Sylvia Fleming Crocker
1933 – 2019
The world of Gestalt therapy lost one of its most cherished, learned and wittiest colleagues when Sylvia Crocker made her peaceful transition on Sunday, November 24, 2019 at age 86. Sylvia’s daring and creative thinking offered us a bold conceptualization of Gestalt therapy grounded in philosophical thought with prosaic nuances of its clinical applications. Being an internationally prominent therapist, supervisor and clinical trainer, Sylvia will be sorely missed by the greater Gestalt community on all continents. As so many of you reading this know, she was an avid reader, articulate debater, respected author, faithful Christian and a decent golfer who enjoyed classical and contemporary music, world-wide traveling, a good joke and drink now and then, stitching needlepoint while telling heart-warming stories from her life as an esteemed Gestalt psychotherapist. Sylvia will be remembered for her brilliant and tenacious approach to Gestalt therapy theory and practice, having held us to a high standard of awareness, morality, thinking, scholarship and ethical practice. We are fortunate and grateful for Sylvia having shared her well-lived life with us.
Sylvia was born on April 10, 1933 in Live Oak, Florida to Tom and Lydia (Compton) Fleming. She grew up in York, South Carolina, playing piano, riding horses, swimming, golfing and reading voraciously. She went on to obtain her education in USA’s Midwest, earning an Associate of Arts degree in Interior Design at Stephen’ s College in Columbia, Missouri; her Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from the University of Missouri, her M.A. in Comparative Religion from Northwestern University, and her Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Missouri. Sylvia was a philosopher inside and out, having taught philosophy in the l 970’s at Marquette University and the University of Wyoming.
In the early 1980’s, Sylvia changed her career focus by earning her Master of Science degree in Counseling at the University of Wyoming in 1985. Her own therapy led her to seek extensive training in Gestalt therapy at the San Diego Gestalt Institute with Miriam and Erving Polster who became life-long, esteemed friends. In the years that followed she participated in over 800 hours of training with the Gestalt Therapy Institute of Los Angeles faculty, primarily in their European summer programs. She supplemented her Gestalt training with psychodrama, which culminated in her developing an innovative, reflective, enactment-oriented Gestalt-psychodrama approach to dream therapy. A number of Gestalt therapists sharing their memories of Sylvia in memoriam on AAGT’s memberlistserve commented specifically on the powerful and empowering impact her dream workshops had on them; such as, “Dreams, creativity and experiments were Sylvia’s passion;” “Her way of working (walking) with dreams was extremely powerful and empowering;” and “At the Toronto AAGT conference I was lucky to be a part of Sylvia’s dream workshop; prouder still that I processed my dream with her with so many other therapists taking part – B… was the large truck in my dream.”
Having established her private practice as a licensed professional counselor in Laramie, Cheyenne and Rawlins, Sylvia became well known throughout the state of Wyoming for 30 years, always enamoring Gestalt therapy as a presenter and workshop trainer at the state counseling association conferences. In her practice she focused on individual, group,
couples, family and child-adolescent counseling. She was a generous, passionate and compassionate therapist who thrived from helping clients in becoming more of who they were capable of becoming while enriching their contactfulness and relationships with others. She brought her kind-hearted, informed sensitivity, prosaic thinking and intellectual brilliance to her work.
Sylvia was one of the founders of AAGT-AIC, the Association for the Advancement of Gestalt Therapy – An International Community. She often commented on how being chairperson of the Gestalt Theory Development Interest Group and on AAGT’s Board of Directors for 8 years was a great support for her to write more about Gestalt theory and getting support to spread her wings to become an internationally-known presenter, trainer and supervisor. Her presentations and workshops at Gestalt therapy conferences in the America’s, Europe, Australia and the Orient were consistently filled to the capacity of the room, uniquely experiential and highly acclaimed. She was sought by Gestalt institute post graduate students for their personal therapy- face-to-face and online. One such now prominent Gestalt therapist and former client shared this memoriam comment that illuminates some of her dearest qualities, “Dear Auntie Sylvia, Thank you for everything! For your unique dress code — high-waisted pants and SC [South Carolina] embroidered cardigans. For the times you supported and invested in A..’s and my growth as therapists. Your times with us around the world, eating, drinking and talking were some ofmy favorite times at conferences. You seemed (and I was generally shocked at first) that an experienced and famous therapist and writer would take interest in two young therapists – a relationship that lasted over a decade. You became that favorite Aunt we all have: colorful, crazy, wise, at times cranky, very lively, and very interested in not only your world, but the world of others. ”
Nancy and I had the good fortune to have Sylvia as our house guest in Kent for 8 years in succession to augment my Gestalt therapy graduate courses by teaching, demonstrating and processing her dynamic Gestalt approach to individual and group therapy in 4-day experiential workshops for my graduate students. Many of them still ask about her and mention the tremendous impact she had on them, whether they had volunteered as a client, participated in another person’s dream work or just observed her work.
