Volume 14, 1 (2005)


Volume 14, 1 (2005)


The British Gestalt Journal 2005, Volume 14, 2


Editorial - Malcolm Parlett 

Will and Grace: An Integrative Dialectic Central to Gestalt Psychotherapy - Sally Denham-Vaughan 

Gestalt in an Information Technology Organisation: A Case Study - Fiona Coffey and Simon Cavicchia 

Working With The Field - Ty Francis 

Cultural Field Conditions: A Hermeneutic Study of Consistency - Frank-M. Staemmler 

Add To Cart


This is the twenty-seventh issue of the British Gestalt Journal, and the 27th editorial. They are occasions to reflect aloud about the 'health of Gestalt' in Britain and the world - to look for signs of expansion or contraction, to lament government impediments or to celebrate supportive changes in the zeitgeist. In so doing, we are linking the BGJ, its presence and function, to the wider Gestalt field and the issues of the day, usually with a cheery blast of our own trumpet. 

We also address writing: the improving situation given the professional community's past reluctance to publish; and the own goals scored when Gestaltists - who are forever extolling the whole - insist on divorcing 'writing and talking about' from 'embodied experiencing'. We encourage new writers and previously unheard voices, and do not ignore the difficulties that attend the experience of writing (to be seen as challenges and opportunities rather than as obstacles). We underline how essential it is for the health of Gestalt therapy and its derivatives that there be dialogue and debate, new perspectives and refreshing restatements of the old. We also point to emerging themes and new research. There are challenges for the BGJ here, in terms of what we include - for instance, we need to do more about the development of mothers and infants, recent discoveries in the neurosciences, and about ecopsychology. Yet please remember that we depend on others' writing and what they/you submit, even if we do some commissioning and nudging along the way.

The Sophisticated Newcomer Question

Those who experience the Gestalt approach in action for the first time are often excited, stimulated, want to know more. They recognise its practical wisdom and usefulness and want to follow up their interest. Especially for those of scholarly nature, or who are already highly informed professional specialists or researchers in an adjunct field (like psychiatry, organisational studies, andragogy, philosophy, or human biology), there is often disappointment with what they discover by way of the Gestalt literature - small and inward-regarding, oriented to the past, and seemingly oblivious of the welter of
changes happening in the newcomers' own specialist fields that parallel or subvert or hugely support a Gestalt idea, practice, or belief. The newcomers ask: how can such a potent means of addressing human experience and interconnectedness rest upon such a small base? And not a few disappear from the Gestalt scene at this point. 

The disturbing question, and the stark picture painted, can induce sadness for those of us who love - not too strong a word - the Gestalt approach. Yet it has to be addressed. As Gary Yontef and others have pointed out, Daniel Stern's book The Present Moment explores a central Gestalt topic: what already Gestalt-written book about present-centeredness does it compete with? 

The small answer that the British Gestalt Journal can make is to publish high-quality material, which can be read by those within and beyond the immediate Gestalt world and that communicates what we are about, joins the experience to the theory and satisfies those who wish to engage deeply with the approach. That has been, and remains, our aim - perhaps the necessity to speak out beyond the immediate Gestalt community becoming even more prominent.

Volume 14, No.1

In the present issue, we believe the four main articles achieve a high standard of writing and thinking, relevance and general interest. They are supported by a more than usual number of letters - the necessary hard work of sifting through differences and staying in communication - and by a provocative book review and engaging Opinion. It is a good collection that we offer to our readers, both longterm Gestalt specialists and enthusiasts, and those newly encountering the approach.

The word 'courage' also comes to mind with this issue. (Later in this editorial Georges Wollants provides a wonderful quote from Kurt Goldstein about courage.) The connection is that each of the contributors is breaking radical new ground in some way, and it takes courage to do this - and readers as well as editors get excited. 

