My very good friend and mentor, Charles Schaefer, Ph.D., suddenly passed away on the morning of Sept. 19, 2020 (EDT).
When I received an email from his daughter informing me that Charlie had just left us several hours ago, it initially did not register. He had just emailed me 3 days prior, saying that he was doing ok, couldn’t wait for a vaccine, and that he missed me. I knew that he was working on various projects and had recently contacted many others to begin new books. He posted a play therapy trivia question on his Facebook page, as he often does, the night before. It seemed that he himself definitely did not have any intention of going anywhere anytime soon.
Charlie is one of the reasons that we have JAPT, and that it can do what it does.
He was very proud of JAPT and all the other play therapy associations worldwide, that were formed as a result of having him become a part of the lives of the various founders. Although Charlie was known to refuse to travel to do workshops and presentations (even within the US), he had recently stated to me that he was happy to come to Tokyo to do things for JAPT if I wanted him to.
I first met Charlie in 2002, when I attended a by invitation only 2nd annual play therapy study group in the UK.
The surprise and excitement of receiving an invitation email from “The father of play therapy” in the summer of 2001 is still clear to this day, as that was the beginning of much wonderfulness that has transpired since. I was informed that I had to present on any topic of my choice (related to play therapy), which I took as an exciting challenge. The fear set in when I met all the other participants, as there were only about 25 people, all whom with their names on play therapy books that I had studied by (Ann Cattanach, Louis Guerney, Rise Van Fleet, Heidi Kaduson, and the list goes on). The fear was, thankfully, short lived.
This initial group of “play therapy greats” made me feel extremely welcomed, as Charlie, our leader, made sure that we were constantly enjoying our week long experience by playing together, in between the wonderful thought provoking presentations. Yes, literally playing – croquet, spoons, rolling down the hill, dancing, singing, “looking for ghosts”, presenting and experiencing play activities from various countries, etc. Friends and family had commented that I was like a little kid having come home from my first camping experience, all giggly and excited, and colleagues told me that I seemed very energized ever since the study group.
Many other participants throughout the years, have commented something similar to what I had experienced of Charlie and his special study group, as being extremely invigorating and life changing. Since this first year, I had the honor of having been invited to every single study group, and enjoyed making friends and collaborating professionally with play therapists all over the world. All the contributions I have made to JAPT’s growth, have either directly or indirectly been as a result of my participation in Charlie’s study group throughout the years.
Charlie was a genius in getting strangers (hand-picked of course) together, and creating an environment that formed lifelong friendships both professionally and personally.
Participants of the study group (myself included), have written books together, invited each other to do workshops, attended each other’s weddings, become a distant “auntie” to a child, and been on vacation together. Dr. Ann Cattanach, an original founding member of the British Association for Play Therapy, and one of the main lecturers at the first JAPT summer workshop series, was one of those play therapists that I befriended at Charlie’s study group.
Of the many many play therapy books and projects that have come out as a result of participants getting together with their various ideas, I myself had the honor of co-editing 2 books with Charlie, writing a couple of chapters in other books he published, as well as writing chapters for other books that were edited by various play therapists who have attended the study group in the past 20 years. Through his ingeniousness in creating and continuing his special play therapy study group (and of course APT), play therapy has undeniably become much better known and respected worldwide.
Charlie was the one who initially encouraged and supported me in co-founding JAPT.
From the beginning, he constantly asked for updates on how things were going with the association, my writing, workshops, play therapy and play therapists in Japan, etc. He was a person who constantly strove to achieve more and more, to become even more accomplished than he already was. As he would do with himself, he inspired and motivated those around him, constantly asking questions and challenging the responses.
We have had many serious debates about play therapy, with our brows furrowed, whole heartedly defending our points of views, and in doing so, expanding and deepening our understanding and putting that into practice. And all the while, we thoroughly enjoyed each other’s presence, constantly joking around and laughing from the bottom of our hearts.
The survivor support that JAPT has been providing since 2011 is based on the work that I did in 2005 in supporting tsunami orphans from the Indian Ocean Earthquake.
Although I was living in Japan at the time, I was chosen to be part of an APT team sent to Sri Lanka, as a result of having befriended the play therapist heading this project, at Charlie’s study group a couple years before. Through all the people that I met at the study group, JAPT was able to reach out and receive toys, as well as monetary support and the guidance of play therapists worldwide who specialized in psychological disaster work, in support of the survivors of the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami.
The basis of JAPT’s survivor support workshops, Therapeutic Play, is a concept that Charlie had originally introduced to me probably as early as 2003, as well as taught me the difference between that and play therapy. As the play based support JAPT has provided to disaster survivors has been extremely well received and effective, Charlie and others have included chapters that I wrote, in their books and professional journals, providing a guideline for other play therapists.
Charlie has been by far the most positive and strongest influential person in my professional life.
Fun, caring, knowledgeable, loved, whimsical, serious, demanding, driven, inspiring, encouraging, passionate, enthusiastic, accomplished, are a few words that I think people who know him well will agree, describe him. These past few years, he and I had been exchanging emails monthly, just to check up on each other. I will long these correspondences with him, and not seeing and spending time with him at the annual study group in the UK, and at the APT conference is still impossible to even think about. I will miss him dearly, as will many many many play therapists around the world.
Thank you Charlie, for your love, and may you rest in peace.