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Fritz Perls

Fritz Perls - the founder of Gestalt therapy

Frederick or Friedrich Salomon Perls (July 8 1893, Berlin - March 14 1970, Chicago) entered the history as Fritz Perls, a famous psychiatrist and psychotherapist. He was a Jew born in Germany, who developed absolutely new approach in psychotherapy. According to this theory, one of the primary objectives of Gestalt therapy is the ability to restore the self-awareness which is lost when a psychological disorder becomes evident. This is accomplished by restoring the individual's ability to differentiate, which helps the individual to identify what is and what is not a true part of the self, what provides the individual with a sense of self-realization and achievement and what leads to frustration. Thanks to him the term of Gestalt therapy came into view. It is based on Gestalt psychology and Hans-Jurgen Walter's Gestalt Theory Psychotherapy. His wife Laura Perls also contributed to the development of the Gestalt psychotherapy.

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Fritz Perls Biography

Frederick Perls, Berlin, 1923 Frederick Salomon Perls (July 8 1893, Berlin – March 14, 1970, Chicago), better known as Fritz Perls, the founder of Gestalt therapy, co-founded the Gestalt school of psychotherapy with his wife and long-time collaborator, Laura.

Frederick Perls started his path of life in 1893 in Berlin. All thought that he would follow the steps of his uncle who was a lawyer, but he chose medicine. He served in the German Army for some time during the WWI. Perls began to study psychiatry, works of Willhelm Reich and Freud.


Frederick and Laura Perls - in a park outside Berlin shortly after their wedding day, 1930 He started his own family in 1930 with Lore Posner, who later became known as Laura and two children were born afterwards. Fritz and Laura Posner called them Stephen and Renate.

Hitler's regime made this family change the country and in 1933 they left for the Netherlands and then for South Africa. There in 1941 Perls wrote his book «Ego, Hunger, and Aggression», which was published a year later. Though the name of his wife was not mentioned as a co-author, but she also made her contribution to the book. From 1942 to 1946 Fritz Perls served in the South African Army as a psychiatrist. He was ranked a captain.

In 1946 the Pearls family leaves for New York. Perls worked there with such famous figures as Karen Homey and Willhelm Reich. In 1947 Gestalt therapy was published thanks to the joint efforts of Raiph Hefferline and Paul Goodman. Paul Goodman made it by request of Fritz Perls, who asked him to write down some things.

"Fritz" Perls on his first visit to the Esalen Institute in 1964 When in 1960 Perls came to California, he started active work there at Esalen Institute, located in Big Sur. There he organized seminars, workshops and training courses together with Jim Simkin. Fritz Perls produced great influence upon his pupils many of whom became famous figures in the sphere of psychiatry. Dick Price was very close to him then. Fritz Perls worked in California up the moment when he moved to Canada in 1969. There on Vancouver Island he organized a Gestalt community. This happened one year before his death in 1970 of heart failure in the hospital of Chicago.


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Career

Fritz Perls and his wife Laura Perls were the founders of new therapy and in 1952 organized Gestalt Therapy Institute in New York. Publication «Gestalt Therapy, Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality» of 1951 written by Paul Goodman, Ralph Hefferline and Fritz Perls himself was in the basis of the practice led through work on seminars. Ralph Hefferline was a Professor of Psychology in the University and a patient of Fritz Perls from time to time.

The goal of Gestalt Therapy is not limited with the task to overcome problems of the client, but to give him chance to have full life which is free from things blocking some sides of it. Uncompleted matters can reduce satisfaction, development and self-fulfillment. Gestalt therapy sets the goal to put away these blocks and become happy and free. Therefore Gestalt therapy is referred to humanistic type of phychotherapy.

One of the patients in the beginning of the Perls' work was Isadore From. Having been the patient of Fritz Perls and then his wife, Laura, he later became a trainer and also worked with some clients. He belonged to the first generation of specialists, whose opinion of Gestalt therapy affected it a lot. Isadore From produced great intellectual and philosophical influence upon Gestalt therapy. He was smart, full of wit, but did not like to write therefore no books were left after his death in 1993. He was at the age of 75 then. Isadore From was considered to be one of brightest clinicians of his time. Only some interviews of his were written down (Rosenfeld, 1978).

Jim Simkin was also a psychologist, who was a client first and later co-trained with Fritz Perls. They also led together training groups in California. It was a merit of Jim Simkin that the Perls moved to California, where Simkin tried to start a psychotherapist career.

Some notorious fame came to Perls in 1960-s when Isadore From called many days workshops, a therapy not fulfilling the goals set. He criticized the workshops for showmanship with small effect or the lack of it. But the matter is that Perls himself never considered workshops a real therapy. Simkin organized then his own training centre, having bought property near Esalen. Simkin trained counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists and even social workers in the groups up to his death in 1984. There he honed his own perception of Gestalt therapy.

The conflict between different understandings of Gestalt therapy brought to split between those who practiced Gestalt therapy. Experts assessed its potential in different way. Not only Isadore From, who taught in New York, expressed the opinion about low potential of Gestalt approach. Co-founders of Cleveland Institute also shared this view. But some looked at Gestalt like on the way of life. The core of this understanding is expressed in Gestalt prayer, written by Perls.

The main idea of it is the attention to the needs of people around and life in response to them being independent at the same time. Gestalt prayer also point out that realizing his or her needs the person can assist others to realize their needs thus establishing true contact, therefore as people «find each other, it's beautiful.»


Legacy

Gestalt therapy continued to develop with Perls and his wife Laura at the head of it in the last century. Its early stage dates back to the 60-s and 70-s and then it evolved all over the world as training centers began to appear in different countries. Such centers have nothing to do with traditional therapies and are far from academic settings. Slowly penetrating different spheres the ideas presenting Gestalt therapy began to influence minds in other spheres too and it brought to so to say cognitive revolution. So Gestalt perception entered other branches. Gestalt therapy became an applied subject in psychotherapy, in coaching, social actions and others.

Stephen Perls, a son of Frederick and Laura Perls once said that he was able to understand better the reason of inability of Gestalt therapy to address intimacy matters with any soul and the reason for focusing on strong personality and not the community for instance. He pointed out that the theory needed to grow further, that it should be subjected to revision by persons and not a development of some individual.

Gestalt therapy of Perls continues its functioning in California though it received the biggest fame in the 70-s and 80-s of the last century.

Many followers promoted the ideas of Gestalt therapy and tried to develop and use it. The most famous pupils were John Grinder and Richard Bandler, who founded NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming). The helpmate of Fritz Perls Claudio Naranjo was also one of the followers. Being close friend of Carlos Castaneda and reformist of education, he contributed much to the activity at Esalen.

Ernest Becker, an author famous all over the world, who lectured on psychology, anthropology and sociology, called Fritz Perls' idea excellent, as it shows clearly the way the things are. He called it a great contribution because this kind of awareness is really genuine.