The first article, by Sally Denham-Vaughan, on 'Will and Grace' (not as seen on TV!) is a reflection on what distinguishes Gestalt psychotherapy from others within the family of psychotherapies, as seen from the vantage point of a senior NHS clinical psychologist with responsibility for what psychotherapy should be provided in her area. The author finds, for the therapeutic dialectic
she discusses - roughly speaking between 'taking initiative' and 'surrendering' - that the roots run very deep, indeed back to Saint Augustine. A reviewer of this article wrote: 'I very much like this piece. Although at times it required intense concentration (inevitable in its subject area I think) it flowed very easily in the latter part, and by the end I was moved, uplifted, enthused. Well done, I say!' We do not normally publish reviewers' comments but this one echoes what I want to convey. It is a thoughtful new 'take' on Gestalt priorities in the field of psychotherapy. 

Second, Fiona Coffey and Simon Cavicchia, who practice as organisational consultants, write engagingly about their experience of working within a multinational IT company. They describe their assignment - to help redesign feedback given to individual managers - and how they interpreted the brief, encountered and overcame problems, and challenged the prevailing sub-culture. Supported by Gestalt principles, they not only took on that sub-culture, but also have now given us a vivid portrayal of what they did, including what they talked about privately and the nature of their collaboration. It is an arresting and welcome case-study of a groundbreaking assignment. 

Third, Ty Francis returns to the BGJ with a far-ranging article about 'the field'. He, too, is an organisational consultant, and draws on experiences of working in many different settings. His scope is wide and the questions he asks are trenchant: Does the field actually exist? Can field theory be applied? Is intuition comprehensible? His ambitious reach is welcome - many of the things he writes about have been spoken of in off-the-record ways for years by those with field theory interests: again, we welcome his courage in airing them in public and his willingness to provoke us at the edges of the currently acceptable. 

The fourth article, by Frank-M. Staemmler, a well known writer (not least in the BGJ several times), teacher, and editor of the International Gestalt Journal, provides a shortened version of his address to the BGJ Friends Day last year. This excellent piece has a longer than usual 'editor's note' introducing it, and I refer you to what I say there. His particular ground-breaking is in opening up a whole new topic for inquiry with his customary panache and scholarship. 

The Letters to the Editor begin with four responses to Mark Fairfield's article ('Gestalt therapy: A Harm Reduction Approach' that appeared in the last issue) from Michael Clemmens, Mark Thomas, Colin Brazier, and Gordon Wheeler. The first three take issue with points in Fairfield's article, and also provide a fuller picture than many readers will have of addiction work both in the UK and USA - it would be interesting to hear more from other European countries. Mark Fairfield replies, using the opportunity to further amplify and refine his argument. There are subtle and far-reaching questions being addressed here - not least about what constitutes 'support' and 'dependence'. In the light of the correspondence, readers may well want to re-read Fairfield's original article. Thanks go to those who have responded to this focus on addiction work in such an informative way. 

Then follow two thoughtful, hard-hitting exchanges, the first between Sylvia Crocker and Peter Philippson about drive theory and - seperately - one between Dan Bloom and Sylvia Crocker about the aesthetic criterion. Both pairs of letters are stimulating to read: they address major points of theory and all four writers (well, three, to be accurate) bring clarity to their arguments and make very good points. Whether any of them is likely to shift his or her views much in the light of the correspondence is questionable. 

However, there is a lot to be gained from vigorous open public debate and allowing for disagreements especially in order to refine points of theoretical interpretation. Our readers often mention their appreciation of the Letters - they are one of the most distinctive features of the BGJ. We thank all the letter writers in this issue and invite others to write to us. 

Vol.14, No.1 concludes, first, with a review by Anne Kearns of an important new book The Values of Connection: A Relational Approach to Ethics, edited by Robert Ire. This picks up on themes of ethics and values which appear in the preceding Bloom/Crocker exchange of letters and which are implicit in the earlier piece by Sally Denham-Vaughan. Although not uncritical, Keams admits to being 'stimulated and stretched and inspired'. Both the book and the review are recommended reading for all practising Gestalt therapists and trainees. 

Second, Katy Wakelin writes about her experience, 'On Being a Mother', an Opinion that will likely resonate with a great number of our readers. It is a further demonstration that we welcome diverse kinds of writing. We would like to publish more in this style.

In Memoriam: Daan van Praag

We are sorry to inform readers that Daan van Praag died on August 14th, 2004. He will be remembered widely in the Gestalt community, not least for his interview in the British Gestalt Journal in 2004 (Vo1.13, No 1), entitled 'Facing Death'. No one reading that interview could be in any doubt as to the courage, wisdom, and aliveness of the man - and indeed the interview attracted more positive comment than any other article we have published. My memories of him on the day of the interview are strong and clear - a contactable and intelligent man in love with life and yet prepared to let go of it when the time came. 

