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The Genius of Fritz

Fritz Perls

There isn’t a single word in English that will fully do justice to describe what Gestalt is. And therefore, Gestalt “is” anything I say after gestalt as to what is gestalt, will never be gestalt. And that is why Gestalt will always be Gestalt. In every attempt of mine in the mind to explain Gestalt may be possible, but it is never possible to say “what” Gestalt is and that is the genius of Fritz Perls. He was aware, unique, hilarious and brutally honest!

Having broken from Fritz, experience for him was just experience and the experience didn’t have a meaning to why someone does something from crying to laughing. He would leave it to the person to think that whatsoever they did, was a matter of their own choices in life. People make choices and the choices people make have consequences, thus choices make up the person. People are free and therefore responsible for their behavior.

Perls used the term "concentration therapy" to mean what is now known as Gestalt therapy. Concentration therapy became for Perls the replacement tool of psychoanalysis. It was through the treatment of anxiety attacks that Perls operationalized the early practice of Gestalt therapy. One finds in his treatment strategy the holism of the therapy. Perls who was drawn to "the underlying holistic and phenomenological structure of Gestalt therapy as a clinical derivative of Gestalt psychology". There are divergent and opposing opinions regarding the theoretical transition from Gestalt psychology to Gestalt therapy. These opinions range from that "the two approaches have nothing in common”, to Perls who was drawn to "the underlying holistic and phenomenological structure of Gestalt therapy as a clinical derivative of Gestalt psychology". Perls always referred to his technique of therapy as “Gestalt therapy” indicating that he saw the connections between the traditions of gestalt psychology and the therapy aspect of the same. In Gestalt, the only goal is awareness. This includes greater awareness in a particular area and also greater ability for the patient to bring automatic habits into awareness as needed. In the former sense awareness is a content, in the latter sense it is a process. Both awareness as content and awareness as process progress to deeper levels as the therapy proceeds. Awareness includes knowing the environment, responsibility for choices, self-knowledge, and self-acceptance, and the ability to contact.

Beginning patients are chiefly concerned with the solution of problems. The issue for the Gestalt therapist is how patients support themselves in solving problems. Gestalt therapy facilitates problem solving through increased self-regulation and self-support by the patient. As therapy goes on, the patient and the therapist turn more attention to general personality issues. By the end of successful therapy the patient directs much of the work and is able to integrate problem solving, characterological themes, relationship issues with the therapist, and means of regulating his or her own awareness.

Perls regarded Gestalt therapy with its "dependence on the laws of Gestalt dynamics as the next step after Freud in the history of psychiatry". Perls noted that although he was aware of the Gestalt psychologists' work, he was primarily psychoanalytically oriented, both as a therapist/analyst and as a patient. In his strategy, Perls treated both mind and body, paid attention to the zero point, and recognized the individual's lack of homeostasis. He encouraged proactivity, and thereby the responsibility of the persons to act upon themselves through concentration and awareness of how they interrupt natural contact. Perls believed that this treatment strategy allowed clients to cure themselves. Gestalt therapy, according to Perls, its main originator, is an existential approach “not just occupied with dealing with symptoms or character structure, but with the total existence of the person”. Gestalt therapy is the only existential approach which has support in its own formation since gestalt formation. He observed: “Gestalt therapy is a philosophy that tries to be in harmony , in alignment with everything else, with medicine, with science, with the universe, with what is”

As Gestalt therapy concepts are translated into a variety of experimental procedures, the concepts are defined more exactly. This eventually permits a new, more careful consideration of how Gestalt therapy might be a "good continuation of Gestalt theory, in its development of how perception is affected by the state of the whole organism." The Gestalt psychology theorists concentrated upon the more "objective" aspects of perception. He then added: “But {the Founders} would have been the first to agree that in order to make any sense of perception you have to embed it in the need structure of the organism and indeed treat it as an outgrowth of those basic needs. Gestalt therapists can acknowledge their spiritual ancestry in Gestalt psychology, as well as their differences with it”. Once again the constructs of early Gestalt psychologists and the writings of Perls appear similar although Gestalt psychology is not the sole or major influence found in the writings of Perls. He had three goals in mind in his proposed revision of psychoanalysis when he gave his concept of gestalt: to "replace the psychological by an organismic concept", to "replace association-psychology by gestalt-psychology", to "apply differential thinking based on S.F. Friedlander's 'Creative Indifference'.These in particular tend to involve theoretical foundations for a variety of Gestalt techniques.

