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Windowsill Spring 2009

The Oaklander Model Travels to Kyrgyzstan
by Lynn Stadler


Thanks to the Violet Solomon Oaklander Foundation Scholarship Fund, I recently had the peak experience of bringing the Oaklander Model to Kyrgyzstan – a small, impoverished, mountainous country in Central Asia. It was not easy to find a part of the world where Violet had not already provided training, but alas, Central Asia is indeed virgin territory for the Oaklander Model.

My Kyrgyz adventure actually began in July 2008 when I met four therapists from Kyrgyzstan (officially the Kyrgyz Republic) at the GATLA (Gestalt Associates Training Los Angeles) Summer Residential training in Lithuania. It was there that Dr. Alexandre (Sasha) Eremeev, founder of the Kyrgyzstan Gestalt Development Society, asked me to teach a three-day training on Gestalt Therapy with Children and Adolescents in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. I admit that I had to look on a map to see where in the world Kyrgyzstan was situated. If you look very closely to the west of China, south of Kazakhstan, north of Tajikistan, and east of Uzbekistan . . . Viola! You will see the tiny country of Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyzstan (KG) was one of the 15 Soviet republics until 1989, and since that time it has been suffering with serious growing pains as a budding democracy. When I arrived there in late March, my colleagues met me at the airport before dawn after my 30-hour journey from Los Angeles. When I asked “what will we do today?” their response was “we’re going to have a revolution.” I laughed, thinking it was a joke in reference to the 2005 Tulip Revolution that took place in Kyrgyzstan, but as the day went on and we neared the main square of the city, I saw my friends looking around a bit nervously for signs of something amiss. In fact, there had been some rumor of demonstrations and a “small” revolution planned for the very day of my arrival.

There was no political drama during my stay in Kyrgyzstan, so I was able to focus on the work at hand. After a day or two of recovering from the journey, my Kyrgyz colleagues and I hit the street markets for supplies – drawing pads, pastels, markers, crayons, pencils, sharpeners, clay, clay boards and tools, plastic bags and twisty ties, newspaper, plastic drop cloths, all the usual fare for three days of an Oaklander Model training. Finally after much ado, we were ready, and on our first day, the training room was packed with approximately 20 students, plus 20 onlookers in the “fishbowl” or as the Kyrgyz say the “aquarium”.

For the first time I worked with a translator, actually a team of translators. After a sentence or two of my English, my new Kyrgyz friends – Erjan, Sasha, Salta, or Jyldez – would translate my words into Russian. And so we began three days of intense learning and playing, and gaining a mutual understanding of the similar and different problems children face in our respective parts of the world.

Early in the training I began to understand that my subject matter was quite revolutionary for my students. Prior to my visit, there was no child therapy training of any kind in Kyrgyzstan. I had no idea I would be starting “from scratch” rather than offering a new and interesting approach.

The enormous challenges associated with developing an independent, well-functioning, economically viable nation are hard for me to comprehend. It seems the biggest challenge for Kyrgyz therapists who want to help children is a serious lack of social services for children. There is nothing like Child Protective Services (CPS), or child abuse awareness, or related laws. There are not many (if any) services related to domestic violence or substance abuse. I found myself in a sea of practitioners very hungry for information about how to start working with children at every level – how to interface with parents, teachers, physicians, and of course, the children themselves.

The Kyrgyz psychiatrists and psychologists who participated in this training were extremely enthusiastic about the Oaklander Model and they are ready and eager for round two – a second, advanced three-day training. Hopefully the VSOF scholarship fund will grow to fuel this exciting work in Kyrgyzstan and other parts of the world where therapists lack the necessary resources to travel abroad for the training they need to help children grow and heal.

There is a huge need for the Oaklander Model in Kyrgyzstan, and there is plenty of enthusiasm for more training. The VSOF scholarship money that enabled me to make the very long trip was extremely well spent, and I’m looking forward to getting back to KG to pick up where we left off as soon as possible.

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VSOF Scholarship Fund Doors Open!

From its earliest hours, one of the goals of VSOF was to provide financial assistance to students who were eager to learn about the Oaklander Model, but who were unable to afford full fee trainings. The plan was to bring these students to trainings, and/or to bring trainers to impoverished places.

The recent VSOF scholarship granted for the Spring 2009 training in Kyrgyzstan was a dream realized, as this early VSOF goal came to fruition. The $2500 scholarship brought the Oaklander Model to nearly 40 students in a country completely void of child therapy and related services. What an amazing accomplishment!

After the success of this first pilot program, the VSOF Scholarship Fund is taking a more solid shape with a new Scholarship Committee, including VSOF Board members Karen Fried and Patric White, and the always helpful and generous Mha Atma Khalsa (Violet’s son).

