Volume 4, 2 (1995)


Volume 4, 2 (1995)


The British Gestalt Journal 1995, Volume 4, 2


Editorial - Malcolm Parlett 

Shame in Two Paradigms of Therapy - Gordon Wheeler

Shame in the Therapeutic Dialogue - Lynne Jacobs

Shame in Teaching/Learning Settings: A Gestalt Approach - Reinhard Fuhr and Martina Gremmler-Fuhr 

Absence and Shame: A Cross-Cultural Encounter - Maryse Mathys 

A Gestalt Therapy Approach to Shame and Self-Righteousness: Theory and Methods - Richard G.Erskine 

Robin Skynner on Gestalt: Comments about Joseph Zinker’s ‘In Search of Good Form’ - Judith Hemming 

Isadore From’s Contribution to the Theory and Practice of Gestalt Therapy - Bertram Müller 

A Return Journey to the Concept of Top-Dog/Under-Dog Travelling with Winnicott and Others - Gill Caradoc-Davies 

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A Special Focus

For the fist time in the British Gestalt Journal we have chosen to bring together in one issue a group of papers with a single focus - that of Shame. It is not an entirely 'Special Issue', for there are important papers on other topics included as well: one by Bertram Müller (from Germany), who follows up the BGJ's attention to the life and work of the late Isadore From; and another by Gill Caradoc-Davies (from New Zealand) who reconsiders Fritz Perls' polarity of TopDog and UnderDog. There is also a short interview with Robin Skynner, who offers some comments on Joseph Zinker's new book, In Search of Good Form, which is also reviewed (by Maria Gilbert) as one of this issue's book reviews.

However, the bulk of Volume 4, No.2 centres on the phenomenon of shame - for example, its prevalence, both in life and therapy, and the feelings which constitute the experience of shame; how the topic has been dealt with in the Gestalt therapy literature; and what therapeutic principles can guide practitioners working with those who feel shame (or who have associated avoidant reactions).

We believe that readers will discover here some of the finest writing we have published to date. We believe this mini-collection contributes significantly to the growing literature internationally on the subject of shame. All of us know something abut the experience of shame. So it is perhaps curious that little explicit attention has been given to shame as a named phenomenon in the Gestalt therapy literature, that is until recently.

Whatever the reasons - and Gordon Wheeler's seminal paper raises one possible explanation - bringing shame into the daylight of sympathetic discourse is timely and welcome. Moreover, concentration on a phenomenon - naming it, focussing on it, trying it out as a new 'lens' or 'map of the territory' - can sometimes open up our perceptions or freshen our perspective. Old phenomena can be looked at in new ways. Here Richard Erskine and Lynne Jacobs highlight the sensitive clinical issues that Gestalt therapists need to address.

Shame-in-context (and it is always 'in context', a phenomenon of the field) is a topic of interest not just for psychotherapists. Teachers and others who work with children and adolescents (not to mention parents) are other groups who might benefit from understanding shame reactions with increased insight, sensitivity, and skill. Those who work with the elderly might be another. We are pleased to have contributions which address educational issues (by Reinhard Fuhr and Martina Gremmler-Fuhr), and also the shame issues which arise for people whose lives are lived between two ethnic cultures (the paper by Maryse Mathys). 

An Invitation to Write

The inclusion of papers on education and cultural questions underlines the fact that this is the British Gestalt Journal, not the British Gestalt THERAPY Journal. There have been those (Isadore From was one) who have argued that Gestalt therapy should not pretend to be anything other than a form of psychotherapy. The BGJ from the start has sided with the alternative (majority) view within the Gestalt world, namely that there are theories, insights about human processes, ways of perceiving the world and of thinking - which are applicable to a diversity of settings and purposes. On this view, Gestalt as a therapy is merely the most developed branch, but other branches are not necessarily always going to be the less developed.

The policy of the BGJ is spelled out on the inside front cover - we welcome contributions from all fields of Gestalt application. Several professionals working in other fields - e.g. organisation development - have evidently concluded that OD-related papers would not be welcome in the BGJ. Not so. What we publish has mainly to do with what is submitted. What can be attributed to us as 'fixed editorial policy' is often determined by what happens to fall through the letterbox!

So a message to all you nonclinical, non-therapist Gestaltists: please recognise that the admittedly strong bias in the BGJ towards articles for therapists and counsellors is mainly because you and others have not been sending us material, not because we do not want to publish your writing. We warmly invite you to submit papers for possible inclusion.

Indeed, there is a standing invitation to ALL in the Gestalt community to write for us. Almost everyone in the Gestalt world, we have discovered, has a potential paper in them - something they would like to say; an old interest now regarded in a new, Gestalt-related light; or an interesting realisation which deserves wider notice. For every paper finished and submitted, there are probably hundreds of jottings, private notes of insights, scribbled ideas for some modification or expansion of a Gestalt concept, which lie in files and old notebooks. We invite you to find them, read them again, and after tidying them up please consider sending them to us.