Break Away From Freud

Perls disagreed with Sigmund Freud and his theory of psychoanalysis in many significant areas that were the theoretical basis of Freud’s theory. Even though Perls was a psychoanalyst for many years, he soon decided to break away from Freud after realising how his theory on various concepts differed from that of the traditional psychoanalysis. Perls thought that psychoanalysis encouraged deadness and suppression of emotion in two particular ways. The first by focusing on the past and the causes of the patient's problem, and the second by encouraging the patients to live in the middle zone of experience. Perls wrote; "The great error in psychoanalysis is in assuming that memory is reality". Perls thought that a patient's memories were unreliable and unhelpful in bringing about change in the present. Instead of looking to the past for explanations, Perls would have his clients look at the "now" and "how". It is a period in therapy in which the client must be in the “here-and-now’’ and this is facilitated if the therapist is in empathic contact with the minutiae of the client’s experience. Perls seems to be saying that it is necessary to be in touch with the “now” if one is to live a life which is real rather than illusory.

He wrote: "If you ask how, you look at the structure, you see what's going on now, a deeper understanding of the process. The how is all we need to understand how we or the world functions".

Perls disagreed with Freud's division of the psyche into the model of the Ego, Id, and Superego. Perls thought it more constructive to consider a single ego, self, or personality which functioned in particular ways. He argued that constructs of divisions inside the personality encouraged splits in the personality. Perls in writing about the Ego, said:

“The Ego's meaning is that of a symbol and not of a substance. As the Ego indicates the acceptance of and identification with certain parts of the personality, we can make use of the Ego-language for the purpose of assimilating disowned parts of ourselves. These disowned parts are either repressed or projected. The It" language is a mild form of projection and results, like any other projection, in a change from an active to a passive attitude, from responsibility into fatalism”. Perls viewed the ego as potentially powerful and the master of its situation as a result of its ability to identify, to attract toward itself and take in whatever the Ego considered "right". Here Perls noted the power of language in constructing our reality and our personality as an example of the crucial effect of symbols on our experience. Perls believed that Freud's concept of the ego made it a servant instead of a master. He wrote:

“In other words, by taking the Ego as a substance we have to admit it's incompetence. We have to accept the Ego's dependency upon the demands of instincts, conscience, and environment, and we have to agree fully with Freud's poor view of the Ego's power.”

Perls insisted that one should concentrate or look at one's own awareness. Awareness includes knowing the environment, responsibility for choices, self-knowledge, and self-acceptance, and the ability to contact.

According to him, a person's dominant needs pushed for awareness, determined gestalts, and then selected from the environment what related to those needs. By staying with moment-to-moment awareness, the organism, using perception patterns, can determine its dominant needs. Even more often, awareness focuses on the old habits which are not fulfilling its needs. Seeing the failures of one's habits and focusing on what one really needs can lead to fulfilling the organism's dominant needs. Another aspect which was viewed differently by Perls was the aspect of the instincts. Perls replaced Freud's posited instincts of the Id with the principles of attraction and repulsion. He saw instincts as the biological needs of an organism which helped the organism direct their perception so that their personality can fulfill the needs in their environment. Perls used the term "instincts" in many of his books, yet his definition was different from the common usage. Healthy self support arises from awareness of oneself and particularly one's emotional life in relation to the balanced progression of needs met and unmet. Healthy self support comes through striving towards a homeostatic integration of these needs.

In his words:

As long as we remain conscious of the fact that the term "instinct" is only a convenient word symbol for certain complex occurrences in the organism, we may use it. But if we regard an instinct as a reality, we make the dangerous mistake of conceiving it a "prima causa" and of falling into a new trap of deification. Perls, however, did not define the ego as an instinct. Perls stated that, "The ego is neither an instinct, nor has it instinct; it is an organismic function" . Instincts within. Gestalt therapy takes on a symbolic meaning used to communicate a concept and does not have either psychological or physiological counterparts.

Perls also saw a need to swap Freud's sexual instinct with a hunger instinct. Though the hunger instinct may be a dominant instinct within human beings, it is still dependent upon our interest and upon our present need. Perls wrote of the hunger instinct while strongly holding that its physical counterparts of biting, hanging on, grinding, and the physical feeling of hunger, all correspond and have counterparts in the body and the mind. This presence or the absence of the figure of the bread reflects the ego's capability of concentrating only on one thing at a time, regardless of how quickly humans can shuffle from one concept to another, or think rapidly of one topic, then another and on to yet: still another. Perls offered the association of teeth with aggression, i.e., pairing the hunger instinct with aggression. The teeth, Perls explained, were intended to be the biological outlet for natural aggression in the human being. Perls stated that, "Above all, the destructive tendency, ...should have its natural biological outlet in the use of the teeth'' Perls believed that humans compensate for this deficit by creating an internal censor, or moral watchdog. The censor may be directed inward or directed outward. The goal of the censor is "to admit only such material as he considers good and to exclude all bad thoughts, wishes and so on. This is interesting in that the bad thoughts an individual may decide to exclude could be thoughts generally held to be good thoughts.