The Kyrgyzstan training tapped the fund dry, so the first mission of the newly-formed committee is to replenish the fund. There is a new page on the VSOF online store so that tax-deductible donations can be made directly to the Scholarship Fund via PayPal. The committee will also contact Friends of the Foundation about the Kyrgyzstan success story, as well as other training opportunities for less advantaged students. The committee is ready for suggestions regarding how the fund can be developed and used to help those in need. The committee will review all scholarship applications and trainers’ proposals.

To make a donation, please go to our store.

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Violet’s Madrid Trip Report

Violet Oaklander
Joaquin, Violet, and Gordon Wheeler

I had a fabulous time at the XI International Gestalt Therapy conference in Madrid, Spain. The conference theme was “The Union of Differences.” Sixteen countries were represented and 700 people attended. During the conference I gave a keynote talk “What Brings Children Into Therapy: A Developmental View” and received a 10-minute standing ovation! I’ve never experienced anything like it. I had a wonderful translator, Joquin Blix, who had attended one of my two-week training programs in Santa Barbara 15 years ago. There were many workshops offered, some had simultaneous translation and others had a live translator. I admit that I only attended two workshops since my daughter, Sara, and I needed to explore Madrid as much as possible. One day we took a day tour to an old walled city, Toledo. The day after the conference I gave an all day workshop “Gestalt Therapy With Children and Adolescents” for 64 people, with Joquin’s amazing translation. I truly felt like a rock star—I was constantly bombarded wherever I went in the hotel with folks grabbing me, kissing me, wanting to have their picture taken with me, and wanting me to sign their books. The conference had both my books, which luckily are translated into Spanish. It was an experience I will never forget.

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Board Meeting Highlights – April 2009

Website & Store

  • Board approved addition of store items: El Tesoro Escondido (Spanish version of Hidden Treasures), and Gestalt Therapy with Children DVD featuring Violet from
  • Other new additions to the store include pages to sign up as Friends of the Foundation and to contribute to VSOF through PayPal. Tax-deductible donations to the new VSOF Scholarship Fund will be able to be made through the store as well.

Trainings & Conferences

  • Discussed VSOF plans for the Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference in Anaheim in December 2009.
  • Trip report on Lynn Stadler’s Spring 2009 training in Kyrgyzstan (see related story and update about VSOF Scholarship fund)

Documentary Film Update - Claire Mercurio is working on the script, and planning some additional footage of Violet playing guitar with kids and doing a puppet show.

Archives - Sue Talley and Chris Orpen are “archiving” and creating a detailed inventory.

Networking/outreach - Chris Orpen and Patric White are leading the project of setting up reciprocal links from the VSOF website to other organizations/sites and informing other organizations of VSOF activities.

by Lynn Stadler

Lynn Stadler

The I-Thou of Nonviolent Communication

About 15 years ago a co-worker mentioned Nonviolent Communication (NVC). He was leading NVC groups for prison inmates in Northern California. A few years later “NVC” popped up again. My friend, Rilyn, who was then pregnant with her first child, began NVC training in San Luis Obispo, California. She and her husband now have two sons who are being raised in an NVC household. In the past year or so, the parents of three child clients have initiated conversations with me about NVC and quizzed me a bit on my understanding of its underlying concepts.

I haven’t done any NVC training yet, but I did go to a one-day workshop in Santa Barbara awhile back, and last September I signed my daughter up for a preschool that touted an educational philosophy based on “Compassionate Communication” – what I suspected was a close cousin of NVC. The preschool handbook says, “With a deep emphasis on respect, we help each child build a solid emotional core. Through compassionate communication, we help children develop an awareness of their impact on each other and the earth.”

Well, I certainly liked the sound of that, not only as a mother, but also as a Gestalt therapist. The more I learn about NVC, the more I think it’s also a close cousin of the Oaklander Model, especially the “I-Thou” way of relating to children, parents, well actually, everyone.

A few weeks ago, my dear friend, Tory Blue, became a certified NVC trainer. She’s living up in Santa Cruz, California, but she took her final NVC examination here in Santa Barbara, and spent a few nights with my three-year-old daughter and me. Tory had lots to say about my parenting style and how it looked a whole lot like NVC. I just couldn’t resist the chance to interview Tory, and learn more about how NVC, Gestalt therapy, and the Oaklander Model intersect. The following experts from my email dialogue with Tory, as well as some text from the NVC website, will help us start to connect those dots.

Q. What is Nonviolent Communication?
A. Tory suggested that I check out the NVC website for this one. Here’s what I found: “Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is a process developed by Marshall Rosenberg and others which people use to communicate with greater compassion and clarity. It focuses on two things: honest self-expression — exposing what matters to oneself in a way that's likely to inspire compassion in others, and empathy — listening with deep compassion. Formal NVC self-expression includes four elements: observations (distinguished from interpretations/evaluations), feelings (emotions separate from thoughts), needs (deep motives) and requests (clear, present, doable and without demand).

