VSOF Newsletter – Winter 2012 2013



In this Issue
• Dr. Oaklander Honored by  Reiss-Davis Child Study Center
• Two New DVDs now available from the Foundation online Store
• First Violet Solomon Oaklander Foundation Conference and Retreat, November 2011
• Kevin’s Story of Battling with Monsters  by Fabienne Kuenzli, PhD


Each year the Edna Reiss-Sophie Greenberg Chair and Conference honors a professional who made a significant contribution to the field of child-adolescent mental health.  This year they proudly present the award to Dr. Violet Oaklander.
On Friday, February 10, 2012 Dr. Oaklander will be given the chair and she will present a day-long workshop on the Oaklander approach to working with children and adolescents that involves a variety of creative and expressive techniques with Gestalt Therapy theory, philosophy, and practice as the underlying framework and will include direct experience, case material, examples of children’s work, demonstration and discussion.
In this special 6 hour conference Dr. Oaklander will focus on her historically ground-breaking theory and techniques in Gestalt Therapy and how her experiences over the last forty years can be applied to both new and seasoned therapists working psychotherapeutically with children and adolescents today.
Send registration to Reiss-Davis/Saturdays at the Center
ATTN: Carol Ziff, 3200 Motor Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90034 310 204-1666 Ext 339 Registration Fee $85.  6 CEUs.

Two New Oaklander Method DVDs Now Available
The following new DVDs are now available from the
Violet Solomon Oaklander Foundation online store!  

Child Therapy Case Consultation with Dr. Violet Oaklander

In this DVD, produced by Psychotherapy.net, with a warm and supportive presence, Dr. Oaklander offers guidance to three therapists, each struggling with difficult cases. From an 11-year-old boy who was expelled from school soon after his parents separated, to a 6-year-old girl who has been shuffled around to five foster homes in three years, to a boy entering puberty who was molested when he was four, Oaklander shares her wisdom and expertise on child development, trauma, and the nuts and bolts of exploring children’s inner worlds. Additionally, she offers detailed advice about engaging with parents and building a child’s sense of self.

Sprinkling in Gestalt themes such as the importance of contact and following the aliveness, Oaklander also demonstrates the specifics of using art therapy techniques to explore each child’s emotional landscape. By sitting in on this consultation session, you will receive a wealth of concrete, practical strategies, and walk away feeling more confident in your ability to bring child therapy to life.

By watching this video, you will:

1. Understand how Oaklander integrates expressive arts and Gestalt therapy.

2. Develop skills for working with children who have experienced various traumas.

3. Learn techniques for helping children express emotions, particularly anger.

In addition to the compelling and illustrative consultation sessions, this video also includes a brief interview with Violet Oaklander by Victor Yalom, in which she discusses her thoughts on consultation and the importance of the therapeutic relationship. She also talks about why she thinks many child therapists need to learn to be more directive. Although Oaklander identifies herself as a Gestalt therapist, her in-depth expertise and sensible, down-to-earth suggestions will be helpful to all therapists who work with children.   Produced by psychotherapy.net.

What therapists are saying about this DVD:
This DVD is really a gem. Dr. Oaklander’s pioneering gestalt work with children is demonstrated with clarity and presence in these three complex and challenging cases. A must have for training child therapists and seasoned clinicians as well.
–         Patric White, PhD, psychotherapist & intern supervisor, Hermosa Beach, CA

Violet Oaklander, Ph.D. is a supremely gifted child psychotherapist.  Through her consultation on three very different cases, Dr. Oaklander presents many of her key concepts and techniques.  The viewer is given a theoretical groundwork of how to approach children in psychotherapy, as well as specific examples of expressive activities.  Dr. Oaklander’s expertise on child development and her innate sense of what children need is evident throughout this fine DVD.
~  Claire Mercurio,  Ph.D., Psychotherapist, Santa Barbara, CA


Making Lemonade:  The Life & Work of
Dr. Violet Oaklander  

This 75 minute documentary was produced by founding member Claire Mercurio, Ph.D., along with her husband, Peter, and their eldest son, Paul.  In the film Violet shares a number of significant stories about her life and work.  Her narratives are intimate and compelling.  From getting burned at age 5 to her involvement with Gestalt therapy in the midst of her son Michael’s fight with systemic lupus, Violet carries the viewer along on her journey.  It is a journey of tragedy and despair as well as triumph; it is the journey of a woman with groundbreaking ideas and an intuitive sense of what children need.

