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The History of EAPTI-GPTIM

by Lidija Pecotić Ph.d. – Director and Founder of EAPTI-GPTIM

Today, the European Accredited Psychotherapy Training Institute – Gestalt Psychotherapy Training Institute Malta (EAPTI-GPTIM) is a well-established and accredited higher education institution, offering a variety of post-graduate training programmes specialising in the field of Gestalt Psychotherapy. EAPTI-GPTIM and its programmes are recognised both nationally and at a European level. The Institute offers various stepping stones within the processes of learning gestalt psychotherapy. The most basic is the Post-Graduate Certificate Programme, which supports an enriching experiential process of self-growth and personal development embedded in gestalt theoretical concepts. The reality today, is that students graduating from the Master in Gestalt Psychotherapy will have all the requirements established in the Psychotherapy Act to be in a position to register with the official Board of the Psychotherapy Profession in order to be officially recognised as an autonomous warranted Psychotherapist. At the end of the course they may also register for European certification with the European Association for Psychotherapists. Several other accredited programmes supporting psychotherapists to further specialize in their areas of interest, such as working with children and adolescents, working with organisations, and providing supervision also exist. This is the picture at present. It is clear, supported, and solid. 


The story, however, that led up to where we are today, is complex, rich, and did not come about without big challenges and struggles. The history of psychotherapy in the island of Malta, as in every other beginning, has been hard and long. Where we are currently, is the result and the fruit of hard work both from our end and also from the Maltese Government’s side who, through various Public Service officials, liaised with us, challenged us, discussed with us, confronted us, coordinated with us and paved our way. Doubtlessly, my students, my colleagues, other people directly or indirectly involved in the initiation and establishment of Gestalt Psychotherapy, and myself, have engaged in these processes with excitement, trust and endurance that kept us all going.


Establishing our identity and internal structure

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. This was a time, in the USA, in Europe and in Malta when there was hardly any commitment to any training body who issued certificates recognising the post-graduate professional qualification. Rather, we were given certificates that simply confirmed the enhancement of previously acquired knowledge. Gestalt therapy as a taught psychotherapeutic modality was still in its very initial stages back then, one which was very applied and experiential, yet with very little academic structure or support.


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, 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, I guess partly with a sense of humour and maybe with a half-truth in it, saying: “who knows, maybe one day you will come to Malta!” Who would have told me, at that time, that not only would I come to Malta but also thatIwill have initiated and established a Gestalt Institute here.

In a few months I was in Malta. I moved to the island with my family and settled here.

I met 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 it was through them that I got a clearer picture of the professional status of psychology and psychotherapy on the island at that time. I also had the honour and 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 applying their training and experience in Gestalt Therapy in their 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 many professionals working as psychotherapists who were presenting other schools of psychotherapy and were trained abroad. Moving over to Malta in 1994 opened up my search 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. My dream in Malta had become to find a way to initiate this training on the island. Gradually I found a way to continue the process of the Gestalt Studio Belgrade, even during the huge challenges of the war, while also setting up a new institute in Malta. 

I remember, I had received a lot of support from two persons – Mr Joe Gerada and Mr Frank Mifsud, who were leading figures in Aġenzija 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 Aġenzija Sedqa.

At the Gestalt Psychotherapy Training Institute of Malta, which later came to be known as EAPTI-GPTIM, the first training sessions were with small groups. I remember the very first group 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 GPTIM. That made them the first Gestalt Psychotherapists to be ‘born’ in Malta. Soon after the initiation of 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 at CANA in Floriana, Malta. 

The beginning of our activities as a training institute was encouraged and supported by other Gestalt Institutes outside the country, particularly by the Istituto di Gestalt H.C.C. in Siracusa, Sicily who hosted us there for training activities. In addition, trainers from other foreign Institutes would come and teach us here. By reaching out and by receiving knowledge, experience, competences and support, we were helped in strengthening the identity of our Institute. 


The respect towards Gestalt Psychotherapy and towards our Institute grew. Those who came to give training over the years, included leading figures in Gestalt Psychotherapy. We have had, amongst others, 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 Psychotherapy in Malta. It occurred in a not-so-defined field, both nationally and internationally. 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, was the emergence and establishment of its own identity. Initially, most of our energy was directed inwardly, towards the organisation, meaning that the focus was on how to achieve goals within GPTIM requiring careful and continuous tailoring and realising of the programme in practice. 


