Honouring Russell Withers’ Life
Contributed by Gillian Hunt, 7 March 2022
A colleague encouraged me to attend an IDT training with her, back in 1996, so off we went; two wide-eyed trainees, both relatively new to counselling.
There we met Russell, training a large group at Wellington Hospice, in this new therapeutic modality which he had developed: Interactive Drawing Therapy. Russell’s way of presenting it was modest and humble, but the content of the training was high-impact. I immediately wanted to learn more.
I enrolled in the Advanced Course in Feilding, which had a longer duration. It was again a highly and deeply impactful training and, as someone in a later course described, “You can feel the rocks rolling around in the basement.”
Russell obviously put his all into this course. It was a profound experience, we were all somewhat right-brained-crazy at the end of it, and we had made huge gains in our learning, both personally and professionally.
I put my hand up to become an IDT teacher and attended many further courses. The more I got to know Russell, the more I admired him and the huge creative powers he had. I used to get a bit disheartened with observing him teach, hoping I could learn the entire content of the delivery. As he talked and drew his diagrams, I realised I would never be able to learn it all, as he was discovering and unfolding more and more about IDT as he taught.
I had a valued colleague, Bill, who was my training buddy. He and I had many training sessions with Russell, redeveloping the content of courses, having some robust but agreeable and hugely useful discussions. We used to meet in Taupo, which was the halfway meeting place. Russell would hire a large motel room with adequate space, and we would immerse ourselves in the material of the Advanced Course and Intermediate Course. He was powerfully committed to what he was developing and improving, and the learning was intense.
The room looked over the lake, with a view of the mountains, and one day as we emerged from the IDT depths and breathed in the view, Russell commented, “It’s remarkable, what we’re doing”.
It was remarkable, all coming from Russell’s remarkable mind. There are many people with remarkable minds, and Russell’s was extra-remarkable because of his humanity. His humility, his playful sense of humour, his compassion, his generosity and general kindness, were all poured into this wonderful IDT modality that delights and intrigues, that provides healing and wisdom, insights and breakthroughs. We never get tired of using it in our work, our clients love this energising way of working, and it stretches us all in our personal growth.
Thank you, Russell for your gift to therapy, and thank you to his wife Fran, who lovingly made his path through life smoother and more well-supported.
Russell Withers trained and practised as an Architect in Auckland, New Zealand. In the mid 1970’s he was influenced by John Heron creator of the Human Potential Research Project at the University of Surrey in UK. He also began working within a Co-Counselling community and then in One to One counselling. In his architectural work he observed that frequently problems presented as ones of space and arrangement were really issues of human interaction. To help bring resolution to these he found that the skills Architects use of sketching, diagramming, recording and analysis were highly facilitative in exposing not only physical problems, but personal conflicts too. From there the insight, innovation and intellectual leap of Russell’s talent has led to the evolution of Interactive Drawing Therapy.
5/19/2022 06:24:02 am
I remember the training course Gillian refers to, because I hosted Russell to bring IDT and I managed all the behind the scenes admin and sheltered Russell during his stay. Little did I realize the immense impact IDT and Russell would be on my life going forward. Russell has been and still is a mentor in my personal and professional life. I can't think of him with out hearing the command "Write it down!" The drawing cues still stand out in my mind, simple, yet profound openings to investigate our depth and humanity in a personal manner. The course cue to "Draw a peg." led to insights about my parents values, and my feelings about emigrating to NZ. As an art therapist trained to work with imagery, I questioned the use of words in the page. 25 years later I cannot imagine not combining writing and drawing as a way to anchor the world of the client. Russell was a powerful trainer, he understood and made sense of metaphoric language, adept with words and images, he allowed for the mysterious unfolding of narratives in people's lives, affirming what is truthful and wise within the client. More than any other teacher he showed me how to trust in the unknown and to follow my heart. IDT practice is a wonderful treasure in my work. Thanks, Russell.
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