Dr. Michael Groat named new CooperRiis executive director

Published 10:00 pm Friday, January 6, 2017

Dr. Michael Groat, new executive director of the CooperRiis Healing Community in Mill Spring, lives with his wife Georgia and their 4-year-old daughter Gigi on the farm at CooperRiis. (Photo submitted by Michael Groat)

Dr. Michael Groat, new executive director of the CooperRiis Healing Community in Mill Spring, lives with his wife Georgia and their 4-year-old daughter Gigi on the farm at CooperRiis. (Photo submitted by Michael Groat)

Groat talks about his attraction to community-based healing and outreach

MILL SPRING – The CooperRiis Healing Community is starting 2017 with Dr. Michael Groat as its new executive director.

CooperRiis’ former executive director, Virgil Stucker, announced his retirement in July 2016. The CooperRiis Board of Directors elected Groat in October unanimously, according to Stucker. Stucker said he would remain on the CooperRiis team part-time to help with fundraising and outreach.

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Groat now lives with his wife Georgia and 4-year-old daughter Gigi in Mill Spring on the farm at CooperRiis. The Mill Spring campus is a 94-acre working farm dedicated to offering hope and healing to adults who struggle with complex mental health issues. CooperRiis also has an Asheville campus.

A New York native, Groat is a psychologist who served as a former clinical leader at Houston’s Menninger Clinic, an inpatient psychiatric hospital, for nine years.

“It is so clear to me that the science of mental health yields its best outcomes when a person with mental illness can experience their recovery within a therapeutic community,” Groat said. “At CooperRiis, individuals can take the time they need to recover while being cared for by a community of staff and peers. I believe the synergy of extended time, a healing community and deeply respectful care is transformative.”

A published author on topics ranging from addictions to personality assessments, Groat received his master’s degree in student affairs and administration from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio and his doctorate in counseling psychology from the State University of New York in Albany.

“I began my career at a state psychiatric hospital in New York, and while I was there I realized that people who are struggling with mental illness do best when they have a sense of belonging and are part of a community,” Groat explained.

Groat continued his education by completing a four-year advanced fellowship in psychodynamic psychotherapy at the Austen Riggs Center in Stockbridge, Mass.

“I went there and did advanced training for a few reasons, one of which is I wanted to be part of a therapeutic community that was intentional and worked in an intentional way on a daily basis to foster relationships,” Groat said. “I wanted to assist people in developing more understanding of themselves and others. My experience there looked at understanding the person first and the identified diagnosis became secondary.”

Groat said Stucker asked him to consider becoming executive director in July as Groat and CooperRiis established a relationship while he was at the Menninger Clinic. Nurturing and protecting the mission statement of CooperRiis is something Groat said he would continue doing for the community.

“I’ve had an ongoing relationship with CooperRiis and Virgil reached out to me in July of last year to notify me that he was planning to step down as executive director,” Groat explained. “I had referred several people to CooperRiis as I was working at the Menninger Clinic and had a chance to meet Lisbeth Cooper (founder of CooperRiis) a few years back. My family and I thought about it and were very open to it, and I came here in August to meet the staff and residents here and in Asheville.”

CooperRiis Board Chairman Donald Cooper said he and his wife Lisbeth were “relieved” Groat could continue to shepherd the mission of CooperRiis, adding the process of finding a new director created “anxious moments.” The couple founded the community in 2003.

“Lisbeth and I have poured our hearts, souls and resources into CooperRiis,” Cooper said. “After getting to know Michael and his family, we are so relieved and happy that someone of Michael’s caliber and ability has agreed to join us.”

Outside of work, Groat said he enjoys being outdoors and spending time with his family. He added he has dabbled in acting and poetry classes in an effort to expand his knowledge.

In high school, Groat said he wanted to become a teacher and mayor of his town of Schenectady, N.Y. While at the Menninger Clinic, Groat was an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Baylor College of Medicine.

“The things that are important to CooperRiis are the things that I share like taking the time to get to know people and connect and engage with them,” Groat said, “as well as forming a human connection and knowing people as fellow humans instead of knowing people through diagnostic labels. The strength-based approach, knowing people through their strengths, even when illness may obscure them, really stood out to me.”