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July 8: Gestalt Therapy

Lawrence Bush
July 8, 2010

fritz and laura-perls1Fritz Perls, who developed Gestalt Therapy with his wife Laura in the 1940s and ‘50s, was born in Berlin on this date in 1893. Gestalt Therapy focuses on feeling, perception, awareness and action in the present moment and on intensive, open therapist-patient dialogue and dialogic experimentation (switching seats, role-playing, and much more). A veteran of the World War I trenches, Perls became a medical doctor and gravitated towards psychoanalysis after going through an analysis with Wilhelm Reich. He and Laura fled Nazi Germany in 1934 and lived in South Africa until 1946, where they were influenced by Jan Smuts’ theory of “holism” and co-authored Ego, Hunger and Aggression (1942). It was in the U.S., where Perls wrote Gestalt Therapy (1951) with Paul Goodman and Ralph Hefferline, that his form of therapy was most embraced, particularly after he began teaching at the Esalen Institute (1963-66) and incorporating aspects of Zen into his practice. For more on the subject, take a look at this “interview” with Perls that emerges more as a demonstration of Gestalt Therapy.
“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” —Fritz Perls
The Fritz Perls segment from the 1965 series of videotapes, “Three Approaches to Psychotherapy”. The series featured three psychotherapists (Perls, Carl Rogers, and Albert Ellis) treating the same patient, Gloria:

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.