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I often paint the story of my life as a series of phenomenal improbabilities.
I was born in what's known as the crossroads of the world — a place where Eastern Europe, Western Asia, & the Middle East gather around a table set by the Caspian Sea in Baku, Azerbaijan.
In 1995, destiny, determination, and dogged belief danced their way together to deliver my family a Green Card in the very first Diversity Visa Lottery in the U.S., catapulting us to another cultural crossroads: New York City.
Growing up in New York provided every flavor of life I could have dreamt of. I was raised on the unique blending of hip-hop, jazz, divinely expressive art, late-night subway pilgrimages, coney island philosophies set aglow, and the grit-filled resolve to make it by any means necessary.
During one of my darkest moments growing up in NY, I was blessed to be found by the two arts that would save my life and offer me a means of deliberately crafting my mind, body, and spirit: Poetry and Martial Arts. I began both writing and training with a fervor to survive — sometimes attending upwards of five classes per day — until my Senseis and Professors were gracious enough to invite me to begin apprenticing and teaching beginner students. This began a lifelong fascination with how intentional instruction, community, and movement could change the trajectory of one's life.
In my early twenties, I departed NY to explore the world beyond the 5 Boroughs. Through the encouragement and guidance of several inspiring individuals, paired with an emerging trust in my own steps, I began to witness life anew emerging amidst every corner, culture, and country.
From sunrise meditations in Southeast Asia to star-swept tapestries across the Saharan skies, I encountered sincerely breathtaking awe time and again, enriching my soul with astonishment and appreciation for the diversity of cultures, values, and customs this world can hold — if we're willing to get out of our own way and truly see what's around and before us.
Upon returning to the U.S., I elected to attain my Master's and Doctorate studies at the University of Denver's Graduate School of Professional Psychology — a program long regarded as one of the most well-rounded, APA-Accredited PsyD (Doctorate of Psychology) training programs.
In Colorado, I not only deepened my immersion in the study and practice of Psychology, but also in Martial Arts and Poetry. I was welcomed into the discipline of Kempo by our late Master Kajana Cetshwayo, who cultivated a deeply loving martial arts family across Denver, Detroit, and beyond.
Additionally, I was profoundly moved by the poetry scene in Colorado, which inspired me to focus my Doctoral Thesis on the Psychological Factors Involved in Spoken Word Poetry. I actually had the honor of presenting my findings at the National Poetry Slam in Denver in 2017, a few weeks before becoming the first Azerbaijani doctoral graduate from the University of Denver.
In the time since, I have worked in a vast array of treatment settings — from innovative neuropsychological rehabilitation centers to Title I rural school complexes; from substance abuse & recovery clinics to community mental health centers; from the oncology departments of national hospitals to the healing wilderness of horticultural, nomadic, and nature-based rites of passage programs — all ranging from Hawai'i to Colorado to North Carolina and New York.
I have also had the privilege of training with some of the foremost leaders in our field, including Dan Seigel, Bessel van der Kolk, Richie Davidson, Jack Kornfield, Tara Brach, Steve Hayes, Carolyn Zeiger, Joanne Steinwachs, Kay Adams, Lorraine Freedle, & Richard Gold.
And I have had the wonderful opportunity to pass along my penchant for curiosity & learning through teaching at various levels of education, ranging from high school to graduate studies.
I have also served on esteemed boards of regional & state psychological associations, and supported several remarkable non-profit organizations and initiatives invested in extending the reaches of accessible health, literacy, and well-being to communities in need.
More recently, I've been supporting innovative digital mental health organizations, developing programming and content, and training teams to destigmatize and democratize mental health.
Yet, more importantly than any of the above accolades or accomplishments, my greatest honor has been sharing in deeply meaningful and transformative moments with individuals, groups, and collectives in times of profound upheaval, unbearable challenge, and awe-inspiring change.
It has been in these moments that I have learned the most about what it means to truly be of service and to honor the unfolding wisdom inherent in each of us and our respective journeys.
These days, I am a licensed Clinical Psychologist in New York and Hawai'i, with a Florida license on the horizon. I also offer coaching and consulting services, respectively. Geographically, I presently split my time between the United States, Europe, & Latin America.
In January of 2023, I made my return to Azerbaijan as a Fulbright Scholar to study the therapeutic elements inherent in traditional Azerbaijani folklore and poetry and to design culturally reverent therapeutic programs for communities in need. This is both a tremendous honor and a deeply fulfilling project, which you may learn more about here.
For more information about my services, as well as my Curriculum Vitae, please take a look below. My deepest thanks to you for being here — and better yet, for being you.
Elnur Gajiev, PsyD
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