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CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE: Field theory: mirrors and reflections

Peter Philippson Karnac Books ePub

This was originally a lecture given at a day conference honouring Malcolm Parlett on his retirement as editor of the British Gestalt Journal (BGJ), and then published in the BGJ in a Festschrift edition. It encompasses the development of my understanding of how recent discoveries in neuroscience support the Gestalt field approach. It also confronts what I see as a kind of anti-materialism, or anti-science, in the name of avoiding reductionism, which, at its limit, would turn what was grounded in research into a kind of religious faith, a creed to be followed with no external criteria on which to evaluate it.

Introduction

While the emphasis of Gestalt therapy as a field theory was present in the earliest days, for most present-day Gestaltists, the primary source of discussion on the theme is in the writings of Parlett (1991, 1997). Since these were published, there have been startling advances in our understanding of the neurological underpinning of human behaviour, which have both confirmed and added to our understanding of the field nature of human consciousness and selfhood. In this chapter, I explore some of these advances and their implications for the development of a Gestalt field theory that is true to our tradition, and also in line with what we are currently discovering.

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CHAPTER TEN: A Gestalt approach to transference

Peter Philippson Karnac Books ePub

This is another bridge between Gestalt therapy and psychoanalysis. It has a particular importance for me in that it raises questions about the place of regression and the character of the therapist–client relationship. If I were writing this today, I would add something about “mirror neurons” in the section on “projective identification”.

The question that I want to pose in this paper is: what is the meaning of transference in Gestalt therapy?

The originators of Gestalt therapy, trying to distance themselves and their approach from their psychoanalytic roots, emphasised the here-and-now relationship between therapist and client rather than transference. More recently, there has been a rapprochement to psychoanalysis in many parts of the Gestalt community, and a rediscovery of transference, countertransference, and projective identification. Often, there is a sense of two relationships going on simultaneously: the real relationship and the transferential one (see, in particular, Clarkson, 1992). Yet, there are still questions about what these words mean in a Gestalt context.

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CHAPTER FIFTEEN: Gestalt in Britain: a polemic

Peter Philippson Karnac Books ePub

This paper has been one of the most controversial ones I have written. I decided that there was a need to support the foundational Gestalt theory with the same strength as those who want to support revisions. The first Journal to which I submitted it held an editorial group meeting to decide whether to publish it (they did not), but I have also had warm support for it. Some things have changed very much for the better since then. There is far more interaction between people from different institutes and theoretical “schools” and more international conferences where people meet and discuss, and people do not hold the same views as they wrote then, but the point remains that their original writings are still uncritically viewed by people who are not aware of the debates that have taken place or the full issues involved.

The theme of this paper is that there is widespread misunderstanding in British Gestalt of the original theory as expressed in Perls, Hefferline, and Goodman (1994), and ignorance of the debates that have taken place over the past twenty years round this theory, mainly in the pages of the (American) Gestalt Journal. Thus, Gestaltists in Britain have noticed (accurately) a dichotomy between “old-style Gestalt”, which is identified with Fritz Perls, and a “new-style Gestalt”, more identified with the writings of the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland. However, the issues at stake, both theoretical and clinical, are, in my opinion, often not understood, and the value given to “new-style Gestalt”, whose American proponents also often do not understand the original theory, leads to a dilution rather than an enhancement of the power of the original. So, I want to make a bold statement: my Gestalt work is based squarely on the theory (particularly the theory of self) in Perls, Hefferline, and Goodman (1994). I work with clients who can be classified as growth orientated, neurotic, character disordered, self disordered, and exhibiting psychotic symptoms. I have worked in a number of different ways within the Gestalt spectrum, and, across the wide range of clients I have worked with, this way of working is by far the most powerful and effective. Furthermore, the latest thinking in science and developmental studies supports the assumptions of Perls, Hefferline, and Goodman better than they support the “revisionist” thinking. Thus, I am concerned when it is assumed that “new-style Gestalt” is an improvement on the original. It is certainly an improvement on what some of the revisionists believe the original is, and an improvement on the work of those who, while they misunderstand the theory in the same way, work in line with their misunderstanding of the theory: lots of shouting and bashing cushions. I also do believe that Gestalt needs to grow methodologically and not slavishly copy Perls or any other Gestaltist. There are inconsistencies in Perls, Hefferline, and Goodman, some of which I have written about elsewhere (Philippson, 1990). However, no Gestalt writing so far is as complete a statement of the subtlety of the approach.

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Chapter One

Peter Philippson Karnac Books ePub

Now the “self” cannot be understood other than through the field, just like day cannot be understood other than by contrast with night. If there were eternal day, eternal lightness, not only would you not have the concept of a “day”, you would not even have the awareness of a “day” because there is nothing to be aware of, there is no differentiation. So, the “self” is to be found in the contrast with the otherness. There is a boundary between the self and the other, and this boundary is the essence of psychology. (Perls, 1978)

If there is no other, there is no I. If there is no I, there s no one to perceive. (Chuang Tsu, 1974, p. 25)

Who am I?

For over 2,000 years, people have been struggling with questions concerning the nature of our being. What is the nature of self or mind, or consciousness? What is the relationship between these and body? Are they two separate kinds of things (dualism) or aspects of one thing (holism)? Is there a difference between people and animals, and what is it? What happens when we die—is there some form in which we continue to exist, even after death? Do we have free will, and if we do, how can this emerge in a scientifically lawful universe?

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CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR: The mind and the senses: thinking in Gestalt therapy

Peter Philippson Karnac Books ePub

This is another paper trying to make sense of a theme muddied by both Fritz Perls’ sloganising and the more recent wholesale dismissal that he had anything at all of interest to say. In this article, I explore around the theme of the therapeutic uses and abuses of thinking. Where does thinking help and where does it hinder?

In this chapter, I enquire about the place of “thinking-about” in Gestalt therapy, when it supports the therapeutic process, and when it becomes a deflection from the process. I discuss the differences between awareness and egotism, the limitations of the paradoxical theory of change, and the implications of neurological considerations.

“Body and Mind: this split is still popularly current, although among the best physicians the psychosomatic unity is taken for granted. We shall show that it is the exercise of a habitual and finally unaware deliberateness in the face of chronic emergency … that has made this crippling division inevitable and almost endemic. (Perls, Hefferline, & Goodman, 1994, p. 17, original italics)

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