My, my.... it certainly is interesting to come upon a discussion where I am mentioned so prominently, and seem to have aided a rousing argument unbeknownst. Iıd like to provide some comments and clarificationıs to some of the long list of responses.
First off, the original stimulus for this discussion (i.e.. this claim that ³massaging the buttocks² is a ³Gestalt technique²) is, of course, a quite bizarre and abhorrent little thing. It so clearly has nothing to do with Gestalt therapy, or therapy of any kind for that matter, that it merits little specific comment.
Wysongıs first response that there is ³nothing in the Gestalt therapy literature² which sees touch as part of Gestalt therapy is ponderously untrue: although he may like to obliterate my book as a contribution to the Gestalt therapy literature, he is not, fortunately, the determiner of what belongs in this literature.
My book stands as a highly respected text on Gestalt therapy and is widely considered so by many in our field (including Gary Yontef, who Wysong mentions as one of his paragons of ³true² Gestalt therapy, who considers Body Process highly reflective of both Gestalt therapy theory and spirit (Yontef, personal communication). Additionally, Body Process was very positively reviewed in Wysongıs own journal as a meaningful contribution to Gestalt therapy literature.
Neither is Wysong, fortunately again, the arbiter of what is and is not Gestalt therapy, and ³current clinical applications² of Gestalt therapy is far more diverse than perhaps he apparently is comfortable with. It is hard to believe from his comments that Wysong actually read my book. Unlike Philip Brownell who can actually refer to the content of Body Process in his discussion, Wysong pronounces a number of misnomers which a serious reading of my book would certainly preclude.
For example, I discuss at length the inappropriateness of the ³Gestalt and...² notion and discuss the difference between combining body methods from other approaches and a truly integral approach consistent with Gestalt theory. On another point, I ³wander off into other schools of psychotherapy,² as he puts it, specifically to compare and contrast the fundamental differences in a Gestalt therapy approach to working with body experience and process (and no, Wysong is also not the determiner of inappropriate words in Gestalt therapy) from other approaches, and to demonstrate how differently we look at resistance, body ³armor,² creative adjustment, the person as a whole, the unity of the organism, and so on.
I also outline this as a developmental process starting from a more ³split² sense of our embodied self towards a more holistic and integral phenomenological sense of our being, including our embodiment.
His little zinger about ³Gestalt² being removed from the title of the reprint of the book by Jossey Bass ³for good reasons² is absurd. It implies that he had some kind of insider knowledge as to why this was changed, which he certainly did not: he was not consulted as to the title or itıs change, which was solely for the publishers convenience. The book is still listed on all fronts as a Gestalt presentation.
Wysong is also completely erroneous in his pronouncement that the body therapists who influenced Gestalt therapy did so without use of touch. Reich, Lowen, Gindler, Selver, all used touch in their work, some quite extensively (Reich, Lowen) and others more subtly (Selver, Gindler). In addition, Lore Perls used touch in her work without hesitation, particularly when she was working with the clientıs embodied supports for contact in breathing, posture, and so on. I have even seen films of Fritz Perls using touch contact (as in the example of having a client squeeze his arm) as part of the experimental process.
As to how much Body Process is rooted in Gestalt therapy theory, Philip Brownell gives some very succinct representations of this in his comments. Readers can of course decide for themselves. Body Process was never intended to be a complete explication of Gestalt therapy theory and practice. It was intended to explicate an aspect of the Gestalt therapy approach and theory, the phenomenology of embodied experience and a way of working therapeutically which takes body experience and body process as an orienting point. This possibility was implicit but never fully developed in the original writings and practice of Gestalt therapy. I refer frequently to the seminal texts and principles of Gestalt therapy in my development of this throughout the book,
There seems to be a doctrinal attitude by some in Gestalt therapy: if something wasnıt explicitly described in Perls, Hefferline & Goodman then it is not Gestalt therapy, and that any extension of Gestalt therapy principles and practice into other domains, such as family therapy, body oriented therapy, work with organizations and so on, is inappropriate. I do not agree with this view, nor with the view that Gestalt therapy has any such fundamentalist doctrine. The early Gestalt therapy literature, including and especially Perls, Hefferline & Goodman, is clearly a ³work in progress² and it explicitly invited extension, further development and application. Neither Fritz (whom I met) nor Paul Goodman (who I know by his writings and reputation) would ever have considered Gestalt therapy theory or practice to be frozen in what was so clearly an experimental offering (Perls, Hefferline & Goodman). Gestalt therapy is by itıs nature a herald of the value of experimentalism in attitude, in practice and in writing. Perls, Hefferline & Goodman is a seminal (pardon the masculine metaphor) and transitional text, not a doctrine.
By the way, I certainly see my book as, likewise, a transitional text and there are many things I would change about it if writing it today. Perhaps all authors think this way (at least the ones I know do). But I think it stands as a fair contribution to the on-going dialogue of, yes, Gestalt therapy.
I completely disagree with any of the comments that try to categorize touch as per se is irresponsible or inappropriate therapeutically. I donıt believe that it ³opens the door to abuse,² nor that it is by nature intrusive. Many verbal interventions are as intrusive and abusive as harmful forms of touch. It is not touch per se which makes something abusive or intrusive per se, it is the transgression, without contract or permission, of ones personal boundaries and the misuse of power. The issue in use of touch, as in ALL therapeutic techniques, is to use it responsibly, knowledgeably, with informed consent, with adequate supervision and training from those who know what they are doing and who understand clearly itıs limitations and dangers.
I would further comment that many survivors of abuse find that they cannot completely heal the from the sequelae of abuse to their embodied being without safe, caring, nonabusive and therapeutic touch experiences. I discuss this in some detail in my chapter on body oriented work with survivors in my book Healing Tasks and would refer readers who are interested to take a look and decide for themselves as to the intrusiveness or abusiveness of the method. Likewise, I invite you to join me at my presentation on the subject at the AAGT conference in Cleveland in June.
There is in fact a growing body of literature on body oriented therapy methods with trauma survivors, of which my own Gestalt approach this is a respected one. It is the experimental and collaborative context of Gestalt therapy which, in my opinion, offers a potentially safer way of using touch therapeutically than any other body oriented approach to healing from trauma.
Philip Brownell (Devilıs Advocate comments) is quite right in asserting that, if we truly believe that the person is a whole and that bodily life is as much an expression of self as verbal life, then what justifies promoting one form of therapeutic contact over another? In fact, it is this fundamental theoretical premise in Gestalt therapy which forms the starting point for an approach which looks at body process and experience as a legitimate a place to work with the self-as-contact as anyplace else. There is no privileged place to start in Gestalt therapy, nor reason to restrict our method to verbalization alone. In fact a main point of Body Process was that if we do not work explicitly with embodied experience and process we will of necessity leave out important aspects of self functioning which have become isolated and split off phenomenologically, and thus lost to ones experience.
I look forward to the continued discussion!