Violet Solomon Oaklander Foundation
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In this Issue:

Ask Violet

Dr. Oaklander answers a handful of frequently asked questions.

The Oaklander Method Goes to Italy

Lynn Stadler  & Karen Fried Team up with the Psychotherapy community i

n Italy to create a four-part training in the Oaklander Method in Italy



You may send your questions for Violet to:


I used to have people send up questions written on scraps of paper when I did large workshops.  I have a very fat folder full of these questions.  Here are brief answers to a few of those questions.  Feel free to contact me if you would like me to say more:

Question. When you are getting children to draw, what do you do?  Do you draw too?  Do you just sit there? 

Answer:  I generally ask the child if I can watch while they draw.  I like to pay attention to the process:  hurried, slow, lots of mind changing, etc.  This process is often a clue to how they are in life.  Sometimes we draw together, if that’s the goal.  If they don’t want me to watch (rare), I busy myself with writing stuff on a pad of paper.


Question. What adaptations can be made to work with children who have physical disabilities, especially blindness, CP, terminal illness or mental retardation?

Answer:  All of these children have feelings and need a way to express them.  A mentally retarded child may scribble something that makes him mad.  Children with physical disabilities particularly respond to focusing on their disabilities.  A boy who had to wear braces all the time made them with clay and enjoyed smashing them to bits and then we were able to look at how the braces were of service to him.  Remember that all of these children have many interests besides their disabilities: friends, relationships with their parents and siblings, music, and so forth.  Sensory experiences and games are good for everyone.  There are also some wonderful children’s books to use:  Little Tree by Joyce Mills is about a tree that has lost part of its branches.


Question. You once stated that you see the parents and child together at the first session.  I have been leery to do this because the times I have done this the parents’ comments were hurtful for the child to hear.  I thought that it was more harmful to the child than helpful.  Please comment.

Answer:  I don’t believe in “secrets”.  I feel secrets are divisive and harmful.  The child already knows how the parents feel about him or her.  If the child knows that I know that he is “bad” and I smile at him, he doesn’t think, “If she knew what my parents think of me, she wouldn’t smile.”   When everything is out in the open, it enhances our relationship.  Sometimes I ask, “Do you agree with what your parents told me?”  Other times I might say, “It must be so hard to hear those things.”  Of course there are always exceptions and sometimes I need to work with the parents about their hesitation to be truthful.


Question. Will you say more about helping children own their projections?

Answer:  When a child draws or tells a story or engages in some other projective, expressive technique, I often say, for example, “Is there anything you said about your rosebush that fits for you?”


One eight year-old girl who had drawn a rosebush answered this question, “Well, you know I’m adopted.”  “Yes,” I answered (wondering what this had to do with her rosebush), and how does it fit for you?”  “Well, my rosebush doesn’t have any roots so it won’t be hard to move it. And since I’m adopted I don’t know where I’ll be going after my parents get divorced.”  This belief turned out to be the cause of the symptoms that brought her into therapy.  We explored this for a while and it turned out that since her parents emphasized how her adoption as an infant made them a wonderful family, she wasn’t sure what would happen next.  I asked her permission to talk to her parents about this, and since she was anxious about what would happen to her, she readily agreed.   The parents were totally horrified to hear this!   This incident taught me to bring up this issue with every family with adopted children.  I found this to be a common belief.


Sometime when children cannot connect anything to themselves, I might offer a suggestion, such as to a 12 year old boy’s sand scene story, “Well, this surfer felt responsible for the other one drowning since he didn’t help him.  I wonder if, in your life, you ever have felt responsible for anything bad?”  The boy began to sob, saying over and over, “It’s all my fault!”


Question: Could you speak a little about how you decide when to let the child choose the play and when you are directive?

Answer:  Therapy with children is like a dance:  sometimes I lead and sometimes they lead.  Most children don’t come into the session saying, “ I have to work on my relationship with my brother,”  or  “I need to work on my abuse.” I assess how much self-support a child has before I ask her/him to do something specific, such as “make your step-father out of clay.” (This is something I said to a ten year-old child who had been severely abused by her stepfather for several years.)  “Now what would you say to him, if he could hear anything you want to say?  He’s not here really, so you can say anything.”

