Dr. Ofer Zur is the Founding Director of ZurInstitute,Inc. Through his vocation as a teacher, writer and psychotherapist, Dr. Zur aims to improve the life of individuals and their cultural subtext by supporting the cultivation of their health, well-being, and sense of meaning in the world. Dr. Zur’s personal and professional lives are like a woven tapestry of boundaries: faced, challenged, and crossed. As a man who thrives on extreme adventures, including climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, scuba diving into the “Blue Hole” (a.k.a. the “Diver’s Cemetery“) in the Red Sea, or driving motorcycles in the Himalayas, thrilled to test his physical and emotional limits, he also passionately questions “truths” and unquestioned assumptions in the field of mental health. Resisting the prospect of living confined in “intellectual dogmatic boxes,” he wrote five books and over a hundred articles, holding a vision that goes well beyond traditional theories and practices. For example, he challenged commonly held beliefs on issues of victimhood and brought light to the victim industry; he questioned traditional ways of viewing enemies in The Psychology Of Enmity; he explored the perception of men’s aggressiveness in contrast with women’s inherent peacefulness; and he disputed the notion that death is a “failure.”
Born and raised in Israel, Dr. Zur now lives in Northern California with his wife, the mother of 2 of his children: Eitan, a paramedic sailing the world and Ilan who is currently attending Law School. His daughter, Azzia, a black belt in Aikido, helped editing Dr. Zur’s first book. Dr. Zur also has two step children, Jeremy and Suzannah.
Dr. Tzur’s Hebrew name, Ofer Tzur, reveals his story of origin: a story exposing and embracing contradictions and wholeness. “Ofer,” referring to a gentle and graceful fawn, appears in his name as a complementary contrast to “Tzur,” meaning hard rock, pointing to firmness and rigorousness. Dr. Zur’s parents also held the tension of these opposites: his father, a Hungarian Jew, was a man with a gentle soul who worked as a labor organizer. His mother, a German Jew, was a psychologist with a rigorous and a curious intellect. They were very different people but both found their calling in a fierce dedication to social justice concerns and in a commitment to ‘doing good’.
As a young boy, dinner times with family were often devoted to conversations about the good deeds that each one had done that day, discussions involving the ideas of great ones such as Martin Buber and Rollo May, or to meditations on justice, integrity, compassion, and peace. These values, he was taught, were to be honored regardless of how popular they were and regardless of consequences. His mother, for example, advocated for Arab women’s rights in the 40’s, a very unpopular position at the time. Dr. Zur’s mother also worked hard to help the unemployed and treat the addicted, to assist the poor and support the underprivileged–never charging for anything. When Dr. Zur and his sister asked her to please slow down, she said: “I’m not going to slow down. Trees die erect. They don’t bend down to the ground. They die standing up. I would like to die erect.” Indeed, her gravestone reads the way she did die “Trees Die Erect.”
During his mandated army service in Israel, Dr. Zur continuously stood at the threshold of mental, physical, and emotional frontiers, including standing at the edge of an airplane’s open door thousands of feet above ground about to jump-parachute out, standing at the margins of a crater created in the sand only seconds before by an exploding bomb, deciding whether to jump in as he was taught or follow his emotions and run away to save his life. Standing at the edge of knowledge and approaching the limits of what is known, again and again, led Dr. Zur to develop a keen eye and a deep sense of attunement toward thresholds, and with it, a standpoint that examines commonly accepted truths, challenges unquestioned beliefs, and supports the breakdown of limited systems of knowledge.
His personal odyssey vis-à-vis thresholds and limits intertwined with the legacy left by his parents of critical thinking and a devotion to benefiting society have been significant influences on Dr. Zur’s prolific writing on boundaries. Issues he has covered include: confronting oversimplifying assumptions that dual-relationships or multiple-relationships are always avoidable, unethical, and detrimental to the mental health client; questioning notions that engaging in bartering and gift exchange with one’s clients is always unethical; challenging the understanding that all types of touch between clients and therapists are unethical or perpetually at the edge of a “slippery slope”; and bringing inquiry into the belief that therapy is always better served in the controlled environment of the office, while encouraging therapists to provide, when appropriate, out-of-office therapeutic experiences to their client.
