The History of the EAPTI-GPTIM
by Lidija Pecotić Ph.d. – Director and Founder of EAPTI-GPTIM
(This text has been created upon an invitation to me by Dr Margherita Spagnuolo Lobb, Psychologist, Psychotherapist and Teaching Member at the EAPTI-GPTIM to write the history of Psychotherapy in Malta for her Quaderni di Gestalt.)
The history of Psychotherapy in the island of Malta, so far, and as in every other beginning, has been hard and long. Excitement and endurance have kept us (my students, my colleagues, me and other people, directly or indirectly involved in the initiation, and later on establishment of Psychotherapy and Gestalt Psychotherapists, here in Malta) going and we have now arrived at a stage in which Psychotherapy in Malta is accredited officially as a profession and Gestalt Psychotherapists are acknowledged officially by the Ministry of Health of Malta where they form part of the Register of the Professions Complementary to Medicine. This is the result and the fruit of hard work both on our end involved in Psychotherapy and Gestalt Psychotherapy and also from the Maltese Government’s side where there were Public Service officials who we have liaised with, who challenged us, discussed with us, confronted us, coordinated with us and paved our way to enable us to arrive where we are today.
I was directly involved in the foundation of Gestalt Psychotherapy here in Malta. The story goes back to a couple of years ago way back in 1993 when I was in Germany on a conference on Gestalt Therapy. The conference was organised for all of us therapists who had graduated as Gestalt Therapists in San Diego in the United States at the Gestalt Training Center (San Diego) with Erv and Miriam Polster.
During the conference in Germany, I met, among many Gestalt Therapists from around the world, Ms Maryanne Agius, counselling psychologist from Malta. There in Germany we got to know each other. On the last day of the conference, I remember we had spent some more time together savouring each other’s company and then our time came to say ‘goodbye’. I remember, it was then that Maryanne had thrown a joke on me, I guess with partly sense of humour and who knows also maybe with half truth in it, saying to me: “who knows, maybe one day you will come to Malta!” – and who had to tell me at that time that not only I will come to Malta but also that we will have a Gestalt Institute there initiated and established also.
In a few months I was in Malta. I moved to the island with my family and settled here.
I had met the counselling psychologist, Ms Maryanne Agius and the time came to get to know her better. I started to get acquainted with other professionals in the field and through them it was that I got a clearer picture of the professional status of psychology and psychotherapy on the island at that time. I had had also the honour and the privilege to meet two other renowned psychologists from Malta who had received intensive training and experience in Gestalt Therapy, Dr Sandra Scicluna Calleja and Fr Alfred Darmanin SJ and got acquainted with them. Both of them had received their training in Gestalt Therapy outside Malta and at that time, they were using their training and experience in Gestalt Therapy in academic work, in teaching and in the psychotherapeutic field.
At that point, however, there was no organised training programme in Malta in the field of Gestalt Therapy although there were a lot of professionals working as psychotherapists who were presenting other schools of psychotherapy and were trained abroad. My moving over to Malta in 1994 opened up my searching for my professional place on the island, naturally besides other themes. I had moved to Malta from Belgrade, where for four years I had already been directing a Gestalt training programme there, at the Gestalt Studio Belgrade and so my dream in Malta had become to find a way to initiate this training on the island.
I remember, I had received a lot of support from two persons who I would like to mention in this article – Mr Joe Gerada and Mr Frank Mifsud who were leading figures in SEDQA at that time, an agency that had been set up to help people with alcohol and drug addiction issues. It was through their kind assistance that in 1996, and precisely on the 21st June, the Gestalt Psychotherapy Training Institute of Malta started to function formally. Before that, short programmes in application of Gestalt Therapy with different client populations used to take place at SEDQA.
At the Gestalt Psychotherapy Training Institute of Malta, which later came to be known as GPTIM, the first training sessions were with small groups. I remember the very first group who we had – they were about thirteen professionals; they were qualified psychologists or social workers here in Malta and they were the first who were to graduate from the GPTIM. That made them the first Gestalt Psychotherapists to be ‘born’ in Malta. Soon after the initiation of the GPTIM as an Institute, a lot of support came from CANA, a Catholic voluntary organisation in Malta. They provided us with premises for work, so for some time our training was held there at CANA in Floriana, Malta. Today, the GPTIM consists of over 100 graduated psychotherapists and about 50 students and is situated in Kappara, Malta.
The beginning of our activities as a training institute was encouraged and supported practically by other Gestalt Institutes outside the country not to mention the Istituto di Gestalt H.C.C. in Siracusa, Sicily. We went there for training activities that were organised and they hosted us in this way. In another way, trainers from other Institutes not in Malta would come and teach us here. In both ways, we were helped in strengthening the identity of our Institute and the respect towards Gestalt Therapy and towards our Institute grew. Those who came to give training here included, except for me as director and founder of the GPTIM, leading figures in Gestalt Psychotherapy. We have had Bertram Müller from the Institut für Gestalttherapie in Düsseldorf, Joseph Zinker and Sandra Cardoso Zinker, leading figures of Gestalt Psychotherapy in the United States, Velimir Popović Ph.D., professor of psychodiagnosis at the University of Belgrade and Dusan Stojnov, Professor in Psychology of Personality also at the University of Belgrade. We have also had Serge Ginger, founder of the Paris School of Gestalt and Helga Matzko from the United States with her programme in the application of Gestalt Therapy in the field of addiction.
During the years we have had feedback coming from colleagues and students and we have followed responses emerging from the field. We were, and still are, continuously adjusting to the emerging needs. In this regard, an academic board was created at the early stages of our development.
