Fritz Perls, a body mind spirit psychiatrist and student of Wihelm Reich’s, helped found Gestalt Therapy. Gestalt in German means “an irreducible experience,” and Perls adopted the term to name the method he had developed with his wife Laura, also a psychiatrist.
Their approach emphasized the person as a whole—with the mind and emotions equally connected to the body—which differed from the importance of “knowing” stressed in Hans-Juergen Walter’s Gestalt Theoretical Psychotherapy.
Perls theorized that the exhilarating experience of living fully alive, aware, and in the present was actually derailed by our habitual thinking mind. (“I think, and that gets in the way of who I am”—apologies to Descartes.) Our thoughts about life created a barrier to experiencing life full tilt, and Gestalt therapy emphasized the removal of obstacles that prevented people from maximizing their potential.
The method involved working in real time as opposed to focusing on past experiences, the norm for psychoanalysis. His 1951 book, Gestalt Therapy: Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality, also featured contributions from Paul Goodman, an anarchist and political writer, and from Ralph Hefferline, a psychology professor and patient. Perls was quoted as saying,
“Lose your mind and come to your senses.”
The key points of Gestalt therapy are:
· Live now, in the moment
· Live here, in the present
· Stop imagining and experience reality
· Stop unnecessary thinking; decide and act
· Start expressing and avoid manipulating, explaining, justifying or judging
· Stop restricting awareness and accept unpleasantness
· Resist accepting “should” or “ought” from others
· Begin taking full responsibility for actions, feelings and thoughts
· Begin surrendering to who you are right now.
Claudio Naranjo, a Chilean-born anthropologist and psychiatrist, organized Gestalt therapy into three basic principles:
· Actuality: nothing exists outside the present moment
· Attention: awareness of feelings, thoughts, body posture, breathing rhythm, physical sensations, sights, sounds, tastes, smells and so forth to enhance day-to-day experience
· Responsibility: taking full responsibility for your own actions, feelings and thoughts.
In addition to his work with Gestalt therapy, Naranjo experimented with mind-altering substances and was a major figure in the Human Potential Movement (body mind spirit) and the Fourth Way.
Perls, meanwhile, became associated with The Esalen Institute in California in 1964. People who had no connection to psychotherapy often recognized Perls as the author of a 1969 quotation described as the “Gestalt Prayer”:
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.
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