A Community of Heart Profile: Mark Dworkin



If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am not for others, what am I?
And if not now, when?
    -Rabbi Hillel (30 BCE to 10 CE)

To Mark Dworkin, relationship is the organizing principle around which he conducts his life. What has been important to Mark from his earliest days in the Bronx to his current life experience as a husband, father, friend, and engaging professional is his ability to sit and relate to the person with whom he shares space.

Mark grew up as “a Bronx boy” from Van Cortlandt Park. He lived in the post-holocaust era of the ‘50’s where many of the parents of his friends were survivors of the holocaust. All around him, he heard the raw stories of the people who had endured tragedy, death and despair and when he attended Hebrew School classes 4 days a week, he heard the ancient stories of the same type of events.

Out of his understanding of his Jewish tradition, his ideas concerning his own moral compass grew into a sense of social responsibility to all people. He thought that because his people suffered, no one should suffer. He took his stand with others throughout the turbulent years of the 60’s and 70’s against the oppression of racism, sexism, the war of the time and the military-industrial complex. He spoke up and in door-to-door conversations. He used his considerable gift of relating to talk about the issues that he held close to his heart.

He recalls with a sense of humility and clarity canvassing the northeast Bronx. One afternoon, after a long conversation with one of his traditional pro-Nixon Italian neighbors, Mark convinced him to sign a petition to end the bombing in North Vietnam through the Hatfield-McGovern amendment! He designates this experience as the root of his understanding of the power of the relational and his own ability to connect and influence others.

His early life was difficult. His father was a moving picture projectionist who worked for the union 5 days a week, going wherever they needed him to go. This caused a great deal of unpredictability in his father’s work that was reflected in the household. His mother was a homemaker and worked very hard inside the home to care for her family. His maternal grandmother lived with them and he shared a room with her until he was 11, when he moved into the living room. She had come to America from Poland where she had lost her entire family. She received reparations from the German government that allowed his family to make ends meet. As a result of his parents’ own difficulties, he endured the shunning and physical abuse that they applied on a regular basis. They did not understand that by chronically traumatizing him, they inhibited his emotional and intellectual growth, teaching him to subsume his own emotions and become subservient.

It was in relationship with his peers that he learned to soothe the wounds of his parents. Out in the street, he found the young men with whom he fit: they were not the smartest nor were they the toughest guys nor were they those who frequented the drug culture. They were the guys on the left who were concerned about social justice. Mark is proud to say that he continues to be in touch and regularly meet with 10 of his friends from the neighborhood. His social group helped to shape the man who he has become.

When he was 12 years old, he had another decisive experience that helped shape the course his life would take. At Hebrew School, one of the students put another student’s hand through a window. Mark could not understand what made someone so angry that he would behave in such a way. It was a puzzle to him that caused him to become curious about the seeming unpredictability of human behavior. Already having some innate understanding of the complexity of people and their actions, Mark felt sorry for both of them and made his first attempt at counseling them.

In 1970, Mark moved to Boston to major in Psychology and attend Boston University. It was here that he made another one of his life-long friends, Josh Ritterer. Since both of them were influenced by the road adventures of Jack Kerouac, in 1973, they got into their 1961 Volkswagon bug and were “on the road.” They landed up in California watching the sun go down on the Pacific Ocean and renting an apartment one mile from the famous Golden Gate Park where Francine Shapiro would -in the next decade- take her famous walk in the park.

His first job in Burlingame, California was at the Peninsula Hospital as a mental health aide on a psychiatric ward. It was here that he learned that mental illness and politics went hand and hand, and, he had a chance to observe close up the many different ways that professionals engage each other both positively and negatively.

By 1974, he traveled back to New York. His parents had moved to Florida and so he moved in with his Aunt Lillian and Uncle Morris. In 1975, he got a job at the Bronx Veterans Administration Medical Center as a psychotherapist. It was in this setting that he first felt that he began to serve his country. He learned again the devastating affects of another war; this time it was the war in Vietnam.

In a series of events that occurred while the new VA was being built, Mark learned how devastating and long-lasting PTSD really was. The problem was –as every schoolboy from the Bronx knew- that there was granite below where the builders were laying the new foundation. As a result, they had to use dynamite. Mark would be working and hear the two alert whistles that gave him time to prepare the Vets for the blast. He would remind them again and again that they were safe, who he was and where they were. What became obvious to him is that none of this preparation mattered because when the blast went off, each man and woman did whatever he/she needed to do to take care of him/herself. The blast had reactivated the trauma filled days and nights of their collective tours of duty. As Mark framed it, “I saw the power of PTSD up close and personal and the relational was not sufficient.”

