On 23 September 2021 a first meeting of members of DVG, EAGT and IAAGT took place with the idea of collectively organizing the practice of Gestalt Therapy research.
Here you will find the opening remarks by Vincent Bejá (EAGT) and an interview with Dr.Otto Glanzer. We will keep you informed about the further process via our newsletter.
“A much needed new momentum”
The opening remarks on the occasion of the pre-conference on 23 September 2021 by Vincent Beja are an invitation to participate in an ongoing process of collaboration on the road towards the Hamburg conference in September 2022.
“I am very pleased to open the pre-conference as a moment of brainstorming. I believe that this is the first time in the history of Gestalt therapy that such a diversity of Gestalt therapists from such distant backgrounds and locations have come together in the desire to organize themselves on such a global scale.
We find ourselves gathered around this rather exciting idea of collectively organizing the practice of Gestalt Therapy research. And if we are here today it is probably because we are idealistic people, but perhaps even more because we are realistic.
For the purpose of opening the pre-conference, I am speaking as one of the four conveners of the Hamburg conference which, in a way, we are opening together today. When postponing the actual conference to 2022 we decided to keep the pre-conference on the very same date while holding it online. Thus we did not delay the demand of such a meeting and, at the same time allowing more time – a full year up to the conference – for a reflection of where we are starting and where we are going.
The Gestalt therapy research landscape
We are realistic …
… because we have probably all noticed our research weaknesses, both nationally and internationally. Indeed, the tradition of Gestalt therapy research is poor. Too few studies have been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. Links with universities vary greatly from one geographical area to another. Particularly in countries where one does not need to be a psychologist to be able to practice Gestalt therapy, the level of understanding and familiarity of our colleagues with research is almost zero. We are also insufficiently involved, globally, in Scholarly societies such as the SPR (Society for Psychotherapy Research) or the SEPI (Society for the Exploration of Psychotherapy Integration). Above all, in a context of cost reduction and demand for efficiency in care, regulatory constraints are becoming increasingly heavy in many countries. These national regulations can even threaten the practice of Gestalt therapy when it is not perceived as a valid therapy – which generally means that it is not considered to be evidence-based.
Thus, overall – in the field of psychotherapy research – the record is more than modest: the scientific studies published in Gestalt therapy are few and our modality, when not unseen, is perceived as has-been.
In the clinical field, the results are more positive but also very contrasted. Indeed, there is a strong growth of Gestalt therapy in all Eastern European countries, in Russia and all the way to China and Japan, as well as in all of Latin America. In these countries, to my knowledge, there is no disconnection from the university that can be found in a number of Western countries. But, conversely, the influence of Gestalt therapy is diminishing in its birth place, the USA, something that may be also true in a number of other Western countries.
I said above that we are here also because we are idealistic people …
Indeed, for nearly 15 years now, a voluntary movement to promote research has been underway, initiated by a small core of enthusiasts, some of whom are present in the pre-conference. Let’s think of the first collective book on Gestalt therapy research initiated by Phil Brownell and published in 2008. Others have followed since. Let me also remind us of the creation – around the same period – of research task forces or research committees, both in national and international Gestalt organizations such as the EAGT and the AAGT.
Furthermore, there has been a series of biennial international Gestalt therapy research conferences that have grown in size and importance. We started with the support of the GISC (Gestalt International Study Center) at Cape Cod in 2013 and 2015 and then increasingly relying on existing associations (national and international like EAGT and AAGT) in Paris in 2017 and Santiago de Chile in 2019. The audience and the aura of these conferences grew a lot with each event. We were 80 participants in 2013, 200 in 2017 and 400 of us came to Chile in 2019.
It is also worth listing some of the renowned researchers we have invited to these conferences. Among them are Leslie Greenberg, Louis Castonguay, Clara Hill and – in Hamburg – Bruce Wampold and Robert Elliott. Thanks to this, we have begun to forge links with influential figures in the academic world.
The assessment we can make today is that, although not having ‘produced’ much yet, we have succeeded in making research a major theme in our community. Paradoxically, it is in those countries that are under regulatory threat that the reaction of Gestalt therapists is the most ambivalent: some want to make research a political priority while others still do not want to hear about it.
So there is our landscape. It is contrasted, but it carries many signs of hope.