An example here makes it better to understand. An individual who intends to commit the crime of murder first has a focused need, a figure of the murderous act that is directed towards the person to be murdered. This act, at that moment, is not interpreted or perceived by the individual who experiences the need as bad. The individual has been deceived by a lack of self-awareness. This deception in turn inhibits the natural flow of events in such a way that the individual experiences the need to murder as both a desirable and good activity.

The fulfillment of these needs then tends to the development of the organism’s personality towards maturity.

Perls presented these borrowed ideas in enough detail and with few enough changes so that it was possible to relate them back to their originator. Perls' talent lay in brilliantly utilizing these ideas in the therapeutic process used in the days to come, to make them relevant to the organism, their psyche and the environment.

Perls believed that humans need to expand their Egos to take in whatever they are attracted to, and that they either keep out what is repulsive or they deaden their awareness that it has become a part of their Ego. These conflicts could be resolved by heightening awareness which might eliminate the conflicts, the deadness, and any need for looking backward as psychoanalysis demanded. Perls often repeated the essential healthy and healing power of living in awareness of the self in the present and that therapy that stressed the past or the future was futile without this recognition. Life is to be lived, not talked about.

According to Perls, it does not matter why one chooses to hate one's mother, but what matters is how one feels now about it and the general association of one's mate who represents current close relationships. What is going on now? What do you want? These questions were often asked by Perls to restore communication with the natural self, which Perls felt would lead toward maturation, satisfaction, and self-support. Perls believed that Freud over-estimated causality, the past, and the sex intinct, and neglected the importance of purposiveness, present, and the hunger instinct. Perls rejected Freud's "archaeological" complex, his seemingly one-sided interest in the past and replaced it with a concentration on the present. Perls also rejected Adler's futuristic thinking and described it merely as the swinging of the pendulum from one extreme (Freud and the past) to another equally unacceptable position (Adler and the future). To Perls the correct sense of time was the present, the zero point, from which the balance may be disturbed by regressing to the past, or by fantasies into the future. Perls stated: "There is no other reality than the present predilection for either historical or futuristic thinking always destroys contact with reality". Perls was concerned that individuals might misinterpret his position on the present as excluding the past and the future. He said: We must not entirely neglect the future (e.g. planning) or the past (unfinished situations), but we must realize that the past has gone, leaving us with a number of unfinished situations and that planning must be a guide to, not a sublimation of, or a substitute for, action.

Beliefs of Perls

Perls believed that human beings create their own thoughts and emotions and because those thoughts and emotions are of their own creation, that humans are fully responsible for them. Humans have the potential to act upon themselves and upon their environments. According to Perls, the human organism possesses free will and is not determined by heredity or by environmental forces, though such forces can and sometimes do influence human behavior. There are certain assumptions in society with which the individual must contend. People possess free will in their choices and in their values; they do not have choices over all things in their lives, People cannot choose the color of their skin or any other physical attribute that is determined by genetics. People cannot choose the environment into which they are born, for example, nationality or the socio-economic position of the parents. People are free and therefore responsible for their behavior.

The key to free will is awareness. People who are unaware are not fully responsible for their behavior. In order for people to be responsible they must have meaningful awareness of themselves. Meaningful awareness is of the self in the world, in dialogue with the world, and with awareness of Other - it is not an inwardly focused Introspection". Awareness includes thoughts, emotions, and sensory receptors. In order to actualize one's free will one must be in awareness of oneself. Perls and the theory of Gestalt therapy hold to a belief in free will; however, it seems more appropriate to this writer to term it free choice.

In describing the neurotic's lack of awareness and hence lack of free choice, he said: He cannot decide for himself when to participate and when to withdraw because all the unfinished business of his life, all the interruptions to the ongoing process, have disturbed his sense of orientation, and he is no longer able to distinguish between those objects or persons in the environment which have a positive cathexis; he no longer knows when or from what to withdraw. He has lost his freedom of choice, he cannot select appropriate means to his end goals, because he does not have the capacity to see choices that are open to him.

Perls showed his audience the importance of heightening awareness, thereby actualizing free choice and responsible behavior in the creation, resolution and integration of one's dysfunction. Perls showed that obesity and stuttering are both self-created dysfunctions that interfere with appropriate contact. The person who stutters and the obese person both self-create a barrier between themselves and their environments. Through appropriate self-discovery and awareness techniques, Perls demonstrated that the stutterer and the obese person could integrate their behavior into appropriate ego-boundaries and forfeit the loss of contact, thereby bringing them into full responsibility and exercising their free choice.

