VSOF Newsletter – Fall 2016

Summer-Fall 2016

In This Issue:

Ask Violet:  Grounding Children After a Session

Third Violet Solomon Oaklander Foundation
Conference, Malibu, California, June 2016

The Oaklander Model Worldwide:  Czech Republic, Lithuania, Georgia, South Africa


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Dr. Violet Oaklander

Parents at the First Session

Question:  How do you ground children after they have been having a really good time, or perhaps a particularly emotional time?

This is very important.  I feel that children must make closure since have they to go out and be in the world after a session.  Here are several methods that have worked for me:

Ask specific, present centered questions, such as

“What do you hope you’ll have for dinner?”

“Are those new sneakers?

“Where are you going from here? Or I might suggest that we both take some deep breaths. Or I might say, “Wow! Look at the way the leaves are moving.  It must be windy.” “Oh, wait.  Before you go I want to show you this new sand tray figure I got.”

Generally bring the child back to the present moment, using as many senses as possible.

Question:  What is your position on cleaning up after a session?

For me cleaning up is part of the session.  I try to leave time for this.  Children help me clean up unless we are totally out of time.  Cleaning up is one of the ways I help children make closure after a session.  This does not mean that the work we have been doing is resolved.  I trust that it will emerge again, perhaps in a different way, in a subsequent session.

Example:  a 14 year-old girl discovered a toy cash register on the shelf.  She decided that we should play store and set up various toys and items from my office on our art table.  She made little notes of prices for each.  I was instructed to be various customers.  I did so, enjoying the opportunity to play different kinds of characters.  (I must say this was a lot of fun for both of us.)  As we cleaned up she said, “Don’t tell anybody we did this!”  At the next session she wanted to play store again.  I could see that her heart wasn’t in it.  I said,  “I have a feeling that you didn’t have much chance to play when you were a little girl.  This opened up many feelings about her childhood.  (She had already been in seven foster homes when I saw her.)

Often the clean-up is therapeutic in itself.  An 11 year-old boy insisted on washing all the clay tools even though I usually don’t.  As I watched him using the basin, pitcher of water, and sponge I realized he may have never had this kind of experience when he was small.  Playing with water is an important part of development for young children.  He reminded me of my daughter when she was three years old, standing on a stool, singing as she “washed” her toy dishes.  I realized then that he was humming!

Some children are resistant to putting things away at first.  But since this must be done before they leave, I begin to do this myself while instructing them to put this or that in the basket or on the shelf.  They may ignore me at first, but soon they are helping, perhaps not in this session, but in subsequent ones.  These children, who never put anything away at home, become my best “cleaner uppers.”

NOTE:  We don’t clean up sand tray scenes.  I tell the child I need to look at it for awhile, and then I will put the miniatures away myself.  Of course, I take a photo of the scene.  They appear very grateful not to have to destroy what they have so carefully constructed.  (This is totally a projection.  I certainly feel that way.)

3rd  Violet Solomon Oaklander Foundation Conference   

June 4 & 5, 2016  ~~  Malibu, California

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Serra Retreat, Malibu, California

The Third Violet Solomon Oaklander Foundation conference brought the Foundation’s Founding Members together for a reunion, as well as provided a forum to share ideas and expertise about Gestalt Therapy with Children & Adolescents.  The biennial conference, which is held at the beautiful hilltop Serra Retreat overlooking the Pacific Ocean, started in 2012.   It was an exciting weekend gathering of fine therapists, excellent teachers, and good friends.  A group of 80 therapists, teachers and counselors participated in two days of presentations on the Oaklander Model given by foundation members.  The presentations were ( for more detail go go http://www.vsofconference.org/schedule.html ):

  • Felicia Carroll:  Interpersonal Neurobiology
  • Lynn Stadler: “How Gestalt Therapy Can Motivate Children and Their Parents to Change”
  • Peter Mortola:  Play and the Oaklander model
  • Panel discussion with Dr. Violet Oaklander and conference presenters

