Co-Founder, Psychotherapist & Senior Advisor

jefflevyValues and Philosophy

Since childhood, I have experienced the creative process as healing. I grew up with music, art, poetry, building things, planting things, dogs, guinea pigs, and fish. Life's pain and struggles were consistently soothed through connecting with creativity, self-expression, and nature. It seemed a natural transition to study recreation therapy in college, where I was able to understand how and why the use of creative and expressive therapies help us change, grow, and metabolize life's challenges. My personal experience and my work continue to teach me that talking is not always necessary to heal and that the very act of "doing" and "being present to a process" can be healing in and of itself.

As our past creates patterns and pathways for the present, the present provides opportunities to create newer and more productive patterns and pathways for the future. Creativity allows us to experiment with new ways of being in the present; new ways to manage our pain and suffering, new ways to call upon our internal and external resources, and new ways to be in relationship with others and ourselves.

I am often asked what most informs my practice as a social worker. I immediately think of my personal experience of "difference"; of growing up gay at a time when even the word was rarely spoken aloud. As I think further, I consider the relationship between "difference" and being "other" with suffering. While I don't wish suffering on anyone, it is impossible to move through our lives without the experience of pain and suffering. And the opportunity pain provides is for greater strength, greater authenticity, and greater compassion. Pain too, may cause us to question life's meaning and purpose.

The process of therapy is about meaning-making. We take our past and present experiences and we process them through talk, movement, art, poetry, nature, and our relationships with other living beings. And as we metabolize, we build upon our strengths and transform our pain. And, we find meaning and hope.

Training and Experience

I began my career as a recreation therapist and hold undergraduate and graduate degrees in recreation therapy. Initially, I worked in not-for-profit agencies-primarily child welfare and youth services, where gradually I found myself moving into more supervisory positions. I also found others not understanding my training in recreation therapy. So, after 15 years as a recreation therapist, I returned to school to study social work.

I chuckle as I tell people that when I graduated with my MSW, I felt like my work actually was less creative. Somewhere in my traditional social work training, I lost my creative edge---and it took a few years to find ways to integrate social work practice with recreation therapy. I found, however, that social work and recreation therapy were born of the same movement at the turn of the 20th century, where Jane Addams created settlement houses to serve disenfranchised and marginalized folks and the recreation and playground movement arose to improve quality of life.

For the past 34 years I have worked with children, adolescents, couples, families, organizations, and communities. I've done clinical work as a recreation therapist, as a social worker, and as a creative/expressive therapist-and I've supervised others doing similar work. I have also taught undergraduate and graduate students in both recreation therapy (since 1985) and social work (since 1998). And most recently, my colleague Bruce Koff and I co-founded Live Oak, where I am provided the opportunity to integrate all my professional training and experience.

Range of Focus
  • Gay and Bisexual Men
  • Gay Male Couples; Lesbian Couples; Heterosexual Couples
  • Gay and Lesbian Survivors of Childhood Trauma
  • Married and Formerly Married Gay/Bisexual Men
  • Trauma, Violence, Assault and PTSD
  • Young Adults
  • Depression
  • Relationship Issues
  • Anxiety or Fears
  • Loss or Grief; Mortality; Surviving
  • Addictions or Substance Abuse

To date, no one has contacted me because life is going so well they would like my help in keeping everything the same. So, I operate with the understanding that we enter therapy because we are seeking change-and that the patterns and pathways (survival strategies) we have been using aren't serving the same purposes they once were, or in some instances, old patterns and survival strategies might even feel counterproductive in the present. Through a present moment awareness of these patterns, pathways, and survival strategies, we come to understand (intellectually, emotionally, and somatically) where they come from, in what contexts they continue to serve us, and in what contexts it is important to learn, experience, and create new ways of surviving.

In individual therapy, we may use a combination of talk, creative/expressive therapies, and body-centered therapies to understand old patterns and create new ones. We work toward creating sufficient safety in the therapy relationship to allow for discomfort while experiencing greater authenticity. In couples therapy, we will explore how the patterns each partner brings to the relationship have potential to "bump" against the patterns of the other. We will explore how present moment interactions mirror those that occur outside of therapy and work toward transforming patterns that collide with one another into patterns that enhance one another. In group therapy, we are presented with unique opportunities to feel less isolated and more validated, through relating to and learning from the experiences of others. Again, our goal is to understand (intellectually, emotionally, and somatically) our present moment patterns and survival strategies and to experiment with alternative strategies in the context of our relationships with others in the group.

Workshops, Consultation, and Teaching

In addition to the clinical work I do at Live Oak, I also provide workshops, consultation, and supervision to other mental health and social service professionals. As a recreation therapist and a social worker, I have worked with over 125 agencies around the country. This has included: clinical supervision and/or consultation around specific clients/groups of clients; supervision groups for clinicians accumulating hours toward licensure; half-day and full-day training on a specific topic or topics (primarily youth/families, trauma, and/or LGBT-related); and consultation on issues of organizational and/or program development.

I have been teaching at the college/university level since 1985, beginning as a full-time Instructor at the University of Toledo in Ohio, where I was charged with developing an undergraduate and graduate curriculum in recreation therapy. Upon returning to the Chicago area, I continued teaching graduate recreation therapy courses at both Aurora University and Chicago State University.

In 1998, I began teaching graduate courses in social work at the Jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois-Chicago. There I developed and taught a course on child and adolescent mental health, incorporating how issues of homelessness, substance abuse, and sexual orientation impact mental health.

In 2001, I also began teaching at the School of Social Service Administration at The University of Chicago. I began by teaching an Advanced Violence Seminar. Over time, I have expanded the course to include an overview of the developmental and neurodevelopmental effects of exposure to violence and trauma. More recently, I have included creative/expressive and body-centered strategies in the treatment of those exposed to violence and trauma. The course has subsequently been called: Introduction to Trauma Informed Practice.

In 2008, my teaching at University of Chicago expanded to include a course on The Practice of Group Work. Experientially focused, this course provides students with theoretical material complemented by experiential opportunities to participate in personal growth groups and to develop groups for area not-for-profit agencies.

My teaching---formally and informally---continues to challenge me to grow professionally and personally. My psychotherapy practice has been greatly enhanced as a result of my teaching, and my teaching is greatly enhanced by my clinical work.


Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award, Jane Addams College of Social Work, Univeristy of Illinois-Chicago, April, 2016

Distinguished Contribution to Social Justice Award, American Family Therapy Association, June 2016


I have written a number of articles over the past years which are listed elsewhere on the website. Please click here to be directed to publications.

In addition to external publications, I am the primary author of posts that appear on the Live Oak Blog.  Please click here to be directed to the blog.


BS in Recreation Therapy
University of Illinois

MS in Recreation Therapy
University of Illinois

Doctoral Coursework
Counseling Psychology
University of Toledo
Toledo, Ohio

Jane Addams College of Social Work
University of Illinois-Chicago


Licensed Clinical Social Worker
Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation
License #149-006911

Academy of Certified Social Workers
National Association of Social Workers

Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist
National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification

Office Hours

Monday: 10:00am-6:00pm (Downtown Office)
Tuesday: 9:00am-6:30pm (Lakeview Office)
Wednesday: 9:00am-6:00pm (Lakeview Office)
Thursday: 8:00am-12:00 pm (University of Chicago); 1:00pm-6:00pm (Downtown Office)
Friday: (out of office) Consultation or Training

Contact Information
Contact image

1300 W. Belmont, Suite 400
Chicago, IL 60657

30 N. Michigan Ave, Suite 508
Chicago, IL 60602

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

773.880.1310 ext. 82