The self-biography presented below presents the essence of Fritz Perls, the father of Gestalt Therapy. He developed a unique approach to psychotherapy, after his traditional training as a psychoanalyst in Berlin and Austria. He emphasized a phenomenological and subjective approach to therapy. He believed that people split off from the experiences, thoughts, sensations, and emotions that are uncomfortable. The splitting off creates a fragmentation of the personality. His focus was to assist people in owning their experiences and developing a healthy gestalt or wholeness.
He and his wife Laura founded Gestalt Therapy in the early 1940’s. Gestalt therapy seeks to resolve conflict and ambiguity, through providing framework, which integrates the total experience of life.
The publications of Fritz Perls present his theory, his teaching, and his experience. He contributed much to the field of psychotherapy, including moving the client off the couch, to face the therapist on equal footing. According to Perls, there are six factors causing psychological discomfort. The six factors are:
1) The lack of contact: no social support.
2) Confluence: the environment takes control.
3) Unfinished business: inability to gain closure.
4) Fragmentation: Denied or fragmented self.
5) Winner/Loser: conflict of values and expectations.
6) Polarities: never seeing gray, always black or white.
The principals of Gestalt therapy are found in most current schools of psychotherapy and provide the springboard for eclectic psychotherapy.
In 1951, the New York Institute for Gestalt was organized and located in the apartment of Laura and Fritz Perls. The Gestalt Institute of Cleveland was formed in 1955. In 1960 the first Gestalt training took place at Esalen Institute in California. The Gestalt Institute of the Rockies was founded in 1969. The legacy of Fritz Perls lives on these institutions.
The following are excerpts from the self-biography of Fritz Perls:
“1893 Time of birth. Place of birth: Berlin. Mother loving ambitious, loving the arts,
hating father. Father hating mother, loving women … In public, both friendly.
1903 Bright boy in elementary school … never heard of fractions … Dumbfounded …
Shock of failure. Confusing.
1910 Brightness lost. Hate school … Psychiatrist prescribes bromides and exercise.
Don’t believe him … confusing.
1911 Finding my world. Falling in love … What is reality? Confusing.
1913 College … Confusing.
And there is Freud. Makes much sense … Life less confusing; see possibilities.
1914 The world explodes. Life in trenches agony … Desensitized to horror of living
and horror of dying. Confusing.
1918 Survived … Confusing.
1921 M.D. Restless … Fumblingly approaching psychiatry with drugs, electrothings,
hypnosis, and talking. Confusing.
1922 Starting afresh … we: bohemians, off the beaten path … and less confused.
1925 Started seven years of couch life … misspelling Freud’s good intentions.
1927 Frankfurt, Vienna, Berlin … Became a real wisdomshitter. Confuse others.
1930 Marriage. Later two children, four grandchildren … Wife, Laura involved in
expressive movement … Mind-body relationship. Still confusing.
1934 An early refugee from the Hitler regime … I go to teach Freud’s gospel in South
Africa. Still confused.
1936 Went to Marionbad for Freudian Congress … Perhaps one day I will find the truth.
Yes. Pompous thought the truth.
1937 … The objective – subjective identity is born.
1940 … A new approach to man in his health and plight to emerge. I ceased to be an
1941 The book is finished … My confusion begins to lift …
1942 Enter the army as a psychiatrist … At first, the internists say: Behind every
neurosis is a stomach ulcer. But in the end they say: Perls you are right.
Behind the ulcer is the neurosis.
1946 … I go to the states …
1950 The awareness theory crystallizes itself. Coin the term Gestalt Therapy …
1960 Psychoanalysis begins to recede … Existential psychiatry, too, turns out to be
1962 Existence: a rose is a rose is a rose. The experienced phenomenon is the ultimate
1964 I join Esalen Institute … Esalen is as a practical center of the third wave of
1966 Gestalt Therapy begins to be known all over the states … Can we deliver the
goods? Are we to stay?”
Fritz Perls brought on a revolution in psychiatry. He provided a foundation form which humanistic and transpersonal psychology was built.
|Perls, Frederick (1947). Ego Hunger
and Aggression: A revision of Freud’s theory and
Method. G. Allen & Unwin ltd. London.
Perls, Frederick, Goodman, Paul, & Hefferline, Ralph (1951). Excitement and Growth in
Human Personality. Julian Press; New York.
Perls, Fritz (1969). Ego, Hunger and Aggression: The beginning of Gestalt Therapy.
Random House; New York.
Perls, Fritz, compiled and edited by John O. Stevens (1969). Gestalt Therapy Verbatim.
Real People Press; Lafyette, CA.
Perls, Fritz (1969). In and Out of the Garbage Pail. Real People Press; Lafayette, CA.
Perls, Fritz (1973). The Gestalt Approach and Eye Witness to Therapy. Science and
Behavior Books; Palo Alto, CA.
Perls, Fritz ( 1974). Gestalt theory. [Sound recording] Center for Cassette Studies.
Perls, Fritz (1976). The Gestalt Approach and Eye Witness to Therapy. Bantam Books;
Perls, Fritz (1990). Three Approaches to Psychotherapy. A Film Series. [Video
recording]. Produced and directed by Shostrom, Everett L. Psychological Films;
Corona del Mar, CA.
Perls, Frederick (1991). Psychiatry in a new key: a manuscript begun in the 1950’s.
International Gestalt Therapy Association 1991; Highland; New York.
Baumgarten, Patricia (1975). Gifts from Lake Cowichan: Legacy from Fritz by Fritz
Perls. Science And Behavior Books; Palo Alto, CA.
Authors, including Perls, published by Science and Behavior