I asked Georges Wollants, a colleague and friend of Daan van Praag, to write a few words about Daan. He began by quoting Kurt Goldstein: To be able to bear anxiety 'is the manifestation of genuine courage. Courage is nothing but an affirmative answer to the shocks of existence' (Goldstein, 1934/1995, The Organism, p. 240). 

Georges described Daan's importance in developing Gestalt therapy in the Low Countries. 'Without him the Gestalt therapy in the Netherlands perhaps would have come to an untimely end. After we met - at conferences of the European Association of Gestalt Therapy (EAGT) - we became friends and began to cooperate. We planned to realise three major things: 1. To edit a Flemish-Dutch Journal for Gestalt therapy; 2. To organise every three years a Flemish-Dutch conference of Gestalt therapy; 3. To invite ourselves along with members of other Gestalt institutes from our two countries to end the fights and the hammering on about differences, and instead to focus upon building connections between us - the latter helping to stimulate the foundation of a unified Dutch-Flemish Gestalt Therapy Association (NVAGT). Four months before his death Daan said to me: "Georges, when I look back at all the plans we made, and all the things we wanted to do, you and me, then I can say: we did it, we realised them all." Of the two of us, he was the one who was not satisfied with just dreaming; he was a man of action. Without him the plans would probably not have left the drawer.' 

Daan van Praag wrote two books about Gestalt therapy in Dutch. He was also the author of many articles. Georges again: 'Knowing that he was "dyslexic", writing was a real difficulty for him. Nonetheless he did it. I can best describe him as a man who recognised what the situation he was part of required him to do and then did it. . .' 

Daan was also very active within EAGT. The president of EAGT Ken Evans, had this to say: 'Daan and I worked closely together on the new EAGT training standards throughout 2002 and much of 2003. We shared a passionate belief that Gestalt standards of training and accreditation needed to be transparent, accessible and credible. Daan was far too unwell to travel to Prague in 2003 when the new training standards were accepted by the Gestalt community but I am very glad he lived long enough to see the fulfilment of his ambitions. I will remember him with great respect and loving appreciation.'

BGJ News

We should like to announce the BGJ Annual Seminar, which has grown out of the former Friends' Days, and is open to all. The Seminar, to be held on Saturday 26 November, 2005 in London, is an opportunity to hear first-class speakers, engage in good talk, meet the editors, publishers, and other readers, and enjoy a good lunch. Details of speakers etc. can be found in the notice on the very last page of the Journal. Please consider yourself warmly invited. 

The Friends of the British Gestalt Journal, many of whom live abroad and have not attended Friends' Days in the past, have a central part in the ensuring the continuance of the Journal, and in keeping the price of each issue at its present level. All appreciative readers should thank the Friends for their continuing generosity, as do the editors. Finally, an Erratum. In the last issue we incorrectly referred to Mark Fairfield as the president of the Pacific Gestalt Institute. He is president of the Gestalt Therapy Institute of Los Angeles.

Malcolm Parlett

Letters to the Editor:

Responses to Mark Fairfield:

Who is it That is Not Harmed? - Michael Clemmens 

Limitations of Abstinence-Only Policies - Mark Thomas 

Substance Misuse in the UK - Colin Brazier

Consonant with Gestalt Values - Gordon Wheeler 

The Priority of Harm Reduction: A Reply to Clemmens, Thomas, Brazier, and Wheeler - Mark Fairfield 

No Return to a Bodily-Focused Drive Theory: A Response to Peter Philippson - Sylvia Fleming Crocker 

Organism/Environment and Self/Other: A Reply to Crocker - Peter Philippson 

Revisiting the Aesthetic Criterion - A Response to Sylvia Fleming Crocker - Daniel Bloom 

Still Questioning the Aesthetic Criterion - A Reply to Bloom - Sylvia Fleming Crocker 

Book Review:

The Values of Connection - A Relational Approach to Ethics edited by Robert G. Lee - Anne Kearns 


On Being a Mother - Katy Wakelin