Fritz Perls, actually Frederic Salomon Perls (July 8, 1893 - March 14, 1970), a German psychologist and psychotherapist of Jewish origin is, without a doubt, one of the greatest psychotherapists in history. Raised by an autocratic, strict father and a mother who had very high aspirations for him, he lived torn between two beliefs:
"I'm a piece of shit" and
"I must be great and great."
This gave him the drive, led him to rebel, and made him understand the suffering of others. Let's get to know a short biography of Perls focusing on the events of key importance to his life. Let's examine the new approach to therapy and the Gestalt psychology developed by him.
Fritz Perls - A Short Biography
Despite family pressure to study law, Perls enrolled in medical university and studied medicine. The studies were interrupted by World War I. As a soldier in the German army, he fought in the trenches and experienced the horrors of the war firsthand.
After the end of the war, he brought his diploma to an end and began practicing medicine. After graduating from the Medical Academy, he also studied psychology and conducted his psychoanalysis under the tutelage of the famous Wilhelm Reich.
In 1930, he married Laura Posner. Fritz and Laura Perls had two children (Stephen and Renate) and lived a good life in Berlin. Unfortunately, in 1933 soon after Hitler's regime came to power, Perls, due to his Jewish origin, had to leave Germany and traveling through Holland with his whole family ended up in South Africa.
In 1942 he joined the South African army, where he served as a military psychiatrist and a captain. During this period Fritz Perls co-wrote his first book, Ego, Hunger, and Aggression (published in 1942).
The next chapter in his life began in 1946 when he and his wife moved to New York where Fritz worked briefly with Karen Horney, and famous psychotherapist, Wilhelm Reich. This was the period when Fritz and his wife Laura Perls developed a new form of psychotherapy and Perls coined the term "Gestalt". He was also fascinated by the theater and joined The Living Theater in New York.
He wrote his second book with the assistance of New York intellectual and author, Paul Goodman and Ralph Hefferline, a psychology professor at Columbia University. What is interesting, Goodman drafted the theoretical second part of the book based on Perls' hand-written notes, and the experiential first part was written by Hefferline. The book was entitled Gestalt Therapy and was published in 1951.
Thereafter, Fritz and Laura Perls started the first Gestalt Institute in their Manhattan apartment. Their activities however were not limited to New York. Fritz began traveling throughout the United States and conducted numerous workshops and training on freshly developed Gestalt psychology.
The third chapter of his life started in 1960 and was full of many important events - both professionally and privately. Fritz left Laura and moved to Los Angeles. He coined the Esalen Institute in 1964 where he started to offer Gestalt workshops. At Esalen Institute, among others, Perls collaborated with Ida Rolf, the founder of the Rolfing Method, to examine the relationship between the mind and the body. He also became interested in Zen during this period and traveled to Japan, where he stayed in a Zen monastery. In addition to Zen Buddhism, he also studied Taoism.
In 1969 Perls left Esalen and started a Gestalt community on Vancouver Island, Canada. There, among other activities, he hosted eight educational films on his Gestalt therapy. He died of heart failure in Chicago, on March 14, 1970, after heart surgery at the Louis A. Weiss Memorial Hospital.
Gestalt therapy, which he created, grew out of Perls's personality
Gestalt means in German: whole, figure, shape, and form. Perls took from holism the belief that man was indivisible. On the other hand, the concept of homeostasis denotes the organism's ability to maintain equilibrium in changing conditions. Every need disturbs it, and its satisfaction can be called closing the figure. When it fails, we leave the figures open. One of the goals of Gestalt therapy is to close them.
One of the most famous Perls quotes, known not only in the world of psychotherapy, is the so-called 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
Perls rejected theoretical analyses and interpretations, considering them worthless in therapy. In his opinion, therapy is not about digging up the past, but about experiencing life in the present.
Instead of asking the questions: why, where from, what for?
Perls asked: what is happening as it is?
The here and now are important. Both looking to the future and the past are far from being in real life. And while Perls no doubt understood the influence of childhood on who we are, he and existentialists made us fully responsible for our lives.
Sartre said, "It is not important what has been done to me, but what I have done myself with what has been done to me." Perls also recognizes the full human responsibility for the choices made. Neither the difficult past nor external circumstances can take it off us. One of the key messages he tried to convey was "live up to your expectations".
As a result, the Gestalt Decalogue looks like this:
Live Now - Pay attention to the present rather than the past and the future.
Live here - take care of what is present, not what is not.
Experience yourself and accept yourself as you are.
Stop thinking unnecessarily - instead, look and taste, perceive the environment as it is, and make contact with it.
Express yourself - don't manipulate, don't explain, don't justify, don't judge.
Surrender to the experience of unpleasantness and pain as you surrender to the experience of pleasure. Don't limit your awareness.
