While sitting on a surprisingly comfy modern sofa inside a patient suite at Williamsburg Therapy Group, I enjoyed a tranquil view of a quiet stretch of Grand St obscured by tropical plants in neatly arranged terra cotta pots. I noticed stacks of books on the window sill with titles that referred to the psychology of African American families, Racial Oppression and the US Prison System – not the population of patients I imagined served by this practice.
I wasn’t there for therapy but to finally meet one of Greenpointers’ first and loyal advertisers. Daniel Selling, Director of Williamsburg Therapy Group, greeted me – smiling in a sharp suit despite a hectic work day. It was no surprise it took us so long to meet, this guy is very busy!
When Daniel isn’t running the practice that includes a full staff of Psychologists, a Psychiatrist and serves over 100 patients in North Brooklyn, he works at what he described as “an awesome career” as the Director of Mental Health for the NYC Jail System. (Oh and he just had a baby! Well, his wife did.)
Working with such diverse communities requires balance, perspective and compassion, all qualities clearly embodied by Daniel, but it was his passion for the oppressed and his interest in poverty and racism very early on that carries him daily from his polished Brooklyn practice all the way to Rikers Island where he oversees the mental health treatments of over 15,000 prisoners.
“I remember always rooting for the underdog, even as a kid,” Daniel said, who has been working in the prison system for over 14 years.
While he would hesitate to say it was all “meant to be,” he admitted that every door opened up for him on his path. After receiving a doctorate at the California School of Professional Psychology, his first work experience was at the San Francisco County Jail. This led him to Rikers Island as a Psychologist, then to Ward’s Island, a state facility for the criminally insane, then back to Rikers where he is in his current position “shaping big policy,” and making decisions that impact the lives of many people who are on the unfortunate side of the racial divide in the US, a cultural phenomenon that is magnified within the prison system.
But working on policy within the bureaucracy that is the NYC Prison System takes him away from working directly with patients, which takes us to Williamsburg Therapy Group, a practice he founded over 2 years ago.
“I was missing that intimate connection with people,” he explained.
I asked whether working with a criminal population, people with serious problems, makes the issues of people like myself seem pale and superficial. But for Daniel whether you have major distress from being in prison for over 30 years or you are too anxious to speak in a meeting at your corporate job, “pain is pain. It’s all real. It’s all relevant to me.”
Besides, he said it’s “nice to work with a healthier population,” where he finds satisfaction in observing progress in his patients faster as compared to that in an “insurmountable system” that is jail.
Daniel has been in Williamsburg 9 years and said, “I truly love it. It is part of my identity,” but he does notice the increasing polarization of communities here, too.
“I’m part of that change,” he admitted, “People here are older, there are more strollers, more babies, less artists and musicians.”
When he opened the practice he knew there was a need for mental health services but didn’t realize how great of a need there was, which is why his practice has grown so quickly. The practice specializes in relationships, couples and family therapy, anxiety and depression, severe emotional conditions, like bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia as well as addiction.
Substance abuse treatment is an area of expertise for Daniel after he created the largest jail-based substance abuse treatment program in the country.
“So many people are addicted to heroin,” he said. One of his future goals is to create a substance abuse practice in North Brooklyn for the underserved community here.
Does everyone need therapy? Daniel doesn’t think so.
Some people are happy and not introspective. Could everyone benefit from therapy? Yes. Therapy is a spiritual journey – you engaged with yourself to constantly be more comfortable and get past fears and worries and live a harmonious existence.
Although New York City is not one of the easiest places to live a harmonious existence Daniel said that “NYers are nice, kind and generous.”
Here’s Daniel take on the mental health of this big city where stress is palpable and how to deal:
It is one of the most competitive stressful and expensive places. The first thing people ask is “What do you do?” It’s about making an impression and earning. People want to be here. They want to make it, so their is a unique stress here.
Find things you love to do. Find your passion. Connect with things you enjoy. Extricate yourself from competition. Don’t compare yourself to others, which you are imagining and is the ultimate form of suffering … Don’t be or appear to be so busy. Put away your phones and devices and have real experiences. Be with people.
It was an insightful experience to finally meet Daniel Selling in his Williamsburg Therapy office and learn about the fascinating worlds of psychology he has immersed himself plus get some useful tips on how to live happily in this hectic city.
And as as service to our readers (as if his crew doesn’t already have so much to do) – Daniel and his team of mental health professionals are graciously accepting questions for our advice column – so anonymously ask away!
Williamsburg Therapy Group
contact (at) williamsburgtherapygroup.com
38 Grand St
Brooklyn, NY 11249