Volume 15, 2 (2006)


Volume 15, 2 (2006)


The British Gestalt Journal 2006, Volume 15, 2


Editorial - Frank-M. Staemmler 

Borderlands - An Essay in Honour of Malcolm Parlett - Arthur Roberts 

That Which Enables - Support as Complex and Contextually Emergent - Lynne Jacobs 

Awareness, Contacting and the Promotion of Democratic-Egalitarian Social Life - Philip Lichtenberg and Cathy Gray 

Love and Commitment in the 21st Century - Joseph Melnick and Sonia March Nevis

Malcolm Parlett's Five Abilities and Their Connection With Contemporary Scientific Theories on Human Interconnectedness - Margherita Spagnuolo Lobb

Parlett's Creative Abilities Model and the Esalen Curriculum for the Human Potential: A Comparative Study - Gordon Wheeler 

Field Theory: Mirrors and Reflections - Peter Philippson 

A Babylonian Confusion?: On the Uses and Meanings of the Term 'Field' - Frank-M. Staemmler 

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This issue of the British Gestalt Journal is extraordinary. It marks the end of an era: the era of Malcolm Parlett's editorship. Malcolm has been the editor for fifteen years, i.e. as long as the BGJ has been in publication. As a consequence, it almost seems as if the BGJ cannot be thought of without him. In fact however, this is the first issue of the BGJ that has appeared without Malcolm's editorial influence. Instead it is, from start to finish, about him and his contributions to the theory and practice of Gestalt therapy.

This is a festschrift for Malcolm Parlett, by which both the British and the international Gestalt therapy community - represented here by friends of Malcolm who are well-known authors from England, the United States of America, Italy, and Germany - expresses its gratitude. Additionally, this festschrift marks the community's appreciation to him for his dedication, enduring efforts and valuable intellectual stimulation, that have left permanent traces in our minds and hearts.

Let me begin this editorial with a personal reminiscence. In 1993 a Gestalt therapy conference took place in Vienna at the occasion of Fritz Perls's 100th birthday. I was there as a presenter, and so was Malcolm. The last day of the conference I decided not to participate in any seminars or lectures but to go and visit Freud's house. Whom did I meet there unexpectedly? It was Malcolm! We looked at each other with smiles of mutual recognition mixed with a whiff of embarrassment . . . That was the first time I met him. At the time, I was not yet aware of how representative this particular situation was of him.

First, there was Malcolm and Vienna - on the one hand a renowned Gestalt therapist and on the other hand the native town of Freud's psychoanalysis, from which we all stem as Laura Perls (1988) once remarked. For me, this juxtaposition is representative of Malcolm's sensitivity to, and respect for both the geographical and historical backgrounds of Gestalt therapy, which are important parts of the 'field' of Gestalt therapy. But there is more to this association (it even includes a culinary aspect!), as you can read in Arthur Roberts's contribution to this festschrift, 'Borderlands,' which is a moving personal homage to his friend.

Second, I noticed Malcolm had a certain smile; a smile I have seen on his face many times since. It is the kind of smile that tells you, 'I recognise you - not only as somebody I have seen before, but also as a human being who cherishes similar longings and carries sorrows akin to mine.' It is a smile that casts an accepting and soothing light even on your shameful feelings and thoughts; it enables you to show yourself as the one you are. It is the smile of support, since support is 'That Which Enables,' which is the title of Lynne Jacobs's contribution to this festschrift. In this paper she picks up an en passant, remark Malcolm once made at a meeting of our study group, and uses it as a starting point for her stimulating and innovative considerations about the notion of support in Gestalt therapy. Lynne argues convincingly that support cannot be defined in a fixed and decontextualised manner but must be seen as a 'complex and contextually emergent' ('field'-) phenomenon.

Third, there was a sense of mutuality in the way we looked at each other. It was obvious to me that he did not only recognise me, he also allowed me to recognise him. He also revealed a certain shyness that, as I learned in subsequent years, is a both typical and amiable way in which he frequently approaches other people. This careful smile lacked all possessiveness; it did not impose itself on me, but left time for me to approach him at my own pace. It was not he, who 'made' contact with me. Remarkably, his way of meeting me deviated noticeably from the way 'making contact' is outlined in various models of the so-called 'cycle of experience' that exist in our literature. It is my impression that these models more or less reduce the addressee of contacting to a mere object of the needs of the one who, as it were, 'does' the contacting 'to' the other person. In these cases it can seem as if the other person is a piece of food (the most often used analogy) that is to be incorporated',' digested', and 'assimilated',

