Gestalt psychotherapy is a creative form of talking therapy grounded in rich philosophical roots. It evolved from a revision of psychoanalysis and became an independent and integrated system in itself (Perls, Hefferline, & Goodman, 1951). Phenomenology is a philosophical approach, which lies at the heart of Gestalt psychotherapy.
What does phenomenology mean?
Phenomenology can be described as the study of phenomena as they manifest in our experience. This refers to the way we perceive, understand and make meaning of the phenomena we encounter in our lives. In simple words, phenomenology is the study of the individual’s lived experience of the world. The approach of phenomenological focuses on what is true, by enquiring into the immediate experience of the individual.
For example, at this moment, I am sitting in a chair, writing this blog on my laptop, my hands are warm, while my mind is concentrated on the screen. These ongoing phenomena constitute my world and they are in my awareness. Phenomena can refer to an individual, an object, or even an experience that the individual carries with them.
The philosophical position that Gestalt psychotherapy takes emphasises the importance of the immediate experience. This is sometimes referred to as the ‘here and now’ and it reflects how the individual is living their unique experience.
Through Gestalt psychotherapy, phenomenology offers not only an alternative narrative, but also a therapeutic methodology that is effective. Phenomenology goes against other interpretive therapies, which offer interventions based on coded knowledge. In other words, the individual is not judged about what they are bringing, but the therapist becomes curios about the client’s experience. The therapist carefully constructs meaning that remains true to the client’s world.
An important aspect of phenomenology is awareness, which we experience through sensations and connections with the body. Often individuals are caught up in the complexities of justification, an approach were they rationalize their problems. The curiosity of the therapist allows them to enter into the heart of the client’s reality, understanding it from the inside. For this to occur, the therapist puts away their knowledge and experience, so to be able to approach each client, each experience, from a new perspective.
Clients feel known and met in this phenomenological process, although it involves a rather simple approach. By staying with descriptions and observations, the clients themselves become more open to widening their experiences and motivations.
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Charlot Cauchi is a Trainee Gestalt Psychotherapist currently reading for a Masters in Gestalt Psychotherapy with Gestalt Psychotherapy Training Institute Malta (GPTIM) and working at Willingness as a Trainee Psychotherapist. He has experience with adult clients with mental health difficulties, anxiety, depression, loss, trauma, stress and relational issues.
Clarkson, P. (1989). Gestalt Counselling in Action. Sage Publications.
Perls, F., Hefferline, R., & Goodman, P. (1951). Gestalt Therapy: Excitement & Growth in the Human Personality. The Gestalt Journal Press.