Volume 8, 1 (1999)


Volume 8, 1 (1999)


The British Gestalt Journal 1999, Volume 8, 1 


Editorial - Malcolm Parlett 

Special Focus on Brief Gestalt Therapy:

A Process Focus and the Here and Now in Brief Gestalt Therapy - Peter Philippson 

Contact, Field Conditions and the 'Symptom-Figure' - Jonathan Whines

Brief and Focal Gestalt Therapy in a Group - Ken Evans

The Ending is the Beginning - Janice Scott

Temporality in Gestalt Therapy - Glenys Jacques

Brief Gestalt Therapy : A Concluding Commentary  - Gaie Houston 

The Filed Talks Back: An Essay on Constructivism and Experience - Arthur Roberts

Gestalt Family Therapy - Joseph Melnick and Sonia March Nevis 

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Brief Therapy

On occasions, the British Gestalt Journal has a Special Focus issue. The subject of this one is brief Gestalt therapy, also known as short-term, time-limited, brief and focal. It is a subject of interest for many mental health professionals, given that agencies, hospitals, and insurance companies seem less and less willing to fund longer- term therapy. 

Nothing has been engraved on stone tablets regarding time frames in Gestalt therapy. Practical arrangements have always been various. The distinguishing features of the Gestalt approach do not have to do, for instance, with whether its practitioners work alone with individuals or whether several are all present at the same time, forming a group, couple, or family system. Likewise, there is no ‘correct’ time framework: Gestalt therapy happens in time slots of various durations; can be episodic or highly concentrated; can involve single individual sessions or one-off workshop experiences or highly regularised arrangements week-by-week with the same people over years. Such differences are simply not the crucial parameters which define the Gestalt approach relative to other psychotherapies nor, often, are they critical differences between its practitioners.

To focus, then, on brief therapy conducted upon Gestalt principles, might seem a trifle indulgent. Is it of any consequence, what kind of therapy delivery system is in operation? Why focus on this particular difference?

There are several good reasons for this editorial decision. The topic of brief therapy is a matter of practical import for lots of the practising Gestalt community, who find that expectations regarding their employment are changing around them. And, moreover, parallel changes are happening simultaneously across different continents. Second - as several of the six writers elucidate in the Special Focus section - there has been a progressive shift over the last twenty years in particular, away from the more episodic and short-term Gestalt variants towards longer therapy with more continuity and emphasis on the therapeutic relationship being built over time. Briefer therapy seems to represent a reversal of trend. Is it a retrograde step or a turning back to rediscover a rich tradition?

Third, it is part of our policy to bring about more convergence between what Gestalt practitioners actually do and what they theorise about. We want, in the British Gestalt Journal, to create (even more than in the past) a forum, a meeting place on paper, where different professional integrations can be spelled out. A lot happens in the Gestalt world privately, behind closed doors, and is not talked about between practitioners - except perhaps in supervision. Here we want more of these doors to open and for the colourful spectrum of individual professional inventiveness to be displayed. And to shift in this direction calls for more specifics and less generality. It helps to have a topic - like brief therapy - with which to grapple.

Giving five experienced practitioners - Peter Philippson, Jonathon Whines, Ken Evans, Janice Scott, and Glenys Jacques - the opportunity to ‘think aloud' about how they work with clients in a limited number of sessions has resulted in a fascinating collection. As Gaie Houston points out in her penetrating summary, there are points of marked divergence, as well as common acknowledgement of the potential scope and force of working in therapy against a ticking clock.

The Field Revisited

As different therapies converge, often appropriating or re-inventing Gestalt therapy (be sure to read Anna Avery's disturbing letter in this issue about re-invention), the Gestalt discipline needs to be ever surer of what it stands for. One mighty distinguishing feature is the emphasis on field, on the contextual basis for all our work and for our understanding of all human process.

Here is another reason for our Special Focus topic. In discussing brief therapy we can witness the therapeutic possibilities that tend to be opened up (or become limited), when the field is organised in certain ways rather than others. Therapy's contractual arrangements, the expectations regarding duration, and the perceived significance of each session, are all part of the base conditions which together describe the 'container' or 'envelope' for the therapeutic dialogue: they are the conditions which dictate and influence, and thereby are intrinsic to, the very heart of what is being done. For Gestalt therapists, the field is never a mere ‘add-on', a bit of noise in the background, or something to be lightly referred to as essentially inessential. No, change the field, alter the arrangements for conducting therapy, and the whole enterprise has to be reinvented, the parts reconstituted to make a different whole, a new gestalt.

