Erving Polster (1922-2024): Gestalt Therapy

I’m posting this marking the passing of Erving Polster at 102 last week.

According to the video, Erving Polster, then at 98-years of age, talks about his life and work in Gestalt therapy. The interview is conducted by Talia, who has known Erving for 40 years.

Erving talks about his early experience with Gestalt therapy when he attended a workshop led by Fritz Perls, the founder of Gestalt therapy. He was impressed by Perls’ charisma and the simplicity and power of Gestalt therapy. Erving had previously been interested in making psychotherapy more accessible to the public, and he thought Gestalt therapy could be a way to achieve this.

Erving describes his work in the 1960s, where he tried to bring Gestalt therapy into everyday life by running therapy sessions in coffee houses. People would come and discuss themes of life, such as hippies and policemen, and act out conversations related to these themes. Erving found this to be a more communal and engaging way to do therapy.

Erving also talks about the importance of enchantment in therapy. He believes that people are often drawn to therapy because of a sense of enchantment with the mystery of life and the possibility of new experiences. However, this enchantment is often overlooked in traditional therapy approaches.

Erving reflects on his life and says that he is proud of having found a way to work that is hospitable to his skills. He talks about his ability to tune into what is going on with another person and his interest in the world around him. Even though he is old, Erving says that he still feels attended to and interested in life.

Here are some points that Erving made:

  • Gestalt Therapy and Fritz Perls: Erving became interested in Gestalt therapy after attending a workshop led by Fritz Perls, the founder of Gestalt therapy. He was impressed by Perls’ charisma and the simplicity and power of Gestalt therapy. Perls’ ideas about focusing on the present moment and the client’s experience resonated with Erving’s own beliefs about the importance of authenticity and connection in therapy.
  • Transforming therapy into a communal event: Erving believed that psychotherapy should be more than just one-on-one sessions in a therapist’s office. He envisioned therapy as a communal event that could help people explore life’s themes in a more engaging and supportive setting. In the 1960s, he experimented with running Gestalt therapy groups in coffee houses. People would come and discuss themes of life, such as hippies and policemen, and act out conversations related to these themes. Erving found this to be a more engaging way to do therapy than the traditional approach.
  • Focus on the present moment: Gestalt therapy emphasizes the importance of focusing on the present moment rather than dwelling on the past or future. Erving believed that people often get stuck in unhelpful patterns of thinking and behavior by focusing on what has already happened or what might happen in the future. By focusing on the present moment, people can become more aware of their thoughts, feelings, and sensations, and this can lead to greater self-awareness and growth.
  • Client-centered approach: Gestalt therapy is a client-centered approach to therapy, which means that the therapist follows the client’s lead and helps them explore their own thoughts, feelings, and experiences. The therapist does not provide advice or direction, but rather creates a safe and supportive space for the client to explore themselves.
  • Holistic approach: Gestalt therapy takes a holistic approach to therapy, considering the person’s mind, body, and spirit. Erving believed that it is important to address all aspects of a person’s experience in order to help them grow and change.

Here is a collection of Erving Polster’s books, a couple of which were co-written with his late wife, Miriam:

Erv Polster on YouTube Interview in 2013

Erv Polster on YouTube