The Gloria Films: Candid answers to questions therapists ask most By Howard Rosenthal, EdD on 8/16/16 - 8:06 PM

When I penned an article and a book chapter on the classic Gloria Films some years ago I never dreamed these pieces would continue to bring me a seemingly endless string of correspondence. Indeed, this classic video influenced the psychotherapy training and subsequent practice strategies for thousands and thousands of helpers.

To this day the battle rages on about whether this work of art was the savior of psychotherapy, or psychotherapy’s worst nightmare.

Recently a graduate student contacted me with a string of seriously good questions. In this blog I shall share those questions with my answers to shed a tad more light on this major artifact of the 20th century counseling and psychotherapy movement. Okay, let’s do this!

Question: Is the Gloria Film the actual name of the training video? I couldn't find an official reference for it?

Answer: No, the actual title was Three Approaches to Psychotherapy I, II, and III, but folks dubbed it the Gloria Films.

Question: Is the work really as old as it looks? I mean it comes across as ancient.

Answer: That’s because it is ancient. The actual filming took place in 1964 and the movie was released in 1965. In 1964 the Beatles made their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show and in 1965, "The Sound of Music" was a big hit at the box office, and the mini-skirt was just released.

Question: Who came up with the idea for the project?

Answer: The mastermind (aka the producer and director) behind the flick was a California psychologist and psychotherapist of note, Everett.L. Shostrom. He created some self-actualization inventories and two years after the Gloria films he authored a successful book, Man the Manipulator.

Question: Why do you think Dr. Shostrum got involved in this project?

Answer: At that time a shroud of secrecy had permeated professional psychotherapeutic helping. The books gave mountains of information about theories, but there was very little literature about what therapists actually said to clients. In 1950 Shostrom recorded the late, great Carl Ransom Rogers with a client on a magnetic wire (yes, go ahead and laugh, this predated digital, cassettes, reel to reel, and eight-track recordings). But: It was not to be. The recording was lost forever when the head of the history department recorded his own presentation of Adam and Eve on the wire recorder! I mean seriously, could I make that up?

Question: Why did Dr. Shostrom choose Albert Ellis, Carl Rogers, and Frederick (Fritz) Perls as the therapists?

Answer: Well, quite frankly, it was an all-star line-up. A lot of folks in the field felt these three helpers were the dream team . . . the best in the world, if you will. Perls created gestalt therapy; Ellis pioneered RET or rational emotive therapy (abbreviated RT at the time of the filming); while Rogers was the father of nondirective counseling which in today’s world is often called person-centered counseling.

Question: Why do my professors always call the approach by Ellis REBT? Is that the same thing as RET?

Answer: Late in his career Ellis added the “B” to stand for behavior based on the longstanding recommendation of a well-known psychologist and psychotherapy book author Raymond J. Corsini.

Question: Had Gloria met Perls, Rogers, and Ellis prior to the filming and what did she know about them?

Answer: No. She just knew they were prominent therapists and would each have approximately 15 or 20 minutes to cure her of what ailed her.

Question: Was Gloria a real client or merely an actress pretending to be a client?

Answer: Oh definitely, a real client. In 1963 Shostrom put together a film titled "Introduction to Psychotherapy." The film featured an actress who was pretending to be a real client. Shostrom was not happy with the movie, nor the acting, hence a real client, Gloria, was cast for 1965 project.

Question: I thought Perls acted like a jerk during his session. Do you have any evidence that Perls was aware of how he was coming across? I am totally sure my current internship supervisor would never allow me to treat a client in such a mean manner.

Answer: I can say with great certainty that Perls was aware of his actions. At one point in the session he quips, "Well, Gloria, can you sense one thing? We had a good fight?"

Question: So how do experts who practice gestalt therapy defend the practice of this theory?

Answer: Well, generally speaking, they say something like, "You don't need to do therapy exactly like Perls to be a gestalt therapist." To be fair, I have heard top practitioners say precisely the same thing about Ellis, though to be sure they are not talking the way Ellis came across in this movie. If you ever witnessed a therapy session or workshop conducted by Ellis he was often prone to use a little off color language, and that's putting it mildly!

Question: Okay, well here is my biggest question and the one I really want to know the answer to. In the movie, Rogers comes across in a very warm moving way. Ellis, is seemingly a tad less empathic, but not bad, while Perls is flat out mean to her. After Gloria experiences therapy sessions with all of them she is asked which therapist she would most like to continue therapy with and she chooses Dr. Perls. I was shocked. I mean, I just thought Rogers was the hands down winner. What in the world was going on here?

