Mariah Fenton Gladis, MSS, LCSW, BCD, had a long and inspirational career as a clinical social worker practitioner and trainer. Gladis was committed to the belief that how to address emotional trauma to live fruitfully was so important that it should not be reserved exclusively for professionals. She knew that her theory of practice needed to be shared with the general population. With this intention, she established the Bucks County Institute in 1974 to provide a model of psychotherapy that was not illness-based, rather viewing each client as having what she called, the “wisdom of the organism.” This perspective and practice was grounded in the understanding that the client had the inherent capacity to know more about what she or he needed by way of help and support. Gladis called this the “Needs-Based” psychotherapy model. In her view, her clients did not have problems, they were simply reaching for ways to fulfill their needs for good health and for the capacity to live fully.
This innovative approach later came to be referred to as “strengths-based,” coined by Donald Clifton and Charles Rapp in the late 1990s. The efficacy of this theory and practice can now be explained by today’s brain science and interpersonal neurobiology. As a major contribution to social work, it is used in multiple settings (including hospitals, schools, home health care, and clinical practices) with people who present with a range of issues.
In 1981, Gladis was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. ALS is a fatal, neuro-degenerative disease that attacks nerve cells and pathways to the brain and spinal cord. At that time three prominent neurologists gave her a 10% chance of surviving two years. She more than beat the odds. Very fortunately it was this approach in working with others to focus on the “wisdom of the organism” that carried her forward, living fully and working steadily for the next 37 years.
Like any good therapist, Gladis listened to her clients. In so doing, she soon realized that even with helping them to attend to their internal wisdom before attempting to form sustainable relationship with others, they needed to go deeper in creating a relationship with themselves; doing a ‘deeper dive’ in attending to the wisdom of the organism. Gladis’s Needs-Based Model enabled clients to recognize and provide for their needs allowing for affirmative access to growth, self-discovery, and true healing.
With all of this in mind, in 1985 Gladis developed what became her signature model Arrive Already Loved™, a method for establishing a self-relationship that is supportive and compassionate as a source of sustenance during personal and interpersonal challenges. In 2017, she presented Arrive Already Loved™, to 1200 people at a TEDx Talk, in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Her tenacity and courage to go forward continuously with strength and determination even within the debilitating confines of ALS transformed that disease into a provocative catalyst for her own wisdom. Gladis will long be remembered as a true trailblazer, a woman with foresight who lived every moment reflecting the amazing capacity of the human spirit.
Shortly after receiving her MSS in 1972 from the Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research at Bryn Mawr College, Gladis established a professional career that spanned over four decades. In 1971, she was appointed by then Governor Milton J. Schapp to the Pennsylvania Abortion Laws Commission, and traveled the state conducting open forum meetings with women. In 1975, she was invited back to her alma mater to present a guest lecture on “Private Practice and Special Problems of Women in Social Work”.
For 44 years, Gladis maintained a thriving full-time psychotherapy practice in southeastern Pennsylvania as Founder and Clinical Director of the Bucks County Institute, which she later renamed the Pennsylvania Gestalt Center for Psychotherapy and Training. As an internationally renowned workshop leader, in 2004, Gladis conducted a “personal discovery” workshop in Machu Picchu, Peru, with Ben Bingham, the grandson of Hiram Bingham, who discovered the site.
In 2006, recognizing the need for more inclusiveness in the area of personal growth, Gladis formed The Mariah Fenton Gladis Foundation, a nonprofit offering free life skills training, personal growth, educational, and psychotherapeutic counseling programs and workshops. The Foundation’s original mission remains: “To provide free programs that offer concrete tools for inner growth and healing to underserved communities.” Central to the Foundation’s programs is resiliency—adapting well in the face of adversity through an understanding of and reliance on your own strengths and abilities. So as Gladis always said, wherever we go, we are “arriving already loved”.
The Foundation also believes in the power of collaboration. It has partnered with many organizations bringing programs to a broad and diverse audience. These collaborations included: Center for Non-Violence and Social Justice, Lutheran DC Synod, Muscular Dystrophy Association, Fighting Back Organization, Camp Dreamcatcher, Good Grief, Compassionate Care ALS, Lehigh Valley Hospital Burn Center, and Penn State University at Berks County, and Bryn Mawr College.