Establishing ourselves in relation to others

The experience of this second phase was somehow exciting, painful, anxious, and confusing but yet successful in the fight for the identity of Gestalt Psychotherapy in Malta.

We entered into this second phase of development when the number of Gestalt Therapists who finished their training at the GPTIM grew enough 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. On one hand, I was constantly involved in improving our programme and in a parallel process I had to work for recognition. 


At the time I carried a huge sense of responsibility towards students who finished the Gestalt course to have official weight to their post-graduate diploma. My search continued everywhere, in various countries, in order to find this more refined recognition which would give credibility to our students in Malta and abroad. It was a time when psychotherapy was not recognised as an autonomous profession, and many psychotherapists were being employed for the graduate level training rather than for the post-graduate programme which they had completed. Malta did not yet have the structure to support the academic and professional/practitioner process that we had arrived at. National structures such as the NCFHE and the necessary legislations to support psychotherapy did not yet exist, so the professional function and personality was unclear, vague, unsupported, notwithstanding the many hours and years invested by students in this process.


As the strong need was felt, our impetus and energy shifted towards connecting outwardly, in the field, in order to define our identity in relation to other training institutes, agencies, politics, administration and public information. Gestalt Therapists in collaboration with other Psychotherapists organised an association for psychotherapy, later called the Malta Association for Psychotherapy (MAP) in 1999 inaugurated by the Minister of Health and the EAP Secretary General, becoming soon after the National Umbrella Organisation within the EAP. 

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. In 2003, the first European Certificate of Psychotherapy was, for the first time, given to nine psychotherapists in Malta presided over by Professor Serge Ginger, Registrar of EAP and the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Social Policy Hon. Lawrence Gonzi.


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 standardizing gestalt psychotherapy training in Malta. Later, however, this belonging became part of the support system that Gestalt Therapists in Malta have today.

This process did not only impact the political development of Gestalt Psychotherapy in Malta but also influenced the academic part and structure of our training curriculum. 


During this time, the change in structure and curriculum was taking place at an ongoing pace. There was a shift towards fine-tuning the training programme with the training standards of the EAP and the EAGT. Also, at the time, we moved the training programme into a different orientation under the influence of the late Kenneth Evans, and his wife Joanna Evans, from the Scarborough Psychotherapy Training Institute who from 2005 became visiting lecturer at 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 within. Some became associate teachers in the school such as Joyce Sciberras M.A., Dr Joan Camilleri, Melissa Portelli MA, Dr Greta Darmanin Kissaun, Dr Denise Borg and others. The clinical practice which was and still is a core part of the training programme established its development as well. At the time, under the guidance of Dr Joan Camilleri, students could carry out placements 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 became more defined especially through the significant contribution of the Gestalt Therapists in the Maltese society which is now a felt experience.


It was during this time that the Institute began offering further training, for psychotherapists, in areas of specialisation, including working with children and young people, run in collaboration with the Scarborough Training Institute and Gestalt Institute of Cleveland and or specialising in working with organisations. 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 do 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.


As from 2007 several Gestalt Therapists completed 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, pushing the profession to an even higher level of qualification towards further recognition in the field. 


In addition, GPTIM continued its direct co-operating and sharing of the same programme with four other countries and namely Serbia, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia further strengthening the networking amongst foreign institutes.


A significant year was 2005, where, through the hard work of the MAP, Psychotherapy began to be regulated under the Health Care Professions Act. This meant that gestalt psychotherapists could now register with the Council of Professions Complementary to Medicine (CPCM) within the Ministry of Health. This was the same year, in which the EAP and EAGT established procedures to begin issuing European Certificates for Institutes who fulfilled their criteria. After a long process of checks, investigations and interviewing as part of quality assurance, EAPTI-GPTIM was officially accredited in this same year, 2005. This accreditation, with the constant support of various colleagues, particularly Bertram Muller, Ken Evans, Joyce Sciberras and Katya Caruana, brought a lot of stability in the whole school and brought peace in me. 


In the years that followed, gestalt psychotherapists began to be seen as relevant professionals, their work and competence started to be seen as something that made a difference with the clients and agencies with which they intervened. This was very much an inspiration for the further development, which we are experiencing now. 

