DU Graduate Student Finds Inspiration From His Father
Living the American dream. The expression has become somewhat clichéd—until you meet someone who personifies its meaning.
Sepehr Mousakhani, who is known to his friends and family as Moose, is a student at the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Professional Psychology (GSPP). Next month, he will graduate with his master’s degree in international disaster psychology (IDP), which is far from what he envisioned as a kid growing up in Hamadan, Iran, one of the world's oldest cities.
When Moose was 7 years old, his father, who was a successful businessman, delivered on a promise he made to his wife. “When they married, my dad promised they would one day move to the U.S.,” Moose says. “The motivation was the opportunities and the freedom that the United States offers.”
In 2002, Moose, his parents and his younger sister immigrated to the United States and made their home in Colorado Springs. It was less than a year after the 9/11 attacks, a challenging time for a family of Farsi speakers to relocate to the U.S.
Moose recalls experiencing instances of racism and discrimination at school and his parents facing similar situations in their community. Although difficult, these episodes shaped the person Moose is today.
“As a Persian, you have to become friends with other minorities because you feel they will understand you better, so having that opportunity to learn from other cultures has been a blessing in disguise,” he says. “As I got older, it increased my skills to become adaptive, be able to work with different types of people and have an open mind.”
His encounters with racism and discrimination also shaped his interest in psychology. Moose says he is fascinated by how people think in different ways and how that helps him grow as a person. He studied psychology and pre-med at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs, and then in 2020 he was accepted to GSPP.
The multicultural aspect of IDP attracted him to the program. He was also immediately drawn to the opportunity he had as a student therapist to help those in need through individual counseling sessions.
During his first field placement, Moose served as a survivor-of-torture case manager and therapist for the nonprofit International Rescue Committee (IRC). In the counseling sessions he conducted, he found that no two survivors had the same experiences, that there was nothing typical about their cases. He decided to continue his work with the IRC this year, accepting the role of a mental health specialist for Afghan refugees arriving in Colorado after the U.S. military withdrawal in August 2021.
“Being a person who actually helps stabilize someone when they first come to America means a lot to me,” Moose says. “They’ve shown a lot of resilience being able to share their stories with me.”
When Moose graduates in June, he will be the first person in his family to earn an advanced degree. He plans to continue with the IRC as he works toward logging the 2,000 hours necessary for licensure as a professional counselor.
“Direction is way more important than speed,” is one of his favorite quotes from Russ, a rapper and songwriter. With Russ’ words in mind, Moose is determined to pursue medical studies and a career as a psychiatrist. Becoming a doctor, he says, would fulfill a dream long cherished by his father, someone who has served as his inspiration and as a role model in life.
“Everything that he has done for our family and all the sacrifices that he has made from a young age, the work ethic that he has is unmatched,” Moose says. “If I have 10% of his work ethic, I will be successful.”
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