The Act of Living: what the analysts can teach us

Lisa Appignanesi in The Guardian:

An old man with a shaggy white beard and matching hair stands in front of an audience of seekers and flower children. They are looking for ways of amplifying their human potential, of becoming more aware of their sense perceptions. It’s the tail end of the 1960s and the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, is where it’s happening. Throughout the decade, the fame of Fritz Perls – founder of Gestalt therapy in the 50s along with his rarely mentioned wife, Laura, and the once-lauded social critic Paul Goodman – soared. Perls’s so-called Gestalt Prayer was doing the rounds: “I do my thing and you do your thing, / I am not in this world to live up to your expectations, / and you are not in this world to live up to mine. / You are you, and I am I, / and if by chance we find each other, it’s beautiful. / If not, it can’t be helped.” (Even by this time Gestalt had lost its intellectual oomph, having moved away from its earlier therapeutic intent into the world of yogis and platitudes.)

When he was a student in Vienna in the late 20s, Perls had attended Wilhelm Reich’s “technical seminars”. Reich, who wrote The Function of the Orgasm in 1927, was to serve as his supervising analyst in Berlin in 1930. The book was dedicated and personally presented to Freud, who liked the talented Reich: he had done much good work in the outpatient Ambulatorium, providing therapy for the poor, and then with his mobile clinic bringing advice and contraception to working-class areas. But, as Freud wrote to a friend with his customary dryness, Reich had somewhat oversimplified the human psyche by finding the antidote for all neurosis in one genital function.

Perls would later tell an anecdote about his one meeting with the founder of psychoanalysis and the talking therapy that predated his own. It’s 1936 and Perls pays an impromptu visit to the ageing Freud at his apartment, announcing he’s come all the way from South Africa. Freud, unimpressed by the presumptuous interruption, asks: “And when are you going back?”

More here.