Gestalt and Phenomenology

Gestalt therapy is a phenomenological psychotherapy. What I have been learning and experiencing in this approach for the last 10 years on both sides of a therapeutic relationship influences my everyday life, relationships with others, with the world and myself. Some of this impact and its manifestations I wish to share with you here.

1. Gestalt and Art

Here I will touch on some relationships between phenomenologically oriented Gestalt therapy and art, professional and non-professional. Both of these forms I experience as an observer, initiator, but mostly – and this is in the line with the interpretation of phenomenology – as a participant.

Phenomenological diagnosis, used by me in therapy, is ‘aesthetic’ diagnosis, i.e. referring to sensation and embodiment in the present moment. Hence, just like in a relationship with art, I am interested in the ‘process’ of emerging rather than in some final fixed form of it. During a session I always try first to open to the chaos of impressions before we start to use cognitive schema and we assign meanings to emerging phenomena. Art, in turn, seen from a phenomenological perspective, wants to show how we are touched by the world. In art as well as in a session, this may disclose some void, lack, conflict; maybe we are touched by these more than we are by continuity, similarity, identity.

Since we are touched by the world, it is passivity that is prior to activity and not the other way round. This passivity is not depression, powerlessness, etc., but active passivity, open to the unexpected that exceeds any specific possibility. It is connected with astonishment and also suffering. What we need then is a capacity to suspend old rules and simultaneously to create new ones.

A piece of art and a therapeutic relationship are close to the status of subjectivity – neither am artist’s work nor a therapist’s work belongs to them; all this is about letting go of the thing (e.g. colour) to make a gesture, to form a trace. Meetings at the session take this primary form too; we can take a risk of making a move, not only taking from or giving to, but resonating with one another.

Rozumienie granic. Granice rozumienia. Fenomenologicznie inspirowane interwencje w polu sztuki i humanistyki, red. K. Biały, M. Domański. ASP w Łodzi: Łódź 2018.

Główne problemy współczesnej fenomenologii, red. naukowa J. Migasiński, M. Pokropski. WUW: Warszawa 2017.

2. Gestalt and Fashion/Fashion Photography

Consider for example my passion for fashion and for taking photos of it. A phenomenological perspective would mean here there is some mobilization to focus my energy while at the same time a loosening up of me field so that new possibilities can come into view. Something emerges, a piece of clothing or its photo, something that has a clarity, colour, etc.

Passivity is again (see Gestalt and Art) a key category. I surrender to a specific moment’s atmosphere, to the sensations, emotions, to an embodied being. This creates the possibility I will emerge in a new piece of clothing or a photo opportunity will emerge. I contrast this with a meticulous fixed focus on a look, lacking in spontaneity – or with the converse, a withdrawal from caring about what you look like. My fashion art is an attempt at submitting first to the chaos of impressions, to something bigger than a fearful and hurt ego before we start to make some fashion /visual order out of it. To put it radically, only when we are open to passivity, can we become our own self.