In 1957 I earned a B.A. with a major in Biology from Alfred University. Shortly thereafter I left for Belgium to study medicine at the University of Brussels. A whole new world opened to me. The night of my arrival I was taken out for my initiation and dubbed Columbus Christopher because I had discovered the old world. Six years later, in 1963, I returned to this country having been provided with a broad education as a physician and as a person.
Having taken the E.C.F.M.G. (Educational Council for Foreign Medical Graduates) and the New York State Board Examination I entered an internship at Maimonides Hospital in Brooklyn, most of which was spent in pediatrics and surgery. It was during this internship that I picked up the thread that would later lead to my life’s work, that of understanding the effect of trauma on both adults and children. I came face to face with domestic violence and its effect on the whole family. While working in the emergency room, I met a family who brought their infant in several times with fractures. It took these repeated visits to help me grasp the tragic significance of their complex situation. I also started noticing that the emergency personnel was angry with these young, troubled parents. All that did was to have the parents turn the anger loose on the other children. I have never forgotten that situation, and that even perpetrators of violence are themselves victims.
This led to the desire to understand the effects of stress on young families. I began a residency in pediatrics. While in the middle of that residency I was drafted into the Navy where I served two years; one in Charleston, where I was in charge of the emergency room, during which time I successfully passed the New York State Boards for medicine, and one in Camp Pendleton where I worked in the medical clinic. Doing emergency room work in Charleston, I further perfected my skills in pediatrics.
I completed my year of residency in Pediatrics at Maimonides after my honorable Discharge from the Navy. Again, I found myself doing a lot of work with families of ill children, assisting in the dynamics between parents and sick children, helping them all deal with the sickness. I also was frequently confronted with diabetic children who were in coma because they refused to accept that they were diabetic. Helping them deal with this issue successfully proved to be very satisfying. This led me to change my residency for four years of Residency and Fellowship in Psychiatry and Adolescent Psychiatry at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. I felt that I had at last found my calling.
My first job was at the Child Development Center in Pomona, NY, working with the education of preschool children and their families. It was at the Child Development Center where I met Dr. Margaret Lawrence who had been the chief psychiatrist at the Children’s Psychiatric Unit of Harlem Hospital. The paper in which she studied the hidden strengths in the families of inner city children, provided a new focus of my work, that of looking for strengths instead of weakness. During that time I opened my first office in Monsey, NY and began a private practice that continues to this day, (now in Chatham, NY.) At that time also, I became involved with the first group therapy of men who had been found guilty of spouse abuse by the courts. I was struck by the fact that each of the group members viewed himself as having been a victim. Reemphasizing the fact that perpetrators had been victims themselves, this work made evident the transgenerational aspect of this problem.
By 1974 I had completed and passed both parts of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. The idea of Psychological Trauma that became the theme of my future work was crystallized for me when reading the book by the same name by Bessel Van Der Kolk, the founder of The Trauma Center in Boston (http://www.traumacenter.org).
Attending the annual Trauma Conference led by Dr. Van Der Kolk, I met Pat Ogden whose work with trauma and dissociation are well known. Her book Trauma and the Body is a treasure trove of information on her sensorimotor work for the healing of past trauma.
Historically I have been involved with programs dealing with inpatient psychiatry at Craig House Hospital in Beacon, NY, and Columbia Memorial Hospital in Hudson, NY, AIDS patients at the Cheer department of Whitney Young Clinic in Albany. I then went to work as a consultant to the New York State Department of Mental Health in the capacity of psychiatrist on the Mental Health Units both of Brookwood Secure Center and Tryon Girls’ Residential Center.
Beginning with the work in domestic violence and child abuse during my internship and residency, it had become increasingly clear that in all these instances there were potentially long-term effects, whether one was the abuser, the abused or one who stood by and was forced to observe.
Throughout my life as a psychiatrist, it has also become clear to me that we are all different individuals and life affects us differently, so that the idea of coming to a diagnosis and then treating the diagnosis instead of the person is missing that essential point. With that in mind I have wished to be open and receptive to new and creative ways of helping people. In this way I have found and studied E.F.T., E.M.D.R. and Neurofeedback as well as a number of different breathing techniques.