In Arthur Roberts’ essay, which follows the Special Focus section, he too registers the huge importance of 'field' in our Gestalt way of thinking, clears up a number of confusions about the status of the field, and faces us with some of the limits of post-modern constructivist thinking. It is an outstanding piece of writing by a talented writer who has written a paper to re-read and to study in depth.

Following Roberts, there is a concise and helpful description of a powerful approach to working with couples. We welcome its authors (Joseph Melnick and Sonia Nevis) back to the BGJ, as familiar presences and voices alongside a number of gifted new writers in this issue. The overall emphasis - on detailed therapy choices - is maintained in the book review by Jennifer Mackewn, on the uses, avoidances, and ethics of therapists touching clients (and vice versa).

In the letters to the editor section, two of our more regular contributors, Peter Philippson and Dan Rosenblatt, exchange views. There is also the letter from Anna Avery already mentioned, an invitation to the research-minded which we at the BGJ are keen to support.

The last word, in Volume 8, No.1, goes not to a Gestalt psychotherapist but to someone applying Gestalt in the business world. Trevor Bentley's delightful account of his work may serve as a reminder to you, as it did to us, of what excites people about Gestalt and its continuing - and magical - attraction to newcomers to the field.

Funds, Sponsors, Money

The British Gestalt Journal received funds from the Artemis Trust to purchase its first computer in 1990; to bankroll the printing costs of the first issue; and to take care of other beginning expenditure. Since then we have funded the production of each issue out of the proceeds of selling the previous one, by selling back issues (some at discounts), and from advertising. There has been some de facto subsidising of day to day expenses by the editorial team, who contribute not only their time but often some of the costs of phone calls, travel to meetings, photocopying etc.. Only recently has the BGJ paid an economically realistic contribution to the expenses of a shared office.

We understand that other journals receive regular injections of cash, from private donors or from professional associations, in order to stay alive financially. The British Gestalt Journal has had no such regular support. Operating on a shoe-string budget and precariously from one issue to the next has so far just about worked. What modest expansion has been possible has come as a result of our steadily rising reputation and - consequently - rising sales of copies. However there are limits to what is possible through cutting costs to the bone and upping the quality of the writing. We need to expand, to set up our web-site, and urgently to update our software and computing capability. The BGJ cannot expect to preserve its pre-eminence if it is operating with publishing practices which are getting to be embarrassingly antiquated and if it does not announce itself more conspicuously.

We aim to be a first-rate support for the world-wide professional community of Gestalt therapists; to offer a quality production second to none; and to help our readers to stay at the forefront of developments. As editors, we need to be able to engage in world-wide dialogue (including on the web); to be in a position to help with distributing Gestalt knowledge to Gestaltists in countries with severe economic problems; and to run a more efficient operation all together - which includes increasing the amount of paid staff time.

In short, we need a sponsor, or a benefactor (or - ideally - several!). We need an injection of substantial funds - similar in scale to our original funding - that will enable us to shift, especially technologically, to a level where we can communicate rapidly and flexibly with authors, reviewers, other members of the editorial team, readers, subscribers, enquirers, advertisers, and printers at an appropriate level of technical sophistication for an international professional journal with a world-wide readership. Otherwise we are in danger of gently stagnating.

Most suggestions about raising new money entail our undertaking a lot of extra work in order to raise it. This is a Catch 22: we need additional resources NOW in order to be in a stronger position to raise new money, to expand our operation, and to get even better known among the English-speaking community of Gestaltists around the world.

If you, as a reader-enthusiast, have access to funds or to commercial sponsors, or have any other suggestions as to ways in which we can raise at least £3000 (approx US$4800) that would enable us to upgrade our computing capability to present-day expected levels, please let us know. Call us on 0117-924-0126 (from outside the UK: International prefix + 44-117-924-0126); fax us on 0117- 907-7539; or Email us on bgj@parlett.demon.co.uk today! Thank you very much. We do need your help with this. We are encouraged by the wealth of good feedback we are receiving; now we could do with just a little more wealth of a different kind.

Malcolm Parlett 

Letters to the Editor:

Ignorance of Gestalt Therapy Among Clinical Researchers: A Call to Action - Anna Avery 

'Gestalt Writing of Different Kinds' - A Response to Daniel Rosenblatt - Peter Philippson 

Reply to Peter Philippson - Daniel Rosenblatt 

Book Review:

Touch in Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice, by Edward W.L. Smith, Pauline Rose Clance, Suzanne Imes - Jennifer Mackewn 


A Touch of Magic in the Business World - Trevor Bentley