Volume 6, 1 (1997)


Volume 6, 1 (1997)


The British Gestalt Journal 1997, Volume 6, 1 


Editorial - Malcolm Parlett 

Interviewed by Malcolm Parlett - Power, Change and Authenticity: A Political and Gestalt Perspective - Carolyn Lukensmeyer 

Dialogue and Intersubjectivity in the Therapeutic Relationship - John Wheway 

Gestalt Therapy is Changing: Part II - Which Future? - Petruska Clarkson 

Cultivated Uncertainty: An Attitude for Gestalt Therapists - Frank M.Staemmler 

The Client-Therapist Relationship: An Action Research Approach Part I - Paul Barber 

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The Second Wave

In the post-election euphoria in Britain, there is new energy at a collective level. The world seems full of possibility and promise, at least for a little while. Yet only 10-15 years ago the British Labour party was in the doldrums. Movements and professional communities, like political parties, can go through times of near-stagnation and then revive.

Gestalt therapy has been reviving for a number of years now and Dolores Bate, a long-time observer of the Gestalt scene, has suggested that we may be building up to a 'Second Wave' for Gestalt, in terms of its public acceptance and its capacity to influence wider thinking. There are certainly signs of growing strength. The Association for the Advancement of Gestalt Therapy (AAGT) has recently had a second, very successful, international conference (in San Francisco); a new journal, Gestalt Review, has made an auspicious beginning (and receives a warm welcome from the BGJ as a companion journal which we recommend); there are vigorous Gestalt exchanges on the Internet; new Gestalt book are appearing more often than in the past geared to mainstream and non-Gestalt audiences; and - in Britain at least - there is unquestionably greater respect for Gestalt, both in the fields of psychotherapy and organisation development, than was evident ten or even five years ago.

Not all the signs are positive - at the AAGT conference there was recognition of Gestalt's gently ageing population, at least in the USA (the position may well be different in other countries). And while there are many working to strengthen collective cohesion among Gestalt specialists - which is a sine qua non for those who want serious dialogue - there are still those for whom 'community' seems a suspicious word, let alone accepting the responsibilities of community.

If the First Wave of Gestalt was the great wave of the 1960s, with Fritz Perls our great populariser, Gestalt's revival - if it is not an illusion - is beginning just this side of the millennium and is not geared around any one individual or centre or even country. In our view Gestalt's Second Wave will be riding on the back of a much greater wave, already powering through the thinking of our times - a post-modern and flexible attitude to intellectual enquiry; relativistic rather than absolutist perspectives; and more human-centred than dogma-centred approaches to social action.

The mixed results from the earlier phase of rapid growth have been examined over and over. There is acceptance that after the wave had passed through, so to speak, Gestalt was regarded as outmoded or side-lined (at least in some countries). But, significantly, it never died away. Institutes had been founded and many continued, and new centres and institutes have arrived since. Joe Wysong's launchings of The Gestalt Journal and its associated annual conferences in the mid-1970s were historically important aids to continuity.

There is also the fact that new thought doesn't disseminate instantly (or didn't, the Internet may be changing that), and there is a time lag. Some countries (Malta and Slovakia, to take two examples) have only recently set up Gestalt trainings. The 1980s and 90s were decades of rapid Gestalt growth in Britain but not in the USA; in Russia now there is huge expansion. Future initiatives may be less often American-originated.

Though national institutes, teaching centres, books, journals and conferences have been necessary to propagate the approach, equally important have been numerous small-scale efforts by enthusiastic individuals. People have found for themselves so much good learning and new life through personally investigating the Gestalt approach that they want to share what they have found out. At root, this has been the fuel for expansion worldwide. And when Gestalt's visibility as a cutting edge innovative movement had drastically diminished in the USA, and it was no longer energised by a charismatic presence and had no international focal point, there were still hundreds of local efforts in operation, fuelled by enthusiasm and commitment. If there is indeed a rising Second Wave, it is mainly because numerous individual therapists, organisational consultants, educators, physicians and leaders of groups, have been quietly spreading Gestalt ideas, principles, and methods down the yeas.

In addition to the 'signed-up' Gestaltists there was another significant group. Many talented people were creatively shaken by Gestalt during its time in the limelight. They were enthusiastic abut Gestalt, but did not take it as a permanent presence - there was nothing substantial to affiliate to, quite aside from the fact that Gestalt seemed to reject anything approaching institutionalisation So they drifted off to other schools - where they could happily professionalise and be in a peer community of some kind. Gestalt was further pushed to the non-prestigious humanistic fringe. It was as if people were saying 'this stuff is dynamite, but where do we go with it?'

