I would like to think that what makes me stand out among my colleagues is my sense of history and whatever wisdom I have from practicing psychotherapy for more than thirty five years. Here’s a bit about that.
I didn’t set out to be a therapist. In another life, I would have been an economics professor. The war in Viet Nam interceded. I graduated from college and received a commission in the United States Navy in June of 1968. Graduate school went on hold, and five years later, I was a different person.
I became a therapist on the job. My first daughter was born in 1974. Her arrival focused my need to figure out what I would become in life, and coincided with a job offer as a drug counselor at Freedom House in Watsonville, CA in 1975. I had no training in counseling, but I wasn’t a drug addict and I had a skill set from my experience in the Navy that the program director, a friend of a friend, found useful. Doing that work exposed me to some of the more difficult parts of myself, and I began to get interested in how people change. I quit working for the drug program in a not so helpful way, and got myself into graduate school. It was 1978.
My naive experience working with addicts proved to be a benefit as I sought jobs and placements during the course of my training. I worked in social model and hospital based treatment programs where I connected with others of my generation who were exploring the impact of addiction on family life and child development. Two of them, my long time colleague, Timmen Cermak, MD., and his collaborator in life, Mary Brand-Cermak, MFT, organized an outpatient practice to serve the population that came to be called Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA). They called the group Genesis, and asked me to be the family therapist in the group. That was 1986. We did lots of group therapy, and I saw a wide variety of cases that (not so surprisingly) included substantial early trauma, and a pattern of family break ups with high levels of unresolved conflict and emotional scarring that substantially impacted the ability of kids from such families to trust and rely on other people.
In the years since, I’ve seen many people with many issues, some of them tragic, and some mundane. The HIV pandemic swept through my generation in the 80’s and 90’s and taught me a great deal about suffering, alienation, and loss. I’ve learned to work with many kinds of concerns and problems, but I’ve grounded my work in understanding emotional life and how our relationships to others are often at the center of our problems. I have found this particularly true for many of the men I’ve worked with who, like myself as a young man, manage to be remarkably clueless about our feelings. Without the ability to know where we are coming from, and the ability to speak from that perspective, we often find ourselves confused, lonely, and comforted mostly by our addictions. Hardly the prescription for happiness.
Like many of my generation, I had a ten year gap between undergraduate and graduate school, so my own experience as a man with children led me to an interest in family therapy and a focus on it in my education. During the last hospital job I held, I became part of the Family Therapy Training Program at (what was then) Presbyterian Hospital in San Francisco. A year on that team led to my development as a family therapist and quickly to my move to private practice with Genesis. In June of 1989, I moved with that group to the location in North Beach where I’ve practiced since. I continue to practice psychotherapy from a family systems perspective. I have continued to do group therapy as a form of treatment, and in the last 20 years, have done ongoing groups for Men.
Professionally, I am a past president of the Association of Family Therapists of Northern California (AFTNC), and a clinical member of the American Family Therapy Academy (AFTA), where I have co-lead the “Men’s Institute” and the special interest group on “Masculinities”.
I am also a founding member of the Council on Contemporary Families, and I regard social justice as an important framework in psychotherapy.
Personally, I am in a very fulfilling long term marriage with children and grandchildren, and am delighted that I can ride my bicycle to work.