Straightness and heteronormativity are extremely oppressive.
Vikram Kolmannskog has always been keen on making the world a kinder place by channeling his interest in social justice and human rights. He advocates personal transformation by both restructuring the outer and inner environments.
With childlike enthusiasm, Vikram shares with us the dilemma he faced in choosing a career. Like most young professionals, Vikram was worried that his choice, at the age of 20, would come to define the rest of his life. Fortunately, he did not let that anxiety govern his decision. A simple snapshot of his professional journey is evidence of his bravery. Today, he is a lawyer, a socio-legal scholar, a writer, a poet, and a Gestalt psychotherapist.
“Why pick one when you can have it all?” seems to be the logic that has guided Vikram professionally. In 2020 he became the first person to obtain a doctorate in Gestalt therapy. His refusal to succumb to normative expectations and pursuits has led him to venture into various academic disciplines and master different professional domains. In a world obsessed with specialization, Vikram defies norms by pursuing paths that resonate with him. To keep himself motivated, he tells us that he surrenders himself to the ambitious dream of making a real, positive difference in the world.
Vikram’s career began as a legal advisor to the Norwegian Refugee Council where he worked on the portfolio of climate refugees and their access to justice. For his impeccable work, Vikram received recognition from the then-UN High Commissioner for Refugees. But despite such accomplishments, Vikram felt something was missing. He would often sit in the law office, look at his books and hear an inner voice whisper, "This is not it."
When he started experiencing burnout for the first time in his life, he began listening to that inner voice. He began asking probing questions to himself as to what really mattered to him, and what tools he’d rather use to sculpt his work into something that fulfilled him. And soon enough, he stumbled upon Gestalt therapy.
Gestalt is a German word that loosely translates to "whole". Gestalt therapy is based on the ideology that a person must be embraced as a whole in order to be understood. Such an approach to human experience runs against our popular habit of generalization. This is because we tend to pass hasty judgments and reduce people to a few visible and characteristic traits that we either like or don't agree with. Gestalt therapy believes that our past holds the tools to understand our present lives. By seeing individuals as products of their environment, the Gestalt therapist can make effective interventions.
While pursuing Gestalt therapy, Vikram did not ignore his former interests. He continues to work on marginality and climate displacement. In 2022, he became the world’s first professor of Gestalt therapy at the Norwegian Gestalt Institute. Vikram's efforts at making the world safer, kinder, and more compassionate come at a price: compassion fatigue and burnout.
Vikram shares with us how he had to learn the difficult way to be kind to himself while recovering from compassion fatigue. It took him some time and practice to understand where the fatigue was coming from. The nature of this work is such that the odds are always stacked in his favor. Combating international injustice requires the mind, heart, and body to be present and accessible, and that is no easy feat.
Sometimes the most radical and fastest way to bring about change is to stop running... to slow down, to rest. And see what happens from that space.
Vikram shares a few strategies that have helped him combat compassion fatigue: slow down. When you slow down, you are gifted with an opportunity to witness the world and yourself in the moment. Taking time to commune with nature is another way to remain in the present. Exhaustion is your body's way of asking you to slow down. And the gravest mistake anyone can make, Vikram warns us, is to view exhaustion as a personal failure.
When asked about the practices that cis-gendered therapists can embrace while being queer affirmative, Vikram chuckles as he says, "Question your straightness."
Therapy doesn't transform the client alone, as Vikram tells us about the impact it has had on his life. While dealing with clients who live at the intersection of different marginalizations, Vikram is acutely aware of the limitations of his services. Speaking like a seasoned Gestalt therapist, Vikram does not shy away from pointing out that individual problems are inherited from the issues we face as a collective. What he says next is both obvious and striking: an absolute focus on individual stress management cannot dismantle the systems and institutions that have intergenerationally marginalized these communities. Vikram uses this knowledge when working with queer clients. As he assists his clients to embrace their queerness and navigate life's obstacles, he is acutely mindful of the socio-legal structures that are connected to the condition of mental health of the queer collective.
Today, Vikram has reached a point in his professional life where his interest in social justice, personal transformation, and storytelling has been interwoven through a series of conscious decisions. Now in his forties, Vikram has managed to build a home right outside a forest in Oslo. There, he lives with his husband and practices Gestalt therapy in a cozy room that would compel anyone to turn to therapy.
Vikram and his husband are breaking stereotypes even when it comes to a heteronormative, patriarchal model of parenting. Along with his husband, Vikram is raising a child with a friend. Together, the trio navigates non-normative parenthood. Although there are hiccups to parenting in a society obsessed with cis-heteronormative marriages and rigid models of family, they have found immense support in online queer parenting communities. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and what a mighty village the queers make!