New Gestalt Voices; Sweet, Singing in the Choir…
A copy of PHG sits on a table alongside a coffee and a croissant. No pile of other Gestalt texts and no laptop, no pages of notes, no can of Red Bull to sustain the midnight hour of solitary essay writing?
Admittedly, the croissant only appears under the Blog tab of New Gestalt Voices, the new vehicle for international contact, creativity and apprenticeship recently launched online, (http://newgestaltvoices.org/). However, right from the Home page, an original edition of PHG sits aside a coffeecup in a shot lit and composed in a way suggesting Radio 4’s ‘A Good Read’ rather than the frustrating browse perhaps many of us have encountered.
As I look, I feel a sense of both comforting familiarity and a newness, the start maybe of the growthful excitement that our founding text explores. I feel an aesthetic pleasure too, in noticing that the banner heading ‘New Gestalt Voices’ shares the colour of the original book featured in the image over which the context in which NGV was born is explained.
New and old, figure and ground, a somehow slightly subversive inversion? This Review is an appreciation of the inception and arrival of NGV from a personal and field perspective. It is not an attempt to grade NGV and its contents- to appraise or judge- as if it were something absolute and fixed; clearly this would be to refute the co-creation that is at the heart of our paradigm. NGV indeed has attributes (the website, journal, forum, blog, biographies) and intentions (aims, objectives, aspirations and guidance) but what of the phenomenology of this; my phenomenology in this case? Everyone who wishes to can have a good read of the journal writings and form their own response to the diverse, and largely personal pieces to be found there.
Taking in the Home page for this first time, I feel myself relax, breathe and experience a sense of belonging as a gestaltist; this feels like a Home page I can identify with- be at home with. Even now however, I also recognise not trusting I can count myself a new voice in gestalt, feeling some trepidation in exploring the site further lest I encounter evidence to swell my nascent sense of alienation. I read ‘NGV is for students and recent graduates of GT…’ as meaning this is only for students and recent graduates of GT, feel angry and excluded, but manage to remember that I co-create my alienation and to hold this in awareness. I start to follow my curiosity toward the extensive content of the site while noticing I don’t yet feel ready to read the journal writings themselves.
I ‘d heard myself as a new voice in gestalt writing myself last year in producing my Sicily combined organisations’ Conference piece for the UKAGP newsletter. Now I wondered if I hadn’t already expired my ‘newness’ and feared my voice might get quickly silenced if I didn’t ‘qualify’ for inclusion in the new NGV chorus. Struggling with my Sicily piece had exposed me to my ambitions and fears around writing and the shame I felt around it.
Previously, the existence of the UKAGP newsletter had provided me with an edge of ‘safe emergency’ to write for an Organisation I knew well (then the only other Gestalt-speaking organ in addition to the BGJ in my sense of the field of publication possibilities as The Gestalt Review, signposted in NGV, had curiously not registered). But after publication online of my Sicily Conference piece, responses felt few and far between, the only written one being from Jon Blend, someone who has also written for UKAGP before. As the editors of NGV write, ‘The field of established Gestalt writing is particularly intimidating for many (and is) ripe with scope for introjects and negative self-comparisons, and therefore, unsurprisingly, it is defined by a minority of voices. This is the field we have to navigate if, as new writers, we are to find our voices.’
The NGV editorial acknowledges that established journals are taking steps to encourage new writers, but it’s been as yet too difficult for me to imagine raising my voice to the tenor of the elevated tessitura of the BGJ, which has maintained high quality, game-changing inputs over years. As the NGV editorial continues, ‘the narrowness of the field fosters a sense that gestalt writing is mostly for the already established.’
NGV editorial encourages dimensions of writing, supported by technology, that embrace giving up on perfectionism, valuing brevity, accepting uncertainty, and among the 4 specific aims and objectives listed is Dialogue, described as a focus on sharing writing, as writing as process in a context of safe peer support, encouragement and feedback.
An email pops up from my friend Dawn Gwilt asking me for feedback on her journal article, and I notice I feel ready for this contact. I support myself to read her piece, becoming aware of various feelings and thoughts as I start, noticing a movement from fear tinged with jealousy to being more present to my emergent interest in her piece. I notice motivation to reply, remembering our talk about writing after attending the BGJ Seminar day together last year. I write back, acknowledging to myself my feelings both of envy that she felt able to ask for feedback when I largely hadn’t regarding my Sicily piece, and my sense of confirmation in being valued as having something worthwhile to say. I congratulate her, comment on her work and she replies to my feedback. I feel valuable and empowered.
I enjoyed Dawn’s process-led writing which feels inspiring and relatively light on theory. She makes reference to the ready availability of NGV peer support while writing her piece and I notice there is a Facebook group ready for the 2nd Edition in January 2018, and a Linked-In presence too. Yes, the BGJ too has been a vector in supporting both Dawn and I to get to this point and yet, perhaps paradoxically, it is not toward the BGJ that writing by some of us may be currently orientated.
