VSOF Newsletter – Spring 2010


Lynn Stadler (front row, third from left) with the Kyrgyzstan training group, April 2010

2nd Annual Training in Kyrgyzstan
Lynn Stadler safely returned from Kyrgyzstan in April after providing two very successful three-day training programs for the Kyrgyzstan Gestalt Development Society in Bishkek. Thanks to a scholarship from VSOF, Lynn’s first trip to Kyrgyzstan in March 2009 brought the Oaklander Model to this impoverished Central Asian nation. Most of the 2009 students eagerly returned for the 2010 Advanced training course on child abuse interventions, self-nurturing, and working with puppets, music, and sand.

This year’s Introductory training course covered fundamental theoretical aspects of the Oaklander Model, followed by working with anger and aggressive energy, and interfacing with the field – parents and teachers. Plans for 2011 trainings in Kyrgyzstan are underway. For further information, contact lynnstadler@verizon.net

Working with Military Kids using the Oaklander Model

I currently am a mental health consultant for military families, as well as working with children and families in private practice. I work with the children of U.S. military service personnel, as well as doing parent consults and staff training. For the past year I’ve alternated between being away from home on assignment for a few months as a consultant, and then being home for a few weeks or months. From May to December last year, I was gone for 5 1/2 of those seven months. The program I work for helps military families and their children cope with family separations and other stresses of military life. My assignments so far have been in the part of the program that focuses on the children. We do individual parent consults and family sessions that are short term, problem-solving counseling rather than the therapy I’ve been used to doing, and we give lots of support to the staff for their stress.

Mainly what we do with the kids is to be a loving presence. These kids suffer a lot with their parents being gone, moving around, losing friends. We just hang out with kids in the child development centers, school age programs and in the teen centers and give them a chance to talk if they want to talk. I might be doing a drawing with a child, helping them with homework or an art project, and then they just start to talk about their lives. The essence of it is really being present. I’ll share some stories of kids I’ve worked with.

Helen Sherry at home, hiking along a road that runs on top of the San Andreas Fault

I worked with a 4 year old boy in Alaska. He was scribbling really hard with a crayon on the table. The teachers were busy and hadn’t noticed. I went over and said, “If you crayon on the paper you’ll have it forever, you can take it home for your Mom.” He thought that was a good idea. He scribbled furiously with every color over his whole paper. He insisted that I do the same on another paper, giving me the crayons faster and faster. Then he did the other side of the paper. The teacher came and I said, “Look what he’s doing. He made a beautiful design with all of these colors.” His teacher told me later that he had almost no language. He was just grunting and hitting kids when he first came into the class. The drawing transformed his inside feelings into something beautiful because he had someone there who could sit silently and copy what he was doing, showing him it was special, and honoring HIM as someone special. The caregivers, many of whom are military wives, do a great job, but most of the time in a hectic classroom they can’t take that one on one time with a troubled kid. Here is my drawing:


I love helping school age kids with their homework. In Hawaii I helped a 9 year old boy in the after school program with his book report. We read a book together about turtles. I told him I’d just bought a note card of a turtle that looked just like the one in his book. We really connected and he got very involved, with my support, in his book report. He was always in trouble at school and home because he never did his homework. I was there at the end of the day when his mom came to pick him up, and told her how hard he worked on his book report. She just lit up. She was so used to no one ever having anything nice to say about her kid. He told me later she took him out for ice cream to celebrate! After that, every day he brought me books to read together, and book reports became his ‘thing’ that he and his mom shared. In Hawaii I also worked with a little girl who was very withdrawn. We played games and drew together. Right when I was leaving, the last person I saw was her mother. I told her, “Your daughter is so special, when I think of Hawaii, I will always think of her.” Her mom got tears in her eyes and said she felt that way, but the teachers never saw it. I told her, “She’s a right brain person in left brain world.” Her mom was an officer and a single parent. She was conflicted about her career, knowing that her daughter was suffering and needed more time with her. She kept thanking me for seeing who her daughter really was.

