Avraham Cohen, Ph.D., R.C.C., C.C.C.

PERSONAL STORY

I have been working in the field of counselling and psychotherapy for 48 years. I began my career as a childcare counsellor at the Maples Adolescent Treatment Center in Burnaby BC. I eventually worked my way up to the position of ‘Cottage Head.’ The ‘cottages’ were brick buildings that housed 12 of the most disturbed, and I might add disturbing, adolescents in the province. That spanned about 12 years from 1969. It was here that I learned a great deal of what has influenced my theory, practice, and personal development. I was exposed to the human potential movement and experiential therapies, including a substantial exposure to group therapy and groups as communities in development.

 

I subsequently worked in the Federal Penitentiary system for one year as a counsellor at a community correctional center. After leaving the Penitentary, I returned to the Maples for a substantial period of time. I also served as the executive-director of a non-profit society, Loma Residence Association: a residential resource for young adults leaving the mental health system.

 

Leaving the Maples in 1981, I began my psychotherapy private practice, and I have been in continuous practice ever since.  During these three decades, I have obtained two graduate degrees (MA and PhD), and also became a counsellor educator, teaching and supervising counselling graduate students. I have been the associate-director for a full-time master in counselling program, and currently I’m an Adjunct Faculty at Adler University in Vancouver. I love teaching and see my work as transformational in educational environments.

 

As well, I consider my work as a psychotherapist as educational. I see the inner and relational work that we engage with in psychotherapy as education about self, other, relationship, and the world. The process of becoming fully human in an increasingly difficult and challenging world is central to both psychotherapy and education.

 

Even from the beginning of my long career, I have been fascinated with the opportunity for my ongoing study of the human condition and for practice that aims at facilitating meaning emergence for the people who work with me. With passing years, my passion for the kind of work I can engage in with my clients and students has been only increasing.

 

 

My Roots

 

 

I was born in Toronto to a secularized Jewish family. My parents, my baby brother, and I moved to Vancouver when I was five. I have been living here ever since. I have seen Vancouver growing into a major metropolitan city, from 400,000 in the 40’s to the current 2.5 million in 2017.

 

I am the second generation born in Canada of Jewish parents. My grandparents came from stedtl (village-scale Jewish communities) culture in the Ukraine, Romania, Poland, and Russia. I speculate that my strong interest in community culture development and the facilitation of connection between human beings at the village-scale of getting to know each other, and that interest that remains very alive in me, is at least partially a legacy from my ancestral stedtl background.

 

In my mid-twenties I was exposed to Eastern philosophy and contemplative practices, particularly Zen and Taoism, and I was greatly taken with how these Eastern ‘ways’ spoke to me about human reality and authentic living. At the same time, I was also exposed to Humanistic, Existential, and Process-oriented approaches in psychotherapy.

 

I was fortunate to have studied with some very great teachers and therapists in Humanistic, Existential, and Process-oriented schools and traditions, including, Peter Lavelle, David Berg, Lee Pulos, Arnold Mindell, Amy Mindell, Stephen Gilligan, and David Roomy. These teachers, researchers, and authors exposed me to the full range of analytic, experiential, and body-oriented (somatic) approaches.

 

I am particularly indebted to Dr. Peter Lavelle who looked into my darkness at an early stage of my therapy career, and saw the light that was there, but that I was unable to see myself. He helped to initiate and facilitate my lifelong journey of exploring that darkness and magnifying the ember of energetic light that was there. In turn, seeing that light in the darkness of others and helping them to grow, cultivate, and nurture the light and its expression became my own calling.

 

 

Influences on my Practice

 

 

My therapy work has been increasingly influenced by the contemplative traditions, to which I had an early exposure five decades ago. I have studied and practiced in the Sufi, Taoist, and Buddhist traditions. I continue to study and practice various contemplative approaches, especially in their intersection with psychotherapy. The detailed process of integrating contemplative practice and process-oriented work that I have developed is influential today in how I work with individuals and couples who come to work with me. This has all lead to in-depth work I engage in with everyone I see.

 

A further significant influence has been my immersion in work with groups, both as participant and leader. I have seen how groups are potentially communities in the making, and how often they fall short of their potential for learning and optimal development. I have studied group facilitation, leadership, and community culture development, and I have developed ways of facilitating a group for the optimal potential to emerge.

 

Carl Gustav Jung indicated decades ago, the most important contributing factor to therapy efficacy is that special quality of connection, attunement, trust, care, and positive regard that clients feel through their relationship with the therapist. They feel that the therapist ‘gets them,’ actually cares about them, and that they feel a deep sense of connection and trust. Thus what is crucial is who the therapist is in terms of the quality of his or her person and humanity. Relevant counselling knowledge and information are easy enough to come by and are taught by all counselling programs, but the cultivation of abovementioned qualities that a therapist need to embody depends mostly on his or her dedicated personal development work. From the decades of work that I have done with my own clients, I do know the importance of the therapist doing their own personal developmental work, and my experience has also been amply supported by the current counselling research and scholarship.

 

I am committed to my own personal cultivation, health, relationship, and community development, and also to protecting and nurturing the natural environment.

 

 

Cultivation

Move like a beam of light

Fly like lightening,

Strike like thunder,

Whirl in circles around

A stable center.

—Morihei Ueshiba (O-Sensei)

 

I have been a student of many practices in my life. Currently I practice ki-aikido, a martial art that is defensive and has the maxim that the core principle of the art is love, and preparation for every day life. I have also practiced Iyengar Yoga, a hatha yoga practice that emphasizes work with emotions that arise during the practice of the asanas, and also offers a very fine-tuned awareness of body sensation, movement, and experience.

 

I have been immersed in a number of spiritual traditions, including the Subud latihan (spiritual exercise), Sufism with Puran and Suzanna Bair, and eventually following my own path of meditation practice that is influenced by Zen, Taoism, and Mindfulness. Most recently, I have been participating in Recollective Awareness Meditation with Jason Siff. Over the decades of these practices, I have developed an approach to meditation that supports psychotherapeutic work that focuses on nurturing the ability to be aware in the moment and to be as fully present as possible for experience in the inner and outer worlds.