PLATTSBURGH — Serving people is a privilege, says Harry Cook.
“It’s all about learning how to solve problems,” said the president and CEO of Behavioral Health Services North. “We all have problems and issues we struggle with in life.”
After spending a career delving into some of the most personal and painful aspects of people’s lives, examining mental illness and dysfunction and working toward healing people, Cook
Cook is retiring from his role at BHSN.
“I am turning 66 and this is demanding,” he said. “I am not getting enough exercise, and I love the outdoors.
“I want to take a breather and rebalance my life.”
BHSN has over 14 sites which comprise its 25 programs and is a leader in the North Country in providing behavioral healthcare for children, adults, families and organizations.
Cook, passionate about social studies, history, archaeology and anthropology, majored in sociology at Penn State, graduating while the Vietnam War, which he was against, raged on.
Cook joined what is today Americorps and drove to New York City to volunteer in East Harlem amid much political chaos and dissent. He worked with a small group organizing tenants to purchase the building they lived in.
Cook worked on the project for a year, spending time on a violent block and also delving into healthcare organizing.
Next, Cook worked in a maximum security psychiatric hospital as a rehabilitation therapist.
“That was a great experience.”
The population included individuals who had committed horrific acts, as well as inmates who became mentally ill while serving time in prison.
He became interested in mental health and attended Rutgers, earning a master’s degree in social work within a clinical program.
Cook became one of the early people to get involved with cognitive and behavioral therapy.
He completed an internship in Newark during riots and found himself a “drop of white in a bucket of black.”