“I do my thing and you do your thing.
I am not in this world to live up to your expectations, and you are not in this world to live up to mine.
You are you, and I am I, and if by chance we find each other, it's beautiful.
If not, it can't be helped.”
— Fritz Perls
Friedrich Salomon Perls, better known as Fritz Perls, was a German-born psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and therapist. He was also one of the original models of Neuro-linguistic Programming along with Milton Erickson and Virginia Satir. He coined the term “Gestalt therapy”, which is a form of psychotherapy he developed with his wife in the 1940s and 1950s. His approach is related to the Gestalt psychology and the Gestalt Theoretical Psychotherapy of Hans-Jurgen Walter. The interconnection between the individual being and the environment that he interacts with on a daily basis is the main idea behind Gestalt therapy.
Fritz Perls was born on July 8,1893 in Berlin, Germany. His family expected him to practice law, like his uncle Herman Staub, but he studied medicine instead.
He joined the German army during World War I, and spent time in the trenches. After the war ended in 1918, he returned to his medical studies and graduated 2 years later, specializing in neuropsychiatry as a medical doctor. He then became an assistant to Kurt Goldstein, who was working with brain injured soldiers at the time. While he was there, Perls slowly developed an interest in psychoanalysis.
In 1927, Fritz Perls became a member of Wilhelm Reich’s technical seminars in Vienna. Reich’s concept of character analysis had a profound influence on Perls.
In 1930, Reich became Perls’ supervising senior analyst in Berlin. That same year, he married Laura Perls (born Lore Posner), and they had 2 children: Renate and Stephen.
In 1933, Fritz Perls, his wife, and their eldest son Renate, were forced to leave Germany. At the time, Hitler had come into power and Perls was of Jewish descent and had participated in anti-fascist political activities in the past. They first went to the Netherlands, and one year later, they emigrated to South Africa. While he was there, Fritz Perls started a psychoanalytic training institute.
While in South Africa, Perls was influenced by Jan Smuts’ “holism”. It was also during this period that he co-wrote his first book “Ego, Hunger, and Aggression”, which he published in 1942. His wife wrote two chapters of the book, however, when it was re-published in the United States she was not given any recognition for her work.
In 1936, he briefly met with Sigmund Freud. It was reported that the meeting was unpleasant.
In 1942, Fritz Perls joined the South African Army, and served as an army psychiatrist with the rank of captain until 1946.
In 1946, Fritz and Laura Perls left South Africa and moved to New York, where he worked briefly with Karen Horney and Wilhelm Reich.
He wrote his second book with the help of New York Intellectual and author, Paul Goodman, who drafted the theoretical second part of the book based on Perls’ hand-written notes. Along with the experiential first part, written with Ralph Hefferline, the book was entitled Gestalt Therapy and published in 1951.
Soon after publishing his second book, Fritz and Laura Perls started the first Gestalt Institute in their Manhattan apartment. Perls then began traveling throughout the United States in order to conduct Gestalt workshops and trainings.
In 1960, Fritz left Laura behind in Manhattan and moved to Los Angeles, where he practiced in conjunction with Jim Simkin. When Fritz left NYC for California, a split emerged in the Gestalt Therapy group. There were those who saw Gestalt therapy as a therapeutic approach with great potential. And there were others who saw it as a way of life. This feeling is summarized by the “Gestalt prayer” (shown at the top of this blog post) written by Fritz Perls.
In the 1960s, he became infamous for his public workshops at Esalen Institute in Big Sur. He also became interested in Zen during this period, and incorporated the idea of mini-satori (a brief awakening) into his practice.
In 1969, Perls left Esalen and started a Gestalt community at Lake Cowichan on Vancouver Island, Canada.
Fritz Perls died of heart failure on March 14, 1970, after undergoing heart surgery at the Louis A. Weiss Memorial Hospital.
Gestalt therapy reached its peak around the late 1970s and early 1980s and has since declined in popularity. Perls’ Gestalt therapy is still functioning in Esalen at Big Sur. Many of Fritz and Laura Perls’ students have also continued the development and application of Gestalt Therapy. Notable students include Richard Bandler and John Grinder, the co-founders of NLP, as well as Claudio Naranjo, Fritz Perls’ apprentice.
Check out this post for some of the best sayings by Fritz Perls.