Volume 20, 1 (2011)

VOL-20, 1.png
VOL-20, 1.png

Volume 20, 1 (2011)




Editorial - Christine Stevens 

Empathy and understanding - Stuart Stawman

Gender identity issues: a response to John L. Bennett - David Hawley

Something in the air - Neil Haris

The meeting: a response to Neil Harris - Francis Taylor

Watching my ‘personal film’ - Petros Theodorou

To infinity and beyond … the hot seat - Marie-Anne Chidiac

An interview with Edwin Nevis - Belinda Harris

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The British Gestalt Journal has been published continuously for twenty years! This is cause for celebration and for satisfaction that a relatively small community within the field of psychotherapy as a whole has the vitality and energy to sustain the life of this publication with its distinctive European yet English-speaking context.

Twenty years ago, Laura Perls had just died, and the first issue was dedicated to her memory.  In his editorial, Malcolm Parlett, the founding Editor who went on to edit the BGJ for fifteen years, wrote of the lack of a strong intellectual tradition in Gestalt. He called for those who practice, teach and experience Gestalt to be more communicative and assertive, to get beyond the caricatures and misrepresentations of being “some kind of left-over fad from the sixties.” He wanted the Journal to establish a written tradition that would “crystallize and document knowledge -in –practice….actively foster intellectual enquiry and encourage the expression and debate of ideas and theory.”(Parlett 1991)

The Journal’s development through childhood and adolescence has had its share of challenges, and we are here today in large measure thanks to the support of the Friends of the British Gestalt Journal, whose financial backing and belief in the venture have been timely and vital. It is due to friends, both visible and behind-the scenes, the wide-spreading readership, the writers, the reviewers, the Board, and the generosity and good-will of many, that we are able to stand on the verge of young adulthood with a degree of confidence and optimism.  

To date, we have published over 330 articles, not including book reviews, letters and opinions.  Many of these have been seminal papers which have been significant in the formation of gestalt students and practitioners.  Most of the influential voices in contemporary gestalt theory have written for the Journal, and we have increasingly encouraged a new generation of writers to make their contribution.  

There is of course much still to do. Nine years ago, Cozolino wrote in the Neuroscience of Psychotherapy “Although Gestalt is not widely practiced, it is a unique expression of psychodynamic theory that is particularly relevant to the notion of neural integration” (2002 p 60).  This expresses both the challenge and the opportunity that is ours – to engage vigorously in dialogue and in practice with the wider field of psychotherapy at all levels, so that Gestalt is better known, and to appropriate and articulate the richness of our approach to therapy which is so well supported by recent neurobiological discoveries.

This issue continues in the ethos of the founders’ original intention, to reflect a distinctly European contribution to the field of gestalt writing. Our authors are from Greece, a former UK resident now in Australia, a Lebanese writer now living in the UK, and from London, the north-west, north-east, south-west, home counties and midlands of England. The articles are all very different in flavour, although they are rich and lively and engage with gestalt therapy in a variety of relational contexts;” I-Thou”, “I-me”, “I-we”, “I-it”.

Stawman’s paper contributes to the ongoing debate about the balance between figure and ground by exploring what he argues is the neglected place for understanding alongside empathy in the therapeutic process.  Whereas empathy relates to the “I-Thou”, in the present moment, understanding incorporates more of the historical, developmental and narrative elements which are equally part of the field, and, Stawman argues, part of the therapy relationship.

