A Passion for Helping Others Inspires Howard Slutzky in Life and at JWU

When he was 7 years old, Howard Slutzky, Psy.D., was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia. His parents were told he had about two months to live, but with chemotherapy, radiation and a fighting spirit, they won the battle. Today, Slutzky is giving back by helping others in a meaningful and transformative way.

Slutzky teaching a class recently.

“While I can’t counsel my own students, I intentionally cultivate my courses and their instruction in a manner that is therapeutic, growth-promoting and inspirational. Students often approach me for guidance and support, and at times, a referral to counseling services,” he says.  

While his primary goal has been a career in clinical psychology, Professor Slutzky discovered a passion for teaching during his graduate school years and was instantly hooked. Having been at Johnson & Wales Charlotte Campus since 2006, he has sparked student interest in the field of psychology that has culminated in the creation of a bachelor of science in psychology and master’s program, with 19 enrolled students as part of the 2020 inaugural class. Today, in addition to his normal course load, he teaches Introduction to Professional Issues & Ethics, the first of many program-specific courses in the undergraduate curriculum.

“I’m good at what I do and I have so much to offer. This new program is allowing me to contribute to future therapists and counselors. Students have embraced the opportunity to take more classes due to my teaching styles. I’m not easy, but I’m fair.”

People weren’t always kind to Slutzky. Growing up he was bullied for losing his hair to chemo, and for being physically inactive due to a diagnosis of asthma at age 11. While this prompted a pattern of social anxiety and a fear of revealing his authentic self, he discovered an aptitude for helping others. Sought out for his sensitivity and compassion, Slutzky was an excellent listener, a skill for which he finally felt a sense of personal value. While he didn’t realize it at the time, these early experiences planted the seeds for a career that would change his life, and the lives of others.

Having been in his own therapy at pivotal points throughout his life, Slutzky developed a deep respect for the therapeutic process. “With a heightened sensitivity to issues of depression and social anxiety, as well as the benefits of psychotherapy, I began to more fully appreciate my natural aptitude and passion for helping others.” As a result of several foundational classes during his formative years in college, Slutzky realized his calling to pursue a career in clinical psychology.

As he continued into graduate school, Slutzky gained the support of quality friendships and an exceptional therapist. Within this context, he finally confronted many of the demons from his past, cultivating a level and authenticity and self-growth that served as a powerful catalyst for his personal and professional development.

It was around this time that he began to recognize the therapeutic benefit of exercise, with a commitment to moving beyond the limitations of asthma and a history of cancer. “I started a regular routine of exercise, using the treadmill and elliptical machine to increase my cardiovascular strength.”  Eventually, Slutzky began running, a mode of physical fitness which he described as “primal.” He eventually joined a running group, ran his first 5K, and has been hooked ever since. Inspired to share this passion with others, he recruits his students to participate in 5K races each semester. Extending beyond these smaller races, Slutzky completed his first 10k in April of 2019.

Howard Slutzky with a cow at a farm sanctuary.

In addition to promoting emotional and physical health, he is a strong advocate for animal welfare. Having embraced a plant-exclusive vegan diet more than seven years ago, he promotes student awareness of the humane, environmental, and public health crises associated with the animal agriculture and factory farming industries.

“I take students on field trips to farm animal sanctuaries, vegan restaurants, and culinary demonstrations. I’m not forcing it on them, but I enjoy exposing them to it.”

Slutzky recognizes the therapeutic benefit of exercise.

It was Slutzky’s passion for inspiring others, and his strong commitment to personal health and wellness that helped him cope with what happened in March 2017. A former police officer murdered his sister Elisa, having shot her eight times before killing himself, in her Huntersville, N.C. home.

“This was the worst trauma of my life, but I don’t think anyone could have navigated through it any better. I reached out for help versus hiding. I allowed myself to feel emotion. I wasn’t alone.”

Having adopted a vegan lifestyle at the encouragement of his sister, he honors her memory by inspiring others to adopt a plant-exclusive diet, and through volunteer and donation efforts with farm sanctuaries across the country. Motivated to share her story in writing as well, Howard is currently completing his first solo book, “Sessions: Tales from the Therapy Couch,” a memoir of personal growth and professional experiences.

Slutzky also completed a rim-to-rim hike of the Grand Canyon in May 2017, less than three months after losing his sister. Though initially considering backing out, he decided that his training would be therapeutic. Hitting the trails of Crowder’s Mountain each day after teaching, he connected to his sister spiritually, expressing his love, grief, and regret during each practice hike. “I have learned that the only cure for grief is to grieve, and this gave me a powerful outlet for doing so.”

Slutzky has also maintained a part-time clinical practice throughout his teaching career. "Serving individuals and couples in a therapeutic capacity offers me a deeply rewarding clinical outlet, while reinforcing the clinical relevance of my instruction and program development at Johnson & Wales." 

Between developing a new psychology major and penning a new book, Slutzky is intent on inspiring many audiences in a loving, kind and nonjudgmental way.