Unconscious Versus Conscious

Perls and the theory of Gestalt therapy have consistently interpreted the words "unconscious" and "conscious" to mean unawareness and awareness. The intent in re-labeling the terms was to move away from the Freudian concept of a dynamic and active unconscious and move toward a concept that incorporated responsibility. Whether this was achieved has been debated , but Perls consistently re-labeled the unconscious as the unaware.

He wrote: Many of the neurotic's difficulties are related to his unawareness, his blind spots, to the things and relationships he simply does not sense. And therefore, rather than talking of the unconscious, we prefer to talk about the at-this-moment-unaware. This term is much broader and wider than their term "unconscious".

This unawareness contains not only repressed material, but material which never came into awareness, and material which has faded or has been assimilated or has been built into larger gestalts. As the conscious is purely mental in nature, so is the unconscious. But the awareness and unawareness are not purely mental. Perls not only wrote about the unconscious and conscious as unawareness and awareness, he also demonstrated this belief. In many of his dream interpretation sessions Perls attempted to show how it was not a dynamic unconscious at work in dreams but rather the person experiencing the mind's creation in an altered state of awareness, which through experimental work could bear upon the individual's full awareness Perls rejected the dichotomy of unconscious versus conscious in favor of unawareness and awareness. He did not accept Freud's topographical division but rather viewed this construct on a broad continuum encompassing the whole gestalt of which the person is.

Nativism Versus Environmentalism

In the theory and practice of Gestalt therapy the human organism cannot be defined or adequately understood except in relation to its environment. Perls wrote that humans are responsible for their behavior when they are aware of it. Because of the belief in responsible behavior and thought, Perls tended to lean towards the environmentalism side of this polarity. Nativism is recognized to the extent that facticity exists, facticity being the existential concept that recognizes individual responsibility for thought, emotion and behavior with the preclusion of genetics and any other factor completely outside the influence and control of the individual.

Reactive Versus Proactive

Perls definition of proactivity is coupled with the reality that humans are dependent upon their environments for definition. Humans do not totally act upon their environments. In the same vein of thinking as May and Yalom in their discussion of Existential psychotherapy is Perls who said that individuals must contend with themselves in their environment while recognizing facticity and all its Implications. Perls certainly would reject reactivity as defined by Skinner, yet he tempers his definition of proactivity almost as if he were a soft-determinist.

Perls believed that the subjective world of experience was essential in defining the organism's personality. He also held that objective factors, such as heredity, or socio-cultural influences shape the personality. self-sufficiency. Self-support is defined as living and developing according to the natural occurence of figural gestalts while attending to the interdependency of the human organism with its environment. Self-sufficiency is an illusion. Perls wrote that the human being cannot define itself outside of the environment in which it lives. To be self-sufficient one must be able to survive without the influence of the environment; Perls did not believe that was possible. The human organism recognizes that it functions and defines itself only in the context of its environment; yet, in order to become healthy, it must not be dependent on its environment. It meets its environment at the contact boundaries of its ego functions and to blur that line is dysfunctional. Perls wrote: Full support for the self - overcoming the need for environmental support - can come only through making creative use of the energies that are invested in the blocks that prevent self-support. Instead of permitting our patients to see themselves passively transferring from the past, we have to introduce the mentality of responsibility which says: "I am preventing myself...". Perls demonstrated his belief in the patient becoming more responsible for self-created dysfunctional activities. Perls showed through various techniques his Perls did not believe that humans were victims of their emotions but rather that individuals both create and subsequently maintain their emotions.

Thinking Versus Feeling

Perls relegated the emotional life of the human organism to the level of pre-eminence. Thinking for Perls was an important aspect of being human; however, thinking often turned into intellectualization. Self-truth was to be founding the emotional life of the human being. The way a person achieved this self-truth was through a process of discovery.

Perls clearly distinguished between emotional reality and cognitive reality. He was holistic in his approach; however, it seems as though a person's emotional life was given priority in the creation, maintenance and subsequent cure of dysfunctions. The theory of Gestalt therapy is holistic in that "awareness is cognitive, sensory, and affective" A belief is held that the affective life of the client is where problems reside and to effectively treat the problem this area must be probed. Emotional catharsis is achieved through the process of experiential discovery of the way in which the client disallows parts of the self to emerge as needed to maintain healthy contact between ego-boundaries and the environment. Watching or listening to a demonstration of Fritz Perls participating in psychotherapy, one may be struck by the intense emotionality that exists both in him and his clients. The technique of frustrating the client is seen repeatedly foregrounding the unfinished situation that is interfering with current contact. Perls demonstrated this technique with its emphasis upon emotional discharge time and time again.

