Today I am returning to my semi-regular exploration of practitioners and theoreticians that I have found invaluable in the formation of my work and worldview, in service to the idea that psychotherapeutic counseling be something that seekers participate in rather than simply consume.
Today I'd like to honor Frederick “Friz” Perls who, along with his wife Laura, and, perhaps more peripherally, philosopher and social critic Paul Goodman brought Gestalt Therapy to life. To a certain degree I owe the very foundation of my work (and worldview) to that which was begun by the Perls' in the 1950's.
Poorly understood, Fritz was a lion...a deeply flawed, unrelenting genius who tore psychotherapy out of the grasp of both the behaviorists and the psychoanalysts and demanded that the whole entity be honored rather than dissected. Laura grounded this practice in a deeper theoretical frame and did much of the heavy lifting that Fritz abandoned as he succumbed to the inevitable cult of personality that formed around him in the later 1960s. And yet, their formulation of Gestalt Therapy--a type of humanistic Western Zen with therapeutic applications--transcended them both. Rather than write more, I turn to this brief video of Fritz, in his own words.
“The idea of Gestalt Therapy is to change paper people into real people.”
I'd like to begin a semi-regular exploration of practitioners and theoreticians that I have found invaluable in the formation of my work and worldview, in service to the idea that psychotherapeutic counseling be something that seekers participate in rather than simply consume. Many of my influences and the general approach I bring to the work of therapy are sadly uncommon in these days of managed care and brief solution focused programing. I have no illusion that I can reverse such trends, but I do believe that I can better highlight how my work differs and why that may be of value to clients I work with.
First up is Dr. RD Laing a Scottish psychiatrist who wrote extensively on mental illness– in particular, the experience of psychosis. Laing's views on the causes and treatment of serious mental dysfunction, (strongly influenced by existential philosophy) ran counter to the psychiatric orthodoxy of the day (and continues to appear even more radical today) by taking the expressed feelings of the individual patient or client as valid descriptions of lived experience rather than simply as symptoms of some separate or underlying disorder.
Laing's work has been crucial in informing how I approach the politics and practice of psychotherapy and how I choose to engage with clients. The following is a trailer for a delightful documentary titled “DidYou Used To Be RD Laing?”
The Wikipedia Entry on RD Laing
Biography from the Society for Langian Studies
Quotes from RD Laing
So what have I taken from the work of RD Laing? In the most simplistic of statements, I'd say it is the foundational belief that that psychotherapy is a co-creative experience of connection between two human beings rather than a "cure" for the sick offered by the all knowing expert.
Bryan Dieterich, MA, LPC