A very dear teacher, Prof. Gedon Medini, once told a story of Duke Ellington who in a TV interview with him late in his life was asked what he would like to say about the influences and events that shape his starry life. ‘The Duke’ said something like this: “You know what it is like runnin’ around life, like a maze, and you comes to a corner and you don’t know which way to go, and then some guy is standin’ there and you ask him, ‘which way?’ and he points and says, ‘that way’—what I want to do today is to thank all those guys who were standing on these corners at the right time and pointed me off in the right way.”
Our meeting changed the trajectory of our professional life in such meaningful ways leading to the creation of Footprint. I first met Dr. Sarosh Cooper in 2005, when I was the lead psychotherapist at the Adolescent Therapeutic Day School, UMDNJ (later Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care). At the time, I had been runnin’ around life for some time and had been fortunate to meet many people standin’ on the corners pointing me off in the right way.
But I did not know how different a meeting at one of these corners of life’s maze would be.
Sarosh, a young married man of a very strong built, dark piercing eyes and fierce energy, immediately captured me with his enthusiasm and curiosity talking about psychology, history, religion and gastronomy and whatever else captured our imagination. Being a doctorate in clinical psychology, majoring in history, a philosopher of religion autodidact and a belly of a cook, I could appreciate Sarosh’s diversity of experiences and his ardent pursuit of knowledge. The bug of travel had landed him and his wife in places that either I did not know existed or else I could just dream about visiting them. His stories and impressions about the people and cultures, poor and disenfranchised people of Africa and Asia, as well as the rich and affluent--continue to intrigue me to this day (and my envy, as well). Seeing and having interest in suffering from a young age, understanding and experiencing other people became a vehicle for him to approach, engage, understand and accept others. He could entertain new ideas, generate ones out of the box and then pursue them relentlessly with conviction and dedication to make them happen. We did not know then that Footprint would “suffer” such a fate.
I did not hesitate “to point the way” to him. He was offered to join the Adolescent Therapeutic Day School (ATDS) at Rutgers University, a partial hospital / special education program for teens with significant psychiatric, behavioral, legal and family problems. As therapists, counselor, and clinical psychologist we each ran a treatment team for these adolescents, providing individual, family, group therapies as well as family support groups. Shortly afterwards, and for the next 10 years, I became the program director and clinical supervisor of ATDS, responsible for providing clinical services, responsible for staff and students of 60 people and providing and overseeing all clinical services to hundreds of young people over those years with Sarosh’s support.
For me, my motivation to do such a job stems from my deep belief in being humane to my fellow human being.
I was born Jewish in Tehran, Iran and have had many immigrations beginning at age 13, alone and with my family, to Israel/Palestine, California, and then to the New York Metropolitan Area, all of which have left me with a lasting experience and belief in the power of relationships.
Three rock solid principles guide our personal and professional identity.
First, the need for a strong and profound knowledge of psychology, psychopathology and psychotherapy.
Second, of no less and even more importance, a vast base of knowledge and curiosity of the eternal questions of Love, Sex, Death, and Meaning.
Third, we strongly believe that a person who has emotional psychological problems it is because in some way he/she has been restrained (internally or externally) from coming to terms with the totality of his/her person.
Moreover, Footprint is an expression of Hope, Protest and Respect.
Hope for a psychology that values the human being as a social being, the mind as a social mind, and that meaning and happiness must be shared. That is paying attention to how we are being impacted by issues, real or perceived, of power differentials, exploitation, oppression and lack of control, elitism, justice and the lack of it, fairness and the lack of it, and humanness and the lack of it.
Footprint believes that people in therapy are struggling with the experience of living. People of all genders, ages, races, sexual identities, classes and professions can understand the relationship between their circumstances, their experience, their own behavior and take an affirmative action.
Footprint has been an expected consequence of 10 years of creative togetherness and unremitting respect for each other and our differences. Psychotherapy is a meeting, a togetherness where hope, a voice to express protest, and respect for all of us being simply human may lead to a healing experience that has never happened before. An experience that diminishes the feelings of alienation and fuels empowerment, self-respect and a sense of solidity in identity.