by Dan Bloom, President
Carl Hodges was our first president chosen by us members — and the second president of the International Association for the Advancement Gestalt Therapy. He died this fall after a long illness. He was 80.
Carl is survived by his wife, Marie, daughter Carrie, and a brother — and by so many of us across the world whom he touched with his sharp analytical intelligence, careful psychotherapeutic skills, which were informed by his gentle heart and his warm and charming wit.
We lost a friend, colleague, and leader who had been central to the heart, the breath, the soul of the NYIGT. And so he remains.
Let me try to sketch Carl’s silhouette to give you some idea of who he was.
He was born and raised in Queens, New York to a middle class African-American family. He studied political science in Queens College of the City of New York and then received a Masters of Social Work from Hunter College, where he later taught as adjunct faculty. He was a New York State Licensed Social Worker. He also attended courses at the New School for Social Research where he studied with the gestalt psychologist, Mary Henle.
Carl was trained by Laura Perls, Ricard Kitzler, Isadore From and Patrick Kelley of the NYIGT. He was a long-time member of Richard Kitzler’s seminar in gestalt therapy. He studied the systems-centered group model with Yvonne Agazarian.
He was one of the people instrumental in the transition of the NYIGT from a fellow dominated autocracy into an egalitarian, non-hierarchical membership organization governed via consensus.
The NYIGT was reformed according to the values of a field-focused gestalt therapy, in which leadership is a function of the whole rather than a power exercised by individuals. Carl was chosen president by us members following Laura Perl’s president-for-life decades long tenure ended.
He is memorialized in the structure and values of the organizations he helped found (AAGT) , re-restructure (NYIGT), the institutes where he taught (including, London Gestalt Centre, Istituto di Gestalt HCC) and where he presented workshops (AAGT, EAGT). He was one of the developers of the process group model for conferences that is now intrinsic in AAGT and EAGT.
Wherever he went he encouraged sharp attention to racial diversity and, by example, taught us — reminded us — that welcoming the other is intrinsic in gestalt therapy’s holism. He honed our knowledge that no form, no gestalt, can be complete without inclusion of disowned parts of the whole. He led us to be more and more be attentive to a gestalt group process that is founded in basic gestalt principles of self-process, gestalt forming, phenomenology, and field theory.
Like many of us, his understanding of gestalt therapy was grounded in ever-evolving interpretations of Gestalt Therapy, Excitement and Growth in the Human Personality by Perls, Hefferline and Goodman — a text he studied with us and from which he taught other gestalt therapists.
His writings appeared in the books, Creative License, the Art of Gestalt Therapy, edited by Nancy Amendt-Lyon and Margherita Spagnuolo Lobb, Beyond the Hotseat, edited by Bud Feder and Ruth Ronall, and The New York Institute for Gestalt Therapy in the 21St Century, edited by Dan Bloom and Brian O’Neil. Some of his unpublished writings are in the archive of the NYIGT.
We remember the rock and the avocado. The anecdote of the rock has become nearly legendary at the institute. During one of the didactic groups he led on gestalt therapy, field theory, and group process, Carl placed a simple rock in the center of the circle formed by the group. “This is a rock,” he said. Then, “This is an event,” he said, pointing to the rock. He waited. Then, after dramatic pause, he pointed to each of us and called us by name each time and said, “You are an event.” Another pause. “At this place. At this time. Of this field. The rock and us. Location and time. Events that, each and together, organize this field. At this time. In this place.” To many people this experiment brought them to an irreversible awareness of field and process.
Then there is the avocado. In another group he facilitated, after a while he silently stood up without interrupting the flow of conversation and placed an avocado in the middle of the group’s circle, and then, quietly returned to his chair. Members noticed that, now, everything was different. The entire dynamic, the shape of emerging figures, changed by simply altering a very small part of the field.
Later in his understanding of group process, he led us in exploring the role of personal metaphors as they emerged in ways that held or organized otherwise unnoticed parts of the whole. By our focusing on the aesthetic qualities of the metaphor, aspects of the background emerged and became figural in significant ways. Rock, avocado, event, time, location.
These remarks memorializing Carl include reminisces and sentiments of various members of the NYIGT community. True to the field approach Carl instructed, these people are as if parts constituting the greater whole of Carl’s legacy — the ongoing influence of Carl Hodges: Nancy Amendt-Lyon, Sherri Belman, Jon Blend, Frank Bosco, Charlie Bowman, Ruella Frank, Zelda Friedman, Elinor Greenberg, Susan Gregory Perry Klepner, Joe Lay, Burt Lazarin, Simone Laverne, Charlie Mzywinski, Brian O’Neill, Václav Pfeifer-Mikolášek, Margherita Spagnuolo Lobb, Adam Weisz, Lee Zevy.
And true to the field approach of inclusion that Carl encouraged, we welcome you to contribute your own voices, in comments on our Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/nyigt1. By engaging with us, you assure the continuing legacy of Carl Hodges.”