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Timeless Experience: Laura Perls's Unpublished Notebooks and Literary Texts 1946-1985

For years, psychotherapists have known that Laura Perls was actively involved in the development of what today is known as Gestalt therapy, although her husband, Frederick Perls, officially authored the foundational texts. Laura Perls’s own professional publications are succinct and appreciated, but they are not numerous. The present volume, comprising Laura Perls’s heretofore unpublished writing, including journal entries, letters, poems, translations, short stories, and drafts for lectures and publications, offers a very personal perspective on one of the founders of Gestalt therapy. The extensive interview that Daniel Rosenblatt conducted with Laura Perls in 1972, published here for the first time in English, complements her literary texts, and provides valuable background information. Laura Perls’s history spans two world wars, flight from Nazi persecution, life on three continents, and many new beginnings. Together with her known works, these literary texts reflect the emergence of women into professional and public life during the 20th century by giving the reader insight into this time period and the influence of a woman on the development of a major school of Humanistic Psychology.

The rich cultural background from which Laura Perls benefited and the authors whose works inspired her resonate in her literary texts, a treasure chest of personal reflections during the decades of her life from 1946 to 1985. In addition, a general overview of her life is provided, her theoretical and practical contributions to the origins and development of Gestalt therapy are described, and her legacy to the field of Gestalt therapy is elucidated.

Laura Perls was known for making the New York Institute for Gestalt Therapy a viable and important teaching community. For decades, she was the keeper of the flame of this foundational Gestalt institute. Best known for her concepts of contact and support, the creative use of experiments, and productive use of embarrassment, Laura Perls’s literary texts are finally made available here.

This book is part of a series. View the full series, "The World of Contemporary Gestalt Therapy", here.

Nancy Amendt-Lyon studied Psychology in the United States, Switzerland, and Austria, earning an MA and a DPhil. She trained in Gestalt therapy and group psychoanalysis, and has been in private practice in Austria since 1978, working in English and German with adults. She has chaired the Austrian Association for Gestalt Therapy (ÖVG) since it was founded in 2007, holds membership in the Austrian Association for Psychotherapy (ÖBVP) and the European Association for Gestalt Therapy (EAGT), and draws on many years of experience training Gestalt therapists, group psychoanalysts, and supervisors in Austria and abroad. Her publications include numerous articles and book chapters in both working languages on topics relating to Gestalt therapy, gender, and issues of sociopolitical relevance, as well as a début novel, Case Unclosable (2013), which was translated into German as Und Niemals ein Ende (2015). Amendt-Lyon has served on the editorial boards of several professional journals, and co-edited the anthology Creative License: The Art of Gestalt Therapy, which was published in English by Springer (2003) and subsequently in German, French, and Italian.

"L. Perls's unpublished notebooks and literary texts are a sprawling pastiche of a total life lived. Collected for the first time, readers are hereby granted access to an inner world of poems and problems, efforts to grasp and desires to see. Put grandly - also appropriately - this volume presents an artist at work. Cast in vivid light, Timeless Experience contains what its well-chosen title conveys."

Michael C. Fisher Gestalt Review, 21:3 (2017)

"The combination of the interviews and her notebooks shows a woman who was more complex than most knew. The contrast between the dark moods and self-doubts in her notebooks and the rich life she lived with friends, colleagues and students testifies to her capacity for both dignified bearing and emotional complexity. Her dignity and thoughtful depth is readily apparent in the interviews with Daniel Rosenblatt that comprise the third aspect of the triptych. She was able to move about the world mostly from her finest qualities, reserving her darker feelings for her notebooks. And the world of Gestalt therapy benefitted from her more circumspect conduct of therapy and living."

Dr Lynne Jacobs Co-founder of the Pacific Gestalt Institute PsycCRITIQUES, 62:3 (2017)

"How moving it is to enter Laura Perls’s intimate world and discover her essays, short stories, thoughts, poetry! And what a gift from her editor to give us such a precise and detailed context to Laura’s writings. This book is a treasure: we learn more about the history, theory and practice of Gestalt therapy, and its essence and aesthetics are revealed more brightly."

Jean-Marie Robine Institut Français de Gestalt-thérapie

"Laura Perls’s published writings reflected her psychotherapeutic work, but never—until now—the colors of the rainbow that was Laura, the person. This book is a parting of the clouds that illuminates a hidden land of her creativity, artistic depth, humanity, thoughtfulness, kindness, vulnerability, and mischievousness. Those of us trained by her will find in her emerging personhood support for what we learned from her. Those who want to know more about the history of Gestalt therapy will find documents that anchor our history in the life of a brilliant founder—intellect, artist, friend, and mother. Nancy Amendt-Lyon has done us all a great service."

Dan Bloom Past President of the New York Institute for Gestalt Therapy

"This is an exciting and important addition to our knowledge of the roots of Gestalt therapy by an authoritative writer who knew Laura Perls—that éminence grise whose steady glow was sometimes outshone by the brilliance of Fritz. Here we find all of her insight, compassion, and creativity that helped forge this mode of therapy. A necessary as well as a fascinating read."

Gaie Houston Editorial Advisor, British Gestalt Journal

"I found this book—devoted to understanding and elucidating the diaries of Laura Perls—fascinating. Amendt-Lyon has taken a lifetime of Laura’s writings—many personal and previously unpublished—and woven them into a wider narrative that encapsulates the therapeutic and cultural environment in which Laura lived. Consequently, we get to know Laura, not only as a creative, talented, and respectful therapist and theoretician, but also as a vulnerable, passionate, and multidimensional woman ahead of her times. It is a must-read, not only for Gestaltists, but for anyone who might enjoy a captivating biography."

