Hartford Family Institute Celebrates 50 YearsJan 07, 2020 08:39PM ● By Erica Mills
Hartford Family Institute’s Center for Healing Arts has created an approach to psychotherapy, known as HFI Body-Centered Psychotherapy, that balances emotions, energy and body with healing and spirituality. The center is celebrating 50 years of providing individuals, couples and families with its cutting-edge approach to psychotherapy while training hundreds of new practitioners in this innovative modality.
Co-founders Stuart Alpert, PsyD, LCSW, and Naomi Lubin-Alpert, PsyD, LMFT, met while working at Child and Family Services in Hartford and providing psychological services to school systems in eastern Connecticut. They joined forces with two other therapists, George Rogers III, PhD, and Ron Long, LCSW, to form what eventually became Hartford Family Institute. Prior to the current training program, Alpert had developed a training program in marriage and family therapy, which became the first family therapy training program in Connecticut. The center began expanding with a few graduates of the training program becoming associates of HFI.
“As our reputation grew, we were invited to begin training programs in Germany, Kansas City and New York City, and intensive summer workshops were held throughout the U.S. and Canada,” says Alpert. Still, although couples, families and students responded very positively to the work and training, he had the sense that there was a way he could go deeper with clients to create more profound and lasting transformation.
Trainings began spontaneously and organically. “I would do a workshop on something we’d learned, and students would take it in and then ask, ‘What’s next?’,” says Alpert. In response to that question, additional phases of training were developed.
As time went on, Alpert and Lupin-Alpert realized something deeper was happening. It was the early days of humanistic theory and the pair began to integrate the techniques of Gestalt and Bioenergetics, along with developmental psychology and attachment theory, into a new form of body-centered psychotherapy. “Eventually what we had studied became the basis of an integrated understanding and approach to transformation at the core of our being,” says Alpert. “The original name of the therapy was Body-Oriented Gestalt Therapy. We were on the forefront of a paradigm shift in emotional and physical healing.”
In the mid 1990s, Sylvia Gingras-Baker, MA; Donna Baker-Gilroy, PsyD, LPC; and David Gilroy, PsyD, LPC, graduates of the training program and former associates of HFI, were invited to become equal partners—legally, emotionally and in terms of personal power. “The therapy, training program and our personal growth continues to this day,” says Lupin-Alpert. “We are involved in a never-ending process.”
Two of the key differences between their innovative approach and the conventional psychotherapy in which they were all initially trained is the relationship to resistance (also known as the shadow) and recognition of the importance of supports, which was an integral part of the system they use and teach. “It was a common belief that it was enough to work with an individual and define the issue they were presenting,” says Baker-Gilroy. “What we came to understand is that without proper supports in place, lasting change could not occur.”
Alpert says that resistance to change is often misunderstood: “We understand that resistance is an individual’s ally, created as a result of the impact of abuse, and it eventually becomes the way we protect ourselves. We further understand that pressuring resistance doesn’t work because it feels as if our very survival seems at stake. We’re interested in approaching resistance respectfully, helping clients integrate new forms of safety and support.
“It’s all about energy. All of us understand how blocked energy creates physical pain and illness, so we are focused on identifying and removing the emotional and spiritual blocks that prevent the individual from healing.”
Lubin-Alpert agrees and adds, “What happened to someone in their childhood will either support or undermine the person later on in their life. We want to help shift the energy so the molecules of health vibrate freely at the higher frequency. The goal is to release darker, denser energy to make more space for the light.”
The partners all see clients in private practice, teach and conduct supervision with students/associates. Alpert, Gilroy and Baker-Gilroy have also written books. They continue to study various philosophies and teachings, integrating Native American, Buddhist and other principles into the work they do and train others to do. They are always seeking the edge of what has been done, with an eye toward combining and adapting principles that support each other, no matter their origin. “For example, we studied with a teacher named Steven Gallegos from New Mexico, who has put together a system for integrating Native American power animals and Eastern philosophy,” says Gilroy. “It is a unique way of looking at things, which seems to resonate with many.”
“Our work is transformative at the core,” says Alpert. “We are interested in energy and how we form characterological patterns. We want to heal illness and relationships; to do that we are really healing whole beings.”
“All healing is done when a person is met with acceptance,” says Gilroy. “We have diverse backgrounds and practices but we all include our spiritual practice in who we are and what we do.”
The approach has served them and countless others well. In 2000, the Institute was growing out of its space, so they purchased the building next door. Their renovations of that building earned them a first-place award for historic renovation from the Town of West Hartford. Their larger events take place in space rented from the church across the street and the synagogue behind their buildings.
The Professional Training program currently has 53 students. It is available to licensed psychotherapists and other professionals such as energy healers, nurses and bodyworkers. Additionally, interested individuals without a need for professional training can participate in the Human Relations program, which includes the same lecture material but a different group experiential component. Both programs meet every Wednesday evening from 5:30 to 9pm. There are multiple phases to the professional training program; individuals typically sign up for one year at a time after completing an application and participating in an intake interview.
A three-day winter workshop is scheduled for the second week of January at the Guest House in Chester; this event is open to the public with no prerequisites. A six-day workshop is planned for mid-summer at the Drury Hotel in Santa Fe, New Mexico.