After living through the intensity and insanity encountered in the army and in war experiences, Dr. Zur chose his first career as an Oceanographer and Limnologist, which took him far from verbal and emotional landscapes. There, in his work with fish and in the tranquility of deep-sea dives next to the exquisite coral reefs in the Red Sea, he found peace. Temporary peace. During the Yom Kippur war in 1973, Dr. Zur was injured. He left part of his leg buried in Egypt. Part of his heart was left there too. He returned to Oceanography and to deep-sea diving, seeking the peace from his past but without much success. It was time to go home. He searched for peace and adventure in East Africa, where he travelled, drove safaris and studied ways local natives could benefit from growing fish in small, family size fish ponds. Later on he continued to conduct fish research by the Sea of Galilee in Israel. Ironically, going home ultimately meant leaving Israel and starting a new career in California practicing psychotherapy and counseling, as well as writing and teaching on wide variety of mental health therapeutic and social issues.
Helping people love, heal, and live more creatively and meaningfully was his calling, his life’s work. He initially focused on Social Psychology, exploring the psychology of peace and war, psychology of gender, and psychology of victims. His consulting and psychotherapy practice later expanded to include tending to issues of infidelity & affairs, domestic violence, teen violence, psychology of the web, ethics, chronic mental illness, chronic brain disorders, and more. Considering clinical flexibility as a key to successful clinical work, Dr. Zur became skillful in a vast array of approaches and techniques, including existential, cognitive-behavioral, humanistic, developmental, psychodynamic, and psycho-educational. Dr. Zur’s practice has focused on health, wellness and living a meaningful life rather than pathology and disease, emphasizing the importance of integrating body, mind and soul in the process of healing.
According to Dr. Zur:
Health is a life lived intentionally, morally, with acceptance of what is, with compassion, with personal meaning and connection to other people, and thoughtful attention to one’s body-mind-spirit, as well as to one’s community and the world.
When looking at the many dangerous adventures that Dr. Zur has had, including ice-climbing and camping on glaciers, riding motorcycles on the highest rideable roads in the Himalayas, and jungle trekking in the Rainforest in Malaysia, one may think that these choices are expressions of a “death defying” personality. Dr. Zur, however, sees them as profound opportunities to look death straight in the eye, which consequentially creates a deeper sense of intimacy with death. And ultimately, with life itself.
When he was only 19 years old, Dr. Zur found himself holding a soldier’s dead body. As a combat officer, he saw the face of death for the first time. It was the dawn of a new consciousness. In that moment, he had a non-conceptual understanding of life’s preciousness and unpredictability and how vital it is to live each day fully, with integrity, as if it were our last day on earth. At the end of a war in 1973, Dr. Zur had one of his first experiences, with many to follow, choosing to look death straight in the eye. He and another officer friend were standing on a heavily bombarded bridge over the Suez Canal. They didn’t run for their lives. In fact they came to a complete stop and sarcastically argued about who was going to put a wreath on whose grave. He wasn’t afraid. War developed in him a high tolerance, which has lasted to this day, of knowing that death could take him any time.
At the age of 50 Dr. Zur had the opportunity to cross himself the boundary between life and death, when he had a heart attack and a full cardiac arrest that lasted over 90 seconds. He often jokingly tells the story of how disappointed he felt that he was cheated by death because he neither saw the light at the end of the tunnel nor God. “It was a truly wasted opportunity,” he says. But he did take this event to heart. This experience, along the other moments where he touched or was touched by death, increased his vigor, attention, and presence toward what he is doing in the moment. He asks himself daily, “Ofer, this may be your last day. How do you want to live this last day?” It is his way of life.
After many years of teaching live workshops nationally and internationally and writing several books and over a hundred articles and book chapters, Dr. Zur, with the help of his web master, Ms. Deborah Porter, became one of the pioneers in the field of online education programming. He saw the potential in creatively spreading knowledge and providing mental health providers with courses needed to fulfill pre-licensure course requirements and continuing education credits courses for licensure renewal requirements. Like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, scaling the Himalayas with a motorcycle, or jumping from planes, Dr. Zur took on the challenge of online education and he successfully developed an institution that, to date, has served dozens of thousands of psychotherapists, MFT’s, social workers, and counselors all over the United States and, in fact, the world.