Volume 16, 2 (2007)


Volume 16, 2 (2007)


The British Gestalt Journal 2007, Volume 16, 2


Special focus on working with children and young people 

Editorial - Christine Stevens

Relational modes and the evolving field of parent—child contact: a contribution to a Gestalt theory of development - Mark McConville

The mother—adolescent daughter relationship: finding common ground through dialogic process - Marlene Moss Blumenthal

Am I bovvered? A Gestalt approach to working with adolescents - Jon Blend 

Zig Zag Flop and Roll: creating an embodied field for healing and awareness when working with children - Denise Tervo

Shame and belonging in childhood: the interaction between relationship and neurobiological development in the early years of life - Robert G. Lee 

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This special focus issue of the BGJ is timely and significant in a number of ways. As usual, a variety of writing styles are represented, including papers on theory and clinical practice, Letters, Book Reviews, and Opinion. Together in this issue they frame a rich and coherent picture of contemporary Gestalt therapy approaches to work with children and young people, and there is much here to provoke, stimulate, and inform. 

In the developed world there has probably never before been a time when children and young people have faced such prolonged challenge and complexity in the process of growing up. As a medical diagnosis, depression has been recognised as the most prevalent psychological disorder and in terms of all illness, is predicted to be second only to heart disease in Britain by 2020. The rates of depression identified among the young are growing disproportionately, with one in ten under-eighteen-year-olds affected. With one in six adults in the UK being diagnosed as having depression or an anxiety disorder, children are increasingly growing up in households where family life is impacted by mental health issues. Abuse, neglect, and bullying are all well-documented hazards affecting a significant minority of children. Recent research in neuroscience has highlighted the relationship between emotions and hormones in terms of brain development and confirmed the lifelong behavioural and social impact of the quality of the infant's early relational experiences, which psychotherapists have previously observed and postulated. 

The demographic impact of ageing populations and falling birth rates also have an impact on concerns about the well-being of children and young people, which have been reflected in recent public policy. In Britain in 2004, a National Service Framework set out new standards for children's health and social services, encouraging new levels of cooperation between the agencies involved, and the 2004 Children's Act provided the legislative framework for this. In 2005 a Children's Commissioner was appointed in England to promote awareness of the best interests of children and young people. Over the same period, psycho-therapy regulatory bodies have been reviewing psycho-therapy practice with children across all modalities. The UKCP has recently set up a committee to address what they identify as the 'huge unmet needs of children and young people for psychotherapy help'. New training standards for psychotherapeutic work with under-eighteen-year-olds have been developed, and this is increasingly being seen as a specialist area of practice, for which specific training is required. 

At a time of concern for consistent standards in professional practice, and the movement in Britain and across Europe towards statutory regulation, it is inevitable that psychotherapy training institutes should become clearer about the boundaries of the curricula they offer, for example training in adult therapy rather than generic programmes. What is surprising, however, is that at the time of writing, there is in Britain no accredited Gestalt psychotherapy training available for those wishing to work with children and young people, either as a primary training or as a post-qualifying specialism. What is going on here? Does this reflect the insularity or lack of confidence of the Gestalt therapy community in Britain, with its focus on private practice and independent institutes with little engagement with the public sector, child and adolescent mental health services or NHS employment? 

Traditionally, Gestalt therapy, with its process orientation, has been taught as a life span theory, and until now it has been common for trainees on generic programmes to gain part of their clinical experience through working in school counselling programmes or youth agencies. It is not unusual for experienced Gestalt therapists to work with young people and their families as a normal part of their practice. Are we willing to have our work limited to adults only without undertaking more expensive and time-consuming qualifications? In a thought-provoking opinion piece in this issue, Jo McMahon highlights and discusses some of the implications of these issues from her perspective as a senior child psychologist and Gestalt psychotherapy trainee. 

Violet Oaklander's book Windows to Our Children (1988) is a classic in the literature on therapeutic work with children, and she is held in universal regard within the Gestalt community and beyond as an early pioneer of Gestalt practice with children and young people. All of our contributors make reference to her work. In a retrospective piece, which we have published as a letter, she reflects on her lifelong experience of work with children. Her recent book, Hidden Treasure, is reviewed here by Belinda Harris. 

