Fritz Perls

Last updated
Fritz Perls
Fritz Perls.jpg
Born(1893-07-08)July 8, 1893
DiedMarch 14, 1970(1970-03-14) (aged 76)
Known forCoining term: Gestalt Therapy
Spouse(s) Laura Perls
Scientific career
Fields Psychiatry, psychotherapy
Influences Wilhelm Reich, Kurt Lewin, Jacob L. Moreno, Otto Rank, Gestalt Psychology

Friedrich (Frederick) Salomon Perls (July 8, 1893 – March 14, 1970), better known as Fritz Perls, was a German-born psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and psychotherapist. Perls coined the term 'Gestalt therapy' to identify the form of psychotherapy that he developed with his wife, Laura Perls, in the 1940s and 1950s. Perls became associated with the Esalen Institute in 1964, and he lived there until 1969.

Contents

The core of the Gestalt Therapy process is enhanced awareness of sensation, perception, bodily feelings, emotion, and behavior, in the present moment. Relationship is emphasized, along with contact between the self, its environment, and the other.

Life

Fritz Perls was born in Berlin, Germany, in 1893. Perls grew up on the bohemian scene in Berlin, participated in Expressionism and Dadaism, and experienced the turning of the artistic avant-garde toward the revolutionary left. Deployment to the front line, the trauma of war, anti-Semitism, intimidation, escape, and the Holocaust are further key sources of biographical influence.

He was expected to practice law, following his distinguished uncle Herman Staub, but instead he studied medicine. Perls joined the German Army during World War I, and spent time in the trenches. After the war in 1918 he returned to his medical studies graduating two years later, specializing in neuropsychiatry as a medical doctor, and then became an assistant to Kurt Goldstein, who worked with brain injured soldiers. Perls gravitated toward psychoanalysis.

In 1927 Fritz Perls became a member of Wilhelm Reich's technical seminars in Vienna. Reich's concept of character analysis influenced Perls to a large extent. [1] :205ff And in 1930 Reich became Perls' supervising senior analyst in Berlin. [2]

In 1930 Fritz Perls married Laura Perls (born, Lore Posner), and they had two children together, Renate and Stephen. In 1933, soon after the Hitler regime came to power, being of Jewish descent, and because of their anti-fascist political activities in the time before, [1] :292 Fritz Perls, Laura, and their eldest child Renate fled to the Netherlands, and one year later they emigrated to South Africa, where Fritz Perls started a psychoanalytic training institute. In 1936 he had a brief and unsatisfactory meeting with Freud. [1] :211

In 1942 Fritz Perls joined the South African army, and he served as an army psychiatrist with the rank of captain until 1946. While in South Africa, Perls was influenced by the "holism" of Jan Smuts. During this period Fritz Perls co-wrote his first book, Ego, Hunger, and Aggression (published in 1942 and re-published in 1947). Laura Perls wrote two chapters of the book, although when it was re-published in the United States she was not given any recognition for her work. [3]

Fritz and Laura Perls left South Africa in 1946 and ended up in New York City, where Fritz Perls worked briefly with Karen Horney, and Wilhelm Reich. After living through a peripatetic episode, during which he lived in Montreal and served as a cruise ship psychiatrist, Perls finally settled in Manhattan. Perls wrote his second book with the assistance of New York intellectual and author, Paul Goodman, who drafted the theoretical second part of the book based upon Perls' hand-written notes. Perls and Goodman were influenced by the work of Kurt Lewin and Otto Rank. Along with the experiential first part, written with Ralph Hefferline, the book was entitled Gestalt Therapy and published in 1951.

Thereafter, Fritz and Laura Perls started the first Gestalt Institute in their Manhattan apartment. Fritz Perls began traveling throughout the United States in order to conduct Gestalt workshops and training. [4]

In 1960 Fritz Perls left Laura Perls behind in Manhattan and moved to Los Angeles, where he practiced in conjunction with Jim Simkin. He started to offer workshops at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, in 1963. Perls became interested in Zen during this period, and incorporated the idea of mini-satori (a brief awakening) into his practice. He also traveled to Japan, where he stayed in a Zen monastery.

