About the Gestalt Institute of the Rockies
A brief history of
One cannot mention Gestalt therapy without mentioning Fritz Perls. One must envision the early life of Fritz Perls from the historical perspective to appreciate the evolution of this unique therapy.
Fritz Perls was a Berlin-trained psychoanalyst, Freudian perspective and Physician. After receiving his MD degree, Perls went to Frankfurt-am-Main in 1926 to work at the Institute for Brain Damaged Soldiers. It was here that he met his future wife, Laura. At this time, Frankfurt-am-Main was the "Esalen in Europe," a center of human potential that courted the leading Gestalt psychologists, existential philosophers, and psychoanalysts of the era. It was during this time that Perls was exposed to the thinking of Kurt Goldstein, Karen Horney, Otto Rank and Wilhelm Reich. Reich was Perls' analyst in the early 1930's. As Perls stated, "Reich directed my attention to a most important aspect of psychosomatic medicine - to the function of the motoric system as armor."
After the emergence of the Third Reich, he moved to South Africa to escape from the inevitable consequence for being born in a Jewish family. His entire family was killed in the Holocaust. In 1946, Perls moved to the United States. The publication of his first book in 1947, Ego, Hunger and Aggression, provided the necessary impetus in separating himself from his psychoanalytic training. In opposition to the orthodox emphasis upon the unconscious, sex instincts and the function of repression, Perls introduced other aspects of the human personality, such as the hunger instinct, biological aggression and the need for gratification.
Laura Perls greatly influenced her husband and is known as the co-founder of Gestalt therapy even though she does not receive the notoriety of Fritz. Laura Perls studied with the existential theologians Martin Buber and Paul Tillich. Therefore, much of the phenomenological and existential influences in Gestalt therapy are from her. She writes: "whatever exists is here and now. The past exists now as memory, nostalgia, regret, resentment, fantasy, legend or history. The future exists here and now in the actual present as anticipation, planning, rehearsal, expectation, and hope or dread and despair. Gestalt therapy takes its bearing from what is here and now. As such, it has to be experiential and experimental."
Regarding Fritz, a friend wrote, "He simply seemed interested in the obvious."
Perls' real power was in his capacity to make contact with the essence of people.
In a real sense, Perls took therapy off the couch and introduced the new structure of the therapist and client facing each other. A client of Fritz wrote, "His obsession became finding the truth and beauty in the world. His greatest joy was when he released love entrapped by hate and fear. He had faith that when the negative was purged, the basic good of man emerged."
One can experience an "up close and personal" look at Perls by reading his own autobiography, "In and Out of the Garbage Pail."
About 1951, the New York Institute for Gestalt Therapy was organized and located in the apartment of Laura and Fritz Perls. It was during the 1950's that intensive workshops and study groups were organized throughout the country.
Of special note, in 1955, the Cleveland study group formed the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland. Perls moved to the West Coast in 1960, and in 1964 the first Gestalt training workshops were offered at the Esalen Institute.
Gary Yontef writes in his book, Awareness, Dialog and Process, "The excitement of direct contact between therapist and patient, the emphasis on direct experience, the use of active experimentation, the emphasis on the here and now the responsibility of the patient for himself or herself the awareness principle, the trust in organismic self regulation, and the ecological interdependence of person and environment and other such concepts were new, exciting and shocking to the conservative establishment." Currently, there are at least 120 Gestalt therapy institutes throughout the world. Every major city in the United States has at least one Gestalt Institute.
The Gestalt Institute of the Rockies, founded in 1969, is the premier training center in Gestalt therapy in the Rocky Mountain region. Our mission statement reads, "The Gestalt Institute of the Rockies is committed to enriching the therapeutic community and allied professionals. It offers a continuum of Gestalt based training and disciplines that address human growth through the life cycle."
Thus, the evolution of Gestalt therapy continues through the work of institutes throughout the world. The unique quality of Gestalt is the ability to adapt a fluid therapeutic structure to a changing environment. It is not coincidental that the spontaneous and growing interest in Gestalt comes in this era of managed care with emphasis upon the medical model of diagnosis and illness, symptom relief and time-limited treatment. Gestalt offers foundation building, personal responsibility, wellness and health by focusing upon the awareness of one's life in the present moment.
By Duane Mullner, MTh, LPC