As I can see now, that was the first phase of development of Gestalt Therapy in Malta. It occurred in a not-so-defined field. Notwithstanding the circumstances we managed a better definition of ourselves in the nearer future. The first response to the manifestation of Gestalt Psychotherapy given its difficulties had its own identity. The energy was directed more towards inside the organisation in how to achieve goals within, and training and Gestalt Therapy were rather focused on the realisation of the programme in practice rather than, as we have today, definition outside the Institute in politics, administration, public information, connection with other training institutes and agencies and so on and so forth.
We entered into a second phase of development when the number of Gestalt Therapists who finished their training at the GPTIM grew enough as to create awareness of the identity of a Gestalt Community, which, at that time needed political organisation and connection with other professionals within the country and abroad. As the need was felt, Gestalt Therapists in collaboration with other Psychotherapists organised an association for psychotherapy, later called the Malta Association for Psychotherapy (MAP).
That was in 1999 and in parallel with the MAP process Gestalt Therapists were connecting with similar associations in Europe and with the rest of the world. The GPTIM came to belong professionally to the wide community of psychotherapists through the European Association for Psychotherapy (EAP), the European Association for Gestalt Therapy (EAGT) and the International Federation of Gestalt Training Organizations (FORGE). During that time, these connections were spontaneous movements towards professional support for the standardisation of the training in Malta. Later, however, this belonging became part of the support system that Gestalt Therapists in Malta have.
The first President of the MAP was Mr Ian Refalo, psychologist and psychotherapist, who together with his colleagues set in motion the progress towards the identity of Gestalt development in the island. He was succeeded by Dr Charles Cassar, who continued in the complex process of the recognition of the profession of psychotherapy and completed it. Through their work we obtained formal acknowledgement and recognition of the Gestalt Therapist here in Malta together with the formal recognition of our Institute. The experience of this second phase was somehow exciting, painful, anxious, and confusing but yet successful in the fight for identity of Gestalt Psychotherapy in Malta.
This process did not only reflect on the political development of Gestalt Psychotherapy in Malta but also on the academic part and the structure of our training curriculum. The change in structure and curriculum is taking place at an ongoing pace and there are a few elements which influence this change. There is the adjustment of the training programme with the training standards of the EAP and the EAGT, through which Associations we are now also officially accredited. We have moved the training programme into a different orientation under the influence of Kenneth Evans, and his wife Joanna Evans, from the Scarborough Psychotherapy Training Institute who from 2005 became visiting lecturer at the GPTIM and continued to influence the profile of Gestalt Therapy in Malta.
The Gestalt Therapy Community in Malta was capable of self-creating teachers, trainers and supervisors from among them. Some became associate teachers in the school like not to mention Joyce Sciberras M.A., Dr Joan Camilleri, Dr Greta Darmanin Kissaun, Dr Denise Borg and others. Besides basic training, which lasts from four to five years, Gestalt Therapists thematically have possibility for continuing education in courses which the school is offering so that Gestalt Therapists can specialise in one specific area, for example in working with children and young people or with organisations. We have just recently finished the Gestalt Course in working with Children and Young People which we run in collaboration with the Scarborough Training Institute and Gestalt Institute of Cleveland. As for the Clinical segment we have been very lucky to co-operate with Dottoressa Margherita Spagnuolo Lobb, with Gianni Francesetti – psychiatrist and Gestalt Psychotherapists who definitely does not need an introduction with the Italians and with Gilles Delisle. We have worked with Professor Paul Barber and the Evans as for the Organisations sector.
The clinical practice which is a core part of the training programme has its development as well, and recently is under the guidance of Dr Joan Camilleri, who is managing the volunteer work of Gestalt Psychotherapy trainees in main professional structures like hospitals such as the Mater Dei Hospital and Mount Carmel Hospital, main agencies like CARITAS, SATU, the Millenium Chapel and the Salesians of Don Bosco, schools like the Chiswick House School and others. The reputation of Gestalt Psychotherapy and Gestalt Psychotherapists on this island is, these days, more defined especially through the significant contribution of the Gestalt Therapists in the Maltese society which is now a felt experience.
We have now about 20 Gestalt Therapists who have carried out an M.A. in Gestalt Psychotherapy abroad, some of them with the Sherwood Psychotherapy Training Institute in England and some with the Gestalt Centre in London. Both of these are connected with the Metropolitan University and the University of Birmingham. Gestalt Therapists are now present in all structures of the country and we have a great impact and responsibility. Feedback and criticism always shows us which direction we need to take.
Malta is directly co-operating and sharing the same programme with four other countries and namely Serbia, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia.
I would like to use this opportunity to express my gratitude to all those who in some way were involved or contributed for Gestalt Therapy to become where it is in Malta now . My gratitude goes to the students for their trust, commitment and diligence and to all teachers for their shared knowledge and skills, to our Gestalt Therapists for their loyalty to the Gestalt philosophy and methodology and to all other professionals who challenged us and so led us to become more competent and developed in our profession and who in a way, showed us what we needed to fulfil the requirements of the field; to people in politics who saw us, challenged us and accepted us, to clients who trust us and heal with us, to associations which supported us and continue to support us and last but not the least to Dottoressa Spagnuolo Lobb who gave us the opportunity of this text. While writing this text, I managed to recognise and articulate aspects which we took for granted in our development but now are clearly defined and we can acknowledge them for what they are and to move on!
Lidija Pecotić Ph.D.
With assistance of Katya Caruana B. Comm. (Hons)