April 18, 1927 - September 21, 2021 Violet Solomon Oaklander, beloved family member, friend, and mentor to countless people near and far, took her final breath in her own bed on September 21, 2021 at age 94. She was a child and adolescent therapist known for her method of integrating Gestalt Therapy theory and practice with play therapy.
Violet was born on April 18, 1927 in Lowell, MA to a Jewish Russian immigrant family. She grew up in Cambridge, MA, with her parents Joseph and Mollie Solomon and her two older brothers, Sidney and Arthur. Violet later lived in Miami; New York City; Denver; Albany; and Long Beach, Hermosa Beach, and Santa Barbara, California. After 21 years in Santa Barbara, she moved to Los Angeles to live near her son and daughter-in-law in her retirement. She was married for 26 years to Harold Oaklander, a licensed social worker and Gestalt therapist (deceased). Together, they had three children: Mha Atma S. Khalsa (Arthur), Michael (deceased), and Sara. After she and Harold divorced, she never remarried, but for most of the last 19 years of her life was accompanied by her beloved kitty Maydeleh. After Maydeleh died in early 2021, Violet then adopted Shayna, a loving middle-aged cat who stayed with her until the end.
Violet Oaklander was the author of the books Windows to Our Children: A Gestalt Therapy Approach to Children and Adolescents (now published in 16 languages) and Hidden Treasure: A Map to the Child's Inner Self (now published in 8 languages) as well as several journal articles, book chapters, and audio and video recordings on psychotherapeutic work with children. She earned a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, a Master of Arts in Marriage, Family and Child Counseling, a Master of Science in Special Education with emotionally disturbed children, and was a certified Gestalt therapist.
Violet's unique approach to working with children, which combines Gestalt Therapy theory, philosophy, and practice with a variety of expressive techniques, has won international recognition. She earned a lifetime achievement award from the Association of Play Therapy, U.S., and received numerous other awards for her contribution to the mental health field. In February 2012, Oaklander was honored and awarded by the Edna Reiss-Sophie Greenberg Chair at the Reiss-Davis Child Study Center in Los Angeles.
For 27 years, Violet conducted a highly successful two-week training program in California which was attended by participants from all over the world. In addition, she was a regular instructor for many years with the extension programs of the University of California campuses in Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, and San Diego, and the Pacifica Graduate Institute.
While Violet grew up in a warm, loving family, her life and work were also shaped by several major physical and emotional traumas. As a five-year-old child, she sustained a burn to a large part of her torso, arms, and legs in a home accident. She has stated in interviews that the suffering and trauma she sustained in the hospital for months while being treated for this burn was the spark that ignited her interest in working with children. About this childhood injury, Violet said, "It could be the beginning of why I do this work...Everything I've ever worked on, especially with my Gestalt therapy training...always went back to that burn..." When she was 11 she contracted diphtheria, which caused a secondary infection leading to a lifetime of advancing hearing loss. At age 17, her beloved brother Arthur was killed in Germany just a few months before the end of the Second World War. And her son Michael was diagnosed with lupus at age 13, leading to an 18 month decline during which she spent most of her time caring for him before his death. Just before the tragedy of Michael's illness, Violet's father died suddenly of a heart attack, and just before Michael's death, her mother was killed by an unlicensed teenage driver.
These tragic episodes contributed to Violet's amazing ability to empathize with and be present for children and adolescents, which powerfully spurred her work to create a method of therapy and healing that would later spread across the world. Furthermore, Violet's lifelong dedication as a Jewish atheist and skeptic of anything supernatural was challenged by a series of experiences over many years related to her deceased parents, brother Arthur, and son Michael that defied those beliefs. These included communication through a medium with departed loved ones that conveyed information that no one in the world was privy to outside of Violet herself, and even predictions of future events which did later take place.
Violet's first book, Windows to Our Children, has become a treasured resource for child psychotherapists and other mental health professionals around the world, and has touched and transformed the lives of countless children and adolescents. Her legacy is now being sustained and promoted by the Violet Solomon Oaklander Foundation, a non-profit corporation created to further her work. The Foundation was founded in 2003 by approximately twenty of Violet's family members and long-time colleagues who have created myriad ways to carry on Violet's work.
Violet is survived by her son Mha Atma S. Khalsa and daughter-in-law Martha Oaklander of Los Angeles, CA; her daughter Sara Oaklander and son-in-law Monte Allen of Somerville, MA; her grandchildren and great grandchildren Sat Sarbat Khalsa; Siri Oaklander, his wife Sneja, and their daughter Emma; Madeline Oaklander; and Michael Allen, his wife Caroline, and their baby boy due in February; as well as her dear first cousin/sister Ruth Block of Santa Monica, CA. She is also survived by her beloved nephews and their families and many dear cousins, as well as countless devoted and loving friends and colleagues, near and far; her devoted caregiver Dina Jarikova; and her cat Shayna.
A celebration of Violet's life will be held at a future date. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in her memory to the Violet Solomon Oaklander Foundation at www.vsof.org
or by sending a check to P.O. Box 30607, Santa Barbara, CA 93130
Published by Los Angeles Times on Sep. 24, 2021.