Fritz Perls (1893-1970) is without doubt one of the greatest psychotherapists in history. Raised by an autocratic, strict father and a mother who had very high aspirations for him, he lived torn between two beliefs:
"I'm a piece of shit" and
"I must be great and great."
This gave him the drive, led him to rebel, and made him understand the suffering of others.
Despite family pressure to study law, Perls enrolled in medical studies that were interrupted by World War I. As a soldier in the German army, he fought in the trenches and experienced the horrors of the war firsthand.
After the end of the war, he brought his diploma to an end and began practicing medicine. After graduating from the Medical Academy, he also studied psychology and conducted his own psychoanalysis under the tutelage of the famous Wilhelm Reich.
In 1930, he married Lora Posner, and this marriage resulted in two children. Unfortunately, soon after Hitler came to power, Perls, due to his Jewish origin, had to leave Germany and through Holland with his whole family ended up in South Africa.
In 1942 he joined the South African army, where he served as a military psychiatrist as a captain. The next stage in his life began in 1946, when he and his wife moved to New York. He stayed in the United States until his death (Chicago, 1970). In addition to developing Gestalt Therapy, he also learned about Eastern philosophy: Zen Buddhism and Taoism. He was also fascinated by the theater and joined The Living Theater in New York.
Gestalt therapy, which he created, grew out of Perls's personality, his extensive knowledge and interests, and out of rebellion against psychoanalysis. Gestalt means in German: whole, figure, figure, shape, form. Perls took from holism the belief that man was indivisible. On the other hand, the concept of homeostasis denotes the organism's ability to maintain equilibrium in changing conditions. Every need disturbs it, and its satisfaction can be called closing the figure. When it fails, we leave the figures open. One of the goals of Gestalt therapy is to close them.
One of the most famous Perls quotes, known not only in the world of psychotherapy, is the so-called Gestalt Prayer:
"I do mine and you do yours.
I'm not in this world to meet your expectations
and you are not in this world to fulfill mine.
You are you and I am me.
And if we happen to come across each other it's great
if not, there is nothing you can do about it."
Fritz Perls, „Gestalt Therapy Verbatim”, 1969
Perls rejected theoretical analyzes and interpretations, considering them worthless in therapy. In his opinion, therapy is not about digging up the past, but about experiencing life in the present.
Instead of asking the questions: why, where from, what for?
Perls asked: what is happening as it is?
The here and now are important. Both looking to the future and the past are far from being in real life. And while Perls no doubt understood the influence of childhood on who we are, he and existentialists made us fully responsible for our lives.
Sartre said, "It is not important what has been done to me, but what I have done myself with what has been done to me." Perls also recognizes the full human responsibility for the choices made. Neither the difficult past nor external circumstances can take it off us.
As a result, the Gestalt Decalogue looks like this:
Live Now - Pay attention to the present rather than the past and the future.
Live here - take care of what is present, not what is not.
Experience yourself and accept yourself as you are.
Stop thinking unnecessarily - instead, look and taste, perceive the environment as it is, and make contact with it.
Express yourself - don't manipulate, don't explain, don't justify, don't judge.
Surrender to the experience of unpleasantness and pain as you surrender to the experience of pleasure. Don't limit your awareness.
Accept no "should" except what is truly yours.
Take full responsibility for your actions, feelings and thoughts.
Be open to change and development - be ready to experiment to meet new situations.
Be yourself and let others be themselves.
I believe that in this decalogue one can find invaluable and universal hints about the great question: HOW TO LIVE? Also in today's difficult times of the Covid-19 pandemic.