In November, 2011Claire Mercurio, Ph.D., documentary producer wrote about the making of this documentary: 
“I was first introduced to the work of Violet Oaklander, Ph.D. in 1990 at a Los Angeles outpatient mental health clinic with a child and adolescent program.  I was accruing my psychology internship hours, and my supervisor gave me a copy of “Windows to Our Children.”  I was enthralled and inspired and said to myself, ‘this is what I want to do!’”

“Three years later, newly licensed and with a 3-month-old in tow, my husband and I moved to Santa Barbara.  The only person I knew there was my son’s pediatrician, so I thought I would find a “Mommy and Me” type group, and looked under “parenting” in the yellow pages.  I could not believe my eyes – I was staring at the name “Violet Oaklander, Ph.D.”  I immediately called the number – and she picked up the phone!  I was practically speechless, but managed to inquire about her workshops and trainings.  Before long Violet was my supervisor, my mentor and my friend.”

“When Violet’s friends and family met at Taffy’s restaurant in October of 2003 to discuss forming a foundation in her honor, I knew I wanted my contribution to be a documentary of her life and work.  As my husband Peter is a professional film camera operator, it made sense to me.  Then my oldest son Paul got involved with video production in high school, so I thought it could be a family affair.  Making the film was a labor of love all around.  I am truly grateful to have Violet as a continuing source of inspiration.”

First Violet Solomon Oaklander Foundation Conference and Retreat, November 2011

The Violet Solomon Oaklander Foundation’s first Conference took place in Malibu on November 5th and 6th 2011 and it was a great success.  Seating was limited to 40 people and the Conference was sold out.  Here is what Violet had to say about it:

“It was a great conference and very well organized.  I know many people worked very hard to make it happen, especially Lynn Stadler who was the chief organizer.  It was very special.  I was glad to be there and to see everybody.  I stayed for all the presentations and I was very impressed—I felt they were each different.  I liked all of them. Although I know all the speakers very well I had never heard most of them present and I was very pleased and very proud.  I loved and appreciated how each person presented my work but in their own way and their own style.

“I loved Sue Talley’s work with the rose bush—a great job.  I really liked Felicia Carroll’s presentation—she showed how my work really fits with all the work researchers are now writing about in terms of working with the brain—that we’ve been doing that all along.  And I remember highlights of all the other talks:  Chris Elsbree on the I-Thou relationship, Karen Fried’s brief therapy work, Peter Mortola’s talk about teaching my work to his students at Lewis and Clark, and Lynn Stadler’s description of the‘emotional faucets’ and having everyone there draw them—all really great.   It made me proud that the VSOF bears my name.

“I didn’t stay for the documentary at the end of the first day, but I did watch it later at home with my daughter.  I was very moved by it and I think Claire Mercurio did a terrific job.  And I did a keynote—hard for me to know how that went but people seemed to like it!  And at the end I led a music process—people brought instruments and passed them around and we all played them, people got up and moved—it was really a nice way to finish the Conference.

“People seemed to like the Conference a lot and many purchased books and DVDs and CDs and the site was beautiful.  The weather was rainy but it didn’t seem to matter.  And since everyone there including all the presenters paid the full conference fee and donated their time, I think we raised a lot of money for the Foundation that can be used to promote the work and for scholarships.”

A date for the next VSOF Conference has not been set yet.  Stay tuned!


Kevin’s Story of Battling with Monsters
Fabienne Kuenzli, Ph. D

Dr. Fabienne Kuenzli-Monard lives in Switzerland. She lived, worked, and studied for 12 years in California. She has published both in English and in French.  She is a licensed practitioner both in Switzerland and in California. Dr. Kuenzli teaches in different settings (universities and other settings) and works in private practice.  She can be contacted via email: fk@reflexivepractices.com

Kevin, an adorable 4 ½ year old Afro-Mexican boy, came in for counseling with his foster mother and a large number of foster brothers and sisters.  He had killed several animals (rats, a mouse, and a baby cat) and had hurt badly the family dog on several occasions.  He hit, cursed, kicked, and threw extreme temper tantrums every time he heard the word “no”.   He really behaved like a monster.  Kevin could not feel for others. He had no sense of guilt and empathy and basically took people and treated them as if they were objects.  Kevin also had night terrors and night enuresis.   His mother was a crack addict and prostitute and had abandoned 5 others children before Kevin.  I was a little scared of the monster in Kevin but I knew his bad behavior needed to be stopped.  

