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Fritz (Friedrich Salomon) Perls - biography

Friedrich (Frederick) Salomon Perls (July 8 1893, Berlin – March 14, 1970, Chicago), better known as Fritz Perls, was a noted German-born psychiatrist and psychotherapist of Jewish descent.

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.

Life

Fritz Perls was born in Berlin, Germany, in 1893. 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. He had a brief and unsatisfactory meeting with Freud, and went through an analysis with Wilhelm Reich.

In 1930 Fritz 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 started a psychoanalytic training institute. In 1942 Fritz 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 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 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 started the first Gestalt Institute in their Manhattan apartment, and Fritz began traveling throughout the United States in order to conduct Gestalt workshops and training.

In 1960 Fritz left Laura behind in New York and moved to Los Angeles, where he practiced in conjunction with Jim Simkin. Fritz started to offer workshops at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, in 1963. Fritz 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, Fritz settled at Esalen, and even built a house on the grounds. His primary student at Esalen was Dick Price, who developed Gestalt Practice based upon what he learned from Fritz. In 1969 Fritz decided to leave Esalen in order to start a Gestalt community at Lake Cowichan on Vancouver Island, Canada. Fritz suffered from heart trouble and he was a chain-smoker, even during therapy sessions. Upon his return from a trip to Europe, Fritz Perls died of heart failure in Chicago, on March 14, 1970, after heart surgery at the Louis A. Weiss Memorial Hospital.

Bibliography

About Fritz Perls






Article author: Zipora Galitski
Article tags: biography
The article is about these people:   Fritz (Friedrich Salomon) Perls

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