David Chirko, A.B. Psychological Researcher &Author, Sudbury, Ontario, Canada

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.

The Gestalt Prayer, by Fritz Perls (1969, p. 4).

Origins of the Creator of the New Prayer and Its Therapy 

German born psychiatrist, former psychoanalyst, and psychotherapist Fritz Frederick Salomon Perls, M.D., Ph.D. (1893-1970), had (by 1952, with his wife Laura, and Paul Goodman) developed “Gestalt Therapy,” which some say revolutionized psychiatry as much as Sigmund Freud’s approach.  He had earlier ratified the South African Institute for Psychoanalysis and, later, institutes for Gestalt Therapy in America.  For some time, he was engrossed in the monitoring of conduct and recording of Gestalt Group Therapy seminars and workshops (Perls, 1981, p. 298).

How Gestalt Therapy Works

Denise Winn (1980, pp. 110-112), explains Gestalt Therapy is a humanistic approach to therapy that highlights a client’s wholeness as more than the sum of their parts, whether mentally (through their personality), or somatically.  It is employed frequently in encounter group sessions, where the clientbecomes a focal point under the observation of therapist and group members.  Here the client develops an awareness of their barriers and defenses, erected to combat the world through what they think, say, and exemplify via body language and where they place themselves spatially.  These are reproved in group when they perform dialogs–playing and challenging two roles pertaining to themselves.  This is followed by articulating what they think and emoting so that subsequent behaviors can be understood.  Gestalt Therapy focuses on the present in lieu of what transpired in youth, although it is acknowledged that what a client may psychologically still contain from earlier on is essential.  What becomes relevant therein is coping with not why, but how, something happened to them.  Here Winn alludes to The Gestalt Prayer, that the client must accept totally who they are, not what they believe anyone else expects them to be.1 

Divisions in the Use of The Gestalt Prayer

As Perls departed New York City for California in the 1960s, a division in the Gestalt Weltanschauung transpired, involving him and some associates on one side, with colleagues in New York and Cleveland on the other.  The latter viewed Gestalt Therapy as a promising new advancement, not as a way of life beyond the group gathering or consulting room–as signified in The Gestalt Prayer.  This because the Prayer states it is paramount to go out into the world and live by focusing on individually responding to one’s needs, without interference from others, who can also be helped.  Thus, bringing about a reciprocal contact that is genuine.  They then “… ‘find each other,’” and “’it’s beautiful’” (NWE, 2017). 

Prayer Theologically and Psychologically Defined

In its theological context, prayer is a “Devotional…or spiritual exercise in which man acknowledges a relationship between himself and God, submits…to…divine will, and offers adoration, thanksgiving, penitence and petition” (Jones, 1982, p. 188).  A psychological source similarly states that prayer is “communication…with…deity…for…praise, thanksgiving, supplication, or self-examination…to seek forgiveness, guidance, and serenity” (VandenBos, 2015, p. 818).  Further, that it can be an escapist defensive mechanism against psychic pain, and a variant of magical thinking (belief that one can influence others’ behavior through their thought or performance of an action [VandenBos, p. 617]). 

Ultimately, prayer can make awareness more meaningful and be efficacious in therapy for those with pertinent religious beliefs.  Therapists and clients have prayed together to acquire forgiveness and healing, and ascertain clients’ problems in living.2 

A Definition of Perls’ Prayer

When Perls used the term “prayer,” it must have meant something other than the theological, because he was, since his pubertal years, an atheist (Clarkson & Mackewn, 1993).  As per definitions above, petition or supplication, that is, the making of a request for something, and penitence, which is being remorseful for committing an offense, fits in here, In Perls’ prayer a request is made for acceptance.  It appears that Perls, using the word “prayer” metaphorically, is asking clients to look into themselves.  By thus becoming who one really is, the overcoming of guilt, shame and, naturally, remorse, can be achieved.  Thanking and extolling someone, and seeking peace, are other facets of prayer that occur in group sessions.  Being enlightened and liberated from anxiety provides group solidarity. 

