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Reflections on Field Theory
by Malcolm Parlett, The British Gestalt Journal, 1991, 1, 68-91

The following is an edited version of a plenary lecture given at the 4th British Gestalt Conference in Nottingham in July 1990. I introduce the basic features and history of field theory and suggest that it provides a foundation for Gestalt therapy theory and practice. Five basic principles of field theory are explored. I then argue that the models of knowledge and knowing embodied in field theory form part of the emerging epistemology that characterises many new areas of inquiry
e.g., holistic medicine and ecology. In the second half of the lecture I apply field theory thinking to a discussion of the Self in Gestalt therapy and to the mutual effects on one another of two (or more) persons relating together. I focus on some new ways to think about the psychotherapy field of therapist and patient and end by discussing the importance of presence.
The organiser of this conference, Ken Evans, invited me to talk about field theory, and I am glad to have had the opportunity to review this area. As Gary Yontef has said, field theory is "the least adequately discussed aspect of Gestalt therapy (and) ignorance of (it) seriously distorts the basic conceptual
understanding of Gestalt therapy", (Yontef, 1981). I agree with him.
My intentions today are, first, to lay out the principles of field theory as I understand them to be from the point of view of a Gestalt therapist. Second, I want to suggest that field theory thinking can be allied to the whole movement in thought which is taking place today, as reflected in, for example, ecology, holistic
medicine, and many other alternative approaches which have reacted against the predominant assumptions of conventional science. Third. I will elaborate field theory thinking as it applies to a simple social unit, the two person system, and specifically the relationship between therapist and patient.

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