Volume 9, 2 (2000)


Volume 9, 2 (2000)


The British Gestalt Journal 2000 Volume 9,2


Editorial - Malcolm Parlett 

Self in Experience, Gestalt Therapy, Science and Buddhism - Ruth Wolfert 

Living with Dying - Ken Evans 

Shame and Bulimia - A Sickness of the Soul - Marion Gillie 

Interviewed by Jenny Mackewn - Respectful Dialogues - Lynne Jacobs


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When last year it appeared that the British Gestalt Journal would have to cease publication on financial grounds, we called for help. The result was extraordinary. Take a minute or two to read (inside back cover) the names of individuals and organisations who came forward, and, if you appreciate having this new issue of the BGJ, think of them with gratitude.

Hopefully, the institution of the Friends will remain. Without sponsorship, despite savings made and increased income, we would still be in difficulties. We are moving to a new office and are also having to upgrade our computing capability to be able to interface efficiently with our contributors, printers, subscribers, casual purchasers, web browsers, etc. We also need to build reserves so that we can replace the hand to mouth economics of the past and look ahead with confidence to strengthening the BGJ and extending its influence as a high quality international publication.

By coming forward in such numbers and with such enthusiasm, the Friends are also changing the field of those who work for the BGJ. In a way which has never happened before, we feel backed up and collectively encouraged to sustain the momentum of what we do.

At the first annual meeting of the Friends, in early December 2000, goodwill and enthusiasm for the BGJ was expressed in abundance. The dual theme for the day was 'The future of Gestalt and the future of the BGJ'. What became apparent was that the Journal reflected a concordance between what we are creating and what they said they wanted by way of a leading professional journal. Whether the Gestalt community was in a phase of feeling confident or one of feeling beleaguered, it was necessary for there to be some tangible focal point, an expression of the 'best of Gestalt', a continuing and sustaining forum for Gestalt specialists to think together on paper. Other long term priorities were affirmed: the emphasis on breaking new ground; on expanding the range of Gestalt writing included; and on having a diversity of writers both old and new, of both genders equally, and from different ‘schools’.

They also reaffirmed the importance of sustaining a high quality of contact with the ideas, concepts, and theories of Gestalt practice. Even if some of the articles involve a demanding level of concentration in the reading, there was no suggestion that we should substantially change direction or editorial criteria. Another recognition was that we did not want the kind of writing produced for university dissertations and for purely academic-style career advancement - bibliographically inflated, overcautious, removed from practicalities, and often tedious to read. Authors most appreciated are practitioner-writers who stretch boundaries, ask provocative questions, dig deeply into the felt experience, and are prepared to put real effort into expressing themselves intelligibly.

In short, we continue to want articles, letters, interviews, reviews and opinions which are lucid, straightforwardly written, thought-enhancing, and above all of genuine interest to those who read them (after all, our approach is committed to contact).

While aiming high, we would be defeating ourselves if the prospects of being published appeared to be too remote. Would-be contributors should not be put off the attempt: support for less experienced writers is available. Please remember, too, that no amount of financial and other support will make a difference to the Journal without you, writers and potential writers. Remember, if you are still unpublished, that your voice could be heard; your particular insights, 'line taken', or specialist experience may have a place. We realise, too, that good writing is often a function of good editing and, for our part, we are seeking to do better at what we are doing all the time.


In discussion with the editors and members of the Board of Gestalt Publications Ltd (the publishers of the BGJ), Friends also indicated some of the new directions that they would like the Journal to take, as we enter our tenth year of publication.

Perhaps the biggest 'missing piece' in the Journal, and in the Gestalt literature generally, relates to research. There is a crying out need - indeed obligation - for the Gestalt community to document what it does in a way that allows for non-Gestaltists (often sceptical, uncomprehending, or holding contrary perspectives) to realise that Gestalt approaches to human problems have value, integrity, and efficacy. In particular, if we are to have a higher profile and sturdier professional presence, we have to be able to substantiate the claims we make - we need evidence. That is the way the world is and it is no good denying the obvious.