In 1975, he took Group Therapy Training at the Bronx VA Medical Center and in 1976 began an MA in Rogerian Counseling at Lehman College, one mile from the VA. Although he learned a great deal and this program was formative in helping him understand the importance of unconditional positive regard, congruency and empathy, he wanted a more rigorous course of study. Through his work with Dr. William Frederick Orr, he learned how important good supervision was in the formative years of a young therapist. Dr. Orr was the main person responsible for convincing Mark to do graduate work in Social Work and he decided to further his studies at the Columbia University School of Social Work.

Mark’s work with 3 experts in Group Dynamics, Alex Gitterman, Rene Solomon and Irv Miller, enabled him to appreciate the power of community and formulate his practice based on the importance of community.

He completed his Masters in Social Work in 1980 while working as the Director of the Illness Adjustment Program at the Bronx VA Medical Center where he remained in this capacity until 1986. During this time, he was by Laura Perls and Isadore From trained him in Gestalt Therapy. He found that the discipline of study was its greatest asset as was the supervision. In 1987, he was awarded a Certificate of Psychoanalysis from the Manhattan Institute for Psychoanalysis.

By 1986, he became Director of the Mental Health Consultation Services also at the Bronx VA Medical Center, a position that he held for one year. At the time, he was doing the work of a Section Chief, a position ordinarily filled by psychiatrists, but he was paid a Social Worker’s salary. After some thought, and 12 years of working at the VA, Mark decided that since the bureaucracy would not change their policy for him, he would go into private practice.

During this new era, Mark met Uri Bergmann and David Grand. Here were two men with whom he bonded concerning the practice of Social Work. They became active in the Society for Clinical Social Work in New York, the Nassau County Chapter. Mark was the President of the Society from 1991-1991. In this capacity, Mark ran the Society’s meetings once a month, supervised the committees and attended the State Board Meetings. In light of the theme of the continuing importance of the relational in Mark’s life, his work in the Society fostered his important friendship with Uri. Subsequently, this great friendship turned into a business partnership in 1992 that included Don Cornelius and E. Johnson Levinson.

In 1990, Mark was asked to form the Managed Care Committee for this Society and he became a national expert in managed behavioral healthcare. He was an invited speaker to the Psychotherapy Finances conference and was the type of speaker that people stayed in the room for even though it was the Sunday afternoon at the end of the conference!

Ever enthusiastic of the possibility of connection, Mark attempted to achieve the daunting task of a marriage between the business and healthcare world. This new business with Uri et al was an attempt to realize this vision. However, it proved to be an impossible task and they ended the practice.

His friendship with Uri is responsible for Mark becoming interested in EMDR and, in 1991, at the Employee Assistance Professional Association (EAPA) meeting, Uri threw two papers at him and said definitively, “Read these! They might mean something.” The two papers were the 1989a and 1989b papers by a woman named Francine Shapiro.

Mark’s quintessential EMDR story occurred that same night after he read the papers. One of his patients arrived at her session very shaken after witnessing a man jump to his death in front of a train. She saw his body parts flying up in the air and she could not get this image out of her head. Mark knew his patient to be a stable and calm person but this night she was distraught. He told her about the papers that he had read earlier in the day and she agreed to let him work with her in this new modality. He read the procedural steps outline from the articles and began the treatment. After two hours, his patient left and slept the entire night! Mark Dworkin was hooked on EMDR!

Uri and David had similarly powerful experiences and all three of them became very interested in EMDR. They talked and practiced it together. In 1993, a man bicycled over from Manhattan to an EAPA breakfast. It was William Zangwill who encouraged them to attend the EMDR Institute training and they did.

In 1995, Mark convinced them to join him in traveling to Malibu for a Facilitator training and that year became Facilitators for the EMDR Institute. When Francine found out that he was an Expert in Managed Care, she asked him to help the Institute get EMDR accepted by the managed care companies. Mark had become burnt out concerning managed care and had no interest in interacting further with these types of groups. However, after Francine walked him around the block and listened to all of the struggles that he went through, she asked him the important question: “What about the people who do not get therapy without insurance.” This struck at the core of Mark’s belief in social responsibility and he became the Founder of the Healthcare Committee for EMDRIA from 1995-2001.