Answer: You were surprised, I was surprised, my entire graduate class at the time we viewed the films was surprised, and seemingly countless others who viewed the sessions were in shock and awe. There was just something not quite right about her choice of Perls. I didn’t buy into it then and I sure don’t buy it now. In fact, it was her strange choice of Perls which piqued my interest in researching the movie.

Personally, I thought it was the strangest response (from a client who was not psychotic) I had come across in the entire field of psychotherapy, and that's saying a lot!

Question: Did you find it difficult to research this film?

Answer: Do birds fly? Absolutely. Lots of people were trying to piece this puzzle together with very little success. Perhaps the most remarkable was a fellow I corresponded with in another country who was actually offering small rewards for information. Seemingly folks with connections to the film just were not talking. On one occasion a person who actually knew Shostrom told me he insisted I share anything I came up with him before I had it published! He wanted to approve or disapprove of what I was going to write. What? (Excuse me, but when did America stop being a free country? Just asking.) He also refused to give me any information and told me it wasn't relevant why Gloria chose Perls. This made me even more suspicious and made me want to research this even more!

Question: Did Gloria ever see Perls after the interview and if so what transpired? I hope the transaction was more cordial than the therapy session.

Answer: Yes they saw each other, but no it wasn't pleasant! According to Gloria, after the cameras stopped rolling and the experts and movie crew were preparing to depart, Perls used Gloria as a human ash tray (not a misprint). He motioned for her to hold her hands cupped with her palms facing up. He then flicked his cigarette ashes into her hand.

Question: Geez, that's downright abusive, wouldn't you agree?

Answer: Yeah! At the very, very least I could safely say it is behavior that was unbecoming of the father of a major psychotherapy modality.

Question: Lots of folks on the web accuse Gloria of having an affair with Rogers or Ellis. Some even suggest she married one of them. Any truth to the rumors?

Answer: Totally false. Junk science. Not a shred of evidence to support these claims. In fact, to the contrary, Gloria became very close to Rogers and his wife.

Question: Okay, so I can't wait another moment. Why did Gloria pick Perls as her favorite? Rogers came across so empathic. Wasn't he surprised when Gloria did not choose him? I have heard therapists say that Perls was chosen because she realized she needed a tough helper and he would not allow her to remain disturbed.

Answer: Rogers did admit he was baffled. In my mind Rogers gave a flawless performance. I'd give him five stars. Six if I could. As the session began to wind down Gloria says, "Gee, I'd like you for my father." Rogers replies, "You look to me like a pretty nice daughter." As you remarked earlier, it was very moving and Rogers came across as an ideal billboard advertisement for his own theory. Moments after the session with Rogers Gloria announced that, "All in all I feel good about this interview."

Three years before he passed away, Ellis told me that Gloria hated Perls for the rest of her life. Ellis revealed that the movie was "a fake" in the sense that, prior to the filming Gloria had seen Shostrom for four years of psychotherapy. When the film was produced Rogers didn't know this either. At the time, Shostrom was a supporter of Perls. To quote Ellis, "He [Shostrom] got her to say it was Perls who helped her, when he actually didn't." Was Gloria experiencing positive transference toward Shostrom? Was it just that she didn't want to disappoint her therapist? Could it have been that she was petrified of Perls? I don't have the definitive answer, but I think all of the aforementioned issues most likely entered into this. Just for the record Ellis felt he tried to cover too much in his own session with Gloria, and thus while his intervention was not horrific, he was clearly not at the top of his own psychotherapeutic game.

Question: So what is the take-away message you think counselors and therapists need to know?

Answer: Well, first let me be 100% crystal clear that there are occasions when a helper must be direct and use confrontation. No argument about that. Not now, not ever. However, after watching the movie, countless generations of therapists came away with the false notion that a sarcastic, up in your face, card carrying mental judo therapist (in this instance Perls) will walk away with the grand prize. Over the years I routinely heard therapists, supervisors, and my own students brag, "I got right up in the client's face and came across like Perls in the movie," thinking that was the best approach. According to Gloria's daughter (referred to as Pammy, just a fifth-grader at the time of the film), who authored Living with the 'Gloria Films': A daughter's memory in 2013, these Perls wannabes got it oh so wrong. After perusing her book it is safe to say the brief session with Perls negatively impacted her for the rest of her life.

Question: Is Gloria still alive?

Answer: Sadly, Gloria passed away in her mid-forties after a battle with cancer. I believe Gloria said it best herself as she was fond of saying, "Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear." Every aspiring and practicing therapist who wants to complete the emerging gestalt should see this film.

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