In Germany I worked with a three-year old boy who had terrible problems at school. Everyone cringed when he came in. He hit the other kids and made it clear that he was not going to cooperate with anyone. I hung out with him a lot and just practiced catching him doing something good. It was a challenge at first! What he had gotten before was just lots of feedback on what he was doing wrong. I took the friendship I established with him and got other kids involved in whatever we were doing. Gradually he made friends with a little girl, and it made me smile to see the two of them walking together outside. Through a story about ducks flying away and leaving other ducks behind, he was able to express his grief about his family’s deployment separations and thereby learn to deal with them better. He took a puppet and said, “The duckies fly away.” He zoomed the duck off, but then he zoomed him back to us and said, “Then the duckies come back.” I was there for two months and was able to talk with his dad about how kids don’t have the words to express their fear and anxiety and sadness so they act out.

I’m a sand play therapist. In my practice at home I have a room full of games and things I’ve gathered over the years. When I work with the military kids, I am often there with nothing except myself. I am reminded of Violet’s stories of working with kids in South Africa using just clay from the river and sticks! In Hawaii I went out and bought simple coloring pencils for my family sessions with three children whose parents were divorcing. Somehow, it was enough because those few sessions gave the children a place they could draw and start to talk about how it felt with their family being ripped apart, and their mother could listen and learn to support them.

Another time I worked with an eight-year old girl who kept trying to involve me in breaking the rules to do special art projects with her. She would take off and raid the cabinets when the caregiver wasn’t looking. I kept reminding her of the rules and gently setting boundaries. We ended up making pictures for each other on my last day. She surprised me by writing I love you on her picture for me. All I had been doing was being consistent, saying let’s do this instead in a positive way. That was what she needed instead of the punishments and being made wrong that she was used to at school and home. She got to touch a part of herself that she admired and loved. Simple but powerful.

I feel called to help these kids who give so much. Their parents are doing the best that they can to serve our country, and I feel these kids deserve the kind of special support our program provides. It is hard at times because we’re someone special then we are gone, just as their parents are there and then gone when they’re deployed or just as they lose their friends when they move. We only have a short time together. The goodbyes are hard, but I tell the children I’ve connected with that they will always be in my heart. I know that, just like in some of the case histories Violet shares in her books and her talks, even in that short time together, being present and real with a child can make a difference. We can give them a chance to express difficult emotions and help them learn some new ways to deal with them skillfully. This can make a huge difference in a child’s life as they carry the skills learned with them through the years. We’re helping build resiliency. They so deserve it.

Helen M. Sherry, Ph.D. has been licensed as a Marriage, Family and Child Therapist since 1980, and was part of the original Center for Child and Adolescent Therapy in Hermosa Beach, CA with Violet Oaklander, PhD. Her website is www.liveandgrow.com and she can be contacted at hmsphd2@yahoo.com

Self-nurturing – A Precious Gift from “Hidden Treasure”

By Adriana Ribas & Rodolfo Ribas, PhD, Active Members of the Violet Solomon Oaklander Foundation, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