Joseph Melnick Founding Editor of the Gestalt Review; Co-Chair of the Cape Cod Training Program, GISC

"Nancy Amendt-Lyon has done Gestalt therapy a great service by turning Laura Perls’s unpublished writings into a book. Amendt-Lyon’s thoroughly researched, extensive introduction is in itself an extremely informative addition to our understanding of the origins and evolution of Gestalt therapy. I hope this book will also find its rightful place as a significant contribution to the intellectual history of psychotherapy in general. It would be hard to imagine having more influence on the founding of a discipline than that of Laura Perls on Gestalt therapy. Yet her role has been seriously underestimated. This was partly due to her own personal reticence and lack of interest in self-promotion. Her concern was much more concentrated on her work as a practicing psychotherapist and on her firm dedication to training students in the New York Institute for Gestalt Therapy, which she also helped found. She published relatively little under her own name: a scattering of intriguing, often brilliant articles on topics ranging from education, the function of myth, the relevance of the arts to psychotherapy, and a variety of perspectives on Gestalt therapy. All the more reason we need to be grateful for Amendt-Lyon’s book, which helps correct the record by bringing more of Laura’s important and original work fully into the light."

Michael Vincent Miller, PhD Author of Teaching a Paranoid to Flirt

"This book is a real gift of love: to Laura Posner/Perls, to the history of Gestalt therapy, to the community of Gestalt therapists. Nancy Amendt-Lyon brings new life to Laura’s notebooks. With the sacred respect due to what is most intimate, priceless, and fragile, she succeeds in presenting these treasures to the public. Amendt-Lyon cherishes the inestimable value of this legacy by providing the rich background that supports these texts to emerge as a figure: art and philosophical movements, historical events, theoretical developments, challenges, struggles, and dialogues in psychotherapy. Indeed, her editorial work reflects her mastery as a Gestalt therapist, as well as her academic prowess to explore the historical context. Amendt-Lyon introduces us to Laura and her world, the history that she experienced and her contributions, and the complexity of her life, as well as the atmosphere and circumstances that gave birth to Gestalt therapy and its development. This is a book that every Gestalt therapist and everyone interested in the history of the last century must read. Renate Perls was right: Nancy was the right person to make these treasures sparkle."

Gianni Francesetti President of the European Association for Gestalt Therapy

"Timeless Experience: Laura Perls’s Unpublished Notebooks and Literary Texts, 1946–1985 is a tour de force, giving the reader a comprehensive look into a woman of extraordinary depth, courage and expertise, and who offered unique contributions to the field of psychotherapy. Professionals in the world of therapy—particularly Gestalt therapy—know well of Laura’s expert contributions (working individually in a group setting, emphasizing personal support and contact, highlighting differences between wanting and needing, etc.). Much less is known about her personal history: fleeing from the Nazis, her creativity both in writing poetry and prose, playing music, dance, her personal struggles with anxiety, health issues, intimate relationships, Judaism, or her political fervor. Nancy Amendt-Lyon has done a masterful job of bringing Laura Perls to life by revealing the more delicate aspects of her world, her musings, her unpolished thoughts, and her compassion for others. Bravo!"
Rita F. Resnick, PhD
Faculty Chair, Gestalt Associates Training Los Angeles

"Here is a story of commitment between three women, starting with a daughter’s dream and ending in a precious book on the founder of Gestalt therapy, Laura Perls. A talented Gestalt therapist and eloquent writer herself, Amendt-Lyon’s editing and annotations allow the beauty of her former teacher’s ability as both clinician and author to explode with color and three-dimensionality. This book is a must! This is not only the transcription of Laura’s notebooks; it is a comprehensive, vibrant narrative of her theoretical, clinical, and aesthetic legacy, a whole that well describes the everlasting implicit value of Gestalt therapy."

Margherita Spagnuolo Lobb Istituto di Gestalt HCC Italy

"Passed on to us from Laura Perls’s own daughter, Renate, we are invited to have intimate insights into Laura’s legacy, her captivating account of the beginnings of Gestalt therapy, her work as a therapist, writer, and poet. Credit must be given to Nancy Amendt-Lyon for her tremendous effort to bring this into an easily accessible form, a source of inspiration for generations of Gestalt therapists to come."

Beatrix Wimmer President-Elect of the European Association for Gestalt Therapy; Vice-President of the Austrian Association for Gestalt Therapy

"For the first time Laura Perls’s notebooks are available to us. These demonstrate how deeply the founders of Gestalt therapy were rooted in the avant-gardist and cosmopolitan culture of Europe of their time. Laura’s notebooks are imbued with the spirit that focuses on the whole human, the homos totos in his cultural environment. This publication is another important element in our understanding of the roots and the spirit of Gestalt therapy as much as it is a relevant testimony of the generation of psychoanalytically trained German-European exiles."

Bernd Bocian Author of Fritz Perls in Berlin: 1893–1933

"Amendt-Lyon draws a very knowledgeable, affectionate portrait of her great teacher and brings it to life in her personal, therapeutic-scientific and contemporary-political relationships."

Marta S. Halpert Wina - Das jüdische Stadtmagazin

Buy This Book

ISBN: 1-4438-8889-3

ISBN13: 978-1-4438-8889-9

Release Date: 23rd March 2016

Pages: 335

Price: £52.99