Sylvia’s active involvement in the Gestalt Writers’ Collective culminated in authoring her own book, A Well-Lived Life: Essays in Gestalt Therapy (1999), which has become a classic. She was a prolific writer whose articles appeared here in the Gestalt Review as well as in the Gestalt Journal, the British Gestalt Journal, the Australian Gestalt Journal, the Quaderni di Gestalt/Studies in Gestalt Therapy, as well as in journals on philosophy, including the Harvard Theological Review.
Sylvia life was enriched by and with philosophy. Her thinking was greatly influenced by the learned path she followed to acquire in-depth knowledge of Aristotle, Plato, Kierkegaard, Kant and Whitehead. Existential philosophy permeated her thinking, her writings and her clinical work. She was committed to emphasizing the phenomenology of Gestalt therapy
and was working on a book on the topic at her death. She was enamored with understanding, describing and clinically applying the nature of the phenomenological method with particular interest in Husserl’s method. In Sylvia’s words, shared in a recent manuscript
draft, she said, “I want to show that the method Gestalt therapists actually use in working
with clients (in contrast to how it is often discussed in Gestalt circles), is a fairly pure application of the phenomenological method. The difference is that while Husserl was in search of pure universal essences for the sake of knowledge itself, a Gestalt therapist seeks an increasingly exquisite understanding of the living of a unique and singular individual person, and does so in the service of human change.” Being aware of her gift of knowledge of existential thought, phenomenological processes and world religions, Sarah Toman and I were extremely pleased when Sylvia agreed to write the oft- cited chapter, “Phenomenology, Existentialism and Eastern Thought in Gestalt Therapy” for our textbook, Gestalt Therapy: History, Theory and Practice (2005), which includes insightful dialogue with her good friend and challenging theorist, Peter Philippson.
Sylvia prided herself for having introduced into Gestalt therapy lexicon the concept proflection as a style of resistance that interrupts interpersonal contact. Her introduction of the concept was one of the featured articles in a series focusing on Gestalt resistances in the 1970 issue of the Gestalt Journal. Proflection being a composite of two styles of resistance
— projection and retroflection, which can be observed behaviorally when Person A does to Person B (others) what he/she would like Person B to do to or for him/her.
Sylvia bore two lovely daughters with their father, Dr. Thomas Crocker, also of Laramie. Sarah Garcia Castro (Jairo) and grandchild Thomas Manuel Garcia living in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Trena Larson (Ethan) of Montreal, Canada. She was preceded in death by her parents; her sister Cathy Montgomery; and her brother Thomas Fleming - from whom Sylvia used to say she learned much about life’s most difficult mental and emotional challenges.
Sylvia owned and was open-minded in discussing her Christian values and beliefs. It was a joy to be in her company when we visited the York Minster Cathedral in York, England.
She was an active, faithful and vital member of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Cathedral in Laramie. Memorial services were held there on Saturday, November 30, 2019, officiated by Reverend Brian Gross, with inurnment at St. Matthew’s Columbarium with a reception following in the undercroft at the cathedral.
As I finish writing this obituary, in response to the news of Sylvia’s passing on the internet, there have been countless online memoriam salutations, appreciations, loving stories and condolences posted on theAAGT memberlistserve, Gstalt-L and Facebook — a testimony to how much Sylvia’s “well-lived life” is remembered, respected and sorely missed in the world-wide Gestalt community.