There are difficulties, of course. Very few Gestaltists have a training in research methods, despite some suitable programmes beginning to appear in Britain. There are also - for those who begin to go into it - real problems about which kinds of research are appropriate, practicable, and sufficiently ‘academically respectable'. With our phenomenological and field theory based system of knowledge, there are often problems in applying research methods based on models of 'objectivity' and 'predictability', and these discrepancies cannot be ignored as significant challenges to overcome.

However, we need to begin the discussion; there needs to be a more realistic appreciation of the therapy, organisational, educational and other fields which we operate within as a profession, with their evidence-based priorities, power politics, professional in-fighting, and also points where there is 'give' and openness and possibility to make a difference.

So, to begin the process, the BGJ will be seeking research reports that can be included or summarised here. We are generally seeking to find ways in which Gestalt philosophy and method can be disseminated and reinforced for a wider audience. We need your help.

The Spirit of Gestalt

At the meeting of the Friends, Gaie Houston invited those of us who were there to reflect on what we were committed to? What was the enduring 'pull' of Gestalt? What kept us affiliated to this approach? The questions are rarely discussed in Gestalt circles, at least in a public way.

What emerged was inspiring stuff. People spoke of their continued enthusiasm for Gestalt in terms of how their lives had been changed irreversibly as a result of training and therapy. They reported their continuing conviction that Gestalt philosophy and method had a certain 'right mindedness' about it - that it made sense, carried a resonant wisdom, and provided principles and values that were relevant and necessary in the world at large. It was as if we agreed that what we ‘knew' (sensed, felt sure about, believed in our bones) about Gestalt was that it was a rich endowment - one we could draw from to give something to humanity, struggling as it is with unprecedented challenges on a planet stressed at every point.

The applicability of our approach, including its spiritual, social, and political aspects, needs continued expression. It needs sustaining. It may be at odds with some conventional trends but that does not mean that it is invalid. There was a sense of needing to hold on and 'bide our time'. One participant acknowledged that he had once thought of Gestalt psychotherapy becoming more fully integrated with other approaches; he had come round to believing that Gestalt psychotherapy IS the integrative therapy - which is why we have the impression that we are always being rediscovered, or that people are inventing the wheels we have already been driving around on for years.

At any rate, the BGJ - as a central focus, a forum for our collective conversations - has a major part to play. And we shall hold to our course.

This Issue

So to what extent do we achieve our goals, in the present issue? How does it stack up? In the editor's office, we think it does well, and hope - you, the final arbiters, the readers - think so too.

Our opening paper, by Ruth Wolfert, takes the central concept of 'Self’ in Gestalt therapy theory and gives perhaps the most lucid account ever written in the Gestalt literature of its impermanent nature. Drawing into her account relevant perspectives from neuroscience, physics, and Buddhism, as well as from basic Gestalt therapy theory, she shows that while self and 'self-constructions' can easily be spoken of as if they have a relatively fixed 'rock-like' existence, scientific evidence, and the three thousand year insights of Buddhist thought, contradict this, and support the Gestalt idea of a fluid, ever-changing self.

Wolfert’s seminal paper is followed by another paper influenced by Buddhist perspectives. Ken Evans - in his Marianne Fry Lecture - offers an intensely personal account of his experience as an intimate witness to his wife’s cancer and her dying. This is perhaps the most moving material, and the most autobiographical, that we have ever published. It signals our clear intention to extend further our quest for different-from-usual Gestalt journal writing. Rich on detail, frugal with generalisations, it nevertheless is both informing and inspiring - a case study, if you will, but one that is far from being detached, sterile, and heavily referenced.

