I met Fabienne and André in the Fall of 1999. It was the weekend of the regional conference of the Association for the Advancement of Gestalt Therapy (AAGT). That year our conference was in Santa Barbara, and a friend asked if two Swiss psychologists could stay at my house. I had just bought my house a few months before and it was barely furnished, but I did have a sofa bed, so I agreed.

When André and Fabienne knocked on my door, I opened it wide and my eyes probably opened just as wide at the sight of them. For some reason I was expecting a couple in their 60s or 70s, a couple that was a bit conservative and reserved. Instead on my doorstep were two young, gorgeous, stylish, energetic, and I soon found out — brilliant, new friends.

They arrived with their fabulous French accents and stories of their work with children and adolescents. I was amazed at their dedication, their vast experience, exceptional education, and perseverance as foreigners trying to work and train in the United States. At that time, they were MFT (marriage family therapy) interns, recent graduates of Phillips Graduate Institute in Encino, California. Even though they were credentialed psychologists in Switzerland, they were training here to practice in the United States.

For hours and hours we talked about working with children and families, Gestalt Therapy, Postmodern therapies, the Oaklander Model, various training centers in the US and Europe, the licensing process, teaching, writing, our travels, our families, and our hopes and dreams for the future.

By the end of the weekend, Andre had talked me into joining them for six weekends of Advanced Training at the Gestalt Associates Training of Los Angeles (GATLA). I got to know André and Fabienne even better that Winter and Spring as we trained and talked and shopped and ate and drank countless coffees in Santa Monica.

In March of 2000 they moved from Santa Monica to Palmdale to work at the Valley Child Guidance Clinic. Shortly after they arrived in Palmdale, they had their own beautiful child, Jessie.

In the midst of moving, having a child, getting their MFT licenses, and excelling at their very demanding jobs, Fabienne wrote her Ph.D dissertation, now published as a book “Inviting Reflexivity Into the Therapy Room – How Therapists Think in Practice.”

Antoinette Corboz-Warnery, MD of Lausanne, Switzerland and co-author of “The Primary Triangle: a Developmental View of Mothers, Fathers and Infants” (Basic Books, 1999) writes the following about Fabienne’s book:

“This is an important and thought-provoking book that carries the field of psychotherapy process research to a whole new level of reflection about practice and training. It will help students, practitioners, and researchers — confronting them to the challenge inherent to the relationship-based activity of therapy. Beyond the usual therapeutic theories about patients, this book focuses on “How does the mind of the therapist work while practicing therapy?” With diligence and passion, Dr. Fabienne Kuenzli invites us into the therapeutic room. She helps us to understand (with our cognitive intelligence) and to feel (with our perceptions and emotions) the concept of reflexivity as a central process for a successful therapeutic work.”

Despite full work schedules and busy days and nights parenting Jessie, somehow André and Fabienne made time for visits to Santa Monica and Santa Barbara, and with a little coaxing from me, they became founding members of the Violet Solomon Oaklander Foundation (VSOF). I’ve so enjoyed their input, collaboration, and enthusiasm for the project. André is on the VSOF Board of Directors.

With mixed emotions I must report that Andre and Fabienne are now VSOF’s European representatives. They are back in Switzerland and I miss them! They were lured away in May of 2006 by an irresistible new job for Andre as the Director of Pestalozzi, the oldest special education school in the French part of Switzerland (179 year old!). There are 54 children at Pestalozzi; 42 live on the campus during the week. Their ages range from 7 to 16. The school provides education, psychotherapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, art therapy and music therapy. Andre says, “The goal at Pestalozzi is to help the children build a better sense of self, and find ways to survive in society.” Eighty percent of the children, once adult, live independently. For more information (in French) go to HTUwww.escolepestalozzi.ch

When we spoke on the phone a few months ago, Fabienne had just begun working in private practice near the school, and Jessie was enjoying the cows in front of their new apartment and getting ready for a bike ride through the nearby forest he calls “the great valley”.

by Lynn Stadler

Andre and Fabienne Kuenzli Founding Members of the Violet Oaklander institute