Healing perception : the application of the philosophy of Maurice Merleau-Ponty to the theoretical structures of Gestalt Psychotherapy
This is the first time such an extensive application has been attempted. The thesis argues
that Gestalt therapy as a modality of perception, can best come to a recognition of itself
in the Phenomenology oj Perception. That Gestalt therapy requires such a support is
apparent right from its flawed foundation in the writings of Paul Goodman. Its weak
philosophical foundation has diverted its development away from the lived body,
impoverished its view of phenomenology, constrained its language so that the articulation
of its theoretical structures lacks depth, left it vulnerable to the distortions of post-modem
constructivism, rendered unclear the domain proper to it as a psychotherapy, and
bequeathed to those who would work to construct a consistent, organic and cohesive
theoretical structure, an impossible task.
The epistemological foundation of the theoretical structures of Gestalt therapy is to be
found in what Merleau-Ponty calls 'primordial contact' or belief. This is that timeless
pre-conceptual 'moment', when, without theme or image, a world begins to form itself
about me. In this 'moment' I experience myself as 'given' to me in my body. This
primordial experience of givenness is henceforth the ever-present anchorage of all
subsequent experience. It is this which authenticates the therapist's immediacy to his/her
client which constitutes the dialogue between them as healing.
The argument in the thesis hinges upon the congeniality between Gestalt therapy and
Merleau-Ponty's philosophy: they are both experiential, radically holistic and centred
upon the lived body. They both claim to transcend the subject/object, mind/body dualism
and view the human being in his/her embodiment as the Gestalt, actualizing being-in-theworld.
The thesis demonstrates how, with the application of four key concepts from
Merleau-Ponty's philosophy to the theoretical structures of Gestalt therapy-intentionality, anonymity, transcendence and intersubjectivity - there emerge new
horizons of understanding for such Gestalt therapy concepts as field theory, immediacy,
holism, personal relationship and the body as a carrier of our history. Such an application
also reveals to us the 'phenomenal field' as the domain of operation proper to a therapy
of bodily presence, awareness and exploration.
The thesis concludes that the development of Gestalt therapy theory lies in a more
profound development of its phenomenology along the lines of the analysis made by
Merleau-Ponty in the Phenomenology of Perception. Such a direction will at once correct
its list towards scientism, and the penchant for involvement in distracting philosophical
debates. The thesis also points up the need for development at the training level of skills
in reflection upon the experiential learning of the Gestalt therapy concepts, the paramount
importance of relationship between trainers and trainees based upon an exacting personal
authenticity and transparency.