I was born in a small town in southern Hungary in 1950. In the Fall of 1956, there was an attempt by the Hungarian people to overthrow the communist government and establish an independent and democratic Hungary. My father was one of the “freedom fighters” who openly opposed the Soviet regime. Once the Russian tanks moved in, the revolution was crushed, the revolutionaries rounded up, imprisoned and/or executed. Our family (my parents, two younger brothers, and I) had little choice but to flee. After spending 6 months in numerous Austrian and Yugoslav refugee camps, in June 1957 we boarded a plane and flew to our new home, America.
I share my personal history with you because I believe that our past experiences, particularly intense and traumatic ones, influence and form much of who we are today and guide and direct where we end up tomorrow. And I believe this event, being abruptly uprooted from my home and having to survive in a new and foreign land, shaped much of the values and beliefs I hold dear today. Some of what follows may sound trite, but it is what I believe.
Personal freedom is very important to me. To be able to think, speak, and act in the way I want, as long as it doesn’t hurt or disrespect someone else, is fundamental to healthy human existence. To be controlled, constricted, restricted, or dictated to is very uncomfortable for me.
Life is a series of losses. Some are fortunate to experience them predictably and in tolerable doses. For me, the experience above was abrupt, confusing, and other than the consistent connection to and presence of my parents, very destabilizing. The experience left me with an appreciation for the pain and trauma of loss. It also taught me that human beings are resilient and that the presence of loving and caring people makes a difference in recovery, healing, and gaining strength and insight from such an experience.
Survival in a foreign land is challenging. Poverty, no extended family support, the inability to speak the language or understand the customs, made surviving and raising three children a struggle. I am very appreciative of my parents’ sacrifices and providing the safety, security, and cohesive family unit which enabled me and my brothers (and later our sister) to develop and prosper.
Growing up as an immigrant in America in the late 1950’s and early 60’s was not what it is today. It was a more homogenous culture with little recognition or appreciation for different customs or lifestyles. Having grown up as a refugee, I have a sensitivity and appreciation for different ethnic backgrounds as well as for the infinite differences among family styles.
I received a very strong and consistent message from my parents growing up, “Work hard and get a good education.” My brothers and I would often roll our eyes when we heard, “we came here for you so you would have a better life.” It wasn’t until I returned to Hungary in 1971 (as part of a 2 month solo excursion through Europe) that I gained appreciation for their message. Seeing how difficult and restrictive the lives of my relatives were made real for me how lucky I was for the freedom and opportunities I have as an American.
Education, Training and Professional Experience
I received my Bachelors Degree in Psychology for the University of Florida, graduating with honors in 1974. I continued on at the University of Florida and earned Masters and Specialists Degrees in School Psychology in 1976.
After graduating, I worked for 5 years as a school psychologist in St. Petersburg, Florida. As opposed to doing traditional school psychology (testing), I was part of a unique and innovative program which provided comprehensive services to high schools. This included individual and group counseling to students, in-service training to teachers and administrators, and parent education. The overall focus of the work was to identify students at risk to drop-out, and help them succeed and graduate. An additional component of the job included conducting 2 and 3 day workshops for school districts around the country interested in implementing an alternative to student suspension program.
One of the important lessons working with adolescents taught me was that working with them individually was of limited effectiveness. I grew to believe that to help them change, it was important to work with the entire family. Hence, in 1982 I applied and was accepted to Purdue University’s Family Therapy Program. I was attracted to the program’s strong balance in theory, practice (we were engaged in supervised clinical practice during all three years of study) and research. As a doctoral student, I was the grant writer and principal investigator of a major university-funded research study designed to investigate the efficacy of different approaches to marital therapy. I graduated in the Fall of 1985 and moved to Palm Beach County to start a private practice.
Since 1990, I have maintained a private practice in Palm Beach Gardens specializing in individual, marital, family, and sex therapy. I also provide forensic evaluations and have been asked to give expert testimony in numerous cases involving parental fitness/child custody, sexual offending, addiction, and trauma. In 1995, I expanded the practice to include family business consultation and organizational development.