Laura Perls

Last updated

Laura Perls (née Lore Posner; 15 August 1905 in Pforzheim 13 July 1990 in Pforzheim) was a noted German-born psychologist and psychotherapist who helped establish the Gestalt school of psychotherapy. She was the wife of Friedrich (Frederick) Perls, also a renowned psychotherapist and psychiatrist.



Posner was born to a wealthy family in 1905. At the age of five, she began to play piano and demonstrated professional mastery by the time she was 18. [1] Later, music and dance would be integrated into her therapy. She became interested in psychology when she was 16 (Fadiman & Frager, 2002). Like many before and after her, her interest began after reading Freud's 1899 The Interpretation of Dreams (Fadiman & Frager, 2002). When she became a psychoanalyst, she was already prepared to pursue a career as a pianist, attended law school, and completed a degree in Gestalt psychology. [1] She also obtained a doctorate in science from Frankfurt University in Germany. [2]

In 1930 she married Friedrich (Fritz) Perls. They had met while working at the Frankfurt Psychological Institute. The couple had two children, a daughter, Renate Perls, and a son, Stephen Perls, who is also a psychologist. [2]

In 1933 the Perlses had to flee Germany during the rise of Nazism. They then spent thirteen years in South Africa. It was there that the Perlses wrote their first book together, Ego, Hunger and Aggression: A Revision of Freud's Theory and Method , published in 1942. This work held the beginnings for their new theory of psychotherapy, Gestalt Therapy, which consisted of facing the client to notice his or her postures and gestures (Fadiman & Frager, 2002). The Perlses also established the South African Institute for Psychoanalysis in 1935 and Fritz worked for the South African army in the war against the Nazis. [3]

In 1951, having moved to New York, the Perlses, together with Paul Goodman and Ralph Hefferline published Gestalt Therapy: Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality. By 1952, with the help of Paul Goodman, they had established The New York Institute for Gestalt Therapy (Fadiman & Frager, 2002).

When, in the early 1960s, Fritz Perls settled into a residency at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, Laura stayed on in New York. She continued to run the original institute for nearly 30 more years, long after Fritz’s death.

Laura Perls died in 1990 due to complications with her thyroid, [2] one month before her 85th birthday. The English edition of her only book, Living at the Boundary, was published posthumously in 1992.

Related Research Articles

Psychotherapy is the use of psychological methods, particularly when based on regular personal interaction with adults, to help a person change behavior and overcome problems in desired ways. Psychotherapy aims to improve an individual's well-being and mental health, to resolve or mitigate troublesome behaviors, beliefs, compulsions, thoughts, or emotions, and to improve relationships and social skills. There is also a range of psychotherapies designed for children and adolescents, which typically involve play, such as sandplay. Certain psychotherapies are considered evidence-based for treating some diagnosed mental disorders. Others have been criticized as pseudoscience.

Gestalt psychology, gestaltism or configurationism is a school of psychology that emerged in the early twentieth century in Austria and Germany as a theory of perception that was a rejection to the basic principles of Wilhelm Wundt's and Edward Titchener's elementalist and structuralist psychology.

Fritz Perls

Friedrich (Frederick) Salomon Perls, 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.

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.

Hans-Jürgen Walter

Hans-Jürgen P. Walter is a German psychologist and psychotherapist known as one of the main founders of Gestalt Theoretical Psychotherapy. Walter studied psychology with the German Gestalt psychologists Edwin Rausch and Friedrich Hoeth, eminent representatives of the second and third generation of Gestalt theory in Germany. Gestalt Theoretical Psychotherapy GTP spread as a psychotherapeutic method in the German-speaking countries, being officially accredited as an independent scientific psychotherapy method in Austria.

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.

Clinical psychology is an integration of science, theory, and clinical knowledge for the purpose of understanding, preventing, and relieving psychologically-based distress or dysfunction and to promote subjective well-being and personal development. Central to its practice are psychological assessment, clinical formulation, and psychotherapy, although clinical psychologists also engage in research, teaching, consultation, forensic testimony, and program development and administration. In many countries, clinical psychology is a regulated mental health profession.

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.

This article is a compiled timeline of psychotherapy. A more general description of the development of the subject of psychology can be found in the History of psychology article. For related overviews see the Timeline of psychology and Timeline of psychiatry articles.

Ruth Charlotte Cohn was a psychotherapist, educator, and poet. She is best known as the creator of a method for learning in groups called theme-centered interaction (TCI). She was the founder of the Workshop Institute for Living Learning (WILL), which is known today as the Ruth Cohn Institute for TCI.


Freudo-Marxism is a loose designation for philosophical perspectives informed by both the Marxist philosophy of Karl Marx and the psychoanalytic theory of Sigmund Freud. It has a rich history within continental philosophy, beginning in the 1920s and 1930s and running since through critical theory, Lacanian psychoanalysis, and post-structuralism.

Les Greenberg is a Canadian psychologist born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and is one of the originators and primary developers of Emotion-Focused Therapy for individuals and couples. He is a professor emeritus of psychology at York University in Toronto, and also director of the Emotion-Focused Therapy Clinic in Toronto. His research has addressed questions regarding empathy, psychotherapy process, the therapeutic alliance, and emotion in human functioning.

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.

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.

Everett Leo Shostrom was a well known American psychotherapist. His approach to psychotherapy was more eclectic than was then normal integrating a wide range of theory, practice, and research. He was perhaps most well known for his film Three Approaches to Psychotherapy and his famous book Man, the Manipulator. He also produced some well known "tests" and "inventories". These include the following: the Personal Orientation Inventory, Personal Orientation Dimensions, the Pair Attraction Inventory, and the Caring Relationship Inventory.

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.


  1. 1 2 Corey, Gerald (2008). Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy, Eighth Edition. Belmont, CA: Thomson Higher Education. p. 199. ISBN   9780495102083.
  2. 1 2 3 Capuzzi, David; Stauffer, Mark (2016). Counseling and Psychotherapy: Theories and Interventions, Sixth Edition. Alexandria, VA: American Counselling Association. p. 197. ISBN   9781556203541.
  3. Nelson-Jones, Richard (2006). Theory and Practice of Counselling and Therapy, Fourth Edition. London: SAGE Publications. p. 115. ISBN   1412919789.