Major force in psychotherapy and human potential movement


PAUL REBILLOT:PAUL REBILLOT, who has died aged 78, was a leader in the human potential movement, a major creative force in international psychotherapy and experiential education, and an expert in the development of ritual therapeutic structures based on myth.

He had a long and fruitful engagement with Ireland. In the nine months before his retirement in 2008, he led three presentations of his best-known workshop – the Hero’s Journey, based on the monomyth of the same name – to a total of 120 participants.

He provided a living link for Irish people to household names in the human potential movement, having worked with and/or rubbed shoulders with Fritz Perls, Dick Price, Stan Grof, John Lilly, the mythologist Joseph Campbell, as well as many other luminaries of the movement who frequented the Esalen Institute in northern California during the early 1970s.

Eugene Paul Rebillot was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1931, the third of four sons born to Conrad and Rose Rebillot. He graduated from the University of Detroit with a degree in philosophy and education and from the University of Michigan with a master’s in communication arts, specialising in drama.

During and following his university years, Rebillot was engaged with several theatre companies as a writer, producer and actor.

Drafted into the US army, he served for a year in Japan, where he became interested in the ritual Noh theatre of Japan, which was to have a lasting influence on his work.

Following his discharge, Rebillot moved to San Francisco, where he developed an experimental theatre department at San Francisco State College and worked with Mumako, a Japanese mime, at the hungry i, the iconic nightclub and recording venue in North Beach.

During this time he developed his understanding of ritual gesture – postures which shape the energies to the attitude expressed by the gesture – and this became a key element in his psychotherapeutic work.

Rebillot went to Stanford University’s theatre department for a year before leaving academia to found the Gestalt Fool Theatre Family of San Francisco.

An existential crisis led him in 1971 to the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, to his studies of contemporary experiential therapies, and to his subsequent work in the human potential movement.

He developed a series of therapeutic structures which eventually integrated ritual, drama, art, movement, music and meditation.

In 1972 Rebillot worked on the psychiatric wards of community hospitals in Turlock and Martinez, California, where he developed the therapeutic structure with which his name is most widely associated – the Hero’s Journey.

In 1974, he began to offer his therapeutic structures in Europe, which gradually became the location for most of his work.

Rebillot visited Ireland for the first time in the 1980s at the invitation of Ivor Browne and Paddy Walley of the Irish Foundation for Human Development. From 1991 to 2008 his workshops in Ireland became annual events, attracting an eclectic mix of participants including many from the teaching and caring professions.

Rebillot’s work in Ireland had an impact on the UK dramatherapy scene via the influential English dramatherapist Steve Mitchell. Dramatherapy students from the UK were also frequent participants in his workshops here.

Rebillot began a training programme in the US in August 1993. With Ilse Schmidt-Zimmermann in May 1996, he inaugurated a Rites of Passagetraining programme in Germany to enable others to become guides in the educational/therapeutic structures he had created. Subsequently he established additional advanced training programmes in Ireland, England, Germany and Austria.

Rebillot published articles in numerous journals, including Inside Out, the journal of the Irish Association of Humanistic and Integrative Psychotherapy. In 1993 he published a book, The Call to Adventure: Bringing the Hero’s Journey to Daily Life.

Due, perhaps, to its fundamental grounding in myth, Rebillot’s work struck a chord in Ireland. In recent years his workshops here consistently attracted larger numbers of participants than anywhere else. He continued to work in Ireland and throughout Europe well into his 70s, despite increasing health difficulties.

After striving for eight months to overcome the effects of serious respiratory failure in June 2009, he died at home in San Francisco.

His partner, Stanford Cates, had died in 1988. He is survived by his younger brother, Melvin Rebillot of Petoskey, Michigan, by his assistant and companion of 32 years, Melissa Kay, and by devoted friends and students throughout Europe and the US.

Members of his school will honour his memory by co-leading a residential Hero’s Journeyworkshop in Slí an Chroí, Kiltegan, Co Wicklow, from July 17th to 23rd.

Paul Rebillot: born May 19th, 1931; died February 11th, 2010