We had done some work to strengthen her sense of self, as well as aggressive energy work (an important prelude experience to expressing emotions, particularly anger.  See Hidden Treasure for more information.)   Previously, when I asked her about her step-father, or the abuse, she totally ignored me and sometimes drew rainbows, certainly telling me that she needed more support, that she was not ready to delve into these topics.


The Oaklander Method Goes to Italy

By Lynn Stadler, MFT, VSOF Founding Member


In August of 2010, child psychologist Giandomenico Bagatin came from his home in Trieste, Italy to the annual 21st Century Perspectives training program in Malibu -- led by myself, Karen Fried, and Sue Talley. At that time I would have never imagined that two years later I would be presenting for two days about the Oaklander Model at an Italian National Congress* for more than 250 therapists. What began as a chat on a California beach sitting around a bonfire evolved into a huge and fantastic event, and an ongoing training program hosted by the Gestalt Institute of Trieste and several founding members of the Violet Solomon Oaklander Foundation (VSOF).


The National Congress co-creators, Giandomenico Bagatin and the Director of the Gestalt Institute of Trieste, Paolo Baiocchi, proposed a format for the conference that would allow for "Figure that Appears from Comparison" with the title: "Gestalt Therapy in Childhood -- Dialogues with Other Intervention Models." I began both days of the conference In June of 2012 with translated 90-minute keynote presentations; the first was an introduction: "Gestalt in Childhood and the Oaklander Model" and the second was "Gestalt Work with Children's Emotions". The keynotes were followed by a one-hour demonstration with an adult, and then a one-hour demonstration with the child. Then, the 250 conference participants were divided into three large groups after the demonstrations to discuss their impressions and opinions about my work. (For better or worse, these commentaries were conducted in Italian only!)


Giandomenico Bagatin

Gestalt therapist/trainer of Gestalt Institute Trieste (IGT)


250-person audience watching a clip of Violet talking about Developmental Issues -- from the  documentary about Violet’s work, available from the VSOF online store, "Making Lemonade".


From Left to Right:  Paolo Baiocchi, Director of Gestalt Institute Trieste (IGT)

Carlos, (translator), Lynn Stadler, Giandomenico Bagatin


The last two hours of each day provided a forum to compare and contrast the Oaklander Model with other ways of doing therapeutic work with children and families.  Giavanni Paolo Quattrini, Director of the Gestalt Institute of Firenze, presented "Evolution and Development in Gestalt Model"; Andrea Mosconi, Director of the Padova Family Therapy Institute, presented "Systemic Approach to Family Therapy"; Filippo Muratori, child neuropsychiatric professor at Pisa University, presented "Child Therapy in Psychodynamic Model"; Anna Rita Ravenna, Didactical Director of the Gestalt Institute of Firenze, presented "Gestalt Between Adults and Children"; Anna Rita Verardo, of EMDR Italy, presented "E.M.D.R. Applications in Child Therapy"; and Franco Fabbro, child neuropsychiatric professor at Udine University, presented "Consciousness, Self, and Mindfulness with Children".


This incredible event was the kick-off for an ongoing four-part Italian training program on the Oaklander Model. VSOF Founding Member, Karen Fried travelled to Bologna, Italy to teach the first in the series in September 2012. She co-led the 5-day introductory training with Giandomenico Bagatin and Paolo Baiocchi. Part two was led by Giandomenico in Trieste, and his focus was on "How Children Cope with Loss".  I will travel to Bologna (with side trips to Venice and Florence!) in March 2013 for part three -- "Contact, Emotion, and Sense of Self", and Karen will wrap up in June with "Working with Anger".  *


Needless to say, this has been an exciting and much appreciated experience for all.  Paolo and Giandomenico are proposing future training programs in Italy, and we'll help however we can to share Violet's model in this beautiful, interesting, and welcoming part of the world.


For more information about upcoming training programs in Italy, you can contact Lynn Stadler at


*The national congress was a separate event in June 2012, hosted by the institute in Trieste.  The subsequent 4-part training dates were/are:

Sept 2012 in Bologna (Taught by Karen Fried, Paolo Baiocchi, Giandomenico Bagatin)

Nov 2012 in Trieste (Giandomenico Bagatin)

March 9 and 10, 2013 in Bologna (Lynn Stadler)

June 2013 (Karen Fried)





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