Volume 3, 2 (1994)


Volume 3, 2 (1994)


The British Gestalt Journal 1994, Volume 3,2


Editorial - Malcolm Parlett

Elegiac Reflections on Isadore From - Michael Vincent Miller

Gestalt Theory and the Natural Approach - Joel Latner 

A Womb of One’s Own - Nancy Amendt-Lyon 

Team Building, Gestalt Style - John Bernard Harris

Therapeutic Ethics: A Gestalt Perspective - John Melnick, Sonia March Nevis, Gloria Nosan Melnick 

A Practical Consideration: How many Words Do I Need? A Clinical Vignette - Neil Harris

Honouring the Dream: An Interview with Dolores Bate - Jude Higgins

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Isadore From and the Oral Tradition 

Isadore From died on June 27, 1994, at his Manhattan home, aged 75 years. His life, work and significance in the Gestalt world are celebrated in this issue in a wonderful tribute by Michael Vincent Miller which follows this editorial.

Isadore From, through his teaching and presence had a strong influence in the Gestalt therapy community. He was one of the original New York group which formed around Fritz and Laura Perls. Through his long periods of teaching, in New York, at Cleveland, as well as in his annual teaching trips to Europe, he became a greatly esteemed figure among those with whom he worked.

Yet he did not write much for publication and his influence and 'audience recognition' in this country has not been as marked as in some other countries. I suspect that there are many in Gestalt training in Britain who know very little about Isadore From. This underlines the fact that it is often those American Gestaltists who have published popular books who have become the best known in Britain. It is the same throughout the academic and professional world - that is, there are those who acquire a reputation mainly through writing and others who accumulate public respect through a progressive build-up of personal appreciation, derived from how people have experienced them in small-scale teaching situations. Isadore From was one of the second group, passing on his accumulated expertise via the oral tradition.

We can all identify, within the Gestalt therapy community, many such figures. They may not be in the same league as Isadore From - he was the acknowledged doyen of American Gestalt trainers (though I imagine he preferred the word 'teacher' to 'trainer')- but collectively they are a great repository of the Gestalt tradition; and they pass on their best understanding to the next generation via the spoken rather than by the written word. Ultimately, the Gestalt attitude and this way of perceiving and thinking and ‘making sense of' Gestalt therapy and philosophy (in both meanings of 'sense') cannot be learnt from books, or from journals like this one. The face-to-face encounter and the intimate teaching setting have primacy over the printers' ink and paper modality. Example, professional skill, integrity, and presence are the ultimate winners over ability to publish.

At the same time, without a written tradition, without the charts, as it were, the flotilla of separate teaching craft would unlikely sail the same course at all. The charts contain the articulated theory, the definitions, the shared informative terminology. They provide the landmarks, buoys, and other navigational aids which assist individual mariners to locate themselves vis-à-vis the collective professional community. What is, and what is not, Gestalt therapy and what are its defining, seminal ideas are questions which concern - or should concern - us all.

Isadore From was scrupulous in defining the boundaries of Gestalt therapy. He relied on the written word to assist him. He was the foremost exponent of Goodman’s section of Gestalt Therapy (by Perls, Hefferline and Goodman), and was a stalwart defender of its centrality. Moreover by returning again and again to the 'sacred text' and showing the practical applicability of its fundamental concepts, he dissolved the barrier that is too often set up between 'theory' and 'experience'.

Remembering Our Teachers

I never studied with Isadore From, a lost opportunity I regret dearly. Yet I can imagine the gap left in a great many Gestaltists' lives as a result of his death. One of my own teachers, Rainette Fantz, also died in 1994. She did publish a little (a bibliographic reference to her ‘classic' article on Gestalt dreams appears on p.124 of this issue). But her main influence on hundreds of students at the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland, was - like with Isadore - via her personal impact, her presence, and as a role model. I remember her as someone who exuded excitement in her work. She connected to people, exquisitely crafting words, images, metaphors or gestures to communicate her appreciation of the intense beauty of life. That she was such a bright flame is the more remarkable in that she lived for years with illness and physical discomfort.

As I write these words about Rennie Fantz I am thinking of both the finality of death as well as the enduring appreciation we can feel towards some of our teachers. We can trace their legacy in our present day lives and work. So many have obviously felt profoundly 'given to' by Isadore From, and I feel a similar gratitude towards Rennie Fantz. And, of course, the debt we feel extends further back: there are our teachers' teachers. Rennie, as one of the original Cleveland group, had of course been taught extensively by Isadore From, as well as by Paul Goodman, Fritz Perls and Laura Perls.

