A Tribute to Violet Oaklander, PhD, LMFT, RPT-S
Written by Felicia Carroll, LMFT and RPT-S
Founder/Director of WCI
Once when a friend had died, a colleague referred to his experience of loss as though a thread was missing from the fabric that held the field together. I felt that disturbance in the warp of my life on September 21, 2021 as I sat in a Munich airport and read an anticipated message that my beloved friend and mentor had released her last breath earlier that day. When a person of Violet Oaklander’s stature leaves our community, the roaring silence is deafening. As I sat in that suspended moment, I felt so fortunate to have spent time with her in the weeks before. We had time to laugh together and share our memories of family and of old friends. We wondered together about what was on “the other side.” As I held her hand, I asked her for her blessings. She reached out, smiled, and told me that I had always had them. So many of us have received her blessings over the years as family, friends, colleagues, and trainees, even acquaintances. She gave support and encouragement to us all. I know that the community of West Coast Institute joins me in this tribute to her for those gifts.
This tribute is actually more of a salute to the significant contributions she made to the field of therapy with children and adolescents through her therapeutic perspective which is grounded in the theory and practice of Gestalt psychotherapy.
I had known Violet for 42 years. I met her at a Confluent Education Conference in Santa Barbara, California in 1979. Windows to OurChildren: A Gestalt Therapy Approach to Children and Adolescents had been published just months earlier and she was already a sought out presenter/teacher. Soon, she became known internationally for her approach of incorporating the principles of Gestalt Therapy with the creative modalities of play into an approach that was needed by Gestalt therapists and others providing support to children and adolescents. Over the next years Windows was translated into 16 languages and the subsequent text, Hidden Treasure: A Map to the Child’s Inner Self (2006) was translated into 14 languages. These books have been used as major texts in child psychotherapy courses throughout the US and internationally. She also contributed numerous journal articles, book chapters, and audio and video tapes on psychotherapeutic work with children. She became in much demand by child therapists, school counselors/psychologists, and classroom teachers and parents around the world as a mentor, supervisor, and consultant. Throughout her career of over five decades, she received awards for her contributions. She was an early recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association for Play Therapy in 2008 and in 2012 she was the 8th Annual Chair of the Edna-Reiss-Sophie Greenberg Award.
When Windows was published, concepts such as-- an engaged, reciprocal relationship; a therapy process focused on restoring a child’s organismic wholesomeness; use of a phenomenological process in developing a deeper understanding and creating meaning with projective modalities that respected the child’s voice in doing so; and the need to engage with the contextual field of a child’s life-- were major alternatives within the field of child psychotherapy. These were differences that made a difference. And the world of child therapy took notice. Today her influence goes far and wide and will remain a vital source of direction in our work as child therapists, school psychologists, and classroom teachers.
At least hundreds of Institutes and thousands of trainers that are dedicated to the approach which she initially developed is another dimension of her legacy. The West Coast Institute for Gestalt Therapy with Children and Adolescents, LLC is one of many training institutions that she supported and advised. As we at WCI carry some part of her legacy into the coming years, her inspiration and counsel will be remembered as we to continue to develop and shape the Gestalt Therapy Approach.
Even though the space she held for us all is now physically empty, we will continuously be nourished by her spirit, her devotion to her work, and the care she gave us all.
Thank you, Violet. We will remember all you taught us.
Even more… We will miss you.
Read Violet Oaklander’s full obituary in the Los Angeles Times.