Hawley’s paper is a contribution to the on-going exploration in the Journal of issues relating to sexuality and gender.  Prompted as a response to “Case study of a transgendered woman” by Bennett in the last issue (Bennett 2010), but substantive in its own right, Hawley addresses the confusion of terms that often muddy the waters in this area and provides some definitions and conceptual clarity. He usefully addresses differences in approaches to gender identity between the UK and the USA, and discusses therapeutic issues from his own practice of gestalt therapy with clients with gender identity issues.  This is a helpful and well-informed contribution to the small but growing gestalt literature in this subject area.
The paper by Neil Harris is concerned with the difficulties of working with attachment-disordered children, particularly in the light of what we now know about trauma and neurodevelopment. He looks at an organisation which he sees as embodying good practice in terms of treatment for children and their families. Using a case example, he analyses in terms of field theory, mindfulness, and Parlett’s Five Abilities what it is that makes the organisation effective. Interestingly, while this might be seen as an exploration of the I-it in terms of the child and the organisation, Taylor’s response to Harris’s paper makes out the case that in fact it is not so much the effectiveness of the organisation as the I-Thou of the dialogic relationship with the child and the adult of the case example which was significant.  Both authors share their concern for looked after children and urge for more gestalt practitioner involvement in this work.

Theodorous’s contribution is a creative exploration of an aspect of “I-me” experiencing.  From his background in music art and drama, in particular Playback Theatre, he has developed a synthesis with gestalt theory which he calls Process Stage Praxis. The idea of the “personal film” is a key concept in this approach, which he identifies as forming at the junction between figure and ground in the awareness process.  Theodorou goes on to explore and elucidate this idea in relation to forms of awareness and shows how it can be important as a starting point for body work and other creative therapeutic processes.

Chidiac’s paper takes us into the “I-we” of group work and looks at how gestalt practice in relation to groups has changed over the last thirty years, through a comparison of the original and revised editions of Beyond the Hot Seat (Feder & Ronall eds 1980 and Feder & Frew,eds, 2008). She reviews developments in gestalt group work in clinical, community and organisational applications, and provides a valuable commentary on continuity and change, and where the new opportunities for development can be found.

We are delighted to publish another interview in the “In his own voice” series, and this time Belinda Harris has talked to Edwin Nevis about his long, celebrated and continuing life’s work with Gestalt as an agent for social change.  As a living part of the history of the development of gestalt therapy and organisational work, this account is full of fascinating memories and conveys a vivid sense of his warm-hearted presence and lively engagement at the age of 84.
The rest of this issue’s offerings include a reader’s letter and some substantive book reviews. As an end paper, the opinion piece by Philippson on thinking in Gestalt therapy provides an interesting juxtaposition to Stawman’s paper at the beginning of this issue, and readers might like to read these together.

As we celebrate our twentieth year, we are delighted to be able to report that gestalt writing has caught on and is stronger than ever.  We can now look back on a well established written tradition in gestalt therapy that this Journal has helped to foster. We are looking ahead to our silver anniversary in five years’ time and are already planning some special events and looking for contributors and distributors and new writers and fresh ideas. If any of this appeals to you, we would love to hear from you!

Christine Stevens
Bennett, J  (2010) “Inocencia”: case study of a transgender woman without gender dysphoria preparing for gender reassignment surgery The British Gestalt Journal  19:2 p16-27
Cozolino, L (2002) The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy London, Norton
Feder, B. and Ronall, R. (eds.) (1980). Beyond the Hot Seat: Gestalt Approaches to Group. Brunner/Mazel Inc., New York. Reprinted 2000, Beefeeder Press, Montclair, NJ.

Feder, B. and Frew, J. (eds.) (2008). Beyond the Hot Seat Revisited: Gestalt Approaches to Group. The Gestalt Institute Press, Metairie, New Orleans, LA.

Parlett, M (1991) Editorial The British Gestalt Journal  1:1 p 2-3

Letter To The Editor

Response To Sally Denham-Vaughan - Michael Grandey

Book Reviews

Mending The World By Joseph Melnick And Edwin C. Nevis - Sally Denham-Vaughan

Gestalt Therapy: 100 Key Points And Techniques By Dave Mann - Simon Stafford Townsend

Cocreating The Field: Intention And Practice In The Age Of Complexity Edited By Deborah Ullman And Gordon Wheeler - Lynn Brighous


The Mind And The Senses - Peter Philippson