The British Gestalt Journal is committed to supporting the activities of describing, conceptualising and analysing; to the cause of promoting the written word in the Gestalt discipline. This does not mean the BGJ cannot also support the oral tradition. As readers of this issue, we are privileged to have more than a glimpse of Isadore From at work: Michael Vincent Miller captures some of the key qualities of Isadore's teaching, his approach, presence and personal style. Second we can read Jude Higgins’ interview with Dolores Bate - the spoken and tape-recorded word written down, with minimal editing. Dolores describes how she works with dreams in ways which are vividly reminiscent of her actual teaching.

We would like to experiment further, in capturing more of what Gestalt teachers teach. Obviously we invite them to write for us, more and more often. And if they won't or don't, we would like to find other ways in which this active and vocal (yet on paper silent) majority of experts and teachers can be documented more assiduously, so that the oral tradition is preserved more durably and our teachers' teachings disseminated more generously throughout the Gestalt community and beyond.

The BGJ and its Development in a Changing International Scene

Editing the Journal is enjoyable; it is hard work; it is frustrating at times (what job isn't?); and it is a privilege as well as as responsibility. To know that progressively we are - as an editorial team and staff - becoming more professional, with a smoother running organisation, is heartening. To have recognition and appreciation that the Journal satisfies a collective professional need is also welcome. And to be told, as several readers have done, that 'each issue is better than the last' is particularly gratifying. I thank those of you who have given us feedback and encouragement and again invite all readers to let us have your reactions and views; suggestions for what we might try next; how you would like your professional journal to be responding to present-day Gestalt developments. We will listen and take note.

When we began we we envisaged being primarily a local, British publication. Increasingly we are receiving articles from all around the world. Our policy is that we shall continue to give prominence and priority wherever possible to writers from within the British Isles. At the same time we are pleased to be getting the international attention we are receiving; we regard publishing of high quality material from overseas as another way in which we can contribute to the British Gestalt scene, making available a wider range of thought and practice for readers in this country than has been possible at any time before in the field of Gestalt therapy.

We feel ourselves part of a wider trend towards an increasing international-ising of Gestalt therapy. We are pleased that Britain will host the next European Gestalt conference in Cambridge in September 1995. As the advertisements and notices section demonstrates, there are other initiatives as well: for instance, the opening conference of the Association for the Advancement of Gestalt Therapy in New Orleans in October 1995. The AAGT is primarily American-based and led but is international in spirit and extremely welcoming towards Gestaltists of other nationalities. Arguably its inception in the US constitutes a quantum shift in favour of collaboration and exchange, a willingness for the various American Gestalt communities - none of which traditionally has had much to do with my of the others - to come together. Old patterns of arrogant-seeming mutual disparagement are being replaced by a fresh willingness to confront the costs of insularity and the permanent self-congratulation of inward-looking groups.

Another development, still on the horizon, but gathering steam, is the launch in 1996 of a new Gestalt journal in the USA, the Gestalt Review, again with a strong editorial inclination to be internationalist. The British Gestalt Journal is looking forward to active collaboration (as well as, I imagine, some good-natured rivalry from time to time) with the new journal when it begins. Our own position feels strong and stronger all the time, and if we can continue to contribute to cross-national links and heightened contact between different professional groupings we shall be delighted. 

Alongside and associated with the increased internationalism is a feast of new writing. There are books appearing at a rate which is staggering, considering the almost complete absence of new Gestalt books for such a long period in the past. We are interested in fresh writing and in reviewing new books. Altogether, these are exciting times in the Gestalt world and the BGJ is part of the new movement. 

Malcolm Parlett 

Letters to the Editor:

Can ‘I-Thou’ be the Basis of Gestalt Therapy?-A Reply to Yontef and Beaumont -Frank M.Staemmler

Gestalt and Spirituality - A Reply to Des Kennedy - Peter Philippson

’Swish Shots’ and Other Questions - A Reply to Wheeler - Daniel Rosenblatt

A Reply to Rosenblatt - Gordon Wheeler

Book Reviews:

Awareness, Dialogue and Process: Essays on Gestalt Therapy: by Gary Yontef - Petruska Clarkson 

Being and Belonging: Group, Intergroup and Gestalt: by Gaie Houston - Bud Feder