Although we have noted the absence of Gestalt child-focussed training in Britain, the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland, Ohio, has developed a well-regarded course and several of our articles come from writers who are associated with this programme. Indeed, some of the articles in this issue have emerged from papers first presented at a conference at Esalen in February 2007, 'The Evolution of Gestalt II; Relational Child, Relational Brain; Gestalt for the Twenty-first Century'. Along with other conference contributors, they will be published by the Gestalt Press/Analytic Press in a forth-coming book of that title, co-edited by Robert Lee and Sarah Toman. 

Mark McConville, whose model on adolescent development has been widely acclaimed by Gestalt practitioners, has contributed an interesting paper extending his thinking on Gestalt developmental theory to the relationship between parent and child and how this is negotiated over time. Marlene Blumenthal, drawing on her twenty-five years' experience of working with adolescent girls, discusses her adaptation of Philip Lichtenberg's model of dialogue to facilitate mother—daughter relationships. Jon Blend, a British writer, illustrates his paper with case vignettes based on his work in an NHS child and adolescent mental health clinic. He integrates a variety of innovative and creative approaches to his work which will be of particular interest to readers working in similar settings. 

Denise Tervo's paper is also based closely on her clinical experience. Using three case scenarios, she discusses how she focuses on the embodied relational field of both child and family using a range of imaginative play and creative methods. In the final article, Robert Lee reviews the neurological literature, especially the work of Alan Schore, concerning the first two years of life, with particular reference to the aetiology of shame. He argues that a field relational understanding can facilitate a healing process and develop a sense of connectedness. 

The increasing interest in Gestalt therapy with children is reflected in a number of recent publications. In addition to Oaklander's book, we review two others from writers who have built on her work. Jo McMahon reviews The Handbook of Gestalt Play Therapy by Rinda Blom, and Claire Harrison-Breed reviews Peter Mortola's book, Windowframes

A letter from Sylvia Crocker and a reply from Frank-M. Staemmler continue to chew over the philosophical questions raised by Staemmler's paper in the Festschrift issue (Vol. 15.2) over what we mean by 'field' and what exactly is the nature of the relationship between mind and body. 

We apologise to Susie Boynton for misspelling her name on the front cover of the last issue! 

As an editorial team, we have very much appreciated the warm and constructive feedback received from many of you after our last (first!) issue, and hope that you will continue to tell us what you appreciate about the BGJ and what you would like to see us do differently or better. We would particularly like to express our appreciation of our peer reviewers, a number of whom have been involved in this issue for the first time. Your work, although largely invisible, is extremely useful to the writers and adds real value to the quality of the work we publish. Several members of the editorial team attended the EAGT Conference in Athens in September where we were delighted to meet many of our readers and contributors. A number of new subscribers, including a significant group from Eastern Europe, will be receiving this issue for the first time, and we would like to give you a particular welcome and look forward to your participation through letters and articles in the future. 

In terms of the future, we were not able to include all the material we would have liked in this issue, and we hope to publish more papers on work with children and adolescents in the future. For the autumn 2008 issue, we are especially interested in papers that address social, political, and cultural issues, beyond one-to-one therapy. Further on still, we are planning an issue exploring points of connection, difference, and dialogue between Gestalt and Jungian approaches. As always, we welcome contributions on these or any other themes as well as feedback, both formal and informal, from the current issue. 

Christine Stevens 

Letters to the editor: 

A retrospective regarding my work with children: how it all evolved - Violet Oaklander 

Terminating the confusion: a response to Frank Staemmler - Sylvia Fleming Crocker 

Emergent interactionism: Staemmler replies - Frank-M. Staemmler

Book reviews:

Hidden treasure: gems for children's therapists and helpers. A review of Hidden Treasure: A map to the child's inner self by Violet Oaklander - Belinda Harris

Gestalt theory, Oaklander and play therapy — the dream team for working with children with complex needs. A review of The Handbook of Gestalt Play Therapy: Practical Guidelines for Child Therapists by Rinda Blom - Jo McMahon 

A window on Violet Oaklander's workshops. A review of Windowframes: Learning the Art of Gestalt Play Therapy the Oaklander Way by Peter Mortola - Claire Harrison-Breed


Is Gestalt therapy really a life span therapy? - Jo McMahon