Yet knowledge, insight, once out of the bag, is not lost. Fundamental principles of Gestalt thought and practice continued to spread, through word of mouth and example, notably in the fields of psychotherapy, humanistic psychology, and management development. Speaking for the moment simply of Britain, Gestalt ideas have impacted organisations such as the NSPCC and Relate, the British Holistic Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing, the British Post-Graduate Medical Federation, the University of Surrey's Human Potential Research Project, as well as countless psychiatric, psychology, and social work departments in Britain, sometimes without the members of these organisations being remotely aware of where the ideas and methods sprang from! There has been wholesale infiltration, with inevitable dilution of course, and little or no tracing of the very sensible ideas and practices back to their source.

In her landmark interview in this issue, Carolyn Lukensmeyer highlights how Gestalt priorities, concepts and methods have been taken over, even pirated, without due acknowledgement. This is undoubtedly true. Yet Gestalt itself originated as a bold synthesis, with Fritz Perls a notable scavenger when it came to others' ideas - almost immediately he would re-label them as his own. In Buddhist thought (itself one of Gestalt's progenitors, largely unacknowledged) the fact that Gestalt has been copied and raided - i.e. has been done to as it did to others - might be called 'karmic retribution'.

All this aside, the possibility of a Second Wave is upon us. Indeed, the very fact that so many Gestalt ideas have become common psychological currency means that the ground for Gestalt’s wider acceptance has been well fertilised. Gestalt may not always stand out as a highly differentiated figure from the background of ideas, methods, beliefs and concepts of today's outlook, but maybe this is to our advantage, not disadvantage, in promoting and communicating Gestalt ideas.

The British Gestalt Journal, established and respected as it appears to be, is hopefully contributing to the Second Wave. Our editorial aims include stimulating new thought and unsettling assumptions which are over-comfortable. Our hope is that our writers will take risks and push the boundaries of respectability. At the same time we do not want to pander to any passing fad nor lose our reputation for excellence in the mainstream. We are delighted by Daniel Rosenblatt's writing as follows: 'Accepting Isaiah Berlin's famous dichotomy of the hedgehog and the fox, clearly the British Gestalt Journal is foxy: intelligent, shrewd, open to all possibilities and not easily gullible'. Editorially speaking, within the Gestalt field, there are boundaries to extend, test, reinforce, or lay down for the first time. As chairpersons in the debating chamber, as it were, we lose our effectiveness if we become unduly partisan. (We have peer review and ongoing checks with readers and editorial advisers to ensure we remain fair, as well as refreshing.)

At the same time, now is not a time for timidity but for boldness. And in this issue there is lots of the latter. We regard the writing as widely drawn and as lively as we have ever published.

Volume Six, Number One

The Carolyn Lukensmeyer interview has already been mentioned. It embraces issues of wide import in the sphere of government and other large systems, and is informed throughout by her Gestalt philosophy and values. As a senior practitioner of Gestalt-orientated organisation development, she is a welcome guest to these pages. We are delighted to carry the interview.

John Wheway's paper - exploring intersubjectivity and dialogue - is a departure for us. It is rare for the BGJ to invite someone to write for us who does not display the Gestalt 'marque', so to speak: Wheway describes himself as an 'integrative psychotherapist'. Yet his paper and his convictions are highly compatible with one kind of Gestalt thinking. His discussion of the therapist-client relationship will contribute to the ongoing discussion between Gestaltists, dialogic therapists, intersubjectivists, and Kohutians at the now often fuzzy boundaries between Gestalt therapy and varieties of present-day psychoanalysis.

Petruska Clarkson returns to the BGJ with an informed and radical critique of what might be termed 'overly respectable' Gestalt. It is a sequel to her earlier paper in 1991 ('Gestalt is Changing' Part 1) and it makes an interesting contrast to read the two together. Clarkson is an astute observer, and definer, of emerging trends and this new paper is not to be missed.

There are overlapping themes between the papers in this issue, almost to the point of our declaring a Special Focus - although it would be hard to pin the focus down in one inclusive title that did justice to the richness of the themes. An article by Frank-M. Staemmler extends Wheway's discussion of fundamental therapeutic stance and also echoes some of Clarkson's questions. His thoughtful paper returns to the thorny topic of diagnosis and its dangers. And a welcome case study, by Paul Barber, also breaks new ground, and makes connections between therapy and research, which is again a theme of Clarkson's. Together, the four papers - Barber, Staemmler, Clarkson, and Wheway - reinforce the sense of vigour, optimism, and new thinking about the state of Gestalt therapy with which we began this editorial.

The letters include a continuation of a significant conversation-on-paper between Erv Polster and Peter Philippson, the substance of which is that dissonance and differences are important to address, but not to the point of schism and simplifying of the 'us-and-them' variety.

Although editing the British Gestalt Journal is a never ending challenge, it is also satisfying to be bringing out an issue of such interesting new writing. We thank our contributors, and you for buying and reading this eleventh issue in our collection.

Malcolm Parlett

Letters to the Editor:

Different Languages, Same Team: A Reply to Philippson’s Review of A Population of Selves - Erving Polster 

A Reply to Erv Polster - Peter Philippson