Tools to talk about
In the run-up to the pre-conference, the research team of the Gestalt psychotherapy center in Santiago made a proposal which comprises to host a space for the needs of Gestalt research (for free). It would allow for discussion forums and sharing of tools. The proposed platform would be a space located inside their own, and it would operate on the Moodle software the colleagues in Chile are already using for the needs of their institute. This is a generous offer and I thank our Chilean colleagues for having made it.
At this point, I would like to add a few words in my capacity as chair of the EAGT research committee: Two years ago, the Polish and Spanish national Gestalt organizations have setup a database (www.gestaltresearch.org) which is now under EAGT management and ownership. This database is run on a free-access basis. It currently includes 250 Gestalt research references and will be updated regularly in the near future. You can make queries on it and get either the articles in full text or a link in order to access them.
Speaking for the research committee, I invite all those who have published or are planning to publish a research article to send the reference of their paper to the EAGT research committee ([email protected]) in order to have it included in the database.
Also, in March 2021, the general board of the EAGT voted to set up a platform dedicated to the networking necessary for Gestalt therapy research and entirely oriented to address our needs. In addition to networking and to having pools of tools to share, we will be able to put together a whole set of videos and documents from conferences or research seminars that have been or will be organized in our global Gestalt therapy community. This platform should be operational in a few months and – in the EAGT research committee’s point of view – will have the big advantage of being able to evolve as new needs arise. The EAGT general board has also officially established the principle that this platform is and will remain open to all Gestalt practitioners and researchers in the world. So you are all welcome!
I must add that EAGT is ready to hold the burden of maintaining these tools but, in my mind, should also be open to share it with whoever would like to join in.
The tasks ahead
Coming back to the pre-conference, I believe the group we are forming now is dedicated to see its work continue until the actual Hamburg conference in 2022. This is not a closed group; it is intended to grow until we meet in Hamburg. And the conveners of the conference have already planned to set aside time next year in Hamburg for collective face-to-face discussion – and perhaps decision making if we are ready – on how we are going to effectively organize the research in Gestalt therapy.
The pre-conference is just the beginning of this process. Thus it is now about getting to know each other and beginning to better identify our needs. It is about brainstorming together and exchanging our respective perspectives and contexts in order to better understand each other and to make up the real set of our needs.
As I said above, this is the beginning of a process. Our ideas at this point for the road ahead are simply to create drop-in zoom sessions at regular intervals and to continue to exchange by e-mail, adding new addresses of participants if necessary or creating a specific discussion list. Further steps are to be defined and published in an ongoing process as described above.
Conclusion at the moment
In closing my opening remarks to the pre-conference, I want to return to the fact that this meeting is quite unique. We are gathered on how to organize Gestalt therapy research. I think it is because we agree that we want to give Gestalt therapy a new dimension, to explore and rethink our concepts and our clinic. Probably all of us also want to equip Gestalt therapy with more and renewed influence towards our colleagues of other modalities. Not least to give our international Gestalt community a much needed new momentum in these difficult times for all our societies.
I wish us all successful work!”
Vincent Beja is a therapist, supervisor and psychotherapy trainer. He has taught Gestalt therapy in different French institutes and he has published many articles in French, British and American Gestalt and psychological reviews, mostly about articulating theory and practice in the field of psychotherapy. He has also translated several gestalt therapy articles and books from English to French. He has been for more than ten years member of the editorial board of the Revue Gestalt where he has served as editor for several issues.
He has also set up and chaired the French Gestalt Research Committee and organized the third International Gestalt Research Conference in Paris 2017. He has co-edited the first French book about Gestalt research in 2018. Along with Florence Belasco, he is co-founder of IDeT (Institut de Développement du Thérapeute) a Gestalt post-training institute in Paris where therapists are supported to make research and to deepen their understanding and their practice of a field and relational Gestalt approach.
“Giving gestalt to networking”
Interview with Dr. Phil. Otto Glanzer on the state of Gestalt therapy research in Germany and worldwide.
In 2022, the 5th International Conference on Research in Gestalt Therapy will take place, in Hamburg, Germany. What does this mean to you?
Dr. Otto Glanzer: Firstly, this is cause for great joy, as it shows that research now has a name in Gestalt therapy and is no longer categorically rejected as “non-gestalt”.
Furthermore, it seems particularly gratifying that it has also been possible to organize this fifth research conference in Germany. For it is precisely in Germany, the motherland of Gestalt therapy, that its reputation is in a particularly dire state. We have started empirical effectiveness and process research far too late and have been preoccupied for far too long with the question of whether research in Gestalt therapy is necessary or even justified.