Subjectivity Versus Objectivity

Perls asked the question, what is reality? Where does the subjective world cease to be subjective and the objective world become reality? Perls described reality as having three aspects; the first was the objective world, from this world one creates a subjective world, and the third aspect of reality which "plays an enormous part in our life and civilization, and which has become a reality of its own" is the pseudo-world or the world of projections. Perls described reality in terms of layers of awareness. He began with the belief that an absolute world Exists. The individual is aware of the objective world, whether this be a scientific knowledge or knowledge gained through reading books or of experiencing the world. The next layer consists of the average person's subjective perceptions of the world and the individual's relationship to it, and finally there is a neurotic/ inhibited layer in which the subjective world is narrowed by the loss of senses and by social and neurotic inhibitions. There is an interdependence of the objective and subjective worlds. Individuals often define their subjective experiences in relation to the objective world or because of the objective world. Needs felt by individuals find healthy gratification in the objective world.

Holism and Gestalt Psychology

The basic premise on which Gestalt therapy rests is that of holism. The greatest value in the Gestalt approach, according to Perls, "lies in the insight that the whole determines the parts, which contrasts with the previous assumption that the whole is merely the total sum of its elements". Perls had largely credited the Gestalt psychologists with the formulation of the concept of holism.Gestalt therapy holds that the human being is both physical and mental. Perls viewed the human as holistic.

Perls applied the concept of holism to his theory of personality and wrote that the concept was: "developed by a group of German psychologists working in the field of perception, who showed that man does not perceive things as unrelated isolates but organizes them in the perceptual process into meaningful wholes" Perls were the 'unity of the individual and integration. This understanding of a human regarded the physical, the emotional, the thoughts, all mental events, as expressions of a unified being; of each individual. Holistically one cannot attain an adequate concept of the self by merely summing up the individual component parts of the self: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Gestalt therapy includes a philosophy of life based on the holistic epistemology outlined above. It is descriptive, integrative, and structural; emphasizing phenomenology, the here and now, and a positive wholeness that characterizes the responsibility people have in creating their lives and discovering their strengths. Gestalt therapy theory applies holism at several levels of its structure, and gestalt therapy practice views that practice as one whole process. The theory of gestalt therapy is both a property and a nomological holism; that is, its characteristics can only be understood in the context of the whole approach, and its principles work together. The practice of gestalt therapy is a methodological holism, given that the laws of each part of gestalt therapy are shaped by all the laws of all the parts working together rather than by any set of laws alone.

Experimental Freedom

Gestalt therapy is not based on a cause-and-effect, linear theory of change. Thus, it does not really follow the medical model of simple symptom reduction by means of critical interventions. Rather, the gestalt therapy model makes mystery virtuous and open systems, in which many things are always possible, adventuresome. Gestalt therapy is essentially experimental. The gestalt therapist asks, “What might happen if…?” Something is thrown into action to create an experience that can be mined and used to increase awareness and understanding, and the experienced gestalt therapist finds his or her own stride in just how to craft novel and clinically relevant experiments.

Empty Chair

As first popularized by Perls, an empty chair faced the client. The client imagined someone (or himself, herself, or parts of him or herself) in it, and spoke, gestured, or otherwise communicated to the "empty chair," which was now not so empty. The client then sat in the chair, continuing the conversation, this time reversing roles. Variations of the "empty chair" developed over the decades in order to fit the clinical needs of the situation - and as gestalt therapy evolved. The client might participate in this technique without the "prop" of an actual empty chair. Importantly, the technique today always includes attention to the relational dynamic between the client and the psychotherapist.

This technique often brings clients into present or immediate experiences. Abstractions or verbalizations become enlivened moments. Clients may be able to experience different aspects of their own conflicts in a new manner through empty-chair dialogue. Gestalt therapy is more than a collection of techniques, despite the notoriety of the empty chair. This technique is one of the many interventions within gestalt therapy, all with the common purpose of facilitating discovery and psychotherapeutic insight. The Gestalt empty-chair technique is recognized in the clinical literature as a valuable therapeutic tool in helping a client attain closure on unresolved feelings involving a significant other. The role-play functions as a powerful priming context in facilitating full expression of previously suppressed emotions. It is believed that in openly expressing these feelings and acknowledging his or her underlying unmet needs vis-a-vis the significant other, the client will be in a better position to work through the feelings.

