Fritz Perls, An Interesting Figure In The History Of Psychology

Fritz Perls, an interesting figure in the history of psychology

Friedrich Salomon Perls, better known as Fritz Perls, was a German physician, psychiatrist, and psychoanalyst. He was the father of Gestalt therapy. He was a controversial and fascinating man who spent his entire life in intellectual circles, took part in theoretical discussions, and traveled the world.

Perls was born in the Jewish Quarter in Berlin on July 8, 1893. He had two older sisters, Elsa and Grete. His father Nathan was a wine merchant who was often away from home. His mother, Amalia, came from a lower middle-class family. Amalia made Fritz deeply interested in art that remained part of Perls for the rest of her life.

In an interview, Grete described her brother’s childhood as a little wild. He was a difficult child but a good student. He completed his secondary education at the Mommsen-Gymnasium in Berlin. This was an extremely harsh school where anti-Semitism was widespread. Perls was expelled from school when he was 13 years old. As punishment, his father forced him to work as an intern in the candy store.

Fritz Perls ’relationship with his father was always a little messy. In his diaries, he describes his father as a hypocritical dual moral man. He believed that his father hated his mother and betrayed this with other women. Perls’ fight against his father was so intense that he did not even go to his funeral.

Encounter with philosophy and psychoanalysis

Fritz Perls made a personal decision to return to the Askaniches Gymnasium , a school of humanities. There he met Max Reinhardt, a theater director who developed his love of art. This lasted until his death.

He later began studying medicine. And shortly after the outbreak of World War I, he started volunteering for the Red Cross. This left deep marks on him,  but he only talked about it years later in his biography.

gestalt therapy father Fritz Perls and family

In 1920, Fritz Perls received his doctorate from Frederick Wilhelm University in Berlin. He later specialized in neuropsychiatry. He then met the philosopher Friedlander, whose influences were significant to Perls’ work. In 1923, he decided to leave for New York, but returned in frustration after his permission was not appreciated and he did not speak English. This bad period made him start psychoanalysis with Karen Horney. This changed Fritz’s life.

Perls career change

Psychoanalysis fascinated Perls. He decided he wanted to be an analyst. But he had to move to Frankfurt to work as an assistant to psychiatrist Kurt Goldstein, who worked on Gestalt psychology. There he met Laura Possner, a student who became his wife a couple of years later. Many close people were against the relationship, as Perls was 36 at the time and Laura was only 24.

A year later, Perls began working as an analyst in Vienna. In 1928 he became a full-time Therapist in Berlin. Between 1928 and 1930,  Perls conducted psychoanalysis with Eugen Harnick and Wilheim Reich. Wilhelm was a student of Freud, but he had distanced himself from Freud’s theories. Many of the theories developed by Perls were inspired by the Reich.

The birth of Gestalt therapy

After Hitler came to power, Fritz Perls fled to the Netherlands. After experiencing hard times for him, his wife, and daughter, Ernst Jones helped him get a job as a psychoanalyst from Johannesburg, South Africa. Together with his wife Laura, he founded the South African Psycholoanalytic Association. In 1936 he was invited to a conference in Prague, and there his thoughts caused chaos. He was once again in a bad place, and he decided to move away from traditional psychoanalysis.

people in a circle

With the help of his wife, Perls began to form his own ideas. In 1942, he moved to New York and published his first book, “Ego, Hunger, and Aggression: A Revision of Freud’s Theory and Method.” Four years later, he formed a group called Group of 7 with other intellectuals. In 1951, he published a book that many people see as biblical about this new approach: “Gestal Therapy: Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality.” 

The birth of this book is to be commended by the poet Paul Goodman, who gave the book its literary tone. It is a complex book that uses the ideas of Gestalt psychology, psychoanalysis, phenomenology, existentialism, and American pragmatism. Later, Perls also added Buddhist concepts to it after his visit to Japan.

The fate of Gestalt therapy theory was complex. In 1956, Perls resigned from Laura, and they both took the theory in different directions. When Laura and Paul Goodman remained fully loyal to the original principles, Paul drifted farther from this perspective. He brought in concepts of Zen Buddhism and even Israeli kibbutzim. At the end of his life, he worked more like a guru than a therapist. He died of a heart attack after a long journey.

Gestalt therapy approach

We could say that Gestalt therapy is a trend that focuses more on how patients experience their own reality, than to those things what they are experiencing. It’s not about what happens to a person. It’s about how that person sees these things. It emphasizes processes, not content. This focus is part of humanistic psychology and has three basic principles:

butterfly and hand

The three principles of Gestalt therapy

  1. Emphasis on the present. According to Gestalt therapy, people do not perceive the past, present, and future as separate realities. These three periods are part of a single unit that exists only in the present. Both the past and the future are only projections of the present. That is, Gestalt therapy tries to address the present moment. And in this way, it tries to help people find a way to solve problems and achieve a meaningful life.
  2. Awareness. To achieve better well-being, we need to look closely at ourselves. This is the basis for creating new habits, to shape our experience in the present moment. It’s a path that puts us in a position where we focus on the way we look at things that don’t actually happen. It also shows us that we need to find a new way to look at our personal experiences.
  3. Taking responsibility. The process of awareness should bring us to a place where we can take responsibility for the consequences of our actions. If we accept our mistakes and form thoughts about the risks that are part of a particular activity, we can achieve independence. In this way, we can give direction to our existence. With greater freedom and meaning of existence.

Fritz Perls ’Gestalt Therapy suggests a process of intervention to help the patient get rid of the manifestation of his or her reality. It should also help him orient himself towards a more independent life. He should be able to focus on his own potential. People have applied this in many different areas: clinical and social areas, and even in their work environment.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button