Eventually, he settled at Esalen, and even built a house on the grounds. One of his students at Esalen was Dick Price, who developed Gestalt Practice, based in large part upon what he learned from Perls. [5] At Esalen, Perls collaborated with Ida Rolf, founder of Rolfing Structural Integration, to address the relationship between the mind and the body. [2] [6]

Perls has been widely cited outside the realm of psychotherapy for a quotation often described as the "Gestalt prayer":

I do my thing and you do your thing.

I am not in this world to live up to your expectations,
and you are not in this world to live up to mine.
You are you, and I am I,
and if by chance we find each other, it's beautiful.
If not, it can't be helped.

Fritz Perls, Gestalt Therapy Verbatim, 1969

In 1969 Perls left Esalen and started a Gestalt community at Lake Cowichan on Vancouver Island, Canada.

Fritz Perls died of heart failure in Chicago, on March 14, 1970, after heart surgery at the Louis A. Weiss Memorial Hospital. [7]

Reception

Perls' approach to therapy was included in criticism by Jeffrey Masson, [8] a psychoanalyst who feuded with journalists [9] and with the psychoanalytic community generally over his controversial theories disputing the effectiveness of psychotherapy. [10] Masson said that Perls was sexist, as well as physically and emotionally abusive towards women in his private life. [8] Masson quoted Perls from his autobiography, In and Out the Garbage Pail, where Perls wrote: [2]

Once I was called to a group to calm down a girl who attacked everyone in the group physically. The group members tried to hold her and to calm her down. In vain. Again and again she got up and fought. When I came in she charged with her head down into my belly and nearly knocked me over: Then I let her have it until I had her on the floor. Up she came again. And then a third time. I got her down again and said, gasping: "I've beaten up more than one bitch in my life." Then she got up, threw her arms around me: "Fritz, I love you." Apparently she finally got what, all her life, she was asking for.

And there are thousands of women like her in the States. Provoking and tantalizing, bitching, irritating their husbands and never getting their spanking. You don't have to be a Parisian prostitute to need that so as to respect your man. A Polish saying is: "My husband lost interest in me, he never beats me any more."

Therapist Barry Stevens, who met Fritz Perls for the first time in 1967, described a different impression of him. She wrote: "... I know that Fritz doesn't like his arrogance, and along with it, he has such a beautiful humility." [11] :26 And later she said: "Fritz is almost always a very warm and gentle old gentleman now." [11] :186

Stevens also described another incident from a group therapy session: "... Fritz Perls asked us all a question and waited for answers. ... I said nothing. He said 'Barry?' 'I'm blank," I said. He nodded and went on to someone or something else. How nice to have my blankness easily accepted." [12]

Erving Polster, psychologist and Gestalt therapist, founding faculty member of the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland in 1953, said about Fritz Perls: “From Fritz I got the realization that a person could have incredible range in characteristics. I could experience Fritz as the most cutting and as the most tender of all people.” [13]

Selected publications

Related Research Articles

Claudio Naranjo Chilean psychiatrist and author

Claudio Benjamín Naranjo Cohen was a Chilean-born psychiatrist of Arabic/Moorish, Spanish and Jewish descent who is considered a pioneer in integrating psychotherapy and the spiritual traditions. He was one of the three successors named by Fritz Perls, a principal developer of Enneagram of Personality theories and a founder of the Seekers After Truth Institute. He was also an elder statesman of the US and global human potential movement and the spiritual renaissance of the late 20th century. He was the author of various books.

Esalen Institute non-profit American retreat center in California

The Esalen Institute, commonly called Esalen, is a non-profit American retreat center and intentional community in Big Sur, California, which focuses on humanistic alternative education. The Institute played a key role in the Human Potential Movement beginning in the 1960s. Its innovative use of encounter groups, a focus on the mind-body connection, and their ongoing experimentation in personal awareness introduced many ideas that later became mainstream.