With ‘only’ the BGJ around I suspect I’ve found it elusive to fully appreciate- and critique- its manifest attributes. However, with a 2nd pole now, by way of NGV, we can support creating continua resembling MacKewn’s 1997 suggestions of (among several), Trained/Fresh and Theroretical/Atheoretical (originally labelled by her ‘Polarities within the practice of Gestalt Counselling’) but surely useful also as polarities within the Gestalt field as a whole. NGV editorial raises the phenomenon of hierarchy and status and I wonder how this might play out in the newly reconfigured field; will more established writers wish to write for the NGV and will they be allowed to? Could pieces appearing in NGV be developed with support into ones more suited to the BGJ?
An ‘Aspiration’ acknowledged by NGV editorial is to ‘undo perceived absence of open dialogue between new entrants and our more experienced compatriots’, and among the voices of encouragement for NGV on the Blog (bitten-into croissant) page is Philip Brownell whose personal endorsement I found of tangible value alongside the listed ‘Friends’ including PGI, Relational Change, WPP and named individuals.
As laughing and crying include aspects of each other that it’s helpful to recognise, could there be unhelpful 2 tier hierarchy if NGV and BGJ don’t include aspects of each other? It will be important to observe how the 2 journals adjust to the existence of the other over time.
I notice now that I feel ready to make fuller contact with the journal content, imagining reading other articles without experiencing debilitating shame. I move toward the article that holds most fascination and draw for me, scrolling down until the words ‘Pushing into the silence’ resound with me for a moment as I read the title and my pulse quickens a little as I complete reading it; ‘A Personal Exploration of Master/Slave Sexualities and Gestalt.’
John Gillespie, Editor-in-Chief of NGV and author of this central article (literally and metaphorically ) that took 3 years to gestate to publication, is someone I first met through a gay organisation outside of Gestalt therapy before he started training. We both ended up in the same process group in Sicily, but I wasn’t aware until now that the Sicily experience must also have been influential for John too as I notice that some of the other editors or authors for NGV were in our multi-national group. He describes the trajectory to seeing his vision for NGV fulfilled as stemming mainly from a facilitated space with Gestalt training colleagues, but how fitting that a process group be a background to birthing both his piece and NGV.
Finishing reading John’s journal article I click on his email address and write. I feel unselfconscious and free. I speak my admiration at his voicing his pain and isolation and link this to my recent attendance at Gianni Francesetti’s UK workshop and my emergent understandings around pain and absence in the transformation or transmission of trauma. I feel an upsurge of excitement and liberation as I speak to John of a sexuality-located and previously shame-based proclivity of mine. I check my support for this again and notice that I feel safe and continue to type in language again referencing theory, which feels experimental and emergent. I feel alive. I ask John if I can write for the journal and acknowledge his influence openly. I feel whole.
I got a quick reply from John which felt both welcoming into the NGV space and authentic in his response to my own disclosure. In our email exchanges we discussed the inversion of power implied by a trainee being an Editor (In Chief!) and an experienced practitioner requesting his permission and support. I thought this had an interesting relevance to John’s ‘slave/master’ polarities from his journal piece and something deeply personal now felt present in the between of our contact. Having the email contact has, I think, been an edgy business for both of us, but mutual appreciation has arisen through it. As Perls pithily said, ‘Contact is the appreciation of differences’ (1969, p.281).
In a gap between clients I read an email from UKAGP asking for contributions for an upcoming newsletter. I remember the feel of the recent UKAGP Conference, of my empowerment in the closing ‘huddles’ in being able to voice my thoughts and questions to the individual writers of the papers, of asking Peter Philippson about my interest in the place of wisdom in therapy, of hearing the interest of others in the huddle picquing in response. Suddenly I know I want to write again for UKAGP. I email Jen Clayton and suggest I write a Review of NGV. I email John Gillespie and ask if he’s OK with this. Both email back within minutes it feels, saying ‘go for it’. I notice appreciating both UKAGP and NGV in my field at this moment.
In his Editorial, John Gillespie writes that ‘writing is less an individual process and more a collaborative and co-emergent one than we are led to suppose’ and I’m discovering that giving voice to myself in my writing process best happens when there is a chorus to join and listen to. The presence of others is evidently manifest in my being able to bring forth this piece and to seek to finish my piece for NGV’s 2nd edition in January 2018 (an outline of intended articles is requested by John and his team (Nils Konstantinovs, Olena Zozulya, Maria Grigorieva, Melissa Sedmak, Ayhan Alman de la Osa, Elena Ryabtseva and Jen Clayton )by the end of August.
NGV is a fragile beauty born of the reality of pain of isolation and disconnection in our personal and professional fields and asks for our presence via support, donations and contributions to help ensure it thrives and we continue to be able transform difficult experiences. Don’t let the singing be done.
I withdraw now, satisfied from my croissant, cappuccino -and contact. I notice anticipating your feedback Yes, you heard- I’m asking for it! I thank you for reading. Now back to PHG for the denouement…
I acknowledge the influence of the teaching and writing of Gianni Francesetti in producing this article.