South African Elephant Photo by Diane Yapko

Why the Elephant ?

So often people ask me “Why do you have an elephant logo?
Well, here’s the answer…

Many years ago, I was hired as a consultant to the Zoological Society of San Diego, the administrators of the world-famous San Diego Zoo and San Diego Wild Animal Park. The names have since changed since my days there.  Now known as the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, a not-for-profit orgnaization operating the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

I was told that elephants are a highly endangered species and that it was vital to their survival to be able to breed them at specially adapted facilities like the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park.  Managing elephants can be a dangerous task, and the organization wanted their trainers and keepers to be safe in working around the elephants. I was asked to apply the insights and methods regarding peak human performance and effective learning that I routinely used in my clinical practice with the elephant trainers and keepers at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

In doing so, I had the opportunity to work extensively and directly with the elephants themselves. When I could elicit the kinds of behaviors in them that the experienced trainers had, then I could develop a learnable sequence for effective elephant management for new trainers and keepers joining the program. It was a life-changing experience for me, and I have been passionate about elephants and animal conservation ever since. My unique experience at the Safari Park demonstrated clearly that many of the skills that I have used in working with clients are effective well beyond the boundaries of a therapy office. During this incredible experience, I developed a deep and abiding love for these magnificent creatures, one that endures to this day.

Another reason that the elephant was chosen for the logo is because of what elephants do – they are special in their ability to shape their environment, building trails through dense forest and creating open spaces. This is a metaphor of sorts for my work, in that I emphasize the importance of developing skills to help people utilize their strengths to shape their own environments and create possibilities.

Last, but not least, elephants are invariably considered “the good guys” in all the fables and stories handed down over the centuries. They are a symbol of integrity. No story comes to mind where an elephant was characterized as evil. The qualities that the elephant represents are entirely consistent with what I want me and my work to represent: intelligence, strength, endurance, loyalty, strong social bonds, and an excellent memory so the skills that I teach are remembered!

The specific photo in my logo was a picture taken by my wife, Diane, while we were on safari in Botswana. It therefore has a special and personal meaning for us.

If you are interested in the work I did with elephants, please click on the link below. It will take you to an article I wrote about my experience at the San Diego Safari Park. The article was originally published in an Australian magazine called Psychotherapy in Australia.

Michael between 2 elephants