extraordinarily rich background in literature, art, and clinical theory, in poignant, hilarious, provocative, subtle ways. She was never pretentious; she never patronised. She showed how to make technique invisible. She showed how it was possible for a therapist to be personable, elegant, precise, subtle, and bawdy - with discipline and humour. She made it look easy. Miriam never sought disciples. She wanted her patients and students to be impressed with themselves, rather than with her, and proud of their work. Miriam was generous. She embodied clinical grace. She had class. We are all larger for knowing her.'(From an obituary in the San Diego Psychological Association Bulletin.)

Tributes to her work - both The Gestalt Journal and Gestalt Review are publishing excellent accounts of her life as well - make frequent reference to her artistry, love of life, natural gracefulness, poise, depth of understanding, and her humour. She touched so many. In the words of a colleague, she 'was friendly, trusting, and changed the climate of Gestalt I had previously experienced'. Another remarked: 'She was so gentle, in German we would say “fine”; I was so impressed - her presence and attention were just obvious.' She did not shame clients but at the same time did not avoid giving clear feedback - she just did it with such finesse and sensitivity that the message could be taken in without defensiveness or loss of dignity.

Another theme in the many appreciations of Miriam Polster relates to her 'ordinariness' - in that she loved cooking and gardening, collecting kaleidoscopes and entertaining, going to the opera and singing around the house, reading a good book and showing photographs of her grandchildren. The last few years of her life, as she coped with cancer, also revealed her fortitude, lack of self-pity,and grace under pressure. These became obvious, along with her customary ability to laugh and make others laugh. Natasha Josephowitz, writing in the San Diego Jewish Times, wrote that at her ‘last visit with her doctor, when told she may have just weeks to live, Miriam replied: “Does that mean I should cancel my New Yorker subscription?'"

The next issue of the British Gestalt Journal (Volume 11, No. 2) will contain some further personal reminiscences and memories of Miriam Polster. If you would like to add a brief anecdote or memory of your own, please let us have it at the following Email address: editor@britishgestaltjournal.com

Professionalism in Gestalt Therapy

What does it mean to be 'professional?' Sociologists describe the process by which groups of people fight to acquire the higher status of 'a profession'. Such a process is continuing in Britain for psychotherapists, and many Gestalt psychotherapists are part of this movement. However, there are other more attractive and inspiring meanings and connotations of what it means to be professional. These include a commitment to 'best practice', to high levels of competence within the boundaries of a discipline, and to 'walking one's talk’.

Miriam Polster was, for us, someone who exemplified a truly professional approach. She was dedicated to skilful practice, lived well and not just for therapy, made a lasting contribution to her field, was grounded in profound understanding of Gestalt fundamentals, and brought courage and dedication to what she undertook. It is a wider vision of being professional that the British Gestalt Journal recognises and seeks to emulate and encourage. A professional journal should foster the exchange of ideas, promote new thinking, report fresh applications, serve the professional community, and inspire readers. As such it does not have to be excessively academically proper, let alone solely interested in theory and abstract ideas. Other threads need to be woven into each issue, and preferably into each article.

In the present issue we are fortunate to have some first-rate writing from some very experienced practitioners, who combine thoughtfulness with addressing practical questions. The leading articles are backed up by letters, book reviews, Out in the Field, and an Opinion, all of which make the issue, in our view, one which will satisfy our readership, as well as meeting our own high standards regarding what it means to create a professional journal.

Volume 11, No.1

We begin with an important article abut working with psychosis, by Margherita Spagnuolo Lobb. Gestalt therapists who work in psychiatric settings will relish this thoughtful and ground-breaking discussion, and it will interest other psychotherapists too. This is followed by Peter Philippson's paper on Gestalt thinking in relation to the psychoanalytical concept of transference. It echoes the preceding article in that its arguments have not been articulated elsewhere before (somewhat surprisingly).

The third article is another major contribution, (as well as being the first German article for which the BGJ commissioned and funded a translation). It is by Frank-M. Staemmler, and reviews the central idea and often unthinking Gestalt endorsement of the Here and Now. As a review article, covering a wide spectrum of issues, it is an important contribution to our collective understanding. We are very pleased to have it. (Other translations of foreign language articles will follow.) In our view, all three of the papers mentioned are destined to become ‘classic’ articles, much referred to for many years to come.

An interview with Gill Caradoc-Davies also captures some of that wide vision of professionalism that was mentioned earlier. It is a very accessible interview, and reveals the outlook and priorities of an experienced Gestalt teacher with psychiatric credentials, imagination, an expansive vision, and a big heart.

As usual, we are glad to be able to publish some lively letters - in this issue from Gordon Wheeler, Peter Shackleton and Dan Rosenblatt, covering a wide range of topics. The Out in the Field profile is of Richard Harris, a consultant oncologist and Gestalt therapist. He and Clare Crombie explore working with cancer sufferers.

Book Reviews include a magisterial contribution by Joseph Zinker and one written by Dorothy Siminovitch, a newcomer to the BGJ. Our gratitude to them both for two helpful perspectives.

