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Famous Psychologists - Fritz Pearls

Famous Psychologists: Fritz Perls

Famous Psychologists - Fritz Pearls

Fritz Perls is the founder of Gestalt therapy.  Fritz Perls is also know for his work with dreams.  Perls believed that characters and objects in our dreams are in fact projections of ourselves. They are in fact parts of our personality that we do not accept or acknowledge as well as our view of others.

Fritz Perls

The following has been adapted from the Wikipedia website.

Fritz Perls was a German psychoanalyst who fled with his wife Lore to South Africa to escape Nazi oppression.  After the war the couple emigrated to New York City, which had become by the late 1940s and early 1950s, a center of intellectual, artistic, and political experimentation.

The seminal work was Gestalt Therapy: Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality, published in 1951; co-authored by Fritz Perls, Paul Goodman, and Ralph Hefferline.  As it turns out, most of the original part II of the book was written by Paul Goodman from the notes of Fritz Perls, and contains the meat of the theory. It was supposed to go first. The publishers decided that Part II, written by Hefferline, fit more into the nascent self-help ethos of the day, and made it Part I, making for a less interesting introduction to the theory. Isadore From, a leading early theorist of Gestalt Therapy, taught Part II for an entire year to his students, going through it phrase by phrase.

Gestalt therapy had a variety of psychological and philosophical influences, and in addition was a response to the social forces of its day. It is a therapeutic approach which is holistic (mind/body/culture) present-centered, and related to existential therapy in its emphasis on personal responsibility for action, and on the valuing of the I-thou relationship in therapy. (In fact, its creators considered calling Gestalt Therapy existential-phenomenological therapy.) "The I and thou in the Here and Now," was one Gestalt therapist's semi-humorous mantra.

The objective of Gestalt Therapy, in addition to helping the client overcome symptoms, is to enable the her-him to become more fully and creatively alive and to be free from the blocks and unfinished issues which may diminish optimum satisfaction, fulfillment, and growth. Thus, it falls in the category of humanistic psychotherapies.

Gestalt therapy (GT) has its roots in psychoanalysis. It was part of a continuum moving from the early work of Sigmund Freud to the later Freudian ego analysis, to Wilhelm Reich and his notion of character armor. To this was added the insights of academic gestalt psychology about perception, gestalt formation and the tendency of organisms to complete the incomplete gestalt, to form "wholes" in experience.

Fritz Perls co-founded the first Gestalt Institute in New York City in 1952.  In the 1960s Perls became infamous for his public workshops at Esalen Institute in Big Sur. When Fritz Perls left New York City for California, there began to be a split between those who saw Gestalt Therapy as a therapeutic approach with great potential (this view was best represented by Isadore From, who practiced and taught mainly in New York, and by the members of the Cleveland Institute, co-founded by From) and those who saw Gestalt Therapy not just as a therapeutic modality but as a way of life. The East Coast, New York-Cleveland axis was often appalled by the notion of Gestalt Therapy leaving the consulting room and becoming a way-of-life (see Gestalt prayer) in the West Coast of the 1960s.  The split continues between what has been called "East Coast" GT and "West Coast" GT.

In 1969 Fritz Perls left the USA to start a Gestalt community at Lake Cowichan on Vancouver Island, Canada. He died almost a year later on 14th March 1970 in Chicago.

Although Gestalt Therapy reached its zenith in the late 1970s and early 1980s and has since waned in popularity, its contributions have become assimilated into current schools of therapy, sometimes in unlikely places. For example, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) shares much from Gestalt Therapy yet is considered to be a cognitive behavioral approach.  Also, mindfulness is a buzzword as of 2006, yet much of mindfulness work is connected to Gestalt Therapy's emphasis on the flow of experience and awareness. You won't see too much emphasis on Gestalt Therapy in clinical psychology programs in the US, however there are Gestalt institutes all over the world, including Asia and the South Pacific.

Gestalt Therapy is a very useful process for therapists-in-training of any persuasion because of its focus on the person of the therapist, barriers to full contact with others, self-awareness. And graduate students still seem to seek it out, even though it is not as recognized by the establishment as it once was.

Additional Information

For more information about Fritz Perls and mental health treatment, please click on the websites listed below.

Gestalt Institute of Cleveland
Gestalt International Study Center
The Association for the Advancement of Gestalt Therapy
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