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Fritz Perls, a curious character in the history of psychology

20th century doctor, neuropsychiatrist and psychoanalyst. A man who stands out in history, along with Laura Posner, for the creation of Gestalt therapy.

Friedrich Salomon Perls, better known as Fritz Perls, was a German doctor, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who is considered the father of “Gestalt Therapy.”. He was a contradictory and fascinating man who spent his entire life in intellectual circles, theoretical debates and travels around the world.

He was born in Berlin, on July 8, 1893, in a Jewish ghetto.. She had two older sisters, Else and Grete. Her father, Nathan, was a wine merchant and was frequently absent from home. Her mother, Amalia, came from a petit-bourgeois family and gave her a deep interest in art, which accompanied Perls throughout her life.

The goal of therapy is to ensure that the patient comes to know when he experiences himself, when he perceives his world, and when he uses his intellect.”.

-Fritz Perls-

During an interview, Grete described her brother’s childhood as “wild.” He was a difficult child, although a good student. She went to high school at Mommsen-Gymnasium of Berlin, a rather severe educational center, where anti-Semitism was breathed in every corner.

Perls was expelled when he was 13 years old. As punishment his father forced him to work as an apprentice in a candy store. Perls’ relationship with her father was always very conflictive.

in his diary He defined his father as a hypocritical man with double standards, who hated his mother and cheated on her with other women. Her rejection by her father became so strong that Perls refused to go to her funeral.

Fritz Perls and his encounter with philosophy and psychoanalysis

On his own initiative, Fritz Perls resumed his studies at a humanist-oriented school, the Askaniches Gymnasium. At that time he met Max Reinhardt, a theater director who cultivated in him a love for that art, which lasted until his death.

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Later, he began his studies in medicine. Shortly after he started the First World War and Perls enlisted as a volunteer of the Red Cross. This experience marked him deeply.although he only spoke about her many years later in his biography titled “Life in the agony of the pits: horror of living and horror of dying.”

In 1920 Fritz Perls received his medical degree from the Frederick Wilhelm University of Berlin. He later specialized in Neuropsychiatry. Later he met the philosopher Friedlander, whose influence would be decisive for his work.

In 1923 he decided to travel to New York, but returned frustrated because he was not allowed to validate his degree there because he did not know how to speak English. His discomfort led him to begin psychoanalysis with Karen Horney. This event changed his life.

Perls became fascinated with psychoanalysis and set the goal of becoming an analyst.. However, he had to move to Frankfurt to take the position of assistant to a psychiatrist named Kurt Goldstein, who worked with the postulates of Gestalt psychology.

There he met Laura Possner, a student who became his wife two years later, despite the fact that his family and his psychoanalyst at the time, Clara Happel, disagreed with that relationship. Perls was 36 years old and Laura was only 24.

A year later he began practicing as an analyst in Vienna and in 1928 he became a full-time therapist in Berlin. Between this date and 1930, Perls did psychoanalysis with Eugen Harnick and then with Wilheim Reich. The latter had been a disciple of Freud himself, but had departed from his postulates. Much of the theory that Perls later developed was inspired by Reich’s approach.

The birth of Gestalt Therapy

After Hitler’s rise to power, Fritz Perls fled to Holland, but was not given permission to work there. After going through great hardships with his wife and his newborn daughter, Ernst Jones helped him get a job as a teaching psychoanalyst in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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Together with his wife Laura, they founded the South African Institute of Psychoanalysis there. In 1936 he was invited to a conference in Prague and there he presented some theses that caused a great stir.. This caused him strong discomfort and he then distanced himself from traditional psychoanalysis.

Four years later he formed “The Group of Seven” with other intellectuals. In 1951, what many consider to be The Bible of the New Approach appeared: “Gestalt Therapy: Excitement and Growth of Human Personality.”.

The new work came to light thanks to the contributions of the poet Paul Goodman, who gave literary form to several of its pages.. It is a complex text that includes theses from Gestalt Psychology, psychoanalysis, phenomenology, existentialism and American pragmatism. Later Perls would also add some postulates of Buddhism, after a trip he made to Japan.

The theoretical destiny of Gestalt Therapy was contradictory. In 1956 Perls separated from Laura and the two took their theses on a different path..

While Laura and Paul Goodman remained completely faithful to the initial principles, Perls deviated from that point of view and ended up incorporating Zen principles, as well as guidelines from the Israeli kibbutzim. At the end of his days, he behaved more like a guru than a therapist. He died of a heart attack after a long journey.

The approaches of Gestalt Therapy

In a very synthetic and simplified way, it could be stated that Gestalt Therapy is a current that It places special emphasis on the way in which subjects experience their reality, rather than on the facts they experience..

They do not point to what happens to an individual, but to the way he or she perceives it. In other words, it emphasizes processes and not content. This approach is part of humanistic psychology and supports three fundamental principles:

Emphasis on the here and now. For Gestalt Therapy, human beings do not perceive the past, present and future as separate realities. On the contrary, the three times make up a unity that only has present. Both the past and the future are projections of that present. Therefore, what it is about is working on that “here and now” to find a way to resolve difficulties and access a life with greater self-realization.The awareness. To access a better level of well-being it is necessary to make a careful observation of oneself. That is the basis so that new ways of formulating the experience that is lived “in the here and now” can be designed. It is a path that aims to rethink the perspective from which we contemplate what does not happen and points out the need to approach personal experience with a new perspective.Assume the responsibility. The awareness process must lead to a point where it is possible to assume the consequences of actions. If errors are accepted and hypotheses are developed about the risks involved in the way of acting, autonomy is achieved. In this way, existence can be given a direction, with more freedom and meaning.

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Ultimately, Fritz Perls’ Gestalt Therapy proposes a process of intervention on the individual, intended for him to be able to re-elaborate his representations of reality and orient himself towards a more autonomous life focused on his own potentialities.. This approach has been applied both in the clinical field and in the social field, and even in the workplace.

Bibliography:

Fritz Perls Biography. (2017). Fritzgestalt.com.

Biography of Friedrich Salomon Perls. (2017). Psicomundo.org.

Chicón, M. (2017). Fritz Perls: Biography and Main Theories – Life Persona. Lifeder.

Sarrió, C. (2017). Fritz Perls: Beginnings of Gestalt Therapy – Part 1. Gestalt Therapy Valencia Clotilde Sarrió.

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