Michael Groat, Ph.D. – Executive Director and President
“The opportunity to work in a healing community where individuals heal and find purpose, a place committed to offering space for people to find their way back into societal connection, and with enough structure to bring calm to those whose lives feel off-track or have reached an impasse has been my dream for mental health care. I consider it an honor to join and lead such an endeavor at CooperRiis.”
Michael’s commitment to community life began in college when he became a resident assistant and was twice elected by his peers as student body president. He went on to earn a master’s degree in student affairs administration, landing his first job at Carnegie Mellon University as a student life coordinator. He then pursued a PhD in counseling psychology.
During his 5-year tenure of doctoral training Michael worked part-time as a mental health assistant in a psychiatric hospital and did everything from sitting with patients on a 1:1 status, changing linens and playing cards. He found the degree of isolation and disconnection profound, and alarming. He grasped first-hand the powerful need to offer a supportive community to the many suffering from mental illness.
After completion of his doctoral training, Dr. Groat pursued a 4-year postdoctoral fellowship at the Austen Riggs Center. “I was drawn to Riggs because of its treatment philosophy of intensive psychotherapy in an open setting. I wanted to focus on understanding the whole person, and the meaning of behaviors and symptoms—rather than medicating symptoms alone. There I learned to support patient freedom and autonomy, while engaging in collaborative treatment relationships.”
As director of adult services at Menninger in Houston, Texas, Dr. Groat oversaw the care of patients on two units: one for individuals struggling with chronic severe mental illness, the HOPE unit, and the other—Professionals in Crisis—a unit for high achieving individuals facing acute and significant mental health challenges. He chose Menninger because, unlike many acute care settings, it was more committed to taking time to understand the patient; where instead of days, he had several weeks to offer inpatient care—a rare offering in today’s treatment programs.
Dr. Groat is trained in intensive psychotherapy, including psychoanalysis, as well as CBT, mentalizing-based approaches, motivational interviewing and systemic approaches. “What is most important to me, however, is the relationship—not the diagnostic label, the school of therapy, or treatment history. The relationship is central to our work. I believe in meeting people where they are, and in discovering each person’s strengths, vulnerabilities and complexity. I love that at CooperRiis we have the flexibility to meet people at their most desperate and broken moments, and to accompany them in their healing process while also collaboratively discovering meaning and purpose.”
Michael is joined by his family. His nurturing wife, Georgia Nagel, a physician and child psychiatrist by training, also cherishes the strengths of community. Their daughter, Gigi, is a vibrant 4-year old who brings vitality and joy to the Farm where they reside with the residents, volunteers and staff.