Topics in Gestalt Therapy

Topics in Gestalt Therapy New translations added in Georgian, Ukrainian  and Chinese languages, new articles 8 on Time, Life and Death, 9 on Sexuality: Drive and Relationship, 10 on A Relational Approach to the Empty Chair, and 11 on Autonomy and Affiliation in a Cultural Context (also in German).

The English language versions are now also available on Kobo.

Remember the publication John Harris and Peter Philippson produced for some years?  Peter has now revived it in a new format, with articles available on Kindle at a small cost and with translations into a number of languages.  There is also a discussion forum that you can join if you want to discuss the articles: contact Peter at topicsingt@gmail.com to join.  Translations into languages not covered by Kindle (e.g. Eastern European, Chinese) will appear on the Kobo reader www.kobo.com.  (English language versions now also available on Kobo.)

(For free Kindle reading apps for computers, tablets and phones, go to Kindle apps., for free Kobo apps go to https://www.kobo.com)

Topics 1: Revisiting the Field.

In this paper, I examine the meaning of ‘field’ in Gestalt Therapy, and what a field orientation means for the theory and practice of therapy. I also look at what philosophical principles can add to or take away from the clarity of the approach.

Amazon link

Spanish version: Amazon link

Croatian version: https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/ponovni-pogled-na-polje

Russian version: https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/g72C5KBlwDGkx-ff3YuWPA

Georgian version: https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/Ehq7Kd871zChioKdjNT0HA

Topics 2: Dreamwork

I love working with dreams. I have found that they have the capacity to move therapy work on to a new level, both in individual and group therapy. They speak from a place that is outside the familiar, and often to what is not being attended to, or avoided in life and therapy.
In this paper, I start with a (non-exhaustive) list of ways in which we could work with dreams. It is also not a set of either/ors: dreams can operate on many levels simultaneously. Dreams are incredibly artistic, multilayered expressions. They are an expression of the human capacity for creativity, for living outside the immediate given, and imagining a world that does not yet exist, but which we can work to make actual (like Martin Luther King’s dream).
I then write about ways to extend the meaning of dreaming and Gestalt dreamwork into our waking lives, seeing our lives as a waking recurrent dream.

Amazon link

Spanish version: Amazon link

German version: Amazon link

Russian version: https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/KGPt5Lwk4j6GMFBqXGlvvg

Georgian version: https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/o_yy_Q_t7Tq9-WDxHCGTvg

Chinese version: https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/B7VtUKKIojmtVboxx5GOLQ

Topics 3: People and Avatars

We are in a world that is increasingly complex. Most of us inhabit two worlds that seem very different, the immediate experiential world and a virtual cyber-world of e-mail, text, social media. Gestalt Therapy emphasises ‘contact’ and ‘awareness’, and the question arises how much we can talk about these in relation to connections in cyberspace. What are the ethics of cyberspace?
One of the aspects of cyberspace is that we can create ‘avatars’ of ourselves that are our extensions into that space. Of course the avatars can be very different from how we present ourselves in the physical world, looking different, showing a different age, race, emotional disposition, marital status, or gender. This can be either an expression of some aspect of myself that I do not feel able to show in ‘real life’, or it can be a manipulation, particularly where people are trying to lure young people into inappropriate relationships by pretending to be teenagers themselves. But people are also showing some aspect of themselves, maybe cruel or manipulative, that they don’t risk showing in other places. So the significant point here is that the ‘avatar’ can be both more ‘real’ or less ‘real’ than the everyday image. My proposal is that the acceptance of the cyber-world was facilitated by a pre-existing culture of narcissism, where the development of an idealised self-image outweighed any sense of an authentic self meaningfully contacting other people and the world. In other words, people are walking about as avatars in the ‘real world’, not just in cyberspace!

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Spanish version: Amazon link

Georgian version: https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/YDuB-KVImzOEXN0L_BsEAA

Chinese version: https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/B7VtUKKIojmtVboxx5GOLQ

Topics 4: We can be Together, but You and Me can Meet

What does it mean for us to meet? Is it a matter of us being here together in the same place, or seeing each other, or you hearing me? How much is it just a meeting of my interpretation of you, while you are meeting with your interpretation of me? Are we just in a hall of mirrors, reflection meeting reflection? And in that case, is it meaningful to talk about meeting, or contact, or love at all? Are the narcissists right, and are we all like Narcissus, falling in love with our own reflection?

This essay looks for answers to these questions in Gestalt Therapy theory and practice.

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Georgian version: https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/gK-wYu_dozCVXXKMQkxJfw

Ukrainian version: https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/Kdt1mpTNBzy7N8Yfz3sdAg

Topics 5: A Couple in the World: a Field-oriented View of Couples Work

In this paper, I want to develop a Gestalt field-oriented understanding of therapeutic work with couples. The approach can be extended to work with families, but that is beyond the scope of the present paper. The basic field awareness is that just as the activity of each person in a couple can only be seen in the context of the couple as a whole (rather than belonging merely to that individual), no couple exists in a vacuum, and many issues that couples come to therapy to resolve are related to the wider field in and from which the individuals and relationship are emerging. This perspective also allows us to gain a less culture-specific view of relationships.

