EGALITARIAN INFLUENCES OF
Cyndy Sheldon, MSW, Gestalt Therapist
Over the many years I’ve been teaching Gestalt and Family therapy it has become obvious that there is a strong thread of Egalitarianism underlying Gestalt therapy. Not much is written about it to my knowledge, so here is what I have observed over the years.
CO-CREATORS OF GESTALT THERAPY: Rare for a couple to co-create a form of psychotherapy. Fritz Perls MD and Laura Perls PhD developed this approach together, incorporating their backgrounds and experiences into the development of Gestalt therapy.
HUMANIZING THERAPIST-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP: Human Potential Movement—Patients become clients, more equal to therapist than before the 60s, where the DOCTOR KNEW BEST. Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow, Eric Berne, Fritz & Laura Perls, Virginia Satir, Rollo May are key early humanistic psychotherapy teachers.
LOCAL GESTALT INSTITUTES: Fritz did not interfere with their way of working. Some were more top-down authoritarian than others. The Gestalt Institute of San Francisco was
a CO-OP, run by about 10 teachers and a part time office manager. We had to elect officers to meet state requirements for non-profits, but we were essentially a cooperative. We declined the CONSENSUS approach as we knew one person might use it to gain control of the co-op.
MANY TEACHERS: Fritz & Laura Perls encouraged new institutes to invite Gestalt teachers from elsewhere to demonstrate their way of working so that their students could see as many DIFFERENT STYLES of Gestalt as possible. This way would discourage students from imitating their teacher and instead encourage them to take what felt true to them from each, a way to develop their own way of working. This also discourages authoritarian leadership. For years we had Laura Perls fly out from NYC to work with our students in San Francisco. And many other teachers were also invited.
As European centers opened, many of us who were trained first, went there to teach. Some of our American teachers moved to Europe to open centers. Asian therapists started coming to California, as well as those from South America, Australia, and other parts of the world.
RELATIONSHIPS: Fritz said he was influenced by VIRGINIA SATIR who was at Esalen some of
the time when he was. He saw couples as two individuals, each developing their own uniqueness. Both equal to one another. He moved to the West Coast, leaving Laura in NYC with a well established Gestalt community. They remained married.
ANTI-AUTHORITARIAN ORGANIZATION: Fritz was against a national or international
Gestalt organization, and encouraged each institute to create its own way of working. This discourages authoritarian national and international leadership. The two international organizations I know of IAAGT & EAGT are democratically run, with a change in leadership every so often.
GESTALT THERAPISTS MODEL PERSONAL WORK: Many Gestalt Therapists are open to working on themselves in training groups in numerous Gestalt centers and institutes. Fritz worked on his RELATIONSHIP WITH FREUD with Jim Simkin in 1966 Esalen Institute training workshop. Seeing Fritz sob as he talked to Freud, made a huge impression on me, and I realized then and there I was in the right work for myself. Recently I worked with one of my trainees in my zoom training class, which was a surprise to my students as they, too, have not seen a teacher model such personal work before.
THE WORLD IS BECOMING MORE EGALITARIAN. Women and minorities are increasingly being elected and chosen for official positions. Some say there is a rise of the feminine now,after thousands of years of patriarchy. Will it remain authoritarian or not?
BOOKS: As a finale, I have written two books/manuals a few years ago: GESTALT AS A WAY OF LIFE and DON’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO….ASK ME! a book about egalitarian relationships from a Gestalt perspective. (go to www.cyndysheldon.com for more information)