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NewsSep 16, 2020

Colleagues remember Paolo Knill, foundational figure in expressive therapies

Late faculty member made an impact on arts-based healing at Lesley during 20-year tenure and beyond

Photo of Paolo Knill playing the trumpet

Colleagues and friends mourned the passing of Professor Emeritus Paolo Knill, a leading figure in the development of expressive therapies during his 20-year tenure at Lesley.

Knill, a native of Switzerland, was a professor of counseling psychologies and expressive arts therapies. He was 88.

“I was stunned,” says University Professor Shaun McNiff, who developed the field of expressive therapies in the early 1970s, and recruited Knill to teach at Lesley. “I thought he would live to be 100.”

McNiff adds that Knill was a perfect professor to bring on board during the field’s nascence.

“Paolo was the one to really experiment with all the arts,” McNiff says. “He really helped to develop the integration of all the arts in therapy.”

Paolo Knill and Shaun McNiff at the beach
Professor Emeritus Paolo Knill and University Professor Shaun McNiff.

Knill’s contribution to Lesley and the field are understood decades after his departure from Lesley, even by those who weren’t his contemporaries.

“Paolo truly epitomized the cross-disciplinary philosophy of the Expressive Therapies Program as a scientist, artist, and therapist,” says Dr. Michaela Kirby, division director for expressive therapies in our Graduate School of Arts and Social Sciences. “He was instrumental in the development of this field through his work at Lesley and beyond.”

A number of Knill’s colleagues, former students and loved ones gathered virtually Monday evening for a “memory circle.”

According to Dr. Vivien Marcow Speiser, professor of expressive therapies, Knill left a lasting impression upon the Lesley community in the formative years of developing the Expressive Therapies program.

“His impact reverberates in the worldwide expressive therapy community, particularly in the Cambridge and Israel Extension campuses in their development from 1975 to1994,” Speiser says. “Working together with (McNiff) and other seminal  faculty figures, including Norma Canner and Peter Rowan, they imagined a new form of expressive therapy within  the creative arts therapy professions.

“This program was radical at the time, with its focus on total expression crossing between and drawing upon the full range of all the arts in the service of healing.”  

Photo of Paolo Knill
Professor Emeritus Paolo Knill, a leading figure in the development of expressive therapies during his 20-year tenure at Lesley.

Knill’s former students in the virtual memory circle used phrases like “larger than life” and “a force of creative energy and impact” to describe him, and agreed it will be difficult to imagine a world without him.

“Many of his students have gone on to become leading figures in the expressive therapy field,” Speiser adds. “Some of these students include Karen Estrella and Mitchell Kossak, faculty in the expressive therapy program; Kit Jenkins, Lesley faculty member and director of RawArts; (former faculty) Stan Strickland from Express Yourself; and the list goes on and on.”

Speiser says more memorial events will be planned at Lesley in the future.