Vittorio Guidano: The Self That Experiences Life

Guidano's therapy suggests that childhood experiences dictate adult life. Find out more here.
Vittorio Guidano: The Self That Experiences Life

Last update: 04 January, 2023

The Italian neuropsychiatrist, Vittorio Guidano, developed a therapeutic approach that was drawn from two clear influences. These were Piaget’s evolutionary theory and Bowlby’s attachment theory. Guidano’s therapy was of a post-rationalist nature. He claimed that the human being has two facets: an I that experiences the facts and a me that tries to explain them.

In this double process of experimentation and explanation of the facts, Guidano claimed that the individual builds their knowledge, consisting of their identity and self.

The construction of knowledge according to Guidano

For this author, the acquisition of knowledge was influenced by two aspects

  • The social context in which we grow up. As humans, our capacity for social learning, compared to that of other species, is extremely impressive. For instance, in childhood, we spend an enormous amount of time observing what others do, thus inferring many of the rules by which we’ll be governed in the future.
  • We build the meaning of what happens around us following the principles of order and coherence. Our vision of the world constitutes a whole that we’ve built by joining pieces that fit onto their edges. This union constitutes a personal milestone, since the shape of its edges is loaded with subjectivity. It involves extremely personal work, influenced by the order in which we’ve exposed ourselves to these experiences, but also by their theme.

The way we behave with ourselves and with others is learned in early childhood, through our parents.

boy with a magnifying glass
The way parents relate to each other, to their children, and to others acts as a reference for them. It’s how the child forms their first ‘internal working models’.

The self that experiences life: organizations of personal meanings

Giving meaning is equivalent to actively processing the environment. In addition, all knowledge is self-referential. We appropriate the facts from our histories. Then, we turn them into new elements that feed our stories.

For this reason, our identities are constantly evolving, with new parts emerging and others withering. Indeed, we make new interpretations of what happens to us and incorporate new experiences. In effect, we rebuild our lives with each memory.

Personal Meaning Organizations (PMO) are the result of this reconstruction. They’re the integration of the psychological and emotional processes that have been created throughout the life history of each individual. They’re flexible and constantly changing. However, they’re also stable because they’re integrated and have temporal continuity.

PMOs are ways in which we perceive our reality. They include explanations and emotions.

When do psychological disorders appear?

Psychological disorders appear when the me that tries to explain the facts doesn’t recognize the I that experiences them. Vittorio Guidano identified four types of problematic PMOs:

  • Depressive. They’re characterized by presenting a negative self-concept and anticipation of loss. These people have an avoidant attachment style.
  • Phobic. They’re characterized by a positive self-concept, but with a constant perception of danger. These individuals learned an attachment pattern that prevented exploratory behaviors.
  • Obsessive. The individual’s vision of themselves is ambivalent. They’re constantly searching for certainty because their attachment pattern is mixed. There’s both avoidance and coercion.
  • Eating Disorder. Psychogenic eating disorders (basically, anorexia and bulimia nervosa). The self-concept that these individuals present is usually ambiguous. In effect, they’re constantly searching for acceptance. Their self-concept responds to a contradictory attachment style, in which appearance was rewarded at the detriment of support for the child.

None of us have access to absolute certainty. Therefore, it’s essential to learn to deal with the absence of knowledge, or with the doubts that the knowledge that we possess generates in us. Likewise, it’s important for a therapist to teach their clients to tolerate uncertainty. Indeed, life is uncertain much of the time.

Patient in psychological therapy
The Moviola technique is used in Guidano’s therapy. With this method, the patient learns to self-observe

The Moviola technique

Guidano’s therapy sought to make people change through the process of self-observation. This is achieved through the Moviola technique. The technique allows the client to reconstruct a certain event in their life. Then, as if it were a movie, they remember the sequence of events that constituted it.

The psychologist acts like a film editor. They can move forward, backward, or zoom in to obtain a more detailed view of a particular scene and analyze it better. The objectives of this technique are to:

  • Rebuild the experience and nourish it with new details.
  • Make an analysis of the emotions that were experienced. Also, to analyze the evaluations and interpretations that were present when those emotions were felt.

Thus, for the first time, the client puts themselves in the shoes of the character they used to be, to relive the scene again, but paying attention to the new details. Then, they do it again. However, in this instance, they become an observer trying to understand how and why the character felt that way.

“The objective pursued by Guidano’s therapy is to reorder and reinterpret the relational experiences of the person to help change the point of view they have about themselves (their identity).”


The objective of the therapy

The main objective of the therapy is that the client develops more flexible ways of describing themselves. Moreover, they reassess the emotions they felt, along with their thoughts at the time.

Reviewing life from an external position of an observer is like someone looking at a huge forest through binoculars. In fact, they can form new interpretations, reorder their experiences, and distance themselves from them, detracting their focus from any emotions that might cloud their view.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Morejón, A. R. (2019). Manual de psicoterapias: Teoría y técnicas. Herder Editorial.
  • Ruiz, A. J., & Gómez, D. L. (2017). Breve descripción del Modelo Cognitivo Posracionalista de Vittorio Guidano y su presencia actual en escenarios de la psicología en Antioquia. Poiésis, (32), 53-66.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.