Dr. Oaklander and Foundation members answering attendees’ questions

  • Karen Fried Learning and Emotions-exploring the use of the Oaklander method to address children with learning and attentional challenges
  • Claire Mercurio “A Walk on the Wild Side” how to keep the sense alive, and how to be self-aware by being aware of oneself in the environment
  • Sue Ellen Talley, Drawing and feelings:  Violet’s classic Rosebush drawing
  • Lillian Freeman Children of Divorce and the Violet Oaklander Model


Lithuania, Czech Republic, Georgia and South Africa

Vilnius, Lithuania

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In April 2016 in Vilnius, Lithuania VSOF founding member Lynn Stadler taught a four-day training in English for 34 participants . It was organized by Ausra Pundzeviciene with support from the Lithuanian association of child and family therapy or Leituvos vaikų ir šeimos terapijos asociacija  www.vaikuirseimos.lt,  the Institute of Gestalt Psychotherapy “Dialogue” or Geštaltinės psichoterapijos institutas “Dialogas”  www.dialogas.net  and the Human psychology studio or Žmogaus psichologijos studija  www.zps.lt 

A scholarship from VSOF made it all possible. Ausra is already making plans for another introductory training, an advanced training for this year’s participants, and some ongoing support and supervision groups.

Prague, Czech Republic

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Lynn  flew from Vilnius to Prague for another extremely successful training for 18 participants in the beautiful spa town of Karlovy Vary. That training was organized by Michal Cernic with support from ČSGT – Česká společnost pro Gestalt terapii (Czech Gestalt therapy association) and HZS KVK – Hasičský záchranný sbor Karlovarského kraje (Fire Rescue Servis of Karlovy Vary Region). Talks for future trainings are underway there as well.

Stay tuned for news about the June trainings in Trieste, Italy and Barcelona, Spain.

Tblisi, Georgia


VSOF member Jon Blend taught a four-day training on adolescence for thirteen third-year Gestalt therapy students at the Tbilisi Gestalt Institute in the Caucasus region of Georgia in October of 2015. A few attendees spoke English; others spoke Georgian and/or Russian. Director Lana and her deputy who were part of the training group, translated throughout. The workshop incorporated a mixture of Violet’s projective arts work, Mark McConville’s notions of adolescent development and Lifemusic – a group improvisatory practice focusing on enhancing wellbeing and working together.

Participants were intrigued to experience Violet’s sensory approach: this utilizes projective arts to improve contact, self-expression and self-esteem.   The importance of offering support to young persons in therapy drew lively debate; participants came to realize the value of working alongside young people, respecting defenses rather than confronting matters ‘head on’. Here Violet’s adage that ‘resistance is assistance’ was useful in thinking about the nature of resistance, how it may support the client at moments of overwhelm by simply breaking contact. During the course demonstrations and skills practice helped  the  group gain awareness of  the merits of  establishing clear, trusting therapy  relationships from the outset that convey transparency and  mutual respect.

Another area of interest concerned Mark McConville’ s  notion of  ‘ disembedding ’ – the  process in many Western cultures whereby  individuating  teenagers  move away  from their family of origin and  develop  more autonomy in their relationships and lives.  Interestingly in Georgia however several generations of a family may live together under one roof; this sometimes brings role conflicts and interpersonal tensions. Jon found this notion challenging and a salutary reminder: therapists may need to work respectfully within a culture rather than impose changes from outside.  

Whilst psychotherapy is less well known in Tbilisi Georgians have a particular love of art and music. Accordingly arts -based dialogues in therapy may be particularly useful in helping clients express and understand themselves regardless of age. Again an understanding of Violet’s ways of working is useful to draw on (literally!).

Adolescence is an emergent progress  and not always linear in nature:  a knowledge of Violet’s and Mark’s  complementary approaches  can be invaluable in considering how to work with  young persons who are constantly encountering  change- in their bodies, thinking, family,  social and relational  shifts etc. Lifemusic also provides a useful addition to the therapist’s ‘toolbox’; adolescents identify with a range of music and musicians: music and media occupy a vital part of many teenagers’ lives.

Jon was delighted to be invited to this fascinating country with its proud history and hospitable people.  Tbilisi is the closest he has come to seeing his grandparents’ Kiev home hence this trip held special resonance for him.

