Frederick Perls

When talking about psychoanalysis, psychology, and mentioning other topics connected to the human psyche, people mostly remember Sigmund Freud, and sometimes Alfred Adler, or even Carl Jung. These three individuals indeed were probably the most influential researchers of psyche of their time; however, it is important to note that besides them, there were many other talented psychologists and psychoanalysts whose theories not only contributed to psychology greatly, but also introduced completely new methods (more effective in terms of time and results) of treating various psychological conditions and improving patients’ quality of life. One of such researchers was Frederick “Fritz” Perls, a German psychoanalyst and one of the founders of the gestalt approach in psychotherapy. His method has saved and improved life of thousands of people around the world, and is now recognized as one of the most effective and wholesome ones.

Frederick Perls was born in a Jewish family in 1893 in Berlin. As a young man, he was fascinated by Sigmund Freud’s theory; after he demobilized from World War I, Perls started treating soldiers with head and brain traumas, and this work had drew him even closer to psychoanalysis. He entered the Berlin Institute of Psychoanalysis, and then moved to Vienna to continue his studies. When Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime started to gain strength, Frederick Perls and his wife, Laura Perls, moved to South Africa in 1933. During World War II, Frederick Perls joined the army once more, and worked as a psychiatrist there. After moving to New York in 1946, Perls family settled down in Manhattan. There, Frederick had a chance to work with such famous scientists as Karen Horney and Wilhelm Reich, although his most productive cooperation in the field of psychological studies occurred with Paul Goodman and Ralph Hefferline; together with the latter two, in 1951, Frederick Perls wrote and published a book called Gestalt Therapy: Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality. This book was based on Perls’ own experiences and research he obtained during previous years, and after its success, in the same year, Perls and his wife founded the New York Institute for Gestalt Therapy. Since that time, the gestalt approach gained more and more popularity, proving its efficiency time after time (GoodTherapy.org).

But what exactly is gestalt, and how is it different from other approaches, rather numerous, to psychoanalysis? Gestalt therapy is also often addressed as a humanistic therapy technique, the main purpose of which is to help an individual develop self-awareness regarding their own emotions, needs, and behaviors. Unlike Freud’s (and many other) approaches to psychoanalysis, gestalt focuses on the present rather than on the past; another prominent difference is that a therapist does not “tell” a patient what their problem is based on what this patient says; instead, the therapist and the patient work together on helping the latter understand himself/herself better. Ideally, a person should be able to realize the constant flow of their feelings and needs, and become able to “meet” with them and satisfy them (The Free Dictionary).

The word “Gestalt” is German, and it is rather difficult to find an appropriate translation for it in English. Gestalt can be vaguely described as “a pattern,” and Perls himself stressed that the understanding of anything, be it a person or a situation, is possible only considering it as a whole entity, with its components creating a particular form at a particular time (GestaltTheory.com). By developing self-awareness, becoming able to fully understand one’s own motives, needs, and feelings, a person can better integrate themselves in their own reality, participate in their life actively and consciously, get rid of complexes and inner conflicts, and in general receive more satisfaction from daily activities. This becomes possible in close contact with reality.

Frederick Perls lived a fulfilling, active life, and the psychotherapeutic approach he and his colleagues have developed help people all over the world do the same: come in closer contact with themselves, realize what they truly want, resolve their inner conflicts, and take responsibility over their own lives. Gestalt focuses on helping a person develop self-awareness, become able to recognize, differentiate, and integrate their own emotions, sensations, experiences, and needs. As a result, a person can resolve the majority (if not all) of their inner conflicts, and become better adjusted to living in everyday reality.

Works Cited

  1. “Fritz Perls (1893-1970).” GoodTherapy.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2016. .
  2. “Gestalt Therapy.” The Free Dictionary. Farlex, n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2016. .
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