Gladis was a member of the Pennsylvania Society for Clinical Social Work and the National Association of Social Workers and attained the title of Board Certified Diplomate Social Worker. In 2008, she published her book, Tales of a Wounded Healer—Creating Exact Moments of Healing, the first manual of Gestalt Therapy for mental health clinicians and non-clinicians alike. As a trainer, Gladis taught the staff of Mirmont Drug and Alcohol Center, the Kripalu Health Center, Esalen Institute and medical residents at The Psychiatric Institute at Pennsylvania Hospital in the clinical use of Gestalt Therapy with their clients. She was a guest lecturer at the Immaculata College Graduate Program, the Villanova Counseling Department, Hahnemann Hospital’s Department of Psychiatry, and a teambuilding retreat facilitator for the Home Health Department of Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia.
Born in 1948, Mariah Fenton Gladis grew up in Rosemont, Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia. The family, wracked with alcoholism and divorce, was a strong influence on her and created a sensitivity and compassion for those in pain and needing support. Gladis received a BA Degree in English from Temple University in 1970, and a MSS Degree from the Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research at Bryn Mawr College in 1972.
Beginning in her youth, she used art as a means of expression by writing poetry and using music to communicate her feelings and provide her with comfort and encouragement. It was a natural transition, then, to bring music into her professional work as a clinical social worker even though in the early 1970s it was unusual to do so. Gladis designed personalized music for her clients that connected music to each individual’s story and helped her/him anchor the experience, while enabling them to go deeper into their healing.
Maintaining an active practice and offering trainings internationally, Gladis continued to volunteer at many organizations including the American Red Cross during their 9/11 Outreach Program in 2001, and Mercy Hospice—a long-term shelter for homeless women and their children. Gladis also co-founded the Chester County Lifeline for AIDS/HIV and served on the Board of Advisors of Camp Dreamcatcher—a camp for children affected/infected with HIV/AIDS.
Additionally, Gladis was on the Social Justice Initiative Advisory Council (SJI) at Bryn Mawr College. As an engaging member of the SJI, Gladis presented “Personal Perspective on Forgiveness” at the SJI launch conference, “Practicing the Science and Art of Forgiveness” in May of 2017. She also was a panelist for a documentary sponsored by the SJI that debuted in November of that year entitled “An Odyssey Toward Forgiveness”.
Significant Achievements and Awards
Gladis was named Social Worker of The Year in Pennsylvania in 2001, and received an Advocacy Award from Greater Philadelphia Chapter of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Association for her work as a lobbyist to Congress in Washington D.C. on behalf of patients and their families. In 2001, she also was the keynote speaker at the Curt Schilling ALS Annual Benefit Dinner. As an advocate on behalf of women, in 2004, Gladis was invited to lecture at United Disabilities Services in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, on the special needs of handicapped women, and in 2005, she was awarded an alumni award from Marymount College for Lifetime Excellence.
Serving as an inspiration to newly diagnosed ALS patients, in 2005 Gladis was presented the Hope and Courage Award from the Philadelphia Chapter of the ALS Association. In that same year, she also received the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives and State Senate Citation for Recognition of Community Service and the Chairman’s Choice Award for Citizenship from the Great Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce.
In 2006, Gladis received the International Stevie Award for Women in Business for Lifetime Achievement. In 2007, she presented a lecture and a workshop at the Mind-Body-Spirit Expo in Pennsylvania, on the value of compassion and forgiveness. In that same year, Gladis presented a symposium on “The Value of Hope” to the staff of the National ALS Association in Los Angeles, California. In October of 2008, Gladis conducted a free workshop for women at Miraval Spa in Tucson, Arizona, entitled “Embracing Yourself into Wellness,” to celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Also, in 2008, she was awarded the prestigious Living Legacy Award by the Women’s International Center in San Diego, California celebrating the accomplishments and positive and lasting contributions of women. Former recipients of the award include Maya Angelou and Mother Teresa. In 2009, Gladis was named one of Pennsylvania’s Best 50 Women in Business by Governor Edward Rendell and five Pennsylvania business journals.
As in her professional work, Gladis was known as one who shared her knowledge and love openly on a community level as well. In 2015, Gladis was the keynote speaker for the 8th Annual Delaware Valley Muscular Dystrophy Association’s Muscle Summit. In 2016, she was honored as one of the 100 Distinguished Alums of the Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research 100th Centennial Celebration in Philadelphia. And days before her passing in 2018, she was awarded the 157th Legislative District’s Extraordinary Woman Award, presented by Pennsylvania State Representative, Warren Kampf.
Gladis, M.F. (2008). Tales of A Wounded Healer—Creating Exact Moments Of Healing. WindWhispers Press.