2023 VSOF Conference Presenter Bios

Peter MortolaPeter Mortola, Ph.D

Peter Mortola, Ph.D. is a Full Professor in the Counseling, Therapy and School Psychology Department at Lewis and Clark College's Graduate School of Education and Counseling. He is the author of Windowframes: Learning the art of Gestalt play therapy the Oaklander way (Routledge/Gestaltpress, 2006), the culmination of 10 years of inquiry and research on Violet Oaklander’s methods of both child therapy and adult training. Windowframes has been translated into German, Spanish, Romanian, Italian and Korean. He is also the co-author of BAM! Boys Advocacy and Mentoring: A leader’s guide to facilitating strength-based groups for boys (Routledge, 2008), and The Bear Inside (19th Avenue Press, with Illustrator Mark Molchan), a children's book about managing strong emotions. The Bear Inside has been translated into Spanish, Bulgarian, Russian, and Sinhala versions.

Giandomenico BagatinGiandomenico Bagatin

Giandomenico Bagatin is a developmental psychologist, psychotherapist, author and trainer from Trieste, Italy. He’s a Gestalt Trainer and Supervisor certified from FISIG, the Gestalt Psychoterapy Schools association in Italy. He’s also an EMDR practitioner, NLP international coach certified with John Grinder, Gestalt Play Therapist certified from Felicia Carroll and Violet Oaklander at WCI, California. Giandomenico is also contributing member of VSOF, trainer and supervisor in Oaklander Model and actually leads Gestalt Play Therapy Italia and certification process for Oaklander Model in Italy. He’s author of two books in Italy; one of them has been published in Hungary. He’s also author of the Italian edition’s introduction of both Violet Oaklander’s books. He trained and presented in several institutes and psychotherapy schools from different countries, including Italy, US, Spain, Portugal, Serbia, Georgia, Bulgaria, Switzerland and North Macedonia.

Christiane Elsbree, MSW, LICSW Christiane Elsbree, MSW, LICSW

Christiane Elsbree, MSW, LICSW began her study of Gestalt therapy at the Gestalt Therapy Institute of Los Angeles in 1978. In 1980 Violet Oaklander, Ph.D. invited her to be a co-founder of the Center for Child and Adolescent Therapy in Hermosa Beach, California. Christiane worked there with Violet until 1987 when she moved to Seattle and Violet moved to Santa Barbara. Christiane is a founding member of the Violet Solomon Oaklander Foundation. In 2006 and 2007 she had the privilege of assisting Violet with her last two-week long summer training programs. In 2009 Christiane interviewed Violet for the International Gestalt Journal (Vol. 32, No.2). She wrote an introduction to the 2015 Gestalt Journal Press edition of Windows to Our Children, which also includes the full 2009 interview. Christiane is in private practice in Seattle, Washington, working with children, adolescents and adults and teaching the Oaklander Model. Her interests in spirituality, diversity, anti-racism and her love of cinema inform her clinical work. She is grateful for her husband, and the three generations of young women who are her Seattle family.

Claire Mercurio, Ph.D. & Sara St. Antoine Claire Mercurio, Ph.D.

Claire Mercurio, Ph.D. received her B.A. with High Honors in Psychology from the University of Michigan in 1984 and her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Southern California in 1991. During her internship with Community Counseling Service/Pacific Center in Los Angeles she was exposed to Violet’s book, “Windows to our Children.” Shortly after becoming a licensed psychologist and having her first child, Claire moved to Santa Barbara, where unbeknownst to her (at that time), Violet lived! Claire has had a private practice in Santa Barbara for almost 30 years. She was an adjunct faculty member at Antioch University for six years, and supervised interns at Family Service Agency and New Beginnings. Violet’s methods have continuously been the driving force behind what she teaches and practices. Claire can be contacted at this email: cmercuriophd@gmail.com, or on her website: cmercuriophd.com.

Sara St. Antoine is an environmental educator and writer who has spent her career working at the intersection of nature, children, and story. She has written educational materials for organizations such as World Wildlife Fund, Audubon, and the Children & Nature Network. Her novel Front Country (Chronicle Books, 2022) is a portrait of a 14-year-old girl contending with climate grief. Her middle grade novel Three Bird Summer (Candlewick Press, 2014) explores empathy for people and other animals as a 12-year-old boy visits his aging grandmother at her lakeside cabin. Sara holds a BA in English and Environmental Studies from Williams College and a Master’s degree from the Yale School of the Environment.

Tzveta Misheva-Aleksova, PhD

Tzveta Misheva-Aleksova, PhD is a Gestalt therapist certified in the Oaklander Model, international trainer and supervisor, storyteller and storywriter. She works mainly with children and adolescents. Tzveta is the founder of Gestalt Play Therapy Bulgaria – an organization devoted to spreading the Oaklander model in Bulgaria. She leads workshops for parents and professionals working with children, helping them to learn how to address difficult emotions and situations with the use of stories and puppets. As a mother of three children and a keen outdoor person, Tzveta firmly believes in the power of imagination, creativity and humor in facing any challenge, both in her professional and personal life. Author of the book “Why always me – therapeutic stories for children and parents” (in Bulgarian).