Bereaved individuals who had lost their spouse through death on average 6 months previously, engaged in a 5-minute empty chair monologue task, in which they were instructed to imagine that they had one final opportunity to speak to their spouse. Immediately following the monologue, participants completed a questionnaire addressing the extent to which they experienced various emotions during the mortblogue including those associated with blame toward the deceased (e.g., anger), self-blame (e.g., guilt), and helplessness (e.g., helpless). These emotions are indicative of failure to relinquish the goals associated with the attachment to the spouse. The monologue questionnaire thus provided a measure of extent of grief resolution.

The Here and Now

Perls set out an equation of "now = experience = awareness = reality." The only awareness is here and now, whether it be the past (memories) or the future (anticipation); past and future events are in the present, as they occupy present processes. Perls insisted that to stray from the present distracted from the living quality of reality. This emphasis on the "now" is consistent with the Gestalt psychologists' definition of psychology as the study of the immediate experience of the whole organism, the "now'' as it is perceived. Gestalt psychologists' position with regard to personality and present immediate experience, a position endorsed by Perls: "Just as the parts fail to explain the whole, so the past fails to explain the present or the present the future at the present instant the future seems simply non-existent". "Now" begins in phenomenological therapy with the current awareness of the client. What takes place initially is not a childhood period, but the period of current experience or now. Awareness comes right now. Previous happenings may be the items of current awareness, but the process of awareness (for instance, remembering) is right now.

Now I am able to contact the surrounding, or now I have the ability to contact recollections or hopes. Without being aware of the present, not keeping in memory, or not expecting are all troubles. The present is a transition point between the past period and the future. Clients are not always aware about their behavior at the present moment. Sometimes they live the way they do not have a past. The majority lives in the future. These things present interruptions of time awareness.

"Now" is applied to the present moment. During the therapy hour the clients think of lives from the position of the current hour, or before in the hour, which is not now. Gestalt therapy is more focused on the now than in some different psychotherapy form. Experiences, received in the last minutes of the past, days, or years and even decades are especially important. We try to progress from speaking about to experiencing directly. For instance, this more resembles the situation which is closer to speaking to an individual who is not present physically and activates a more direct experience of sensations than speaking about the person.

The attempt to discriminate between what one had learned that was crucial to one’s growth and what one had simply absorbed by fiat became an inverted puritanism, a moral imperative to get rid of all “shoulds.”

The Concept of Boundaries and Neurosis

The state of any region of the system at any particular time is determined by the state of every other region. This principle constitutes the fundamental thought underlying the theory of Gestalten. Gestalt therapy reiterates this principle when it states that neuroses occur at the boundary. Perls incorporated this concept of 'boundary', and amplified it through many of his works. The study of the way in which a person functions in his environment is the study of what goes on at the contact boundary between the individual and his environment. It is at this contact boundary that the psychological events take place. Our thoughts, our actions, our behavior, and our emotions are our way of experiencing and meeting those boundary events. Inside the ego-boundary there is cohesion, and cooperation, while outside the ego boundary is suspicion and strangeness.

Perls defined neuroses as disturbances of the contact boundary: "All neurotic disturbances arise from the individual's inability to find and maintain a proper balance between himself and the rest of the world". In the healthy individual, the process of Gestalt formation and recession flows smoothly. If Gestalten is not adequately fulfilled, blocked energy results in anxiety. Perls interpreted Goldstein's view of anxiety as implying that anxiety is the result of catastrophic expectations which can lead to detachment and isolation of organismic parts, or in other words, a splitting of the personality.

Unfinished Business

Unfinished business refers to undone tasks or unresolved feelings over a long time, that hinders a person’s growth. People who have some unfinished business are often noticed to be dwelling on the past, and away from the ‘here and now’. One of the aims of Gestalt therapy is to help people get closure for their unfinished business. Resolving past conflicts helps relieve the person from pain and sorrow. Psychologist Fritz Perls, founder of Gestalt Therapy, spoke of “unfinished business.” He was referring not to the bills we need to pay or the purchases we need to make, but to the experiences we need to process. When an emotionally significant event happens such as a fight with one’s spouse, failure to land a much-desired job, hurtful comments from someone we trusted, we might be fully attuned to our reactions and deal with these until we get some sense of resolution. On the other hand, we might suppress our feelings or experience them for a time but never manage to achieve resolution. Those experiences for which we don’t find peace are added to our pile of unfinished business, all that’s happened to us that’s still pending.