We follow with Marion Gillie's informative, useful, professionally grounded, and theoretically astute account of bulimia, regarded in terms of its shame-filled aspect. This account - drawing on clinical observation and theoretical commentary, and always keeping a sense of the real people alongside the discussion of the condition - is a model of what we welcome, as one kind of writing drawing together theory, experience, and practice.

Jenny Mackewn's interview with Lynne Jacobs continues our series with distinguished figures in our field. Lynne Jacobs, more than any other Gestalt therapist, has opened up a 'respectful dialogue' with psychoanalysis. In fact, she lives it. She stands in the tradition of working with people over lengthy periods: hers is the painstaking work of long-term characterological transformation, and here she discusses her work (ably drawn out by Jenny Mackewn) on applications of 'relational Gestalt' to supporting people working at this level. We are glad to be publishing this contribution from someone who has already contributed some of our best articles in the past.

The Letters to the Editor are from two new writers. Peter McCowen and Jenny Dawson both draw upon material in the previous issue, but extend the discussions in ways which illuminate their own ideas. Peter McCowen describes his work as a counsellor with young people, drawing upon the 'five abilities' alluded to by Malcolm Parlett in the last issue; and Jenny Dawson describes her thinking about training in the light of (once again) 'relational Gestalt'. Both offer insights into practice and applications which may provide encouragement to others who may wish to describe their own parallel or diverging experiences.

Margherita Spagnuolo Lobb has written a careful and thoughtful review of the Polsters' new book, pointing to issues arising with which she agrees and others with which she disagrees. As someone who did some part of her training with Erving and Miriam Polster, she can easily recognise their brilliance and massive contribution to the Gestalt field; at the same time, in certain theoretical ways, she recognises some differences, and they are important. We welcome this review of a major new collection, and hope that readers will be inspired to read the collection for themselves.

Finally, Emma Willmer and Rupert Read, in the Opinion section, discuss the (sometimes uncomfortable) parallels between psychotherapy and prostitution. The conversational or debating format is an innovation here, (and may encourage others to record and send in their own discussions). As an interchange it is far-ranging, sparky, and provokes thought, and practitioner-readers are unlikely not be affected, in terms of how we think about money transactions with therapy clients. The Opinion space has been expanded considerably to accommodate this piece, and this too signals our intent: to provide more space for risky and unusual themes which unsettle comfortable assumptions.

Addresses for Correspondence

We have always provided postal addresses of authors at the end of each article or other contribution. Recently we have added email addresses. The idea is to help in fostering direct communication between readers and writers. We see the function of the BGJ as one of assisting in information exchanges, networking, and more collegiality and discourse among members of the Gestalt community. So we provide addresses.

This may be the idea, but does it happen? Do readers contact writers, other than in the Letters to the Editor columns? The answer, we have discovered, is not much: it is rare for our authors to hear from readers, indeed, to get feedback, appreciation, comment, reactions of any kind. If, in a therapy or training group, such unresponsiveness were endemic, it would be challenged: contributions that drop into a black hole, and are passed over as if they have not happened have a well-known de-energising effect.

Concerned as we are, with enhancing communication, we invite you, the readers, to experiment with letting writers know more of your reactions, thoughts and feelings, if you have been stirred or provoked or are particularly appreciative. As editors (and as sometimes writers ourselves), we know how much sweat, care, and struggle most writers go through; it is part of the course. There is often some pleasure, relief, or excitement to see the writing finally printed. Then the silence sets in: it is as if one has spoken into a void. The odd email, post card or whatever does wonders for the writers: please remember them. For without them, there would be no BGJ.

Malcolm Parlett 

Letters to the Editor:

Creative Adjustment in Counselling Young People: A Response to Malcolm Parlett - Peter McCowen 
Training with a Different Lens - Jenny Dawson 

Book Review:

From the Radical Center: The Heart of Gestalt Therapy, by Erving and Miriam Polster, Edited by Arthur Roberts - Margherita Spagnuolo Lobb


Psychotherapy - A Form of Prostitution? - Emma Willmer and Rupert Read