121 Wooster Street Apartment 4F (between Prince Street & Spring Street)
September 25, 1941 — March 11, 2017
Sponsored by NYIGT & Friends
Karen was one of my closest friends so I’d like everyone to know about how special her life was in terms of how she almost totally embodied and lived with Gestalt therapy as a foundation for her life.
I first me Karen and Pat Kelley in 1971 when we all became part of the founding group of Identity House. Karen was already a Fellow of the Institute having joined by finding her way to Gestalt therapy and the New York Institute for Gestalt therapy in the Sixties when the Institute was in it’s early evolving days. She knew most of the early members including Paul Goodman (wth whose family she remained connected until Paul’s wife Sally passed away not too long ago) In those days of creative ferment patients would be in therapy and often study with the same therapist and then as they grew take on patients of their own under the supervision of those same trainers. Strong lasting relationships developed and hers with Richard Kitzler, Pat Kelley, Lore Perls, and others remained through the decades. Many of these relationships extended into the founding of Identity House and when I joined the founding group and we opened the first LGB and now TQI community peer counseling mental health center in 1972 Karen was my first supervisor for peer counseling and we also became fast friends. I studied with Pat Kelley in a practicum and Richard Kitzler for theory and Karen for supervision as gradually I learned from the ground up about the theory/practice of Gestalt therapy and when ready began to see patients at Karen’s office. Her generosity and fun loving personality gave me impetus to continue when times were rough.
It was within a group of Lore Perls that Karen met Ralph her husband to be, an abstract expressionist artist embedded within the art world of the time. Through her association with Ralph and the art world Karen developed a substantial love and a well versed body of knowledge about art that she always related to the creative, novel aspects of GT. It was this love of art that both of them passed on to their daughter Beth, an artist in her own right who is today the Museum Educator at Woodstock Artists Association and Museum. And the extension of her love for Beth passed on to her Son in Law and two Granddaughters a delight Karen never thought she would have.
It’s not easy to explain those wonderful chaotic times of the Nineteen Sixties and Seventies when experiential therapy was shifting the rigidity of Psychoanalysis, Civil Rights was changing the face of the country, the Women’s Movement was changing consciousness and then the Stonewall Rebellion and subsequent explosion of gay rights organizations became foreground for so many of us. These changes too brought an explosion of new information In terms of practicing Psychotherapy. After many years of studying and reading PHG in a study group with Richard Kitzler by the mid 1980’s the focus began to turn to other philosophers and the integration of new ideas that began to change how we saw GT. Karen’s background and early experience with the formation of the Institute with her friendship with Richard through those times always provided a sense of the continuation of an historical arc as we grappled with finding the roots of GT and moved from Aristotle to the Pragmatists and everyone in between and onward.
It was also during the Eighties that the AIDS epidemic was raging and Karen lost many of those dear to her including Pat Kelley one of the first to succumb to the disease and many of those she had supervised at Identity House. As a comrade in arms Karen and I marched our way through protests, rallies, workshops and anything we thought would help further sanity and human rights in fight after fight deploring the fact that once again, today, we would have to march again.
In terms of our personal lives over those years, many of us Karen included saw opportunities for expression we thought were closed doors. It was during this time that Karen and Ralph separated and after a long period of exploring and examining her identity Karen met the love of her life Stephanie,a Psychoanalyst and an early Director of Feminist Theater who brought that passion amongst others into Karen’s life. Karen had been an English major in college and had always had a love of theater and through Stephanie began to act in a theater group with other women that under Stephanie’s direction developed their scripts as they worked eventually bringing them to the point of performance. Once again Karen incorporated her theory of GT into her evolving association with theater. In addition Karen was practicing, writing, giving workshops braiding all of her loves into a comprehensive whole.
As she and Stephanie grew so did the family as Stephanie adopted two children and they needed a community that would fit their creative and diverse lives. After a period of searching they found their way into the Cohousing movement and an intentional community of private homes clustered around shared space and communal chores in upstate NY. The early days of building this community required a lot of effort, first working with a new group to see if it was a good fit then finding land, building houses and deciding by consensus (sound familiar) how and what was shared or private then dealing with the ins and outs of everyday life. For Karen this was an extension of everything she believe in and had been a part of since leaving Ohio in the Sixties to build the meaningful life she had so successfully accomplished.
Karen was in the midst of this life when she unexpectedly became ill and embraced her process of healing with the same determination and fun loving self that she had used all of her life. Our phone calls and visits were filled with the seriousness of the situation served over the irony and black comedy of the world and the foibles of the human condition that exists in all of us. Her doctors called her a miracle she was so on a fast track toward health. It’s incomprehensible to me that Karen passed away. On top of losing Lucy I am in shock that this could have happened and I will not have the person I have known for so long to laugh with and to see the next adventure in her creative life. For our GT community its an interminable loss.
Perry & Robin Gunther
121 Wooster Street
(between Prince Street & Spring Street)
R Train /Prince Street Station
E,C Train /Spring Street Station
IRT Lex./ Spring Street Station