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 Tbilisi  Gestalt students display  their certificates at the end of Jon’s  course.


Recently Jon presented a ‘taster’ weekend introducing the Oaklander approach to therapists at Manchester Gestalt Centre, England. He will be introducing some of Violet’s ideas to pastoral teaching staff in Yorkshire also to health workers in Wales next spring.  Jon is looking forward to presenting a workshop on therapy and music making at the September EAGT/AAGT conference in Sicily. He is also facilitating a weekend for a multidisciplinary professionals group in Zagreb, Croatia, on applying the Oaklander approach to help raging and anxious children in the aftermath of civil conflict.  His next UK course entitles The Drama of Adolescence takes place in November at the Gestalt Centre, London (details on their website). For further details of Jon’s work see:  www.gacp.co.uk *

South Africa

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What a wonderful (WOW!!) experience it was for me to have had the privilege to attend the 2014 Summer Intensive Training in August 2014 with Felicia Carroll (M.Ed. MA., Licensed Marriage, Family- and Play Therapist, Supervisor and a founding member of the Violet Solomon Oaklander Foundation.) Each individual’s input and enriching unique culture contributed to an unforgettable life- changing training opportunity. Bringing theory into practice – by practicing clay, sand tray, music, movement, storytelling (puppets and life narratives) techniques and anger management on colleagues, brought  us as a group so close together that we felt we were family. We all left empowered with memories of a most exciting week which I actually did not want to end.  Yet we were all excited to take home with us what we learned and to put it into practice with the children we work with.  

As an Early Childhood specialist and LSEN specialist (learners with special educational needs), lecturer and educator in a school in South Africa with 1,550 learners from the age of about 5 to 17 years, I mostly concentrate on intervention programmes to empower the parents and educators.  Most of our learners have very poor and neglected circumstances mostly raised by guardians. The result is that their emotional and physical needs are neglected. They are exposed to domestic violence, alcohol and drug abuse, extreme poverty (each learner receives food daily at school), teenage pregnancies, sexual-, emotional- and physical abuse. A low self image develops where these learners lack self-confidence, which has a negative influence on their academic performance. Thus these learners develop learning-, emotional- and behavioural problems as coping mechanisms so as to be accepted by their peers and society.  Anxiety, constant trauma and post-traumatic stress manifest in ADD and ADHD and addiction as well. Social services in the area are overwhelmed with referrals. Because of the high percentage of people without work in South Africa, most of the parents/guardians are unemployed and rely on social grants for their children.

Our learners with extreme problems are first assessed individually to clarify in which group therapy class and age group they should be accommodated, for example

·      abuse

·      loss because of death,

·      addiction,

·      divorce,

·      behaviour problems,

·      ADD, ADHD and Post traumatic stress,

·      low self esteem/poor academic progress

·      and domestic violence

The above groups receive group Gestalt Play therapy weekly. I was trained by Dr Hannie Schoeman, lecturer in Gestalt Play Therapy in South Africa in 2000.  Dr. Schoeman attended Violet two-week training in Santa Barbara about 18 years ago, and subsequently organized a trip to South Africa for Violet and her colleague Peter Mortola to teach the Oaklander Model in three separate trainings in three different cities in South Africa.  

At the moment our next project is to raise funds for punching bags installed permanently at school to hit for release of aggression. We are also planning to train volunteers for anger management and basic victim support programmes to assist our learners.

As a Gestalt Play therapist, Psychometrist, Psychotherapist, N L P Practitioner and Forensic specialist, I regularly combine new exciting advanced training techniques which were introduced at Felicia’s workshop. The latest articles and literature we received during the advanced training workshop is such a blessing as well in preparing group therapy sessions.

Lastly, I want to take this opportunity to thank you again for contributing towards my sponsorship for the above-named  breath-taking training. The course inspired me with fresh enthusiasm and new insight as a Play therapist assisting our learners in crisis in their healing process, using Gestalt Play Therapy Techniques.

Excited and grateful greetings from South Africa.

Trudie Watts (M Diac Play Therapy, B Ed, BA, HED Pre-primary, EDIII)

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