Credit: Courtesy

Judith Brown

Judith Brown was born Judith Rose Winer in Nashua, New Hampshire, in 1929, and though her goal after graduating from the University of New Hampshire was to become an occupational therapist, marriage and children intervened until she met Fritz Perls, the man who originated “Gestalt therapy” with his wife, Laura Perls.

Judith had a dream of moving to Alaska after college, but she met George Brown, they were married, and they had four children. Per the times, Judith supported George through his education and career development and was a full-time mother. A job on the UC Santa Barbara education faculty for George in the early 1960s and a move to California led to the key meeting between Judith Brown and Fritz Perls.

George visited the Esalen Institute on the Big Sur coast to study Gestalt therapy one year, accompanied by Judith. There, she so impressed Dr. Perls that he invited her to join the workshop. This started Judith on a path of professional development that eventually included obtaining a PhD, becoming a licensed marriage and family therapist, and publishing three books. She and George became noted trainers in Gestalt therapy and traveled all over the world giving workshops.

Judith impressed and charmed everyone she met. She was the kind of person to develop lifelong friendships after meeting someone on a plane or in a grocery store. Athletic and active, she was a charter member of the Santa Barbara Tennis and Swim club and took Pilates classes well into her eighties.

Her colleagues and patients remember her warmly, one of them calling her an artistic inspiration: “At her group sessions, I would scribble notes while others worked with her. I wanted to understand how she awakened clients to themselves as artists — the movie director, the playwright, the cinematographer, the actor — and running critic of their life.

“She presented magic: The awe inherent in suddenly discovering what you didn’t know you didn’t know; the awe inherent in suddenly being present to ‘right here, right now’ as the moment to declare ‘fairy tales really do come true and are coming true for me now.’ Her books addressed the power in fairy tale narratives and how they reflect in our self-narrations.

“Dr. Judith Brown brought awareness and kindness — and deep healing. I am lucky and grateful to have witnessed and experienced her powerfully contribute as the gifted and caring healer and artist she was. If there is anyone I would model, it would be Dr. Judith Brown.”

Another dear friend, Helen Couclelis, remembered how Judith loved to tease: “She would introduce me as ‘my neighbor,’ and I would say ‘no, no, friend first!’ And I would see the twinkle in Judith’s eyes.

“Her family came first, and she had a special soft spot for her grandchildren. But friends, too, she had and loved so many, in town and around the world. Distant friends whose lives she had changed with her seminars and counseling would keep coming back to see her. Local friends could never have enough of her. Everyone wanted a piece of Judith’s culture, experiences, zest for life, humor, and optimism. These qualities never left her, even when she started forgetting the names of common animals, and when she lost her way home.

“My own friendship with Judith was forged over years of bi-weekly after-dinner walks, usually after dark, filled with wonderful conversations. And so, a few days before Judith left us, I called and asked a nurse to hold a telephone to her ear. I spent about a minute saying sweet things. I don’t believe she recognized my voice. But I hope that somehow, that sound reminded her of the happy darkness of our night-time escapades, just as she was reaching her own final darkness, already looming.”

Despite her failing health, Judith’s strengths and loving awareness remained intact. In her last years, she moved to a memory care facility in San Diego County, close to many family members. Her longtime friend Lesley Bronson called Judith a gifted therapist who guided her, as she did so many others, to self-awareness and self-love.

“A legend in Gestalt psychology, writer, teacher, mentor, friend, mother, grandmother, best breadmaker ever, Judith was my mentor, always supportive, encouraging, and expressing her belief in me. She was my friend; we shared silly jokes, took walks, went to lunch, and had fun.

“Judith’s gift as a Gestalt therapist extended into her relationships outside the office. She was always positive and uplifted those around her. When her health was failing, she still expressed the same attitude.

“A few days before she passed, I told her over the phone that I would come see her. With all the energy she could muster, she whispered, ‘Wonderful.’

“If you had the pleasure of knowing Judith, you would have heard her speak of her granddaughters, whose loving spirit is what happens when you have a grandmother like Judith who pours unconditional love into you throughout your life.

“Words cannot express my immense gratitude for a woman who has had such a positive impact in every area of my life. I will miss her smarts, her beautiful smile and laughter. She will live in my heart always.”

Judith Brown died of complications from COVID in February 2021. She is survived by her sons Joshua, Ethan, and Adam, and by her daughter Elissa, as well as her grandchildren Jessica, Tawnya, Bryson, Elise, Rebecca, and Leah.


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