Our Live Oak community was created over time with a great deal of thought, sensitivity, struggle, love and commitment. Live Oak’s leaders and staff hoped, and continue to aspire to create a place where others can grow, learn, share, struggle and belong while doing the work they believe in.
Growing from “Good Therapy”
Live Oak incorporated in 2004 but its history goes back to 1995 when Jeff Levy and Bruce Koff first met as the result of a shared client. Bruce was in private practice in Chicago and had been seeing a young Black woman who was a survivor of sexual abuse, and Jeff was facilitating a group for female survivors. This young woman was in that group, and Jeff and Bruce began collaborating about how to best meet her needs.
Within months of collaborating, they learned their styles and beliefs about “good therapy” were similar, and they began to wonder about how they could work together more regularly. With Bruce’s practice focusing on gay men and Jeff’s practice focusing on trauma, they decided to co-facilitate their first group for gay male survivors of childhood sexual abuse, and launched it in 1996. Neither of them having facilitated a group of this nature, and not having worked so closely with one another, they were faced with many challenges. Certainly, there were the clinical challenges of working with men who were dealing with the effects of interrelated stigmas. Additionally, they had to learn to work together closely, how to support one another, and how to negotiate constructive conflict. As a result, they both grew in ways neither of them thought possible.
They continued this collaboration for several more groups and Jeff eventually moved his practice to Lakeview in Chicago, across the hall from Bruce’s. With greater geographic proximity there were now more opportunities to have conversations about growing their practices and moving them together in some way. They began sharing more cases, had regular weekly consultation meetings, talked clinically about cases and professional issues, and discussed the challenges of being in solo private practice. They supported each other and found comfort in their growing professional partnership.
They dreamed about space, others with whom they would work, training other professionals, collegiality, and how they could do better work for and with their clients. As conversations became more serious about creating some type of “entity,” they also learned more about each other. They struggled with how to create something brand new: a fully authentic space where trust was steadily built and conflict was resolved quickly yet productively. In 2003, they began developing an action plan to consolidate their practices.
As Bruce and Jeff started thinking of names for their organization, [or of what is now Live Oak, Inc], they wanted something that represented strength, growth, integration, connection, and life.Bruce shared with Jeff a Walt Whitman poem about a live oak growing in Louisiana. The poem touched Jeff immediately, and he later shared a poem he had written when he was 14 years old – about a lonely oak tree.And Live Oak was born.They incorporated Live Oak, Inc. on July 1, 2004, and fully merged their individual practices on January 1, 2005.
Then, in 2012, several director level positions, including a Director of Programs and Administration, were created. Corina Mattson joined the organization in this role bringing years of experience working in community mental health organizations and in academic settings providing supervision to students in a marriage and family therapy program. In her role at Live Oak, Corina further developed the organization’s infrastructure and helped initiate systems for training—both within Live Oak, and for organizations in the Chicagoland community and beyond.
Corina’s systemic lens, also supported the organization in continuing to hone its focus on multicultural and multisystemic work. And consistent with Jeff and Bruce’s vision of understanding the impact of stigma and marginalization, Corina also helped the organization continue to look at the impact of holding multiple identities and their intersections; those identities attached with privilege, identities that have been attached with oppression, and those identities that hold bothoppression and privilege. And on January 1, 2018, Corina became the owner and CEO of Live Oak.
Since Live Oak was founded, it has grown in multiple and varied ways, including a transition in 2012 from a few full-time clinicians and multiple part-time clinicians, to a model in which everyone was a full-time employee. This shift allowed a greater focus on collaborative work and developing a community of therapists with shared vision and shared philosophy. Since this shift, Live Oak has grown to an organization of more than 30 staff members with three locations around the Chicagoland area.