Luigi Onnis passed away last Christmas night, at the age of 71. He left us as silently and discreetly as he was in life: discreet and decent. He was born and raised in Sardinia at the end of World War 2. The island of the Berlinguer family may have had an effect on his character: low-key but also decisive and dynamic.
Luigi Onnis was a psychiatrist and family therapist, professor of Psychiatry and Clinical Psychology at the University of “La Sapienza” in Rome, co-founder —together with Luigi Cancrini and Maurizio Coletti— and Educational Director of the “Istituto Europeo di Formazione e Consulenza Sistemica (IEFCOS)”, one of the most important centers for systemic training in Italy, and Honorary President of the European Family Therapy Association (EFTA), of which he was a founding member and tireless champion.
He embarked on his professional career next to Franco Basaglia and Giovanni Jervis, fighting for a democratic practice of psychiatry and for the de-institutionalization of the mentally ill. He was trained in systemic approach and, almost concurrently, in psychodynamic psychodrama, the combination of which offered him different and complementary viewpoints of psychotherapy in terms of methods, tools and training. He collaborated with the most outstanding figures of the systemic approach, often visiting the USA, and became himself a reference for generations of therapists in Italy and abroad. He was an excellent psychotherapist, teacher and supervisor with his eye always focused on research and research procedures.
His work on psychosomatic disorders such as anorexia, bulimia but also asthma is well known worldwide, as is his approach to verbal communication and body language. He was a prolific scientific writer, and his books have been translated in many languages. He was founder and director of “Psiobiettivo”, one of the most important Italian scientific journals in its field which consistently showcased psychotherapeutic issues through an integrative point of view open to alternative approaches.
Just a few days before Christmas he sent to his publisher the material for his last book, “Teatri della Famiglia” (Family Theatres), which is soon to be published.
As stated in the many messages in his memory posted by friends, colleagues and students on the IEFCOS website, Luigi Onnis was special not only for his scientific abilities and his tutoring talent but also for his distinctly gentle, sensitive and modest personality.
On his few visits to Athens or when we met him abroad he always greeted us with a smile, and talking with him was an enriching experience and reflected his genuine interest. In recent years he dedicated lots of time and energy to the training of psychotherapists in Europe and the criteria for continuous education, promoting a uniform approach in all European countries. His vision included a unified, democratic Europe, based on solidarity and on the values of social responsibility and support of the weakest. We will miss his smile, his thoughts, his approach and his vision, especially now that the idea of Europe is threatened by conflictual, anti-democratic and conservative tendencies. His absence in the upcoming congress of EFTA in Athens will leave a hiatus that will be hard to fill.
Translation: Dimitris Kokkalis