This from a Wikipedia article on Perls'
Perls' approach to therapy has been strongly criticised by Jeffrey Masson. Masson allows Perls' words to speak for themselves, quoting from his autobiography, In and Out the Garbage Pail, to show that Perls was sexist and abusive. For example:
"I got her down again and said, gasping: 'I've beaten up more than one bitch in my life.' Then she got up, threw her arms around me: 'Fritz, I love you.' Apparently she finally got what, all her life, she was asking for, and there are thousands of women like her in the States. Provoking and tantalizing, bitching, irritating their husbands and never getting their spanking. You don't have to be a Parisian prostitute to need that so as to respect your man."
Janov offered a different model of therapy at the same time as Perls so may have been competitive. Nevertheless this may be worth comparing with other assessments:
On one hand it is difficult to assess Gestalt Therapy apart from Perls as the driving force behind it, while it seems unfair to draw conclusions about the therapy based on the personal eccentricities of its founder. That he had a potent influence on those whom trained with him is fairly clear. The criticism most commonly leveled at Gestalt Therapy is its confrontational approach. Perls' style of therapy centered on provoking and confronting, and his trainees also used provoking and confronting -- often to an undesirable degree. Abe Levitsky, a San Francisco Gestaltist and former student of Fritz's, well summarized the problem: "Scorn was a weapon [Fritz] used, and unfortunately I feel that scorn has been incorporated by many Gestalt therapists and been perpetuated. But that has nothing to do with Gestalt Therapy. It simply had to do with Fritz's irascibility, where his style is imitated instead of his message." I listened to several of Perl’s audiotapes, and I must say, none of them made any sense. They were the incoherent ramblings of a man too “loose.” He made the confusion between acting out like an ape or any other thing he could imagine, and freedom.
To what degree Perls' irascible, scornful style was passed on to second-generation therapists (Perls died in 1970) is difficult to know. We can, however, evaluate the degree to which his core ideas and techniques have been preserved and elaborated by perusing The Gestalt Journal in the 1980s and by examining the journal's Fall 1993 special issue commemorating the centennial of Fritz Perls' birth.
Perls' message was, in many ways, short and to the point. "Do your own thing," "Be here now," and "Lose your mind and come to your senses," are standard Gestalt commandments. Indeed, Fritz even wrote what he called the Gestalt Prayer, which he frequently used to begin his group therapy sessions: And by the way, after a patient finished with her time in the hot seat, he or she kissed Perls on the forehead; a mark of respect, it was believed.
If the sociocultural setting of the World War II era helps to explain Perls' passion for certain concepts, his personal life setting helps explain his anathema for others -- in particular, the "concepts" of past history, personal vulnerability, and neediness. Perls not only intellectually disavowed the validity of past causes, he would tolerate no mention of this subject from anyone. In his more rational moments on the subject, he contended that a person's past history could only elaborate upon what you could observe here and now in the present. In his less rational moments he would simply react to mention of past causes with anything from irritation to rage.
In fact, the issues of past causes and personal vulnerability represented Perls' unadmitted "Achilles heel." It is relevant at this point to mention some aspects of Perls' own primary relationships. By his own admission, his home life was unhappy. His parents hated each other. His father regularly assaulted his mother. The father apparently had hatred to spare for young Frederick, whom he called "a piece of shit." As a teenager, Fritz found more hatred at school, where the teachers were "unloving" and "cruel." In this environment the youngster apparently developed what Jeffrey Masson describes as "an almost unfathomable lack of warm feeling for...his own family." Masson quotes Perls' single mention in his autobiography of his elder sister. "She was a clinger...She also had severe eye trouble... When I heard of her death in a concentration camp I did not mourn much."
Perls -- who had hardened himself against his own childhood suffering -- was notorious for his intolerance of sensitive or needy men. Many an unsuspecting man got "zapped" in Perls' groups for the mere indiscretion of beginning a sentence with "I want" or "I need." His biographer, psychiatrist Martin Shepard, writes:
Fritz's harshness was invariably in direct proportion to his own neediness, and he was particularly needy at this time [the early 1960s, during his first stint at Esalen]. His attitude and bearing discouraged those who would place him in the role of a nurturing parent or a reassurer. He treated such requests...scornfully or with a logical argument; "What do you need me for?" he might ask. "What do you need your parents for? You've got eyes and ears and energy. What do you want to do?
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