July 8, 1893|
Berlin, German Empire
|Died||March 14, 1970
|Occupation||Psychiatrist and psychotherapist|
|Known for||Gestalt Therapy|
Perls coined the term 'Gestalt therapy' to identify the form of psychotherapy that he developed with his wife Laura Perls in the 1940s and 1950s. Perls became associated with the Esalen Institute in 1964, and he lived there until 1969. His approach to psychotherapy is related but not identical to Gestalt psychology, and it is different from Gestalt Theoretical Psychotherapy.
The core of the Gestalt Therapy process is enhanced awareness of sensation, perception, bodily feelings, emotion and behavior, in the present moment. Relationship is emphasized, along with contact between the self, its environment, and the other.
Perls has been widely cited outside the realm of psychotherapy for a quotation often described as the "Gestalt prayer". This was especially true in the 1960s, when the version of individualism it expresses was prevalent.
Fritz Perls was born in Berlin, Germany, in 1893. Perls “grew up” on the bohemian scene in Berlin, participated in Expressionism and Dadaism, and experienced the turning of the artistic avant-garde toward the revolutionary left. Deployment to the front line, the trauma of war, anti-Semitism, intimidation, escape, and the Holocaust are further key sources of biographical influence.
He was expected to practice law like his distinguished uncle Herman Staub, but instead he studied medicine. Perls joined the German Army during World War I, and spent time in the trenches. After the war he graduated as a medical doctor, and became an assistant to Kurt Goldstein, who worked with brain injured soldiers. Perls gravitated toward psychoanalysis. In 1927 Fritz Perls became a member of Wilhelm Reich's technical seminars in Vienna. Reich's concept of character analysis influenced Perls to a large extent. And in 1930 Reich became Perls' supervising senior analyst in Berlin.
In 1930 Fritz Perls married Laura Perls (born, Lore Posner), and they had two children together, Renate and Stephen. In 1933, soon after the Hitler regime came to power, Fritz Perls, Laura and their eldest child Renate fled to the Netherlands, and one year later they emigrated to South Africa, where Fritz Perls started a psychoanalytic training institute. In 1936 he had a brief and unsatisfactory meeting with Freud.
In 1942 Fritz Perls joined the South African army, and served as an army psychiatrist with the rank of captain, until 1946. While in South Africa, Perls was influenced by the "holism" of Jan Smuts. During this period Fritz Perls wrote his first book, Ego, Hunger, and Aggression (published in 1942 and re-published in 1947). Laura Perls wrote two chapters of the book, but she was not given any recognition for her work when it was re-published in the United States.
Fritz and Laura Perls left South Africa in 1946 and ended up in New York, where Fritz Perls worked briefly with Karen Horney, and Wilhelm Reich. After living through a peripatetic episode, during which he lived in Montreal and served as a cruise ship psychiatrist, Perls finally settled in Manhattan. Perls wrote his second book with the assistance of New York intellectual and author, Paul Goodman, who drafted the theoretical second part of the book based upon Perls' hand-written notes. Perls and Goodman were influenced by the work Kurt Lewin and Otto Rank. Along with the experiential first part, written with Ralph Hefferline, the book was entitled Gestalt Therapy and published in 1951. Thereafter, Fritz and Laura Perls started the first Gestalt Institute in their Manhattan apartment, and Fritz Perls began traveling throughout the United States in order to conduct Gestalt workshops and training.
In 1960 Fritz Perls left Laura Perls behind in New York and moved to Los Angeles, where he practiced in conjunction with Jim Simkin. He started to offer workshops at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, in 1963. Perls became interested in Zen during this period, and incorporated the idea of mini-satori (a brief awakening) into his practice. He also traveled to Japan, where he stayed in a Zen monastery. Eventually, he settled at Esalen, and even built a house on the grounds. One of his students at Esalen was Dick Price, who developed Gestalt Practice, based in large part upon what he learned from Perls. In 1969 Perls left Esalen and started a Gestalt community at Lake Cowichan on Vancouver Island, Canada. Fritz Perls died of heart failure in Chicago, on March 14, 1970, after heart surgery at the Louis A. Weiss Memorial Hospital.
- Perls, F., Ego, Hunger and Aggression (1942, 1947) ISBN 0-939266-18-0
- Perls, F., Hefferline, R., & Goodman, P., Gestalt Therapy: Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality (1951) ISBN 0-939266-24-5
- Perls, F., Gestalt Therapy Verbatim (1969) ISBN 0-911226-02-8
- Perls, F., In and Out the Garbage Pail (1969) ISBN 0-553-20253-7
- Perls, F., The Gestalt Approach and Eye Witness to Therapy (1973) ISBN 0-8314-0034-X
- Bernd Bocian: Fritz Perls in Berlin 1893 - 1933. Expressionism - Psychonalysis - Judaism, 2010, p. 205 ff, EHP Verlag Andreas Kohlhage, Bergisch Gladbach. ISBN 978-3-89797-068-7
- Perls, F., In and Out the Garbage Pail, Lafayette, CA: Real People Press (1969).
- Bernd Bocian: Fritz Perls in Berlin 1893 - 1933. Expressionism - Psychonalysis - Judaism, 2010, p. 211, EHP Verlag Andreas Kohlhage, Bergisch Gladbach. ISBN 978-3-89797-068-7
- Edward Rosenfeld: An Oral History of Gestalt Therapy Part 1. A conversation with Laura Perls
- Autobiographical Chronology by Friz Perls
- Excerpts from an interview with Dick Price conducted by Wade Hudson
- New York Times Obituary
- Petruska Clarkson, Jennifer Mackewn: "Fritz Perls", 1993, SAGE Publications ISBN 978-0-8039-8453-0
- Bernd Bocian: "Fritz Perls in Berlin 1893–1933. Expressionism – Psychonalysis – Judaism", 2010, EHP Verlag Andreas Kohlhage, Bergisch Gladbach. ISBN 978-3-89797-068-7
- A Life Chronology, by Frederick Perls
- Frederick Perls: A Son's Reflections, by Stephen Perls
- Fritz Perls: biography, history, gestalt therapy, quotes, photos
- Growing Up Rugged: Fritz Perls and Gestalt Therapy by National Book Award winner Ernest Becker. Delivered as a talk shortly after Perls's death in 1970.
- Obituary in the New York Times
- Psychiatry in a New Key from the Unpublished Manuscripts of Fritz Perls
- Finding Self Through Gestalt Therapy, a transcript of a talk given at the Cooper Union by Frederick Perls in 1957
- Planned Psychotherapy by Frederick Perls. A talk given in the late 1940s at the William Alanson White Institute in New York City, "Planned Psychotherapy" predates the articulation of Gestalt therapy by a few years. Perls discusses in detail his developing use of focusing on the "here and now."
- Fritz Perls: Gestalt Therapy A nearly forgotten interview with Fritz Perls (the co-founder of Gestalt Therapy) by Adelaide Bry