Perls felt that, as unfinished business stacks up, it comes to block our way forward. We may become habitually depressed, anxious, angry, or hopeless without awareness of the unfinished business that’s responsible. Not realizing what is going on, we may try to escape our discomfort using strategies ranging from the relatively benign (social media, overwork, excessive exercise, sports) to the pernicious (drugs, alcohol, porn, gambling).

After identifying your unfinished business, devote yourself to bringing the feelings associated with each resentment or regret into the present. Visualizing the situation, writing about it, or looking at reminders such as letters or photos are all ways of doing this. Then work on achieving resolution. Finding hidden positives in what happened, practicing gratitude, deciding to relinquish grievances, forgiving of others or yourself, praying, and choosing to offer or receive a blessing all can be used to help you process the situation. The awareness and resolution that are needed may require expressing your resentments or regrets to someone else. A relationship with a psychotherapist can be a particularly fruitful avenue for working through unfinished business.

The Mind-Body Position

Perls adopted a holistic doctrine that stated that humans are unified organisms. This was a different position

from the pervasive psychiatric thought of the time which was "still operating in terms of the old mind-body split"

Perls' position regarding the body-mind debate is not entirely clear. A monist position was espoused in some places when he maintained that humans do not have a body but rather; "we are a body, we are somebody". In Ego, Hunger, and Aggression, he stated that "body and soul are identical in re' though not 'in verbo' the words 'body' and 'soul' denoted two aspects of the same thing". Perls elaborated and said that dualistic and parallelistic theories are based on an artificial split which has no existence in reality. Although Perls considered himself a monist, a number of extracts from his writings suggest that he was not entirely a monist, but rather an uncertain dualist because he referred to "purely mental experiences" which comprise "wishes, phantasies and daydreams", hardly the words of a pure monist. The position Perls accepted was not dissimilar to that of Wertheimer who stated that when people are timid, afraid or energetic, happy or sad, it can be shown that the course of their physical processes are identical with the course pursued by their mental processes. In this writer's opinion such statements influenced.

Perls when he introduced "the concept of the unified field" which stated that in psychotherapy, what a person does gives the therapist clues as to what the person thinks. Perls stated: "We believe further that the 'mental-physical' or 'mind-body' split is a totally artificial one, and that to concentrate on either term in the dichotomy is to preserve neurosis, not to cure It" Perls believed that no emotion is felt without a physiological counterpart; for example, the anxiety attack that is felt in the lungs with shortness of breath, or the burning of the face with shame, or the heart pounding in anxiety. Perls wrote that the neurotic person experiences sensations not instead of emotions, "but at the expense or even to the exclusion of the consciousness of the emotional component the person experiences a scotoma for the psychological manifestation of the emotion" Perls wrote: "Thus the plus and minus functions of metabolism represent the working of the basic tendency of every organism to strive for balance".

Every organism, every person, strives for this internal and environmental balance. The organism seeks out, strives for, is pulled towards, a balance. The organism is teleologically oriented towards a homeostatic position. Perls described the movement toward balance as simple steps that the organism experiences. The steps of homeostasis are as follows: The organism is in balance, a need disturbs this balance, the organism looks to itself and its environment and is drawn to that which will fulfill its need, the need is fulfilled or satiated then and the organism returns to balance. Perls wrote: " In the working of the organism, some happening tends to disturb its balance at every moment, and simultaneously a counter-tendency arises to regain it".

Perls emphasized the importance of using words which express the precise meaning. Pathology produces distortion of word meanings, incorrect vocabulary, wrong application of grammar, and incorrect syntax. Perls encouraged people to learn the value of each word, and to appreciate the power hidden in the logos. Perls concluded that the avoidance of ego language, the use of the "I",and the avoidance of personal responsibilities are closely related. Language, the ability to use abstract thinking, and mental health are then interconnected and the understanding of their interconnectedness is essential to the understanding of Gestalt therapy.

The Concept of Homeostasis

The homeostatic process is the process by which the organism maintains its equilibrium and satisfies its needs. The principle of constancy is the tendency toward stability. Excitation is the response of the organism to the principle of constancy, while excitement is the response of the organism to the principle of homeostasis. Freud saw the healthy organism as wishing to decrease excitation in order to feel pleasure, while Perls saw the functioning organism as marshaling excitement into action in order to satisfy its needs, which is pleasurable. Thus, anxiety, excitement, and excitation, while showing some relationship as feeling states, are used to denote different experiences in the writings of Perls and Freud. An appropriate balance of all parts of the individual is necessary for health to occur. People strive to maintain equilibrium by the acceptance of their feelings, thoughts, actions and bodily experiences. They may be temporarily out of balance as they explore one of these dimensions in order to have a better understanding of themselves and develop their full potential. At any moment, a person may be faced with dissonance which occurs either through external demands or internal needs. Individuals can choose to accept these demands or assess them relative to their own needs. Attaining this self-regulation or balance may be difficult, since certain behaviors are more approved of by society.