2012 to today  

Experiencing ourselves as autonomous and supported in an ever-changing field

In 2012, the National Commission for Further and Higher Education (NCFHE) in Malta was officially launched upon the revised Education Act, which came into force that year. This meant that after a few years of safety and the feeling that everything was established and clear for students and colleagues, with respect to recognition and acknowledgment, EAPTI-GPTIM was once again facing a new challenge, that of accrediting the Institute itself together with all the programmes offered, on a national level. Parallel to this, soon after the process begun, the MAP was working harder on pushing for a new Act to regulate psychotherapists, as separate and autonomous to the Health Care Professions Act. 


It soon became evident that if this was to happen, psychotherapists would have to have a Master level training in order to register and become warranted psychotherapists. This required tailoring, accrediting and offering both an upgrade programme for all gestalt psychotherapists and simultaneously reforming the previous Diploma Programme into a Master Programme. Together with the help of my colleagues Misa Avramovic and Mikela Smith La Rosa, we began the thorough process of accreditation, so that in 2014, EAPTI-GPTIM was nationally licensed as a Higher Education Institution (2014-FHI-020) by the NCFHE and also began to offer the first accredited Master in Gestalt Psychotherapy programme.


Since then, the EAPTI-GPTIM staff have been joined and supported by Fr. Paul Formosa and our two teachers, Rose Galea and Mikela Smith La Rosa who brought new ideas and strategies to our institute and who currently co-ordinate the clinical placements in various settings, such as Caritas, Richmond Foundation, Dar Kenn Għal Saħħtek, Victim Support Malta, Rise, YMCA, amongst others. Someone who was and is of great support for me personally and for students in all these years is Katya Caruana. We are assisted with numerous graduated and accredited therapists and supervisors, so essential for the training of our students. 


Today, the EAPTI-GPTIM community has grown to over 100 graduated psychotherapists and
currently about 60 students are following our programmes, offered from three accredited premises in St. Julian’s, Kappara, and Fgura, Malta.


We recently started an ongoing international and interdisciplinary project by organizing a professional Congress every two years, in different countries, where we present research and development of theory and practice in the field of Gestalt therapy and related fields. In 2016, we published the 1st Volume of our journal Gestalt Today, Malta: International Interdisciplinary Journal in the Field of Psychotherapy which we aim to keep on publishing regularly. There are also, several Gestalt Training Centers-Schools on the territory of ex-Yugoslavia of which I am the Founding Member and part of their academic staff. These Centers and Institutes are led by my ex-students, now, for a long time, my colleagues. They are now teachers, supervisors, and they teach Gestalt psychotherapy competently to new students all around the world, here in Malta as well. The personal-professional relationship developed was one of the few effective ways to support and address the psychological needs of hundreds of thousands of civilians traumatized by war, fostering a collaboration that was a critical human and professional lifeline.


The academic collaboration between EAPTI-GPTIM and its partner Gestalt Institutes around Europe has grown over the years to become a major provider and guarantor of high-quality professional traineeship and supervised practice of Gestalt Psychotherapy, with a particular focus in Malta and some Balkan countries. As the need was being felt to constitute this networking formally, Dr Sandro Spiteri played an important role in the formalisation of the Network of Gestalt institutes under the guidance of EAPTI-GPTIM, into the EAPTI-GPTIM Network (EGN). The EGN is now a transnational partnership with an educational-professional function. 


Apart from strong collaboration in provision, the institutes in EGN collaborate to ensure that training and professional practice is maintained at EAGT and EAP standards. In the context of an ongoing collaborative dialogue with the EGN partners, EAPTI-GPTIM has the overall responsibility for ensuring that teaching and training standards are maintained, and that the development, implementation and review of the Gestalt courses accredited by the NCFHE remains in line with NCFHE standards and with quality assurance matters.


While writing, I see how deeply connected our gestalt community is and how it has grown and developed over the years. I would like to use this opportunity to express my gratitude to all those who in some way were involved or contributed to the development of Gestalt Psychotherapy towards becoming what it is today. 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.


All persons who have partaken in these complex, challenging yet exciting process are of great support for me through this journey of deep human understanding and healing. Together, we, build and create the same ground on which all this work continues to exist.

Lidija Pecotić

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