Gestalt theoretical psychotherapy is a method of psychotherapy based strictly on Gestalt psychology. Its origins go back to the 1920s when Gestalt psychology founder Max Wertheimer, Kurt Lewin and their colleagues and students started to apply the holistic and systems theoretical Gestalt psychology concepts in the field of psychopathology and clinical psychology Many developments in psychotherapy in the following decades drew from these early beginnings, like e.g. group psychoanalysis, Gestalt therapy, or Katathym-imaginative Psychotherapy. In Europe Gestalt theoretical psychotherapy in its own right has been initiated and formulated on this basis by the German Gestalt psychologist and psychotherapist Hans-Jürgen P. Walter and his colleagues in Germany and Austria. Walter, a student of Gestalt psychologist Friedrich Hoeth, was influenced to form the core of his theoretical concept on the basis of the work of Gestalt theorists Max Wertheimer, Wolfgang Köhler, Kurt Koffka, Kurt Lewin, and Wolfgang Metzger. Walter's first publication on Gestalt theoretical psychotherapy came out in 1977 Gestalttheorie und Psychotherapie, which is now on its third edition (1994). The majority of the extensive literature on Gestalt theoretical psychotherapy which has been published in the decades since then is in the German language. However, Walter's articles Cognitive Behavior Therapy and Gestalt-Theoretical Psychotherapy and What do Gestalt therapy and Gestalt theory have to do with each other? have been published also in English, as well as Gerhard Stemberger's more recent introductory article Diagnostics in Gestalt Theoretical Psychotherapy.

Gestalt therapy is a form of psychotherapy which emphasizes personal responsibility, and focuses upon the individual's experience in the present moment, the therapist–client relationship, the environmental and social contexts of a person's life, and the self-regulating adjustments people make as a result of their overall situation. It was developed by Fritz Perls, Laura Perls and Paul Goodman in the 1940s and 1950s, and was first described in the 1951 book Gestalt Therapy.

Barry Stevens (1902–1985) was a writer and Gestalt therapist. She developed her own form of Gestalt therapy body work, based on the awareness of body processes. For the Human Potential Movement of the 1970s, she became a kind of "star", but she always refused to accept that role.

In psychoanalysis, introjection is the process by which the subject replicates behaviors, attributes, or other fragments of the surrounding world, especially of other subjects. It is considered a self-stabilizing defense mechanism used when there is a lack of full psychological contact between a child and the adults providing that child's psychological needs. Here, it provides the illusion of maintaining relationship but at the expense of a loss of self. Cognate concepts are identification, incorporation, and internalization. To use a simple example, a person who picks up traits from his or her friends is introjecting.

Laura Perls was a noted German-born psychologist and psychotherapist who helped establish the Gestalt school of psychotherapy. She is the wife of Friedrich (Frederick) Perls, also a renowned psychotherapist and psychiatrist.

Dick Price American therapist

Richard "Dick" Price was co-founder of the Esalen Institute in 1962 and a veteran of the Beat Generation. He ran Esalen in Big Sur for many years, sometimes virtually single-handed. He developed a practice of hiking the Santa Lucia Mountains and developed a new form of personal integration and growth that he called Gestalt Practice, partly based upon Gestalt therapy and Buddhist practice.

Ralph Franklin Hefferline was a psychology professor at Columbia University.

Steve Andreas was an American psychotherapist and author specializing in Neuro-linguistic programming.

Jim Simkin American psychologist

James Solomon Simkin was an early seminal figure in the history of Gestalt Therapy.

Elsa Gindler was a somatic bodywork pioneer in Germany.

Organismic theories in psychology are a family of holistic psychological theories which tend to stress the organization, unity, and integration of human beings expressed through each individual's inherent growth or developmental tendency. The idea of an explicitly "organismic theory" dates at least back to the publication of Kurt Goldstein's The organism: A holistic approach to biology derived from pathological data in man in 1934. Organismic theories and the "organic" metaphor were inspired by organicist approaches in biology. The most direct influence from inside psychology comes from gestalt psychology. This approach is often contrasted with mechanistic and reductionist perspectives in psychology.