Also included is an ‘essay review' by Neil Harris on the subject of 'attachment'. Occasionally we invite (or press) someone to write at greater length about a seminal book which deserves special notice or overlaps a particular interest of the reviewer/essayist. It is our intention to include this feature more regularly and also not to confine the choice of books solely to those written by Gestalt specialists. The rationale is that many important books are published each year that link with, or could add to the understanding of, issues of concern to Gestalt therapists; and these should not be automatically ineligible for discussion within the BGJ just because they are not written by Gestaltists. This represents a shift in policy, in keeping with our constant refreshment of what the Journal represents. (If you have a particular book that you wish to write about for possible publication, please let us how.) We conclude with an Opinion from Robert Resnick, which has both topical and enduring resonance. It brings a substantial and high quality issue to an apt conclusion.

Omissions and Corrections

In the last issue of the BGJ (Vol.10, No.2) we published a Letter to the Editor from Stephen George. Unfortunately, because the decision to publish it was very last minute, information about Stephen was unavailable and was not included. We are pleased to rectify the omission here.

Stephen George writes: 'I am a UKCP registered Gestalt psychotherapist who graduated from the Sherwood Institute in 1998. I currently work as a psychological therapist in the psychology and counselling department of Wirral and West Cheshire community NHS Trust. I have a background in mental health social work.' Stephen's address for correspondence is: Flat 1, 8 Charlesville Prenton, Merseyside CH43 1TP (Email: stegeodragon@hotmail.com). (Stephen George's letter was in the form of a request for help and assistance in putting the case for Gestalt therapy within the National Health Service. It has provoked an interesting response from Peter Shackleton, which appears in the Letters section of this issue. Other responses are welcome - it is an important question and we shall return to it in later issues if we can.)

The article 'Psyche and Culture' by Lolita Sapriel and Dennis Palumbo, published in Vol.10, No.2, should have contained an acknowledgement that the article was based on a chapter written for a book, Making a Difference, edited by Talia Levine Bar-Yoseph and Gordon Wheeler, to be published by the Analytic Press/Gestalt Press in 2003. We are grateful to the editors, publishers, and authors for agreeing to the publication of the article in the last issue of the British Gestalt Journal and regret that this acknowledgement was overlooked.

The Editorial Advisory Board

The BGJ's Editorial Advisory Board has been reconstructed, in line with searching for further economies and in making the group smaller, more manageable, and more involved in the editorial process than has been the case in the past.

A number of those who were previously on the Board - several having served for the full ten years of our existence - have left, and three new members have joined the Board. We welcome Sally Denham-Vaughan, Arthur Roberts, and Karen Rookwood the new arrivals. And we thank those who have served us generously with a variety of kinds of support in the past, and who have now retired: Dolores Bate, Hunter Beaumont, Gill Caradoc-Davies, Petruska Clarkson, Gilles Delisle, Talia Levine Bar- Yoseph, Helen McLean, Jennifer Mackewn, Flora Meadows, and Eleanor O'Leary. In the early days of the BGJ, in particular, those involved in producing the Journal felt very supported by having the Advisory Board in the background - available for advice, refereeing, publicising, and feedback about how we were doing. Again, thank you, all those who are either currently serving or have served on the Editorial Advisory Board, for your continuing or past support.

The Friends of the British Gestalt Journal

Once again we should like to thank readers who have become Friends of the British Gestalt Journal for their generosity, commitment to the BGJ's future, and support (financial and otherwise). We would like to encourage others to consider becoming a Friend. When they came into existence it was at a time of near insolvency. People's generosity enabled us to continue publication. Though the need is now less acute, the financial input from Friends is still of critical importance. This may not be understood.

The shared experience of publishers is that no Gestalt therapy journal can exist without some level of ongoing subsidy or sponsorship. Small specialist journals are not alone in this, as we know. Most orchestras, theatre companies, amateur sports clubs, and poetry magazines require regular financial topping up of one kind or another. So it is for the BGJ. As a result of prudent management and holding back on several projects, we are in a better financial shape than for several years, but we would still be on a knife-edge without an injection of Friends money each year. To be able uninterruptedly to focus our attention on producing a constantly improving journal with an ever wider global readership, we need to be in a stronger financial position than we enjoy at the moment.

Everyone in the Gestalt field would like to see more recognition in other professions and specialities, of the quality of Gestalt thinking and therapeutic practice. The British Gestalt Journal could serve as a flagship publication - marketed to particular groups and advertised to different kinds of psychotherapists and other mental health professionals. Books of reprinted articles on particular themes could also be produced with an eye to communicating Gestalt to a wider audience. However, to embark on any of these projects - all desirable for the Gestalt community as a whole - would be unwise when our reserves are still so low. So, please, do give serious consideration to joining the Friends of the British Gestalt Journal, getting the benefits to Friends that there are, and becoming eligible to attend the Annual Meeting of Friends, which this year will be held on Sunday 24th November, 2002.

Malcolm Parlett

Letters to the Editor:

Up from Individualism: A Response to Malcolm Parlett, Peter Philippson, and Des Kennedy - Gordon Wheeler 

The Facts are Friendly: A Response to Stephen George - Peter Shackleton 

The Other Jubilee - Daniel Rosenblatt 

Out in the Field:

Richard Harris: Working with Clients with Serious Physical Illness - Clare Crombie 

Book Reviews:

The Search for a Secure Base - Attachment Theory and Psychotherapy by Jeremy Holmes (Book Review Essay) - Neil Harris

Gestalt Therapy: The Attitude and Practice of an Atheoretical Experientialism by Claudio Naranjo - Joseph Zinker  

Skills in Gestalt Counselling and Psychotherapy by Phil Joyce and Charlotte Sills - Dorothy Siminovitch 


When ‘Other’ is Less Than… - Robert Resnick