Our first session was very short.  Kevin came into my office and began his tyrannical behavior.  He soon learned I would not put up with it.  He kicked and bruised my leg.  I gave one warning and when he behaved badly again, I brought him back to the waiting room where he threw a tantrum and bit his foster mother.  I expressed my surprise to the foster mother that she was letting Kevin bite and call her “bitch”.   I told her she did not deserve to be called a bitch or to be hit by a 4 ½ year old even if the child had been brutally abused.  I explained that letting a child continue to act out the violence he endured damages the child further.  Something in what I said clicked.  I got the attention of the foster mother and she made a commitment to work with me setting limits on Kevin’s behavior.  My sessions with Kevin became longer and longer and soon raising my finger was just enough. He required no more warning and we could usually have a full session.

I used Violet Oaklander’s method with Kevin in order to allow gently to create and find a sense of himself.  I made a list with him of what he loved or hated in order to let him learn to define who he was without harsh judgment. I frequently invited him to learn with marionettes, with little figurines, with drawing to present part of himself that he did not know.  I helped his foster mother assist Kevin in expressing his powerful anger in a manner that was not dangerous to others.  Together we built a laboratory to express and thereby release anger. In this place there were things to throw, to destroy, to rip off, a tunnel to scream in, etc. At the beginning, I helped in a preventive manner to keep our anger lab a safe game that we did together.  Soon, the intensity of Kevin’s angry outbursts changed. The foster mother felt also a different response toward Kevin’s anger and said she was less afraid of it.

Then came a session to remember where Kevin created a harmonious family dollhouse scene.  Then the boy misbehaved and Kevin suddenly changed his voice, altered his expression and said: “I will kill you all and destroy you. I will kill mommy and daddy and you will go and live in another family, a mean family, because you are mean”.  During this game I observed noticeable and encouraging signs of change.  Instead of his usual ending of total destruction, Kevin began to act out an ability to repair.  He brought a nice mother who came to take care of the kids into the dollhouse.  Kevin also said these kids “weren’t that bad”.  Toward the end of this session, Kevin was really concerned about putting all the family to bed in the dollhouse before he ending the session. He covered the dolls with tissue to serve as blankets and said “This is to keep them warm for the week, until I come back to see you Dr. Fabienne”. I held back my tears. I knew this would be a turning point as I had never seen such a powerful change during the session. I looked up to avoid showing my emotions. He was finding a way to be caring. Sure enough, the foster mother called to say how calm the night had been and to report the cessation of the night terrors and a much improved behavior during the day and at school.

During another session Kevin made sand tray scene, using the Oaklander method, and told me a story, his story, our story: “So, Dr. Fabienne, this is the story of a family of Dinosaurs (He loves Dinosaurs, I re-learned all their names, Brachiausaurus, Tyrannosaurus, Triceratops, archaeopteryx… Thank you, Kevin). They fought all the time and were really mean and nasty… until the guard of the desert comes. It is a real nice guard. He teaches them to be kind and to love one another and you know what Dr. Fabienne? They are not scared anymore, especially the baby because he knows now they have a good family (Kevin’s foster mother became her adoptive mother few months later). They like the desert and they like the guard”.   I said, “Wow! That is a great story Kevin, so they live in the desert. Kevin replied, looking at me like I was an idiot: “Yes”.  I asked, “And the guard, where does he come from? Where did the Dinosaurs family found him?”        “Oh!” Kevin said: “the guard is from very far away, because she has an accent.”  “I see,” I said, “so this is now a happy family and maybe in a while they won’t need the guard anymore.  Maybe they can learn to protect themselves.  What do you say Kevin?”  Kevin looks irritated, and replied, “No! They need the guard a little longer.”  I said, “Oh OK …I think that the guard will stay a little longer, for as long as the dinosaurs’ family needs her.”
And then came a day, a very special day, when the foster mother told me that Kevin was transformed. He showed regard and care for others and slept well at night, all through the night. She repeated, as to convince herself that it really happened. The physician said he could stop his sleep medication.   I saw Kevin interacting appropriately and sharing with his foster brothers and foster sisters in the waiting room.  I even heard him telling an older kid, “Look you need to be nice with him.”  Kevin stopped killing animals. I have a fake rat in my office and he now shows love and care even for this disgusting plastic rat!  My work with Kevin lasted 24 sessions.   At the end Kevin stated: “I am OK now, I think other kids needs the doctor of the heart more than me. I can let you go. I am a little sad to say good-bye”.

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