Accept no "should" except what is truly yours.
Take full responsibility for your actions, feelings, and thoughts.
Be open to change and development - be ready to experiment to meet new situations.
Be yourself and let others be themselves.
I believe that in this decalogue one can find invaluable and universal hints about the great question: HOW TO LIVE? Also in today's difficult times of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Fritz Perls - quotes, famous and less-known
Many golden thoughts from Perls deserve recognition. I would like to present my list of quotes by Fritz Perls. These quotes are wise and full of love for man. These are largely quotes about being yourself, autonomy, and the full realization of your human potential. Among these quotes, I would like to particularly highlight the one that is at the top of the list below. However, the last one on this list is, in a sense, a neat presentation of the essence of coaching.
A hundred plastic flowers can not make the desert bloom.
All emotions are expressed in the muscular system. You can not visualize anger without muscle movement. You can not visualize the joy, which is more or less identical when dancing, without muscle movements. In grief, there are sobs and tears, and in sex, there are also.
Anguish is the gap between "now" and "after".
Anxiety is always the result of moving away from the now.
Anxiety is excitement without breathing.
Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who have a problem with it don't matter, and those who matter don't have a problem with it.
Be who you are and then you will see who you are and how you are. Allow yourself a moment or two to do what you want to do and discover what you are actually doing. Take a little risk if you can. Feel your own feelings. Speak your own words. Think your own thoughts. Be yourself. Explore. Plan your development by experiencing yourself.
Being in the world with its ups and downs, alone or accompanied, is part of the same thing: existing in the here and now.
By not living needs and impulses, organismic self-regulation deteriorates, needing to rely on moralistic regulations.
Consciousness is subjective. We become aware of ourselves through our body and our emotions. We are aware of the world through the senses.
Don't push the river, it flows on its own.
Emotions are not discomfort that needs to be relieved. Emotions are the most important driver of our behavior: emotions in the broadest sense of the word - they are expectation, pleasure, hunger. This emotion, or basic energy, is life force.
Every time you refuse to answer a question, you are helping the other person use their own resources.
Fear of death means fear of life.
Friend, don't be a perfectionist. Perfectionism is a curse.
Guilt feels much nobler than resentment and much more courage is needed to express resentment than guilt. By expressing guilt you hope to pacify your opponent; with resentment you can awaken their hostility.
Happiness is a matter of awareness. Or is it that you are becoming Freudian by saying: I am unconsciously happy.
If one feels persecuted by an ogre and becomes the ogre, the nightmare disappears.
If you feel uncomfortable with someone you can be sure that there is no real communication. As soon as one is genuinely expressed, all discomfort disappears.
If you need encouragement, flattery, and patting on everyone's back, then you are making everyone your judge.
Illness, pretending to be sick that is a big part of this going crazy, is nothing more than a search for environmental support. We are sick in bed: someone takes care of us, feeds us, gives us shelter, we do not have to go out and make a living, it is total regression. But regression is not, as Freud thought, a purely pathological phenomenon. Regression means retreating to a position where one can provide one's own support, where we feel safe.
It is very rare that people can talk and listen. Very few listen without speaking.
Learning is nothing more than discovering that something is possible. Teaching means showing someone that something is possible.
Loneliness is actually the place where you can connect with the feeling of belonging to the human.
Maturity means taking responsibility for your life, living on your own.
Most modern men live in a "verbal trance." They do not see or hear, and the awakening takes a long time.
Nothing has meaning without its context. The meaning does not exist.
No one can bear the truth if it is told to him. The truth can only be tolerated when you discover it for yourself, because then the pride of discovery makes it palatable.
Only one phenomenon can occupy the foreground every time.
There are two big lies: "I want" and "I try to".
There is a lot of potential in people, but knowing how to detect it also requires talent.
Things do not exist; every event is a process; the thing is merely a transient form of an eternal process. Everything is in a flow.
The body knows everything. We know very little. Intuition is the body's intelligence.
The person who is most in control is the one who can give up control.
To be present now is to unite our attention and our conscience.
Trying is lying. I'll try it means you have no serious intention to do so. If you really think about doing it, say: "I will do it"; and if not, say: "I will not do it". You have to speak clearly to think clearly and act clearly.
Waiting for the world to treat you fairly because you are a good person is the same as waiting for a bull not to attack you because you are a vegetarian.
You can not achieve happiness. Happiness happens and it is a transitory stage.
Here is the list of the most important books written by F. Perls with the dates of their publishing:
Ego, Hunger and Aggression (1942, 1947) - co-written with Laura Perls,
Gestalt Therapy: Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality (1951) - the flagship work written together with R. Hefferline and P. Goodman,
Gestalt Therapy Verbatim (1969),
In and Out the Garbage Pail (1969),
The Gestalt Approach and Eye Witness to Therapy (1973).