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Russian version: https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/gU06EkVOPjCX6skoRErusw

Georgian version: https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/1twwlpCl5TegWudC7h0StQ

Topics 6: The Joy of Horror Films

I like good horror films. They tell us what we truly fear, and how we truly respond to fear. And I am curious why so many people also like horror films, and related questions about why children regularly see monsters in the dark, why people go bungee jumping and white water rafting, even why people feel better singing or hearing the Blues. What does this tell us about ourselves as a species? And what does it mean that there are also people who would strongly avoid all of these (avoidance also being an energised relation to the object of avoidance)?

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Georgian version: https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/Pglh58e7FzymHUNdviJtDQ

Chinese version: https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/6JVkzO4sxzuzZvCK6N5g5A

Topics 7: The Tyranny of ‘Feelings’

What is the meaning of emotion in therapy? When is it important to focus on ‘feelings’ and when is it counterproductive? This in many ways seems like a ridiculous question, since ‘feelings’ are often taken as the central point of who we are and what we show in therapy. In this article, I want to question the assumption that emotion is necessarily central to therapy, and look at the meaningful place for emotion in both therapist and client.

Amazon link

Georgian version: https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/VJ47gDE_SzKzGca80yhZVA

Ukrainian version: https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/yejaLFcyhjSfKnxxa7RK5w

Topics 8: Time, Life and Death

When I do therapy in a new venue, the first thing I do is to take away the clocks. When clients ask me why I do this, I tell them that clocks foster the illusion that time is a given, moving at a regular speed. An hour’s session with one client at one time has an experienced duration that is very different to the experienced duration with another client, or even the same client at another time. We say ‘Is it that time already?’ and ‘How time flew.’ and ‘That seemed never-ending.’.
In this paper, I dig deeper into a Gestalt Therapy understanding of time which gets away from the idea of a line from the past into the future. I then look at what this view implies about our understanding of death in relation to life.

Amazon link

Ukrainian version: https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/1LMAQa_bCjCtvBdT2pCX0w

Georgian version: https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/yTm1U_zFxDO-GY9Iwm76sA

Topics 9: Sexuality: Drive and Relationship

It has become a truism in psychotherapy writings to say that therapy is about the ‘lived-body’ (Körper) rather than the physical body (Leib), and the ‘phenomenal world’ rather than the physical world, and has thus reproduced the Cartesian mind-body split that Perls and Goodman were so keen to move away from. The human animal, with its appetites, skin and genitalia, is gone! So we are left with a cerebral version of sexuality which has lost its rawness and danger. The primary sexual organ is then the brain and our narrative capacity. I think it is useful for Gestaltists to go back and revisit the important place that Freud allocated to sex.

Amazon link

Ukrainian version: https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/IyZ8u_ZAyja1xg8xteFqHw

Georgian version: https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/drive-74

Topics 10: A Relational Approach to the Empty Chair

The ‘empty chair’ experiment has had mixed fortunes in Gestalt Therapy. Once it was a central method, with Fritz Perls naming it as one of his essentials, along with a ‘hot seat’ and tissues. It was so prevalent that it got taken as defining the approach, and taught in that way on counselling courses.

While the technique has remained meaningful for many Gestaltists, it has fallen into disfavour with most of the training schools I have come across. I think this is for two reasons: firstly, that it connects with a certain paradigm of technique-based Gestalt work, often associated with Fritz Perls’ work in California, that many are trying to distance Gestalt Therapy from; secondly, that the paradigm has shifted back from ‘working on the client’ to a more relational style of work, and two-chair work, and indeed any formal experiments, are not seen as part of that but of a kind of intrapsychic tinkering with the client’s mind. Two-chair work is also linked with that simplified version of Gestalt work that was so common in the past. I remember myself being taught to tell clients to put their mothers on a cushion and hit it with a tennis racquet!

In this paper, I want to describe why and how I continue to use the empty chair at times, how I understand it in relational terms, and, more generally, how experiments can be integrated with relational dialogue.

Amazon link

Ukrainian version: https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/X-rGliFlfju0UsC30juZKw

Georgian version: https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/C5RbAtSHPjOs8uxDiUPbhw

Topics 11: Autonomy and Affiliation in a Cultural Context

This is the plenary lecture I gave at the IGWien Gestalt conference in Vienna in October 2018, on the theme ‘Inside and Outside’. Vienna was the city of my mother’s birth before she and my father had to leave their native Austria and Germany and make a new life as asylum seekers in Britain. I speak to the theme of inside and outside, and cultural difference, from my experiences as a child and adult in a refugee family.

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German version: Amazon link

More articles will be posted regularly!