Gestalt Prayer in Group

How the Gestalt Prayer is utilized is demonstrated by Fritz Perls in a 1969 session from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada (Who knows who, 2016), as he leads one of his groups in reciting a variation of it.  He concludes with “amen.”

A husband and wife then have an exchange.  He first speaks about her expectations of him, which he can’t acquiesce to, and which she gainsays, but he persists in his belief.  She states that she tries to share herself with him but he doesn’t reciprocate.  She adds that she endeavors to be “I” and precludes him from being himself.  Also, that the more she tries, the more input from her is required.  He says that it’s not his problem how she feels.  She then avers that she worries too much about what he is, instead of where she is. 

Perls then interjects, explaining that in the interaction he arranged for them there is no talk about their current experiences and what’s occurring.  Fritz further says the game of “Mindfucking” or blaming and not staying with the “now,” which is based on a dearth of honesty, ensued.  He entreats them to try again, speaking aloud what they’re thinking and experiencing precisely, candidly and spontaneously, sans any filtering to manipulate the person they’re addressing. 

They commence again and she apprises him that he appears nervous, and looking for something to utter.  He concurs.  He said he wanted to make it look like she didn’t concern him.  Fritz comments that what he feels is what he wants to exact upon her, adding that she incessantly grimaces, while he “wears a professor’s face.”  He instructs them to discuss one another’s faces.  The husband says she smiles, reflecting an uneasy feeling.  She acquiesces, but Fritz notes that this is an interpretation that doesn’t allow her to express how they feel.  She confesses to smiling to hide how she feels and not offend anyone.  Also, that she may be overly dependent, requesting something he doesn’t wish to offer.  Fritz says being aware and very frank leads to communication and employing “I” and “you,” over “it,” which takes total responsibility.  Yes, prayer works! 


The Gestalt Prayer, devised by Fritz Perls, is germane to what he coinvented: Gestalt Psychotherapy.  It is based on faith in, and awareness of, oneself.  Honesty, something biblically revered, is always paramount, to present one’s true self in group.  Acceptance is ratified, allowing people to do their own thing, without entertaining unrealistic expectations from someone else, and fostering growth in the human personality.  As Jesus once asseverated, “Everything you ask for in prayer, if you have faith, you will receive” (PNT, 1969, Matt. 21: 22, p. 47).  Amen.  


1Without facilitating the “Either you dig me or you don’t” credo. 

2When I was with APA Division 36, Society for the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, this modality was exercised, but not for radical fundamentalists, because they were dissuaded from even considering such treatment, condemned by their leading cohorts, like anti-psychotherapy advocates Bobgan and Bobgan (1996).


Bobgan, Martin, & Bobgan, Deidre. (1996). Psychoheresy The Psychological Seduction of Christianity. Santa Barbara, CA: EastGate Publishers.

Clarkson, Petruska, & Mackewn, Jennifer. (1993). Fritz Perls. SAGE Publications.

Jones, Arthur A. (1982). Illustrated Dictionary of World Religions. Oxford, UK: The Religious Education Press.

New World Encyclopedia (NWE). (2017). Fritz Perls https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Fritz_Perls

Perls, Frederick S. (1969). Gestalt Therapy Verbatim. Moab, UT: Real People Press.

______________. (1981). In and Out the Garbage Pail. 12th printing. Toronto, ON: Bantam Books, Inc.

PNT. John Bertram Phillips. (1969). The New Testament in Modern English. New York, NY: The Macmillan Company.

VandenBos, Gary R. (EIC). (2015). APA Dictionary of Psychology Second Edition. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Who knows who. (2016, March 15). Fritz Perls – The Gestalt Prayer [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_rslgQr9Xag&t=129s

Winn, Denise. (1980). The Whole Mind Book. Suffolk, UK: Fontana Paperbacks.