Lynn Hoffman

(1924–2017) Social worker, major in English. She has been a historian of the systemic movement

(1924–2017) Social worker, major in English. She has been a historian of the systemic movement as well as writing very interesting books on her own. She started co-authoring a book with Jay Haley and continued her work at the Ackerman Institute in New York. She has been the muse of the Post-Milan teams, teams geographically defined who were finding their creative way of working. In the late years she connected therapy with the work of Deleuze and Guattari, being always interested in new ideas.

Umberta Telfener: I met her the first time at the Ackerman Institute (1977) where I had gone in order to get to know her. From then on she invited me many times in New York to sit behind the one way mirror and participate in the reflexivity of what was going on. We were there as plotters, we felt we were participants of a revolutionary movement. The conversations behind the one way screen went on for a long time, each trying to be witty and more elaborate than the other one. A symmetrical explicit competition full of humor and good will among these incredible masters. Lynn was seduced by theory, narrations and interpretation, always capable of seeing something more than the rest of the group.
When we were not talking about theory we would fall into talking about love, relationships and fashion.
Her specialty was writing what she had understood: she was clear and creative, and wrote in beautiful English. We could stay up for hours talking theory and elaborating on families we were seeing, excited by the possibility to apply new ideas to therapy.
I owe her my involvement with the Milan Group since she was a guest at my home in Roma (it was the end of 1980) and we decided together to call the Milan team who had not jet split and to ask to be behind their one way mirror. We stayed there three days and enjoyed every minute of it.

Once I called Lynn, she was in a protected home with other friends. She answered me very excitedly: “I have news!” She told me – she was in her eighties at the time – she had met a man a few years younger than her, that they had fallen in love and decided to go and live together, since they had not infinite time ahead of them. “We kissed at the first encounter, yes time is precious!” She was a lucky lady since her companion took very good care of her till she passed away. He became friend of her friends and we all would speak to him as well as to her.

In 1987 with Peggy Penn, Boscolo and Cecchin, Lynn wrote a Book on the Milan school (Milan Systemic Family Therapy, Basic Books); in 1997 I went to Lisbon with her for a Conference and I was surprised that she had changed her mind towards her beloved Boscolo and Cecchin and also towards the need to consider oneself systemic in thinking. She was into rizomas and the thought of Deleuze. I tried to convince her that she still could be systemic and describe interactions through rizomas, but when Lynn would fall in love with an idea there was nothing one could do to make her include it in her previous thinking. She was extreme and passionate and would “marry” in total her new ideas. I felt quite disappointed since my best systemic friend had betrayed systemic ideas, but I learned to live with it.

Robin Routledge: I am sitting in the 25th row up and a long way in over to one side at Lynn Hoffman’s first presentation in Vancouver about the connection of all things… like a rhizome.  She had just compared the sprawl of cables connecting speakers and microphones to a mycelium and then called a break.  The auditorium is mostly emptied, and I am making notes trying to understand, and she suddenly sits down beside me (whom she has never met) and asks: “So what do you think?”  And I did not think she meant only in response to her talk.  She was an omnivore of curiosity and about to devour me. 

Pietro Barbetta: After retirement, Lynn moved to Easthampton (or Southampton, I do not remember exactly the name of the village), nearby Amherst and Northampton, West Massachusetts. I used to go there. It happened many times, from 1991 to 2016.
When I went there for the first time to study, I was living in a house just adjoining Northampton Graveyard: the thin wooden walls of my bedroom were exactly touching some graves on the other side. January or February 1991 was the first time I met Lynn I had never met before, in the middle of a frozen winter.
Lynn was not alone there, she was living within a Community of Systemic Therapist and Thinkers among which Ernst von Glasersfeld, Barnett Pearce, Vernon Cronen, Carlos Sluzki, and the new rising colleagues: Marcelo Pakman, Jack (John) Lannaman, Mary Olson, Sara Cobb, Gonzalo Bacigalupe, Sheila McNamee, Judith Davis, Chus Arrojo, and others. During the 1990s she was still working as a Family Therapist, she then  retired and moved in the village I mentioned above, while I was coming back and forth to this area, invited by Marcelo Pakman to teach FT in Spanish at the University of Massachusetts.
Throughout the last years of her life, she used to invite people to Tertulia, a social gathering,  and I went whenever I was there. Of course, I met her many other times, in Italy, Spain, Canada, and so on. Many times, she was invited by Marcelo Pakman, sometimes I myself invited Lynn in Italy: she gave a Seminar at the Milan School, lectures at my University and one time we conducted a session together with an immigration man from Morocco.
As I knew her, she was a woman out of  time and space, for this reason she was a fantastic therapist, as I saw, for example, with the immigrant man I mentioned: together the three of us were playing with spirits (djinns), as to face the emergency of this man going to Hell. Spirits became griims, the spirits of his family to put on shoulders and on his arms to face his emergency: he was not alone to go to Hell, as Dante Alighieri the family and us two became his own Virgil.

Lynn appeared sometimes strange and funny, always tender. I remember a “gaffe” she did, not to me directly – because I was used to her and in Italy the same statement is received as a compliment – but some colleague and friend of mine, New England style, were critical of this.

I was in Amherst, and I called her. She invited me to Tertulia, a social gathering, a few days later. She said: “Come please and prepare  your fantastic Risotto for the group!”. The old telephone had a speakerphone, and I was with some friends around, so they listened to the phrase and got offended on my behalf. One of my best friends said: “This is unbearable! If you were French, she asked for la soupe à l’oignon? Or if Spanish la Paella?”.
I started to laugh because for me that was a compliment – Lynn had been at my home and I had made a Risotto for dinner  – for the others in the room who listened was a kind of imposition, a gaffe. Definitively, as Lynn was a marvelous psychotherapist, she was, as well, a weird natural woman, and the second quality – to be a bit weird – nourished her way of doing therapy.

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