Gestalt Therapy was the product of several minds. Fritz Perls is arguably the most important of these. What is beyond doubt is that he was the person most responsible for popularizing Gestalt via his charismatic public workshops, dramatic Hot Seat demonstrations, films and TV and radio appearances.
1920s – Bohemian Berliner in the “Golden Twenties.” This was Germany’s ill-fated experimentation with loosening social mores – a sort of early, and viciously aborted by the Nazis, version of the 1960s Summer of Love. Perls moved in left-wing intellectual café society and was involved in expressionist theatre.
1930s – The Freudian Psychoanalyst – Old World, serious, scholarly, constrained by social expectations and repressed, he flees Nazi Germany for South Africa.
1940s – The big change: Ego, Hunger and Aggression – his book on oral resistances was spurned by Freud and the psychoanalytic community for casting doubt over the importance of Freud’s concept of anal resistance.
Perls chooses to strike out on his own. No longer would he think of himself as working to expand Freudian theory, he would create something new – a more effective, less time-consuming and less expensive and faster-acting therapy.
1960s – The fully-fledged Gestalt Therapist at Esalen – a New World, a New Age, a New Look and personal liberation at last. Perls concludes Gestalt is too effective to limit itself to the seriously ill and places it at the forefront of the human potential movement.
Perls toured North America with his new therapy demonstrating Hot Seat. Separated from his wife and family, he indulged his lust for life and lived according to his own rules.
And Fritz’s legacy? He passed on to posterity the most widespread and long-lived of the so-called “Third Force” (Existential Humanist) psychotherapies for fostering personal growth and the curing of neurosis. His approach has also made important contributions in the fields of organizational and educational development.
And those other minds that contributed to Gestalt? Joint credit for the development of Gestalt Therapy must go to Fritz’s wife, Laura, who contributed to Ego, Hunger and Aggression. In addition, the circle that gathered around the Perls’ table in New York made significant contributions. Especially Paul Goodman, who with Ralph Hefferline and Perls, authored the definitive Gestalt text in 1950, “Gestalt Therapy – Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality.”
Perls’ Personal Evolution
Although it may be somewhat trite to use appearance to demonstrate the highly personal and private changes that are the result of personal growth, photographs of Fritz do serve as a quite impact-full testament of the promise Gestalt offers people to totally reshape their lives.