There are many, many precious ideas waiting for people interested in child and adolescent psychotherapy in Violet Oaklander’s book, “Hidden Treasure.” One that stands out is the concept of “self-nurturing.” Violet writes, “Some time ago, I discovered that no matter how much good work I did with my clients, something seemed to be missing. That something, I found, was helping the client nurture the self.” Since the 1990s Violet has examined the importance of a process she calls “self-nurturing work” in many academic articles and book chapters. In her latest book, “Hidden Treasure,” she explores this concept more thoroughly and persuasively. As Violet has developed her ideas over time, self-nurturing has not only become a central concept in her therapeutic model but has also been adopted by many therapists worldwide. Violet points out that in the course of therapy it is not enough to help clients strengthen the self, express blocked feelings, enhance contact functions and process difficult issues, as “a kind of void” remains within the person if self-nurturing is not developed. She observed that the children and adolescents she saw in clinical settings had many introjected negative messages and beliefs about themselves. These negative self-messages or introjects are acquired in an early stage of development when children do not have the maturity or cognitive competence to evaluate them properly. Introjects usually lead children to constrain and inhibit aspects of the self, and are deleterious to healthy and optimal development. They are also relatively stable and tend to remain with children throughout their lives. According to Violet it is fundamental to deal with these negative self-beliefs using self-nurturing work. “Becoming self-nurturing fills that void” attests Violet. Self-nurturing helps the child or adolescent to be more accepting, caring, and actively nurturing toward themselves. Violet observed that this is not an easy task because in our culture children are usually taught that care of the self is wrong or selfish. In Gestalt therapy self-nurturing is understood as an experiential process, not a training of abilities. To facilitate teaching clients about self-nurturing, in 2008 we decided to create an activity book on self-nurturing. Our five-part book, “Taking Care of Myself,” focuses primarily on children and adolescents, although it can also be used in therapeutic work with adults. The book presents a series of activities that can be applied along with a variety of techniques and materials, such as clay, sand tray, puppets and dramatic games. Ideas from Violet, Felicia Carroll, and Rinda Blom guided our writing of the book. The activities in the first part of “Taking Care of Myself” encourage discussions about the meaning of “to take care of” and reflections on who takes care of whom in one’s life. The activities in the second part motivate the child or adolescent to look at the self, identify positive characteristics and talk about them. These activities aim to strengthen the idea that to feel proud of one’s qualities is not only permissible, but is desirable, and to contradict the notion that self-praise is not appropriate. The third part of “Taking Care of Myself” addresses the integration process. The activities invite the child or adolescent to feel, to make contact with and to talk to the aspects of themselves they like and don’t like – or even hate. The child or adolescent and therapist experience and discuss ways that these aspects can coexist. Polarities of experience can emerge and then it is possible to cope with them. The goal is to strengthen the child or adolescent’s awareness of self. The activities in the fourth part of the book contrast the ideas and feelings children or adolescents have about themselves with the ideas and feelings they think others have about them. We explore the idea of “labels,” and the importance of seeking, finding, questioning and removing “labels” that they and others have pasted on them. The self-nurturing process expands children’s capacities to love themselves and accept their flaws. Making contact with and accepting who you are is a fundamental element in the change process. The fifth part of the book presents imagination exercises with two characters, a fairy and a wizard. Children are invited to close their eyes and imagine that the fairy or the wizard are on their side telling them good things when they face something they dislike about themselves, or they feel dumb or ugly. The fairy and the wizard are characters that stay with the child to protect and nurture. The therapist can also use puppets to represent the wizard and fairy. These activities can contribute to the development of self-support abilities and, consequently, the fairy or wizard can remain inside the child, ready to accompany, to smile, to encourage, and to give shelter. All parts of our book were inspired by Violet’s therapeutic model and her concept of self-nurturing. Her ideas are precious. We are happy to have the opportunity in this article to say “thank you very much” to Violet! We believe that throughout the self-nurturing process children and adolescents can fill the void created by negative introjects. In the book we write: “Taking care of myself is being with myself, looking at myself positively, accepting who I am, and never abandoning myself.” We have received numerous comments from colleagues that have used the book telling us that our book has helped their clients. Who could ask for more? Note: This work was based on a previous article published in the International Gestalt Journal. Rudolfo and Adriana Ribas live and work as psychotherapists in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. For further information: rodolfo.c.ribas@gmail.com; aribas@globo.com; rodolforibas@globo.com Scenes from Rio de Janeiro!

Another way of Using the Oaklander Method with Adults Using a Psycho-Spiritual Perspective

By Lori Landau, active member of the Violet Solomon Oaklander Foundation

In the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu says “To find the origin, trace back the manifestations. When you recognize the children and find the mother, you will be free of sorrow.” When I finally understood what that meant, I imagined Violet in my mind saying, ‘Find the Fairy Godmother!’

From my psycho-spiritual perspective, The Fairy Godmother is the voice of a higher mind, God or Spirit, Truth beyond duality, or that which is always true. Past the judgments of good or bad that lead to endless negative loops of intra-psychic dilemmas, interpersonal conflict, physical symptoms, behavioral patterns, and then the self incrimination that sets the cycle off again. The Fairy Godmother is an archetypal character, the voice of what I sometimes refer to as The Loving Mind. It contains and nourishes in an instant, that which might otherwise be analyzed for years. It has a knowing beyond the conscious mind, beyond what we might try to figure out or reason using the limitations of the same mind that is already entangled. The Fairy Godmother, by contrast, is a direct connection to that inner voice of wisdom based in the heart. It is patient, simple, and compassionate, “…your three greatest treasures” Lao Tzu said. The Fairy Godmother sees and supports the essential self, with children as much as with adults. We all need a Fairy Godmother sometimes.