Why are regular conferences on the state of research in Gestalt therapy particularly important?
The hope of Phil Brownell, the mentor of Gestalt therapy research, to develop a tradition of Gestalt therapy research over the years is nurtured by holding an international research conference every two years. The two conferences at Cape Cod (Massachusetts), the one in Paris and the last one in Santiago de Chile were well attended and showed interest and advocacy regarding research in Gestalt therapy. Intelligent, informed articles have been published on the subject, and there has been emergent emphasis on the need for research supporting the legitimacy and “species preservation” of Gestalt therapy. In Germany, for example, the member journal of the German Association for Gestalt Therapy (DVG) even published three articles in one issue in 2019 (Issue 2), two of which comprised concrete empirical research contributions.
Is there one aspect that seems particularly important to you in the run up to the conference in Hamburg in 2022?
Above all, the networking of colleagues interested in research crystallized as an important topic in the previous conferences. Thus, it is logical to make room and give shape (Gestalt!) to the topic of networking. This could be a central next step in the establishment of a tradition of Gestalt therapy research in the next conference. This is a topic that has been recognized as important – most recently in the recent Preconference in September 2021, while still being somewhat controversial at the level of international bodies. Ideas range from a stringently managed new organization, to a pragmatic module within the Gestalt community, to loosely maintaining a list of interested parties with a database. It will be important for the Hamburg meeting to find a consensus for this, so that work can begin.
What is missing for stronger networking in the Gestalt research community today?
Gestalt therapy has no university structures which would allow networked research to be conducted as a matter of course. Thus, a research organization must be found that offsets this considerable, even disastrous deficiency and does not bring with it the disadvantages of such structures geared to competition and pressure to publish. A look at the reality shows a staggering picture: since the first research conference in 2013, hardly any research projects have been published and we still do not have an organization that motivates, integrates and supports research through active information networking and raw data analysis. We are running far behind the scientifically accepted practices.
What would it take to improve the situation?
Relevant efforts are needed to take the momentum of establishing a research tradition to a level that goes beyond good will, declarations of intent, awarding of chairs and nice conferences. The SCTS (single case time series) project, as published by Chilean colleagues alone, is a good example of how practice-relevant research is possible, but – unfortunately – not yet undertaken as a worldwide effort.
Although the single case time series research method could well be carried out in every practice, it has not yet been possible to carry out several casuistics at this level of presentation in Germany. The same is true in France, Spain and England. In Italy and Austria (IGWien), I succeeded in attracting a group of Gestalt therapists to implement the SCTS project. The colleagues are currently in the process of advancing the project through the Ethics Council.
What is the current status of your own research activities?
To my own disappointment, my planned three anxiety patient studies fell victim to the corona pandemic, as an evaluation of the results would not be possible with sufficient clarity against the background of an epochal anxiety development. Thus, I had to discontinue the elaborate data collection and video recordings and unfortunately cannot present any results in Hamburg.
What lets you hope nonetheless?
Even if the balance in terms of real research and a quasi-university networking organization is somewhat bleak, I would very much like to support the hope of being able to establish a tradition of Gestalt therapy research over time. If at present the SCTS project does not seem feasible, preparations for it can be made nonetheless, as they are being done in Vienna: I succeeded in winning a competent mathematician and Gestalt therapist for the data evaluation of our project. He is currently working on developing a central means of processing the incoming raw data. I myself am using the time to produce a film in which the sequence of steps of the SCTS project is illustrated. This video can then be made available internationally to interested parties.
Of great importance and a real contribution to research is the participation of many German colleagues in the conference in September 2022. I believe this is important in order to gain tangible insights about the possibility of participating in practice-relevant research.
Dr. phil. Otto Glanzer
Otto Glanzer lives and works in Augsburg, Germany. He studied clinical psychology and education in Salzburg. Since 1998 he has been working as a Psychological Psychotherapist (TP). He is a lecturer, teaching therapist and supervisor of the South German Academy for Psychotherapy (teaching practice) and trainer as well as teaching therapist at several German Gestalt Therapy Institutes. Otto Glanzer’s main areas of work include depressive and structural disorders as well as the clinical theory of Gestalt Therapy. He is also a strong supporter, promoting interest in international research projects in Gestalt Therapy.