Informal canvassing suggests that while people are happy to read the British Gestalt Journal, many are put off writing for it on account of what they see as its academic style, its bibliographic references, the whole professional image that it projects, and the level of theoretical sophistication that it apparently calls for. Again, we would say to these writers (or at present non-writers), as we did earlier to non-clinicians, 'do not be too certain that what we publish is necessarily what we always want to publish'. We are more open to innovation and unorthodox writing than perhaps you realise. It is true that we have set a high standard, that we have deliberately sought to establish an academic-style journal, and that we are putting out some of the most sophisticated Gestalt material published anywhere in the world. But that does not mean that you cannot join in, that the form of the Journal is set in stone, or that non-academic style articles, short notes, brief case histories, autobiographical pieces, are not also going to stand a chance.

In acknowledging the reluctance that many feel abut writing, we are of course edging up on the issue of Shame, the very topic which we air so fully in the present issue. For writing (and I am drawing on remarks made by Joseph Melnick at AAGT) is an intensely personal process, a bringing into the open of what exists within us in an unarticulated state. The bringing forth - the articulation - of what is hidden, private, personal, idiosyncratic to us, is experienced by most of us as threatening. What we think, privately believe, the way we experience reality, our very consciousness, once expressed on paper begins a journey from the private into the public realm. It is exposed to the gaze of others and there is ample scope for shame or fear of being shamed.

We have two reactions to this. First, you need to know that, as an editorial team, we shall seek to be respectful towards you when you share your writing with us. In the life of the BGJ we have learned a lot about the difficulties commonly experienced by Gestalt writers and how most people - published authors as well as newcomers to writing - feel vulnerable and exposed when their manuscripts are scrutinised by others. We have adapted our refereeing procedures and, when making suggestions for changes, and if declining to publish something, we try to be as constructive and as sensitive to people's vulnerabilities as we can be.

Second, there is a more robust, straightforward position as well: let us accept, even expect, vulnerability, and the potential for feelings of shame to be triggered when private writing crosses into a more public domain. As several writers here point out, shame reactions do not have to be (and cannot always be) avoided. Instead they can be normalised: we do not have to stay ashamed of our shame; we can learn, if not to embrace it, at least to endure it more gracefully; we can become immunised against its worst effects. And writing for publication (public-ation) is inherently a risk-taking venture, with rejection slips and editorial 'interference' being as much part of the enterprise as performance anxiety is part of life in the theatre.

So, yes, the chances are - given the high standards we have set for the journal - that you will not get the first thing you send to us into the journal in the form you send it. But does that matter? Can you survive referees' remarks and editorial comment and learn from them? Can you take a risk? We invite you to do so, all you would-be writers and future contributors. We are constantly searching for new authors, fresh material, provocative and interesting writing, and are exploring the possibilities at the boundary of what we include.

An International Journal

The present issue underlines how truly international the British Gestalt Journal has become, with contributors drawn from four continents. The Gestalt world is shrinking; international connections increase in number; fax machines, e-mail, and the world wide web are dramatically changing the possibilities for dispersed minority interest groups like Gestaltist. There are more conferences and meetings. The European Gestalt Congress in Cambridge, England in September 1995 was followed in October by the first international Conference of the Association for the Advancement of Gestalt Therapy in New Orleans, USA. Both conferences brought together Gestalt therapists from different schools, philosophies, traditions, and countries.

Such developments enhance (and are enhanced by) another trend; at last a Gestalt writing culture is getting established, with the submission of papers to a professional journal being no more odd in the Gestalt therapy world than it is in other fields of professional specialisation. Altogether we are proud to be contributing to the growing written tradition, to match the oral tradition which also exists. As Joseph Melnick said at the New Orleans meeting, there is no hope of Gestalt therapy surviving and growing in the 21st century without the existence of a strong written tradition.

Dr Lawrence Bloomberg

The death has occurred of Dr Lawrence Isaac Bloomberg (Ischa Bloomberg), a prominent Gestalt trainer in Europe, after a long illness. He was 65. Having begun his Gestalt career in the United States, where he was close to Laura Perls, he moved to England in the 1970s. A number of the most senior trainers living and working in Britain today received their early training with him and acknowledge him as a powerful formative influence. He subsequently moved his base to Tuscany, where he stayed until moving back to England shortly before his death. He is survived by his wife, Lynda, and their three children. We hope to include in our next issue an assessment of his role and contribution in the development of Gestalt therapy.

Malcolm Parlett 

Letters to the Editor:

Closing the Last Gestalt - Dolores Bate

Don’t Throw Out the Baby with the Bath Water! - A Reply to Levitsky - Nancy Amendt-Lyon 

Crossing the Boundary - A Reply to Levitsky - Name and Address Supplied

Book Reviews:

In Search of Good Form, by Joseph Zinker - Maria Gilbert

The Awakening Year: An Exploration in Gestalt Psychotherapy, by Margaret Selwyn - Wendy Stonehouse 

Working with Anger in Therapy, by John Bernard Harris - Toni Gilligan