Differential thinking is composed of three elements: opposites; pre-difference or the zero point; and degree of differentiation. These elements set the stage from which Perls played out the theoretical tenets of his emerging theory of human behavior. Perls stated, "Thinking in opposites is the quintessence of dialectics". It is from this concept that Perls concluded that humans are field theoretical in that he believed that individuals can become aware of their own differential thinking into opposites, and an awareness that they possess a unique view of themselves in relation to their environment. The environment, the situation, becomes the field from which one differentiates. One moves from the pre different stage of thinking, the stage of undifferential thinking, to differential thinking. The concept of differential thinking encompasses Friedlaender's concept of creative indifference. Creative indifference is not apathetic thinking, but rather an inspired interest for both sides of the continuum of a particular issue; it is "full of interest, extending towards both sides of the differentiation".

Ethics to Perls

According to Perls, "Four ingredients come together to mix the cocktail of ethics: differentiation, frustration, the figure-background phenomenon and the law that quantity changes into quality". Differentiation has been defined and discussed elsewhere in this paper. Frustration means tension which Perls believed was necessary for real gratification. This concept is very similar to Freud's pleasure principle. If the individual has not learned to manipulate the environment to create and subsequently delineate the necessary tension to experience pleasure, the individual may resort to artificial tension creators, such as drugs or alcohol. If the individual chooses to create artificial tension, then remediational therapy becomes necessary in order to return the organism to the true zero point of living. Perls wrote that if the individual masks the emerging inner need in favor of the environmental or the societal need, the moral need, that the organism is bound to suffer neurosis in that it has denied, cut-off, an aspect of itself. This type of environmental conformity was seen by Perls as infectious group neuroses. He wrote:

The infectious nature of neurosis is based upon a psychological process, in which feelings of guilt and fear of being an outcast play a part, as well as the wish to establish contact, even if it be a pseudo-contact. The drug addict induces others to indulge in the same habit and the political idealist will try to convince everybody, by any means, that his particular outlook is the only "right" one.

According to Perls and Clements in the theory and practice of Gestalt therapy the human organism cannot be defined or adequately understood except in relation to its environment. Perls recognized nativism only to the extent that he accepted the concept of facticity. It is the contact with the environment that assists in the identification of the healthy ego boundaries. Without the environment there would be no contact and no self to define and develop. The self is proactive with its environment. It is both defined in relation to its environment and acts to mold its environment to meet its definition of itself. This is accomplished subjectively according to one's own existential reality. Humans are fully responsible for this manipulation of the environment and the self in relation to the environment. Perls did not believe that it was possible for humans to be self-sufficient, to survive without the benefit of the environment. He did believe that humans were capable of and desirous of healthy self support.

Healthy self support arises from awareness of oneself and particularly one's emotional life in relation to the balanced progression of needs met and unmet. Healthy self support comes through striving towards a

homeostatic integration of these needs.

All in all, Fritz Perls’ creative genius led to a turning point in the field of psychotherapy. According to him, Gestalt is not just a form of therapy, it is a way of life. From its inception, Gestalt therapy has built a space for enthusiastic and innovative minds that offer effective short-cuts as well as deep, meaningful experiences to those who seek to become full, complete versions of themselves.

“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 (1969).

Though Perls did not consider himself a pure "Gestaltist", gratitude for the contributions made by classical Gestalt psychology to Gestalt therapy was reflected both in his dedication of his first book, and in this poem which he wrote:

Reality is nothing but,

The sum of all the awareness

As you experience here and now

The ultimate of science thus appears

As Husserl's unit of phenomenon

And Ehrenfeld discovery:

The irreducible phenomenon of all

Awareness, the one he named

And we still call



This article on 'The Genius of Fritz' has been contributed by Khushii Raj, who is a Psychology student from Vivekananda college, Delhi University. She is part of the Global Internship Research Program (GIRP), which is under the leadership and guidance of Anil Thomas. GIRP is an Umang Foundation Trust initiative to encourage young adults across our globe to showcase their research skills in psychology and to present it in creative content expression.

She has a keen interest in gaining knowledge and implementing the same, aiding to her growth both personal and professional. Working and learning with utmost passion has been a part of her repertoire.

Anil is an internationally certified NLP Master Practitioner and Gestalt Therapist. He has conducted NLP Training in Mumbai, and across 6 other countries. The NLP practitioner course is conducted twice every year. To get your NLP certification 


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