Ann Beckley-Forest, LCSW, RPT-S

Ann Beckley-Forest, LCSW, RPT-S, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in private practice in Buffalo, New York. Her specialties include attachment and child and adolescent trauma, and she also works with adult survivors. She is certified in EMDR and is an EMDR Approved Consultant and Trainer and a faculty member of the Child Trauma Institute, as well as a Registered Play Therapist and Supervisor and Approved Provider of play therapy continuing education through the Association for Play Therapy. She provides consultation in person and remotely and gives trainings locally and internationally and is the co-founder of Playful EMDR, an online hub for training and consultation. Her primary interest is in the intersection of play therapy and EMDR and has published on this topic including as co-editor of EMDR with Children in the Play Therapy Room: An Integrated Approach (2020).

Cassiana Silva Castro

Cassiana Silva Castro (Curitiba, Brazil) is a Psychologist, Gestalt Therapist and clinical supervisor since 1992. At her clinic in Curitiba (PR) she works with children, adolescents and adults and, at her country house in Piraquara (PR), she has conducted workshops and training programs in Gestalt Therapy focusing on children and adolescents since 2018. Her first encounter with Violet Oaklander, Ph.D. was at a workshop in São Paulo (Brazil) in 1994 and afterwards she has participated of Oaklander’s training program in Santa Barbara, and has ever since assimilated the Oaklander method to her professional practice with children and adolescents.

Jon Blend MA Jon Blend MA

Jon Blend MA www.gacp.co.uk is British, of Austro/ Ukrainian heritage. He is an adult, child and adolescent Gestalt psychotherapist working in private practice, faculty member of Institute for Arts in Therapy and Education (Wellbeing), clinical supervisor, trainer and an improvising musician with London Playback Theatre www.www.londonplayback.com. Jon has worked for forty years in various hospital and community settings, counselling children and parents.  Since 2002 he has delivered Oaklander-inspired trainings and presentations to institutes in UK, Bulgaria, Croatia, Poland, Romania, Russia and USA. His writings include: ‘Am I Bovvered?’ in Harris & Lee’s  Relational Child, Relational Brain; ‘I Got Rhythm’ International Gestalt Journal V 32,2  and ‘Witnessed Improvised Diaspora Journey Enactments: an experiential method for exploring Refugee history’. Jewish Historical Studies 2020 v5.

Susana Millán Mtg Susana Millán Mtg,

Susana Millán Mtg, is Director and founder of Instituto de Terapia Gestalt para niños y adolescentes, in which therapy is offered and Gestalt therapists are trained for children and adolescents using the approach of Violet Oaklander. She is a certified Gestalt Therapist with Children & Adolescents, May 2018, West Coast Institute. In recent years I have taken various courses in Neurosciences and Bioneurology. .My passion is to understand how the brain works and my mission is to do what is in my power to help the greatest number of children to recover their mental health.

Dan Morta, Rekha Khuon, & Amy A. Picco

Dan Morta, is a Chilkat Tlingit of the Dakl’aweidi clan from Klukwan, Alaska. He received his Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Alaska Anchorage in 2001, his Master of Science in Botany from the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2004, his Master of Art in Clinical Psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute in 2002 and will complete his PhD in Clinical Psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute in 2025. His clinical interests include the effect of language revitalization and language learning on people experiencing acculturation, colonization, and historical trauma. As a clinician, modalities include gestalt therapy, depth psychology, and traditional indigenous practices.

Rekha Khuon obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from National University in 2014. She received a Masters in Social Work from the University of Southern California with an emphasis in Macro Social Work in 2017. She became board-certified in California as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in 2020. In 2022, she earned a Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute and is in pursuit of her Doctor of Philosophy degree in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis in Depth Psychology with expectations to graduate in 2025. She is passionate about transpersonal depth work. Her clinical interest and scholarly work will be focused on complex trauma and attachment wounds, breaking intergenerational trauma cycles, and holistic and integrative healing practices.

Amy A. Picco graduated with a BS in Community Health Education from San Diego State University in 1996, received her Doctorate in Osteopathic Medicine in 2004 and worked as a board-certified family medicine physician until shifting her focus to psychology. She obtained her MA in Clinical Psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute in 2022 and is expecting her PhD in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis in Depth Psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute in 2026. Her current clinical interests include expanding depth-oriented theories in the adolescent and youth populations and expanding access to these therapies in youth, adolescents and children in the community mental health clinic setting.

Karen Fried, Psy.D., M.F.T. Karen Fried, Psy.D., M.F.T.

Karen Fried, Psy.D., M.F.T. is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and an Educational Therapist in Santa Monica, California. She has a private practice in Psychotherapy and is Co-Director of the K&M Center. Inc., a learning center providing educational and remedial services to students ranging from 4 years old to college age. Karen uses the Oaklander Model of Child Therapy in her practice and is the President of the Violet Solomon Oaklander Foundation. She trains child and adolescent therapists in this model in the US and internationally. Trainings, online tools, and many resources can be found at oaklandertraining.org. Karen can be reached at karen@karenfried.com.