The "Gestalt prayer" is a 56-word statement by psychotherapist Fritz Perls that is taken as a classic expression of Gestalt therapy as a way of life model of which Dr. Perls was a founder.

Charlotte Selver was a German music educator.

Gestalt Practice

Gestalt Practice is a contemporary form of personal exploration and integration developed by Dick Price at the Esalen Institute. The objective of the practice is to become more fully aware of the process of living within a unified field of body, mind, relationship, earth and spirit.

Violet Solomon Oaklander is a child and adolescent therapist known for her method of integrating Gestalt Therapy theory and practice with play therapy.

Mary Henle was an American psychologist who's known most notably for her contributions to Gestalt Psychology and for her involvement in the American Psychological Association. Henle also taught at the New School of Social Research in New York; she was involved in the writing of eight book publications and also helped develop the first psychology laboratory manual in 1948 based on the famous works of Kurt Lewin.

Joseph Zinker Jewish-American therapist (b. 1934)

Joseph Chaim Zinker is a therapist who has contributed to the growth and development of Gestalt theory and also Gestalt methodology. He co-founded the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland.

Miriam Polster was a clinical psychologist who was raised in Cleveland, Ohio, United States of America. Polster had an interest in music, which happened to be her undergraduate major and a subject she integrated into her work. Once reaching graduate school, she became an advocate for Gestalt therapy; a therapy aimed towards self-awareness. Polster was the co-founder of The Gestalt Training Centre. Polster was the co-author of two novels, and the sole author of Eve’s Daughters. Miriam Polster died due to cancer, in 2001.

References

  1. 1 2 3 Bocian, Bernd (2007). Fritz Perls in Berlin 1893–1933: Expressionismus–Psychoanalyse–Judentum. Eine Edition des Gestalt-Instituts Köln / GIK Bildungswerkstatt. Wuppertal: Peter Hammer Verlag. ISBN   9783779500865. OCLC   213389953.
  2. 1 2 3 Perls, Frederick S. (1969). In and Out the Garbage Pail. Lafayette, Calif.: Real People Press. ISBN   0911226044. OCLC   55257.
  3. Wysong, Joe; Rosenfeld, Edward (1982). An Oral History of Gestalt Therapy: Interviews with Laura Perls, Isadore From, Erving Polster, Miriam Polster. Highland, NY: Gestalt Journal. ISBN   0939266024. OCLC   9281232.
  4. "Frederick Perls – A Life Chronology". www.gestalt.org.
  5. "Esalen Founders - Esalen". www.esalen.org.
  6. Claire, Thomas (1995). Bodywork: What Type of Massage to Get and How to Make the Most of It . William Morrow and Co. pp.  40–56. ISBN   9781591202325.
  7. "Dr. Frederick Perls, 76, Dead; Devised Gestalt Psychotherapy". The New York Times. March 17, 1970.
  8. 1 2 Masson, Jeffrey M. (1988). Against Therapy: Emotional Tyranny and the Myth of Psychological Healing . Common Courage Press. ISBN   1567510221. OCLC   17618782.
  9. Margolick, David (3 November 1984). "Psychoanalyst Loses Libel Suit Against a New Yorker Reporter". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 November 2018.
  10. Blumenthal, Ralph (24 January 1984). "Freud: Secret Documents Reveal Years of Strife". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 November 2018.
  11. 1 2 Stevens, Barry (1970). Don't Push the River (It Flows by Itself). Lafayette, Calif.: Real People Press. ISBN   0911226060. OCLC   98912.
  12. Stevens, Barry (1984). Burst Out Laughing. Berkeley, Calif.: Celestial Arts. p. 90. ISBN   0890874107. OCLC   14239529.
  13. Wysong, Joe / Rosenfeld, Edward (eds.): “An Oral History of Gestalt Therapy”, Highland, New York, 1982, p. 49.

Further reading