Ian Levy is a professor of school counseling at the University of Massachusetts Boston, New York City native, and former High School counselor in the South Bronx. Ian’s research interests include the examination of mental health practices in urban schools, which entails interrogating the role of the school counselor and other school staff to ensure the emotional lives of young people are adequately addressed. Most notably, Dr. Levy piloted the development, implementation, and evaluation of a Hip Hop based counseling framework in urban schools. This particular hip hop therapy program was featured on various news outlets including the New York Times, and CNN. In 2016 Dr. Levy was named the New York State School Counselor of the Year. In his current role as an academic, Dr. Levy remains focused on addressing the multifaceted roles of the school counselor as a not only a direct provider of counseling services, but a counselor educator. As a new professional, Dr. Levy has been recognized as an emerging leader by the Association of Humanistic Counseling. Through his work at UMass Boston, Dr. Levy now engages in the formal training of school counselors in culturally sensitive counseling and pedagogical practices in schools. In his role at UMass Boston, Dr. Levy supervises school counseling interns at 15 schools across Massachusetts. Dr. Levy is a recent recipient of the Joseph P. Healey Research enabling him the funding necessary to construct a studio at a local Boys & Girls Club in Boston where he leads a team of pre-service school counselors in the implementation of a series of hip hop therapy groups.

In 2014 Dr. Levy founded CYPHER (Counseling Youth by Promoting Healthy Emotional Reflection), a small-group framework for school counselors which draws from salient aspects of Hip Hop and Spoken Word Therapy. While the pilot study for CYPHER was explored in his dissertation research, Dr. Levy now works with a bevy of school counselors in New York and Massachusetts to develop, implement, and evaluate of additional instances of the CYPHER program. Dr. Levy remains available to collaborate with other school counselors who wish to engage in this work.

TEDx Teachers College: Hip Hop and Spoken Word Therapy


Thelonious is an example of how Ian has used the lyric writing process as a platform for self-exploration and emotional development. Ian wrote this song as a means to explore thoughts and feelings surrounding a specific life experience. This song was created on a day off from work when Ian found himself feeling particularly lonely and isolated as a result of persistent dedication to both academic and musical endeavors. Coming from a lifestyle where friends and family were always put first, Ian openly admits that he struggles with the fact that he does not devote as much energy to those areas currently. The distance he feels between himself and his friend groups is very real, and something that is hard for him to sit with. Ian concludes that regardless of those guilt-based feelings, he must continue chasing his goals. He hopes, and essentially pleads, that people understand.

CYPHER stands for Counseling Youth by Promoting Healthy Emotional Reflection. It is a workshop which teaches the art of lyric writing as a means to self-expression and emotional development. Pulling from the basic constructs of Hip-hop and Spoken Word Therapy, I believe that once youth are provided with this unique tool to analyze their experiences they will begin to speak more descriptively to their emotional experiences and come to a deeper understanding of who they are, and how they feel.

CYPHER successfully exists as an afterschool program in Harlem and the Bronx. It has also made appearances at select schools in Long Island, as well as the Youth Prevention Summit at Commack HS.

Currently CYPHER is a yearlong program at New Visions Charter High School for the Advanced Math and Sciences II. Working as a high school counselor Ian leads a hip hop group twice a week after school through the lyric writing, recording, and performing process. Each day students discuss differing life experiences, and work to convert those to songs. Ian’s students are in the midst of creating a full length mixtape which will be performed at the end of the 2014-2015 academic year. Ian’s students will be featured at Teachers College, Columbia University for the 7th annual Health Disparities Conference on March 6th-7th. Some of these songs are available below: