VSOF Newsletter – Winter 2010


Ask Violet Q&A Column Coming in the Spring issue of Windowsills!
Email your questions to:  violet.oaklander@gmail.com


The Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference, Anaheim, California
By Claire Mercurio, PhD., Founding Member of the Violet Solomon Oaklander Foundation


There was standing room only in the 800+ capacity venue for Violet’s first presentation, a dialogue with Mary Pipher, author of eight books including the well-known Reviving Ophelia, at The Evolution of Psychotherapy conference.  Although they met in person only a few days prior, Mary and Violet had launched a friendship rooted in mutual admiration and a desire to address the needs of children and families.  Laughed Mary, “no PowerPoint here, we’re just two (quick glance at Violet), yep, two gray-haired ladies having a conversation!”
Despite the mostly cloudy, rainy weather, these five days were a shining moment for Violet and the Foundation.  The bookstore sold out of all her books.  Hundreds of people signed up with email addresses to keep informed about the work of the Foundation.  VSOF buttons were pinned to lapels, purses, totes and ties; pictures were taken; books were signed.

The VSOF board had belabored the decision to splurge and purchase a booth at the conference.  Initial cost estimates crept higher and higher, and the ultimate benefits came into question.  By Tuesday, December 8th, before the conference even got fully underway, these doubts vanished.  The VSOF booth became a gathering place – for Violet, Founding Members, Friends of the Foundation, people who already know and love her work, and those just hearing her for the first time – with the accompanying excitement that something very special is being discovered.

At Violet’s second presentation, a one hour “Invited Address,” the room held over 1,000 people.  Empty seats were scarce.  Yet this time Violet, with support and guidance from her daughter Sara, included PowerPoint!  Violet is not one to shrink from modern advances, and despite a momentary glitch at the start (her moderator pressed the wrong key!), the initiation went smoothly.
A first-time presentation with PowerPoint was not Violet’s only challenge this day.  Her Invited Address coincided with the 40th anniversary of her son Michael’s death.  Underneath the joy and honor of sharing her work with such a large audience, there was a somber tone.  Violet began the talk by stating she was tired.  She chose to leave the conference site that evening for an intimate dinner with family and close friends.
The next day Violet was scheduled to present a two-hour workshop on the therapeutic process with children.  Those close to her struggled to hide feelings of concern that this would be too much, given the burdens of the day before.  Here was yet another 1000+ room of eager conference attendees waiting to be wowed by Violet Oaklander, master child psychotherapist.
And “wow” them she did.  Violet poured out her stories and concepts with warmth and humor.  She was animated, engaging, and sparking new Oaklander Model enthusiasts by the minute.  There was laughter, there were tears, and there was applause.  It must also be noted that Violet is now a PowerPoint Master!

Again and again attendees at The Evolution of Psychotherapy remarked “I came to this conference because Violet is here,” “I’ve been requesting presentations on children for years,” and the now familiar, “’Windows to Our Children’ is my bible for child psychotherapy.”  People would literally come to the booth and gently touch or caress the display copy of “Windows,” recalling the impact it had made on their work and in their lives.
Thank you Violet, for sharing your work and your life.

By Christiane Elsbree, LCSW, Founding Member of the Violet Solomon Oaklander Foundation


I have just received my copy of the Fall 2009 International Gestalt Journal. That issue (Volume 32, Number 2) is edited by Felicia Carroll and is dedicated to Violet.  The entire issue is about Gestalt therapy with children and adolescents.  Contributors are from South Africa, Australia, the U.S., the U.K, Switzerland, Brazil and Taiwan.  Several refer to Violet’s work.

It turns out that you can listen in on the three hours plus conversation I had with Violet over two days because in addition to including a print excerpt from the interview, the Journal includes the entire interview that I did in June with Violet in MP3 format! 

The Fall 2009 International Gestalt Journal (Volume 32, Number 2) is available from the Gestalt Journal Press at http://www.gestalt.org/igjsubscribe/igjordfr.html.

Christiane Elsbree LCSW has worked with Violet in various settings since 1980.  She is in private practice in Seattle, Washington working with children, adolescents, adults, couples, and families.  Chris is a founding member of VSOF.  For more information:  celsbree@earthlink.net

Parenting From You Heart – Building Successful Families
By Martha Oaklander, Windowsill Newsletter Editor, Founding Member of the Violet Solomon Oaklander Foundation


For more than 30 years Gestalt Associates and the Gestalt Institute of Central Ohio have provided innovative and effective psychotherapy for their clients and post-graduate training for therapists.  Gestalt Associates is a team of therapists who have had extensive postgraduate training in Gestalt therapy and are committed to working together using the Gestalt approach.  Norman Shub, the founder and clinical director is nationally known and his “Working Paper” series is used by clinicians, universities and Gestalt Institutes internationally. 

playroomTwelve years ago, Norman and child play therapist Margie Mapes, began to think about how they could create an experience that would REALLY help parents experientially learn and integrate effective parenting skills.  They wanted to build on what they, particularly Margie, had learned from Violet and from their clinical experience, to develop programs to teach parents how to develop healthy relationships with their children.  Margie and Norman created the Parenting From Your Heart series designed to reach out and teach experientially the core skills (from their point of view) of parenting.  The classes meet two hours a night, one night a week, for three weeks.  They hold these workshops at the Gestalt Institute.  As the workshops have become increasingly popular, they have been approached by schools and school districts and as a result Parenting From Your Heart has moved to an even broader audience. 

Margie was partially inspired to return to college and train as a child therapist after attending a presentation by Dr. Oaklander in the early 1980’s.  She has been working as a Gestalt play therapist since 1990 and has become a true proponent of the Oaklander model.  She has attended Violet’s two-week summer training four times and Violet’s model of Gestalt therapy is the foundation of Margie’s work with children and adolescents. To deepen her understanding of Violet’s work and to continue to develop her own models, Margie has had monthly phone supervision with Violet for the past 18 years. 

The Parenting From Your Heart program is founded upon the belief that helping parents build healthy families is more than teaching intellectual concepts.  The classes are experiential, and include personal sharing along with exploring how to apply in the moment the new ideas Margie and Norman are teaching.  Their parenting program is concrete and each session gives the parents an opportunity to hear new concepts and listen to other parents share from their hearts their parenting struggles, how they are integrating what they are learning from the program and what new challenges and problems they are currently facing with their parenting.  They also share how their child(ren) are responding to the new style of parenting.

To really bring the sessions to life, Parenting From Your Heart includes what Margie and Norman call the “Voice of the Child”.  Margie takes her place on the floor and assumes the role of the child, speaking from the child’s perspective and sharing what a child might actually think and feel.  Throughout the evening, Norman periodically turns to Margie to ask her what the child might feel in the situation being discussed.  Drawing on her years of experience working with children and her training in the Oaklander model, Margie lifts the veil that separates the world of parents from the world of children.  She helps parents understand what causes shame, what really builds self-esteem and the child’s sense of self, what encourages children to feel safe and open up and what causes children to get scared, turn off and shut down.  For example, after a teaching moment a parenting might say, “I think I do a lot of lecturing.”  Norman might turn to Margie and ask, “Child, what is that like for you?”  Margie’s response:  “It is really hard for me because it makes me feel like what I am thinking or feeling doesn’t matter to you.  It makes me shut down and stop listening to you.”  This is a very powerful part of the program and helps the parents learn to understand the process of their child(ren).

The first week of the program focuses on the parenting skills necessary to develop the new relationship with their children including joining, hearing, noticing, and responding.  The second week builds on the first and talks about “melting” and their four-step model of providing support.  The third session addresses how to deal with parent/child conflicts including setting limits, respectful fighting, following through, and giving consequences. 

Margie talks about the “window to your children” and how important it is to develop it while your children are young so that it opens more frequently and stays open longer as your children enter the problematic teen years.

Margie says that the essence of Parenting From Your Heart is the way the parents are taught to use themselves in the moment.  It is about how the parents ARE with their children over time that matters the most and makes the most impact.  Parents learn to be patient, supportive, and curious.  Being present and accepting does not mean agreeing with everything their children say.  Parents are taught to listen and respond with full attention and respect, and THEN begin the dialogue. Integrating Violet’s approach to children into the parenting process helps parents to raise children with a strong sense of self.  They feel good about themselves because they have been treated with respect. 

The parent feedback to Parenting From Your Heart has been very positive.  Parents report they find their approach to parenting fundamentally changed.  For more information you can contact Margie at mmapes@businessofpeople.net.

Note from Dr. Oaklander
I gave workshops in Columbus, Ohio for the Gestalt Institute every year beginning in 1983.  I thank Norman Shub from the bottom of my heart for his continuous support of my work.  ~Violet

Teaching the Oaklander Method at Elon University in North Carolina
By Ann Young, Med. LPC, Friend of the Violet Solomon Oaklander Foundation


Wow! What an exciting Fall this has been for me professionally. In October, I attended my very first International Play Therapy Conference. I was able to participate in some very informative workshops and hear some expert speakers present on play therapy. The experience renewed the commitment I made to myself when I attended the 2007 Violet Oaklander Institute. This commitment was that I would share my knowledge of Gestalt Therapy with Children and Adolescents with my colleges at the North Carolina Association for Play Therapy. And so I did at Elon University on November 13, 2009.

In my proposal, I promised a sampler of Gestalt Play Therapy. When the proposal was accepted, I began the daunting task of condensing Violet’s life-changing two-week Summer intensive training into a three-hour workshop. I began by using the notebook from the summer intensive, ideas from Window Frames by Peter Mortola lots of encouragement from my summer intensive friend, Marty Sanders, and of course, Windows to Our Children by Dr. Violet Oaklander. With these resources, I put together a PowerPoint presentation that I hoped would show my colleagues in North Carolina an approach to play therapy that would encourage them to learn more. Since I am in private practice, I obtained releases from current and past clients, and as Violet does, I showed specific examples of my clients’ art, sand tray and clay work. I began with an overview of the principles and research behind Gestalt Play therapy and then, because no workshop involving Violet’s work is a sit in your chair and observe, we experienced it all!

The thirty-plus participants in the workshop started by drawing their family as animals, progressed to observing the projective use of puppets, partnered and participated in a clay exercise, attended an Emo party, partnered for a sand tray exercise, listened to some ideas for the use of games, and ended the workshop with music and a story. From the looks on fellow counselors’ faces and the enthusiastic questions asked throughout the workshop, comments and feedback from participants, I believe that many caught the spirit of this work. Attending the workshop was Dr. Phyllis Post, Professor of Counseling Coordinator and Graduate Certificate in Play Therapy at the University of North Carolina Charlotte who invited me to present a similar workshop to her graduate students at UNC Charlotte. Since Phyllis is a non-directive play therapist by training, I was especially honored. And so, I presented to her class of twenty-plus students at UNC Charlotte on November 20, 2009. If their questions were any indication of enthusiasm and success, I was definitely able to introduce to them a very different, very exciting, new approach to play therapy.

These two opportunities were an honor for me professionally, and they allowed me to share the wonderful insights and results I have experienced in my efforts to replicate Violet’s model for my clients and colleagues. Most recently an adolescent client (after months of work) validated this for me when she did a sand tray including her abusive boyfriend as Superman. As she chose to became the voice of the small figure beside Superman, she looked at me with an “aha” moment and said, “I made him Superman and I can be Superman on my own.” And so I close with the wisdom of a young adult child and the hope that this work will go on and on.
Ann P. Young Med. LPC received her Masters at Winthrop University in 1984 and her Licensed Professional Counselor certification for the state of North Carolina in 1994. She is currently in private practice in Charlotte, North Carolina working with children, adolescents, parents, and adults. Ann is working to complete the last steps to become a Registered Play Therapist.  For more information:  hapyjly@carolina.rr.com

Board Meeting Highlights November 2009
Website, Store & Media Relations

  • Plans are underway to translate the Windowsill newsletter into Spanish as soon as possible. Thanks to FOF member, Lesley Cruz;
  • FOF member Blake Brisbois will create a VSOF Facebook page.
  • 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.

Scholarship Fund
VSOF and the Santa Barbara chapter of CAMFT have selected Gina Bell of Santa Barbara to receive the SB-CAMFT scholarship created in Dr. Oaklander’s honor to be used to attend a workshop or training related to Violet’s work. 
Trainings and Conferences
VSOF will have a booth at the Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference in Anaheim in December 2009. The booth will provide information about VSOF and the Oaklander model, as well as offer hands-on creative projective demonstrations.
Next VSOF Board meeting:  Sunday February 7, 2010, 1 to 4:30 PM at Lynn Stadler’s home in Santa Barbara. For details and directions contact  lynnstadler@verizon.net

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