The Unitas that flourishes today is the result of the vision of Dr. Edward Eismann in his formal clinical work at the Lincoln Community Mental Health Center in the South Bronx, New York City in 1967. Discouraged by lack of responsiveness to formal agency based mental health services to youth, Dr. Eismann took his clinical skills out into the agencies' catchment's streets, engaging youth in "therapeutic dialogue" on street corners, in alleyways, tenement stoops, roof tops and school yards. "Doc" as he was dubbed, soon realized that the street was a valid a place as his office to employ the therapeutic tools of empathy, conflict resolution and clarifying and reframing the open hostilities he found on the street into conversation of negotiation, mediation and cooperation. Over time, he developed strong and influential relationships with neighborhood young men and women who were striving to survive difficult times. Sustaining these bonds and using himself usefully in their lives, he instilled in them the belief that they together with him could be vehicles of change for neighborhood children at risk.
"Doc" organized the street system into a "therapeutic community" whereby these older youth bonded with and helped younger youth as symbolic kin and formed "symbolic families" where they were taught how to have a collective influence on each other. A "tribal council," an extended family community session, was also formed composed of all "symbolic families" meeting daily or weekly in street or school settings, some 100-175 strong, to discuss and resolve interpersonal tensions and problems related to life, street and family. It was a radical departure from traditionally conceived office based mental health services, but one that offered therapy in the clients' own life space and in the company of their own natural network where influence was profound. In 1977 Eismann broke all ties with Lincoln and incorporated Unitas as an autonomous organization with the New York State Department of social Welfare. At present, within neighborhood and social structures, Unitas Theraputic Community has continued the work of its symbolic family structure and therapeutic family circle as well as expanded its service to include individual and family therapies, teacher training, educational consultation and the provision of Evidence Based Practice models to youth at risk within those structures.
The work of Unitas has been explored in various social work and psychological publications and has been the subject of sociological research as well as documentary tapes provided by The National Institute of Drug Abuse, The United Way, The Catholic Archdiocese of New York, The Hispanic Research Center of Fordham University and Smith College School for Social Work. Its recognition has been substantially reflected in the popular press for over four decades. Funding sources have included and increase in foundational funding, the 9/11 Fund, Administration of Children’s Services (ACS) of New York City and cumulative increases from OASAS its primary funding source. Today, in a new millennium, Unitas continues to be grounded in its original belief of the inherent power of all people to be helpers, healers to each other in need. It does this through the participation of neighborhood youth, families, schools, agencies and professionals working in collaboration with each other. Such a collaborative unity is reflected in the organization’s name, UNITAS.