In their contribution to this festschrift with the title 'Awareness, Contacting and the Promotion of Democratic-Egalitarian Social Life', Philip Lichtenberg and Cathy Gray propose a different idea which, I am sure, is much closer to Malcolm's attitude than is the aforementioned traditional, almost cannibalistic notion of contact. These authors widen the horizon not only to include the other person as a subject in his own right, but also look at the community, the 'field', of which the participants in an interaction are parts; they write:

Were a person to have definitive wants at the beginning of a relationship and insist that these wants be met without alteration, that person would be ignoring the actual relational nature of human functioning and would inherently be fostering connections of dominance and submission. ln striving for a distinct 'I' without regard to others, the aesthetics of contacting would be compromised and the resulting community debased. (Lichtenberg and Gray, this issue)

Their paper is followed by the contribution of Joseph Melnick and Sonia March Nevis on 'Love and Commitment in the 21st Century', love and commitment - two related phenomena that can also be closely associated with personal recognition and mutuality and thereby, with Malcolm. These aspects, fourth, will have been felt by those fortunate enough to know Malcolm in person. In addition, they will have been seen by those who have witnessed from a distance his uncompromised engagement with the people he has worked with, for Gestalt therapy in general, and particularly for the British Gestalt Journal. Among other interesting observations, Melnick and Nevis point to the 'field'-dependent character of love; they describe it as 'deeply contextual', 'cultural', and 'relational'. They also pose a question that is important both in private life and in therapy: 'Why is it so difficult to meet commitments?' We all know it is difficult, but there are people in this world, such as Malcolm, who leave no doubt that it is also possible.
Fifth, our Vienna meeting exemplified at least some of the 'five dimensions of creative adjustment' or 'creative abilities' Malcolm has outlined in one of his papers (Parlett, 2003) and, if rumours are true, plans to describe in more detail in the future: Responding, Interrelating, Self-Recognising, Embodying, and Experimenting. Both Margherita Spagnuolo Lobb and Gordon Wheeler pick up these concepts in their respective contributions to this festschrift and interweave them with their own ideas in a both critical and constructive manner. Spagnuolo Lobb relates Parlett's 'five abilities' to Gestalt therapy's core principles as well as to 'contemporary scientific theories on human interconnectedness' as they have been developed in both neuroscience and infant research. She thereby embeds Parlett's concepts into today's wider scientific and social 'field,' and concludes that his

. . . description is in line with recent developments in anthropology, with socio-cultural trends, and with new psychological theories. They can become a clinical and pedagogical tool for supporting groups of any size, since they match the needs and trends of contemporary society. (Spagnuolo Lobb, this issue)
Wheeler also compares 'Parlett's Creative Abilities Model' to other concepts, in his case to the 'Esalen Curriculum for the Human Potential'. By comparing these two systems, he attempts to gain clarity and understanding of each in the light of the other, and also to identify areas needed for further development. It may come as no surprise that, among the latter, Wheeler (reminding me of the papers by Lichtenberg and Gray and Melnick and Nevis) names love and belonging which, if I understand him correctly, must not only be understood as the 'glue' that connects people to each other, but also, or even more essentially, as the creative 'field' that ontologically exists previously to the individual person and breeds her in the first place.
Peter Philippson's contribution to this festschrift overlaps in important respects with, and underlines, some of the considerations in the papers mentioned above, especially Spagnuolo Lobb's. Philippson vividly points to the fact that

. . . there have been startling advances in our understanding of the neurological underpinning of human behaviour, which have both confirmed and added to our understanding of the field nature of human consciousness and selfhood. In this article, I explore some of these advances and their implications for the development of a Gestalt field theory that is true to our tradition, and also in
line with what we are currently discovering. (Philippson, this issue)
Among the key words of his article you will not only find 'neuroscience' and 'field theory', but also 'intersubjectivity' and 'attachment' - terms that obviously also resonate with Lichtenberg's and Gray's as well as with Melnick's and Nevis' and with Wheeler's proposals. By referring to field theory Philippson in some sense also prepares the ground for the last contribution to this festschrift.

The final paper in this volume was written by myself. I deliberately devoted myself to a topic that has been close to Malcolm's heart for many years: field theory. In this editorial I have repeatedly used the term 'field' - mostly within quotation marks. This was meant to indicate the fact that the term acquires different meanings in different contexts. In my paper 'On the Uses and Meanings of the Term 'Field" I elaborate on these differences in great detail hoping to clarify its meanings and to prevent 'A Babylonian Confusion'. My aim is to support Malcolm's constant efforts to develop a clearer and more consistent field theoretical orientation in Gestalt therapy.
I am confident that this compilation of papers makes for stimulating reading; both for you, the readers of the British Gestalt Journal, and especially for you, Malcolm, since you are now one of them! As a final tribute I invited the contributors to this festschrift to address themselves to you personally. Here is what they sent me:

