Our Story

In 2002, Dr. Susan Swim, after decades as a professor, author, theorist, international educator, researcher, and supervisor in the field of marriage and family therapy, moved to California from Texas and started a position on the faculty of Loma Linda University. Previously, she had always worked in social constructionism. All of her academic and clinical work focused on post modern family therapy and colleagues were postmodern theorists, educators, and clinicians passionate about healing underserved populations without using “deficiency” models to describe people and how they suffer in terms of disorders. In today’s mental health fields unfortunately people are described through labels when the symptoms are often due to trauma and healing occurs within the client and their community (family members, support systems and even the legal systems).

She remembers talking with Lynn Hoffman, a keynote speaker at the annual American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy conference who, after surveying the agenda, asked me why there was so much focus on pathology versus trauma and relational family therapy using the lens of relationships, not individual pathology. Unfortunately, every seminar at the conference pointed to something wrong in the individual and then proposed a theory and treatment plan that could make that individual as normal as possible so they could survive their diagnosis.

But then, in 2007, I received an email from a colleague that talked about doing therapy with horses. That gave me an idea, and at the urging of my international colleagues, I decided to open a postmodern institute where I could practice therapy, teach, do research, and supervise clinicians as I had previously done for decades in Texas. Dr. Swim had also grown up with horses and her strong connections with her family and community came with horses. So, Dr. Swim brought all her current master’s level students and a handful of PhDs from the university to a horse ranch in California, and they created the Now I See A Person Institute (NISAPI): Healing Underserved Populations Using Community Engagement: A Collaborative Recovery Model (CEACRM). From that first day services were different for both client and therapist. The process was egalitarian in a normal and nurturing environment where clients freely spoke of pain and symptoms and collaboratively with their therapist found hope and change.

The name as well as the philosophy of our new nonprofit emerged from the experiences of one of her young students. Dr. Swim had told her during a practicum session, “I hate my client,” and Dr. Swim was surprised she felt safe enough to use those words. She recalled the words of collaborative therapy pioneers and colleagues Harry Goolishian, Harlene Anderson and Tom Anderson, who said, “When we do not like our clients, it has to do with us as a therapist, and not a client, we were holding prejudice to our clients….”
In the next practicum session, Dr. Swim asked the student how things were going with this client that she did not like. And she said, “The client I hated is now my most beloved.” Dr. Swim replied, “Let’s get this on tape.” For the next hour and a half, the class learned about this student’s journey. During her interview, she kept repeating that for the first time in 10 sessions, she had left the treatment plans, diagnosis, and progress notes outside the door and walked in with an open heart. And for the first time, she saw a “person” in front of her. She did not see the treatment plan, which was hers, not the client’s, and she could genuinely listen and attempt to understand the pain and suffering that the client was going through.

It is amazing what happens when the therapist and client both see each other as people. A collaborative relationship evolves wherein the client takes charge – sometimes for the first time in their treatment and their lives. 

We are a not for profit organization giving people along with their families and community an opportunity for a safe space to work collaboratively and find meaningful ways to heal. We especially have success with those clients who unfortunately have lengthy histories of trauma, and past experiences with hospitalizations, therapies, and psychiatric interventions which did not aid. At NISAPI all clients are seen with their families, communities of support (including social workers, lawyers or others who can aid in healing). All learn to see themselves as people and not a diagnosis that may have labeled or limited them in the past. Our clients report in our decades of research that what we do is treat them as a person and the key to our success is our staff of genuine, caring therapists where each client and family member or support system receives a team effort, where all voices are heard and honored, and our equine co-therapists who are petted and embraced by those suffering when sharing their stories of trauma find their symptoms dissipating—it is not sitting on a couch therapy, our environment of normalcy, nature and nurturance, and NISAPI theoretical orientation of CEACRM leads to long lasting change (Meyers, Priest, Mikawa, Zilifyan, &Swim, 2017, Swim, Stephan, Abramovitch & Stone, 2017, Swim, Abramovitch & Stone, 2018, Abramovitch, Wilson & Kadler 2021, Swim, 2021).  We also provide an opportunity for clinicians and trainees to learn about CEACRM and the meaningful outcomes that can result for people as well as engaging and learning alongside our International colleagues. Excerpts taken from Mad in America (January 2021) Now I See  A Person: A New Model for Breaking Fee of Mental Heath Labels.