fairyThis is a fundamental idea in my work with adults, often parents, who are in the midst of managing life challenges that typically stir up childhood insecurities and wounds. In my personal experience and in my work with others, learning to hear and integrate that voice comes through creative channels, for example through various forms of meditation, journaling, imagery, drawing, music, and in dream work. In fact, it’s liable to come through anytime there’s a release of the conscious thought-driven analytical mode. Quieting the conscious mind is key, and tuning in through the senses is a sure path. As we relax into the landscape of a drawing, or breathe life into an imagined journey, or mold a situation out of clay, we begin to ground over-activity and reactivity, and open, through the physical senses, to the subtle senses where that voice is heard or sensed or known. It’s the inner voice we often call intuition or insight; a doorway to the super conscious as much as the subconscious levels of mind, and to their connection, where empowering communication happens. We all have it, it’s our innate wisdom. Helping others shift into this state of being is what I think of as resetting the neurological pathways to a greater sense of ease and recognition of self. It’s where reactions are less likely, life challenges can be responded to creatively, self care is awakened, and relating is naturally more loving.

Dr. Amit Goswami, quantum physicist, likens this to a shift in perspective that we must learn to practice to achieve peace of mind and clarity. In the documentary The Quantum Activist, Dr. Goswami shows the Rubin Vase figure/ground diagram, where the vase can also be seen as two profiles of people looking at each other. Making the shift comes by adjusting our view to either the foreground or the background. The picture is in black and white, and although we often see the complexities in life in many shades of gray, the difference between sensing, hearing, and knowing the voice of the Fairy Godmother, in contrast to the voice of self incrimination, is usually simple and crystal clear. Getting there, to that moment of clarity where perspective shifts, is the process that heals the mind and mends relationships. In my experience, getting there using the processes that Violet teaches, is the most gentle, respectful, nonintrusive, and even delightful way of restoring a sense of self, innocence, and healthy relatedness, regardless of age.

In a universal way, we are all children and we are all parents, we are all students and we are all teachers. In keeping with this broad view, using Violet’s methods with adults is about healing transgenerational patterns that restrict healthy development, self expression, and relating. I’ve often thought how lucky I am to live in this time when I have the luxury to learn and address healing as the essence of my life, rather than just surviving, as was the case for my grandparents and great grandparents, and to a great degree my parents. The layering of family history is not something people usually come in and talk about, not as presenting problems, but as I come to know people, I often see these transgenerational patterns, the coping mechanisms and underlying belief systems rooted in unresolved difficulties and traumas. They become self perpetuating on some level and in some way. Helping an adult in the family can have the effect of regenerating healthy development within the entire system, extending in all directions. The value of working here and now, through the doorway of imagination, to self discovery and compassion, is immeasurable. We go past the conversations of the conscious mind, and into the world of being and experiencing, where something can be seen and known that wasn’t seen or known before. A window to the child within has been opened, where the nurturing voice of the Fairy Godmother can be heard, and the soul, on its journey through life, can remember itself. Thank you Violet!

Lori Landau, MFT, PPS, CBP, is a Licensed Marriage, Family, & Child Therapist in the Los Angeles area. She also is also a Parenting Coach, a Student Counselor and a certified Certified BodyTalk Practitioner. You can contact her through her website http://www.lorilandau.com/index.html or at (818) 342-1008

Board Meeting Highlights February 7, 2010

Website, Store & Media Relations

  • Continuing PR outreach emails includes:  regular emails to our large mailing list announcing news, trainings and publication of our online newsletter; listing of upcoming activities in the Gestalt Journal Press monthly online News and Notes; pro bono presentations and more.  
  • FOF member and VSOF webmaster Blake Brisbois will create a wall-calendar style page that will list trainings and presentations.
  • Plans are underway to offer a one-hour documentary DVD about Violet’s work via the vsof.org store.
  • Plans are underway for the Foundation to get credentialed to become a continuing education provider.

Trainings and Conferences
Please refer to the Trainings and Presentations page of this website to see the many upcoming spring, summer and fall trainings. 
Next VSOF Board meeting:  Sunday May 16, 1 to 4:30 PM at Violet Oaklander’s home in Los Angeles. For details and directions contact martyoaklander@earthlink.net

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