Malcolm, I have known you for a long time, since you were a young man. I have pictures of you in my mind over all these years. I'm delighted and proud to know you. I keep you in my heart. Nice that we still have many years to go on knowing each other. Fondly, Sonia (March Nevis)

Congratulations and thank you for having created and developed an outstanding, professional journal that has made a significant contribution to the understanding and advancement of Gestalt therapy. I will miss sharing with you the challenges and rewards of editorship, and also the opportunity to cooperate, compete, and support each other's journals. And on a final personal note, I look forward to your continued creativity and contribution to the Gestalt community. - Joe (Melnick)

My figure with Malcolm at this moment is how he has enhanced both the standing of British Gestalt therapy in the world, and the way British Gestalt therapists view ourselves in the world. This is partly due to the organisations he has been involved in founding, GPTI and the British Gestalt Journal, and also partly to his own personality and abilities in international events. I remember the respect shown to Malcolm at an AAGT conference when he facilitated a difficult interaction with skill combined with humility. I also remember the warm comments about the high standard of the BGJ from colleagues in many countries. We now have our own British Gestalt community, which can hold its head up in the world, and Malcolm has been a vital part of that. Malcolm, enjoy your (partial) retirement and thanks for everything! Best wishes, Peter (Philippson)

My experience with Malcolm has combined the professional and the person in heartwarming ways. We have worked together at a writers' conference, professional conferences, on panels presenting, and in correspondence. He impresses with his sharp mind, caring concerns, honesty and integrity, and with a social commitment that is most admirable. He is direct, enthusiastic, penetrating and thoughtful. Bravo to a good and fine man. Philip (Lichtenberg)

For years before I met him, I heard my British colleagues speak with love and special respect of one of their first Gestalt therapists and trainers, a fellow named Malcolm Parlett. I had read with appreciation some of his writings. I had heard some pretty funny stories about 'come as your polarity' workshops he staged. So when I finally met him, I was not surprised by his playfulness, his irreverence, his intelligence, his gentleness. I was surprised by his humility. Could it be, I wondered, that he does not know how revered he is? Well, I think he does know, but his humanity, his care, his commitment to finding the good in people, also makes him an accessible treasure in our Gestalt world. I owe this fine man a special 'thank you.' He introduced me to a fine British phrase, one I had never heard before, and which is rich with implicit meanings. The phrase is: 'And Bob's your uncle!' So here's to you Malcolm, I have said my piece, and Bob's your uncle! - Lynne (Jacobs)

Malcolm is an OK guy, and I hear he's pretty smart. I kinda like him. Too bad he didn't do a lot with the talent he was given, but I guess we shouldn't ask for too much. He makes good quiche. Archie (Roberts)

Through his own influential writing and teaching over the past generation, and his exemplary editorial leadership, Malcolm Parlett has helped steer the Gestalt model away from a deadening focus on the individual in isolation and back to its roots in deep relationship, an eroticised field, and most definitely politics. Both our model and the wider world have benefited enormously from this creative engagement. Alas, in the process he sacrificed his true career, as one of the great comic performance artists of our day. But that shouldn't stop us from celebrating Malcolm today his creative energy, his depth of mind, his largeness of heart and vision, and his boundless dedication - or from thanking him for continuing to enliven our work and our lives. - Gordon (Wheeler)

A person who has worked so much to support the good in Gestalt therapy deserves to be honoured by his professional community. Malcolm Parlett has served Gestalt therapy development greatly through the British Gestalt Journal. He has given voice to several colleagues, and his care has been patient, competent, and humble. Thanks to him, many Gestalt therapists have found a place in the literature of our approach. - Margherita (Spagnuolo Lobb)

Dear Malcolm, I do not think that I can add anything important to what our joint friends have already expressed and to what I have said above - maybe except for one thing: Do enjoy the enormous amount of time you will have at your disposal now that you do not edit this journal anymore! Frank-M. Staemmler

P.S. As guest editor of this issue I have not been familiar with the uses and routines that have been established among those who have been involved in the production of this journal for many years. More than anybody else I had to rely on the continuous support of, and cooperation with, Dinah Ashcroft, Paul Barber, Sally Denham-Vaughan, Neil Harris, Gaie Houston, Caroline Hutcheon, Naomi Jadwat, Caro Kelly, Brenda Luckock, and Katy Wakelin, which they generously provided. Thank you very much to all of you! - F.-M. St.

Frank-M. Staemmler 



Parlett, M. (2003). Creative Abilities and the Art of Living Well. In Spagnuolo Lobb, M. and Amendt-Lyon, N., Creative License: The Art of Gestalt Therapy (pp. 5l-62). Springer, Wien and New York.

Perls, L. (1988). Leben an der Grenze - Ein Gespriich mit Milan Sreckovic. Gestalttherapie 2, 1, pp. 5-11.