We need a strong sense of self, to feel safe, to be loved. Reading Freud and others in the psychotherapeutic tradition can help, this genial study argues

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.)

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