Fritz Perls

Fritz Perls (Friedrich Saloman Perls) was born in Berlin in 1893 to Amelia Rund and Nathan Perls. His father has been described as a harsh man who vacillated between ignoring and bullying Fritz. His mother tended to dote on Fritz, and initially their relationship was stable. Around school age, however, this relationship also became stormy, as Fritz became somewhat of a "wild child" (e.g., he was often truant, failed grades, and was even expelled from school). At this time, he enrolled himself in a school that exposed him to theatrics. Fritz's teacher and director, Max Reinhardt, emphasized the importance of nonverbal communication, which influenced Perls in the years to come. Academically, Perls redeemed himself by graduating at the top of his class.

Perls went on to study medicine at Berlin University. In 1916, he enlisted as a medical officer in the German army. After horrific experiences during the war, Perls became active in left-wing politics and anti-establishment movements, which later jeopardized his life when Hitler came to power. In 1920, Perls finished his medical studies as a MD.

While working as a neuropsychiatrist, Perls entered psychoanalysis with Karen Horney for personal problems. Soon after, Perls began training as a psychoanalyst himself. Later Perls would challenge psychoanalysis and, instead, emphasize real contact and rapport between the therapist and client in the here-and-now. In part this new approach was influenced by the work of the Gestalt Psychologists, Gelb and Goldstein. In addition, Perls became familiar with the work of Wertheimer, Koffka, and Kohler (existentialists). It was through his interest in Gestalt Psychology and Existentialism that Perls came to meet his wife, Laura. She is thought to have been responsible for exposing Fritz to existential concepts, and probably deserves some of the credit for the therapeutic techniques he later developed.

After serving in World War II, Perls moved to the United States, where Horney and Sullivan significantly influenced him. Then, working with Hefferline and Goodman, Perls published Gestalt Therapy, which launched the new school of therapy. Fritz included much of his own flamboyant, sometime abrasive personality in his new style of therapy. As Perls focused on setting up Gestalt training institutes around the world, he began to travel alone more frequently, putting a strain on his marriage and relationship with his children. In 1956, after being diagnosed with a heart condition, Perls moved to Miami (without his family), where he met Marty Fromm. Marty began individual therapy with Perls, and eventually, they became lovers. This, of course, did little to help his deteriorating marriage with Laura.

Perls became seriously ill and died of a heart attack in 1970. Later, an autopsy revealed that he had been suffering from pancreatic cancer.


Carl Jung
Carl Jung

Carl Gustav Jung was born in Kesswil, Switzerland in 1875 to Reverend Paul and Emilie Jung. His mother has been described as emotionally distant due to physical and nervous disorders. During his mother's illnesses, Jung's father became bitter and began to have both personal and religious doubts.

Jung studied medicine at the University of Basel, where he became interested in psychiatry. After graduating, he accepted a position at a psychiatric hospital in Zurich. It was through his work with patients diagnosed with schizophrenia that Jung coined the term "psychological complexes."

In 1907, Sigmund Freud extended an invitation for Jung to join him in Vienna. Over the next few years, Jung served as the president of the International Psychoanalytic Association and as Freud's prized pupil who would hopefully carry the psychoanalytic torch. However, in 1913, Jung split from Freud. Jung helped the split to be especially bitter by professing his faith to Freudin letters, while simultaneously insulting him in conversations with other colleagues.

In the years following his split from Freud, Jung engaged in a period of self-exploration which some say bordered on psychosis. This period of introspection provided the foundation for many of his ideas about human behavior and personality.

In order to distinguish his theory from Freud's psychoanalytic theory, Jung called his theory Analytic Psychology. Important concepts in analytic psychology include archetypes, the collective unconscious, and psychological types. Jung's psychological types (introversion/extraversion) and functions (sensing/thinking/feeling/intuiting) formed the basis of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator as well as other tests. Jung was also among the first theorists to point out differences between child development and adult development. More importantly, however, was the fact that Jung challenged Freud, which allowed other disciplines in psychology to develop and thrive.

Jung spent his last years in Bollingen, near Lake Zurich. He died in 1961.


Alfred Adler

Alfred Adler was born in 1870. He was a sickly child, suffering from rickets and other ailments. Adler was profoundly influenced by the sense of psychological inferiority he experienced in response to his physical frailty. This caused him to feel as though he was in constant competition with siblings and peers, always having to prove himself as a capable individual. His decision to become a physician was in part due to these early childhood experiences.

Despite being trained as an opthhamologist (he had left internal medicine because of the pain he experienced whenever a patient died), Adler developed an interest in psychology. He noticed that, not unlike himself, some of his patients had experienced a sense of inferiority while growing up. Adler also observed that birth order also seemed to dictate certain personality traits. Moreover, Adler placed significant emphasis on the ability of society to influence personality development.

Initally, Adler attempted to combine his ideas about psychology with those of Sigmund Freud. However, both men possessed strong personalities and their ideas soon clashed. Their separation was so intense that for years after the break the normally congenial Adler would bristle at the mere mention of Freud's name. Following Adler's resignation from his psychoanalytic sociaity, Freud referred to Adler as "paranoid" and allegedly took pleasure many years later upon hearing of Adler's death.

Adler went on to further develop his own ideas about human behavior, calling his theory Individual Psychology. In practice, Adler used innovative techniques such as humor, a genuine interpersonal style, cognitive reframing, symptom prescription, exploration of early childhood memories, and paradoxical intention. One could easily argue that all non-psychoanalytical therapies are based in some way on Adler's Individual Psychology.

Adler died in 1937 while attending a conference in Scotland.


Harry Stack Sullivan

Harry Stack Sullivan grew up as an only child near Norwich, NY. His father was described as withdrawn, his mother as bitter and complaining. As a young child, Sullivan had a great deal of difficulty fitting in with other kids. His only friend was an older boy named Clarence who was regarded as the "town homosexual" (however, there is no indication that their relationship was sexual). Sullivan regarded his relationship with Clarence as an important friendship, significant to his interpersonal development. On the other hand, Clarence (who also became a psychiatrist) came to hate Sullivan later in life.

At first Sullivan excelled in school, graduating at the top of his high school class at the age of 16. This record changed when he entered Cornell to major in physics...he failed out his second semester. Sullivan then disappeared for two years, possibly to be hospitalized for an identity crisis and/or schizophrenia.

In 1911 Sullivan entered the Chicago College of Medicine (one of the worst medical schools in the country) without a college degree. He obtained his diploma in 1917, the same year the school closed.

During his early career Sullivan worked with schizophrenic patients. He demonstrated a high cure rate with his Interpersonal Therapy, which involved training the staff to enact safe, corrective interpersonal interactions with the patients. After serving as a psychiatrist in the Army, Sullivan worked at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington, where he was influenced by William Alanson White (a leader in the object relations field).

During his clinical work Sullivan came to appreciate the impact interpersonal relationships have on personality development. He also noted that people tend to carry distorted views and unrealistic expectations of others into their relationships. As a psychotherapist, his solution was to become a "participant observer" with his clients, a more active therapeutic stance than the psychoanalytic "blank screen" popular at the time. In this role, Sullivan would focus on observable interpersonal behavior, including the client's reactions to the therapist. He believed that emotional well-being could be achieved by making an individual aware of their dysfunctional interpersonal patterns.

Sullivan died of cardiovascular disease in Paris in 1949.


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