Dreaming LifeDreaming Life

Frederick (Fritz) Perls was a German-American psychotherapist who lived from 1893 to 1970. Perls was one of the founders of Gestalt therapy, along with his wife, Laura Perls, and Paul Goodman.

Gestalt therapy focuses on what is happening and what is being felt in the present, rather than on what was or what could be, or on explanations and interpretations.  In Gestalt therapy, the relationship between the self and the outside world is very important.

Perls thought that people often have fragmented personalities.  Working with your dreams can help you to integrate the opposing aspects of your personality. This will eliminate your anxieties and cause you to be more fulfilled.

According to Perls, it is essential for every human being to develop his or her potential.  Creating a bridge between the unconscious and the conscious - what Freud tried to achieve - is not enough.   You have to discover what your personality is lacking and fill the voids so that you are a more complete person.

Perls said that the mind has three levels of awareness:  awareness of the self, awareness of the world, and an intermediate level of fantasy. If you become too involved in this intermediate level, you lose touch with yourself and with the world.  It was Freud who discovered this intermediate zone of illusion; Freud thought that someone who was stuck in this zone was suffering from a psychological complex.

Fritz PerlsWhile Freud believed that you had to deal with a psychological complex directly, Perls thought that the best way to avoid being stuck in a zone of fantasy is to integrate your view of yourself with your view of the world.

Perls believed that anxiety is caused by not living in the present. You become anxious when you are thinking about what has happened or what will happen, rather than focusing on the present.  If you remain focused on the present, your problems will be solved.

According to Perls, you can only understand who you are and find your place in the world by accepting what is real and denying that which is irrational.  You must get rid of the illusions that you have created for yourself.

Perls thought that when you get rid of all the illusions and fantasies that you have built up, it could feel like you are waking up from a dark place. This is similar to the Zen Buddhist concept of Satori, a sudden flash of enlightenment.

According to Perls, this awakening from a world of illusions that you have set up for yourself into a world of truth is similar to the process that occurs when you awake from a dream.

While you are having a dream, you accept everything in the dream as truth.  It is not until after you wake up that you realize that the dream was not real, and that it is something that has a meaning only as it relates to the world into which you awaken.

Perls thought that when you dream, you project a part of yourself into every image in your dream.  Each of the elements of a dream represents a fragment of your personality. In order to become a whole, unified person, you have to integrate all of these fragments.  Putting the pieces of the dream together is a way to begin putting the fragments of your personality together.

According to Perls, examining your dreams can be a way of discovering problems that you have not been dealing with because you have been denying certain aspects of your personality.

Perls did not believe in traditional forms of dream interpretation - in trying to determine what the symbols in a dream mean.  Instead, he thought that to gain a better understanding of yourself, you should act out the part of every person and every object in the dream.  For example, if you dream about a man climbing stairs, you act out the part of the man and you act out the part of the stairs (pretending that stairs can talk).

By approaching your dream in this way, you can begin to integrate conflicting aspects of your personality, and then get rid of the illusions that you have created. Getting rid of these illusions will allow you to eliminate the problems in your life.

Perls also believed that examining your dreams in this way can help you to be more spontaneous and more creative.