Those who use nonviolent communication (also called "compassionate communication") describe all actions as motivated by an attempt to meet human needs. However, in meeting those needs, they seek to avoid the use of coercion (e.g., inducing fear, guilt, shame, praise, blame, duty, obligation, punishment, or reward). The goal of NVC is to create a situation in which everyone's needs are understood. The assumption is that, from this state of mutual understanding, new strategies will flow that meet some needs of everyone. A key principle of nonviolent communication that supports this is the capacity to express oneself without the use of good/bad, right/wrong judgment, hence the emphasis on expressing feelings and needs, instead of criticisms or judgments.”

Q. What’s the history of NVC?
A. Again from the NVC website . . . “Growing up in an inner–city Detroit neighborhood Marshall Rosenberg was confronted daily with various forms of violence. Wanting to learn what he could about the causes of violence and what could be done to reduce violence he chose to study clinical psychology and received his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Wisconsin.

In addition to his studies in Clinical Psychology, he also studied comparative religions, the lives of peacemakers throughout history, and other research to identify what human learning contributes to violence and what human learning contributes to compassionate giving and receiving. From his research, he identified thinking, language, communication skills and means of influence that reduced violence and supported compassionate relationships. He integrated what he learned into a process he named Nonviolent Communication.

Offering Nonviolent Communication to others and seeing how it empowered people to create change nonviolently and its ability to contribute to compassionate ways of living, he founded the Center for Nonviolent Communication. Marshall and members of the Center for Nonviolent Communication organized and trained teams of people in the following countries to apply Nonviolent Communication where it can best support compassionate ways of resolving conflicts and fulfilling the needs of all.

The Center for Nonviolent Communication now has more than 200 people certified to offer the training in these countries. In addition to people developing the process with the help of certified trainers, thousands of people around the world receive it from friends and family members whose lives have been enriched by it fulfilling the adage, ‘Each one teach one.’”

Q. How does NVC differ from Compassionate Communication?
A. Tory: Compassionate Communication is just another way to describe NVC -- some people prefer the term Compassionate Communications because it sounds more positive; some people initially think “nonviolent” communication is meant to help people who struggle with violent behavior, rather than us ‘regular’ people.  Most people don’t view themselves as communicating violently.

Q. How can people get trained in NVC?
A. Tory: There is no formalized or standard program for training, and a variety of options are available in hundreds of cities worldwide. For an introduction to NVC, six-week classes or weekend workshops are offered in most major and mid-sized cities. People tend to form their own practice groups after the introductory classes are completed, then follow up with intermediate or ongoing classes and study groups. In addition to workshops and classes, 9-day intensives are offered in many places as well. 

Q. What about self-led NVC training?
A. Tory: A whole library of books, videotapes, CDs and audiotapes can be found via the bookstore.

To really immerse yourself in NVC, I recommend watching videotapes or DVDs and listening to audiotapes or CDs rather than reading books about NVC.  Learning NVC is like learning a new language, so I liken it to reading about Spanish rather than listening to it. 

My favorite videotape is “The Basics of Nonviolent Communication: A one-day workshop with Marshall Rosenburg”. It’s actually two videotapes for a total of three hours, and this gives a clear and thorough presentation of NVC.

Marshall’s book “Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life” is an important reference guide, but not really the best way to get an introduction to NVC.

Q. What about NVC for kids, parents and teachers?
A. Tory: There are lots of books and media for teaching NVC to children. I’ve posted a list below. A really cool thing to check out is the Family Week NVC Family Camp offered for eight days on a 26-acre farm on Vashon Island in Washington State July 29 - August 5, 2009. For details click here.

Here are some books for parenting – my personal favorite is “Ginny Be a Good Frog” – a book for children.

Growing Up in Trust by Justine Mol

Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids: 7 Keys to turn family conflict into family co-operation by Sura Hart and Victoria Kindle Hodson

Raising Children Compassionately: Parenting the Nonviolent Communication Way by Marshall Rosenburg

Ginny Be a Good Frog by Vilma Costetti

The Compassionate Classroom - Relationship Based Teaching and Learning by Sura Hart and Victoria Kindle Hodson

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Like Tory said, NVC is a language, and we can’t do it justice in one sitting, but I’m committed to learning more, and I want to thank Tory for helping to pave the way. Please send me your comments and questions about NVC so we can stay in dialogue!

I welcome your 21st Century Perspectives at

Lynn Stadler is a Marriage Family Therapist in private practice. She is a Founding Member of VSOF, and offers trainings on Gestalt Therapy with Children, Adolescents & Adults.





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