top of page

The Original

Gestalt Institute

ofSan Francisco

1967 - 1995

Background, People & Timeline

The original Gestalt Institute of San Francisco was the third Gestalt Institute to form. The first was in NYC in 1951, and the next one was in Cleveland in 1953. In 1967, 14 years later, we at GISF (Gestalt Institute of San Francisco) began our programs for the public and for the training of therapists and others in related fields, such as art, body work, law, education, music, movement, etc.

Given the fact that the Bay Area in the 1960s was alive with a counter culture explosion — [including the Free Speech Movement, the Anti-Vietnam War Movement, the Psychedelic Movement, the Hippie Movement, the Black Panther Movement, and soon after that the Feminist Movement and the Spiritual teachers from India, Japan and Korea] — the Human Potential Movement took off thanks to the teachings and experiential workshops led by Abraham Maslow, Carl Rodgers, Virginia Satir, Eric Berne and Fritz Perls, and to Esalen Institute which was the hub for all these wonderful experiential teachings to sprout.

It seemed that everyone in the Bay Area was clamoring to attend workshops to learn more about themselves. No one felt it was a stigma to ask for help and to expose the games they played. It was a very exciting time, and the Gestalt Institute of San Francisco was right in the middle of it all.

Fritz was not interested in the Gestalt Institute being a hierarchical organization. He wanted us to run the institute, hoping we would do so in an egalitarian manner. We took his advice, became a co-operative, and made him an Honorary Member.

For 28 years the Gestalt Institute of San Francisco provided a three-year training program, a summer intensive (two week) training program as well as workshops and classes for the public, including a drop-in weekly group program led by the 3rd year trainees.

Trainees arrived from all over the world during those years—from South America to Japan to European countries. Special conferences and events were held, including a 75th Birthday Party for Fritz Perls in 1968 at the then new Miyako Hotel in San Francisco. Such notables as Eric Berne and Alan Watts attended.

At first, we focused on organizing workshops for Fritz to come to San Francisco. Jim Simkin, PhD, a frequent co-leader of Fritz’ in his West Coast workshops, helped in the trainings as well. By 1967 we were officially launched. Guest trainers came to present over the years: Lore Perls, PhD; Claudio Naranjo, MD; Erv Polster, PhD; and some of our colleagues at the Gestalt institutes in Los Angeles, such as Gary Yontef, PhD; Lynne Jacobs, PhD; and Bob Resnick, PhD.

And on occasion when we had organizational difficulties we invited Virginia Satir and Carl Whitaker to spend a weekend doing “family therapy” with us. (We did our best to practice what we preached!)

Then in the mid-1990s Gestalt activities began to slow down, and in 1995 the Institute closed its doors, honoring the natural cycle of its life. A wake was held, but since nothing is permanent, we knew that eventually new sprouts would emerge in some form or another. We kept our 501C3 status in Sacramento.

What first emerged was that some new people came to town whom we didn’t know. They took over our Gestalt Institute of San Francisco name and set up their Gestalt institute. This has caused a lot of confusion over the years, particularly for people trying to find us and for people checking on our claims to have been part of GISF. As a result, a number of our trainers encouraged them to find a new name, which they chose not to do.

Since we were still on the books in Sacramento as the Gestalt Institute of San Francisco with our official 501c3, some of our trainers — Lu Grey, Frank Rubenfeld and John Smolowe, who recently have been training teaching graduates from the California Institute of Integral Studies' Gestalt Therapy program — had the 501c3 status shifted to the newly formed Bay Area Gestalt Institute (BAGI). Visit their website.

So, this is what has transpired with the original Gestalt Institute of San Francisco. If we have missed anything that you think is important, or if you have any suggestions or questions, please let us know. We are beginning to get some interest from those who knew us many years ago.

We are still emerging in all sorts of ways, and encourage you to contact us if you so desire!

It all started the summer of 1966.

A group of people who had attended Gestalt workshops led by founder Fritz Perls, MD (at Esalen Institute in Big Sur), began meeting bi-weekly in San Francisco to practice what we’d learned. Fritz asked if any of us were interested in starting a Gestalt Institute in the Bay Area, and four of us came forward:

  • Paul Baum, PhD*

  • Janie Rhyne, Art Therapist*

  • Jack Downing, MD*

  • Cyndy Sheldon, MSW

  • Fritz Perls, MD, PhD, Honorary Member*

*Deceased members as of November 2019

Then gradually a number of Gestalt therapists who had worked with Fritz locally, and many who arrived from other parts of the country, joined our ranks.

  • John Enright, PhD*

  • Robert K. Hall, MD*

  • Alyssa Hall, MA

  • Abe Levistky, PhD*

  • Lois Brien, PhD

  • Elaine Kepner, PhD*

  • Frank Rubenfeld, PhD

  • Richard Miller, PhD

  • Stella Resnick, PhD

  • Larry (Isha) Bloomberg, PhD*

  • Paula Bottome, PhD*

  • Joel Latner, PhD*

  • Michael Conant, PhD

*Deceased members as of November 2019

There are as many different ways of doing Gestalt therapy as there are Gestalt therapists. We valued seeing the different styles and forms, and would often invite others to show us how they work. This encouraged trainees to develop their own styles rather than imitate a trainer, if he or she were the only ones.

Over the years a large number of trainees were launched. Many of them joined forces with our trainers to expand the teachings in the Bay Area; others moved to other cities and abroad to open up new Gestalt centers.

  • Zoe Snyder, MSW*

  • Joe Camhi, PhD

  • Lu Grey, MA

  • John Smolowe, MD

  • Jerry Kogan, PhD*

  • Celia Thompson-Taupin, Art Therapist

  • Suzanne Slyman, MA

  • Joan Sullivan, MD

  • Steven Schoen, MD*

  • Jack Rosenberg, DDS, PhD*

  • Tom Layne, MSW

  • Sid Gershenson, MSW*

  • Eileen Fox, MSW

  • Cynthia Kong, MA

  • Joan Wager, MSW

*Deceased members as of November 2019

All during this time, we had a wonderful group of administrators that ran our office: Brian Hand, Jerry Rothstein, Art Damon, and Veronica Stevens.

bottom of page