As a Facilitator, Mark has learned many lessons on leadership and professionalism. He said the following:

“By being responsible for the learning needs of 9-10 people during the afternoon trainings, I saw myself as the leader of a small community with agreed upon shared goals and tasks to achieve those goals. That contract of working with the participants heavily influenced my thinking on the collaborative working alliance – a centerpiece in the therapeutic relationship in EMDR.”

It was at this time, that he began his personal and professional quest to influence Francine Shapiro to elaborate the therapeutic relationship. He began a book that he completed over the course of 3 years. The book had become a burning passion of Mark’s as so many people had misconceptions over what the therapeutic relationship meant. His main thesis in “EMDR and the Relational Imperative: The Therapeutic Relationship in EMDR Treatment (Routledge, 2005) is the following:

“There are two people in the room each influencing each other in non-linear, inter-subjective ways (i.e., What ego states of mine are influencing what ego states of yours?) The relationship is important in that it facilitates the procedural work; When state dependent memory becomes activated in the clinician, we call it counter-transference. When it becomes activated in the client directed toward the clinician, we call it transference. There are specialized ways of identifying these moments and interpersonal strategies to make the experience even deeper.”

His wife, Laurie, supported him during this difficult time of writing his book. Part of his struggle was with his mother’s declining health. She became ill during this and her great joy was walking around with the title page of her son’s book in her hands. Sadly, she died 8 months before his book came out. His book, “EMDR and the Relational Imperative: The Therapeutic Relationship in EMDR Treatment” was released in September 2005.

Another aspect of Mark’s EMDR experience was his 2001-2004 term on the EMDRIA Board. Again, what Mark valued most was the importance of the friendships that he made while on the Board. Although it was a chore having to read books on Board governance, Rosalie Thomas’ wisdom and steady persistence enabled the transformation of the running of EMDRIA’s Board and allowed for it to be at a very high level. He speaks with great fondness for all of the relationships he made with fellow Board Members and Scott Blech and the EMDRIA staff.

Never to rest for too long, in March 2005, Mark made the famous trek to the Sea Ranch and began his study to be a trainer with Kathy Davis (USA), Isabel Fernandez (Italy) and Michael Paterson (Ireland). During the course of the trip, Mark’s days as a NYC taxicab driver came to the rescue when half way up the coast road the brakes of the car stopped working. Without a word, until after the trip was completed, Mark traveled 50 miles of treacherous coastal roads with sheer drops with no functioning brake! Good training for becoming an EMDR trainer!

He found that the beginning of his trainer’s training was “an incredibly rich experience filled with great learning and great comraderie with a special positive cognition only known to the participants.” He is completing this training in 2006 and will become an official HAP trainer.

Recently, he has begun to teach workshops nationally and internationally concerning relational strategies with difficult clients, the therapeutic relationship, counter-transference and EMDR from the heart. What most excites Mark is to help people learn how the relationship impacts on the therapeutic experience as he believes it is the complement to all the procedures, protocols and processes that occur during EMDR. John Norcross, in his book “Psychotherapy Relationships that Work” (2002, Oxford Press) wrote that “It is the combination of procedure with relationship that may make for the best outcome.”

When asked what he wanted to say to the EMDR community, he stated the following:

“The most important message I can give is to echo Dr. Shapiro’s commitment that the highest goal of EMDR is to end the cycle of violence and to never forget that. Also, participate in HAP. It is not about me or you, it is about the work and to make contributions to HAP so that we can do this work.”

Mark is in the process of transitioning his practice from East Meadow, Long Island to the northwest corner of Connecticut in Torrington. He has a loving relationship with his wife, Laurie, of 23 years and is the proud father of their sons: Matthew who is a Junior at the University of Vermont and their son, Hal, who will be starting Penn State in the School of Journalism.

We in the EMDR community have all learned about the importance of the relational from Mark. We are forever indebted to him for his unceasing work to forward the importance of the learning, teaching and practicing of EMDR. We hope that he is with us for a long time for his friendship, his warmth, his courage and his interest. Thank you, Mark.


“A Community of Heart Profile: Mark Dworkin,” Francine Shapiro Library, accessed October 26, 2020, https://emdria.omeka.net/items/show/7651.

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