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A search for meaning and resilience

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2022 Issue 169 Rising Up
by Lori Freshwater

Contents

Jennifer Czincz of Yale’s SHARE Center draws part of her inspiration for helping people from her father’s experiences of the Holocaust—and his ability to move forward from the nightmare.

Growing up, Jennifer Czincz, PhD, learned a great deal about resilience in the face of adversity from her father. What she saw him do and accomplish in spite of the trauma he’d undergone during World War II inspired her career in psychology. “He was Hungarian, Jewish, and a Holocaust survivor. That was a formative piece of my upbringing. He lost a number of family members, including his father, to the Holocaust. He and his mother were left alone and had tremendous struggles and hardships,” said Czincz.

During the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, her father and a friend escaped Hungary in the back of a truck while the border was briefly open. Many of the trucks were shot through, but somehow not his. The two men had only an hour’s warning. Czincz says she was influenced as much by the empathy and dedication of her mother—a nurse—as her father’s endurance of unimaginable hardships and trials.

Czincz completed her PhD in clinical psychology at the University of Ottawa in her native Canada before completing her predoctoral and postdoctoral fellowships at Yale. She is a licensed clinical psychologist and the director of the Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Education (SHARE) Center at Yale. Czincz is also an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine, with areas of expertise that include trauma—and a specific focus on sexual misconduct and childhood sexual abuse.

At Yale, Czincz developed a desire to make a broader impact on health care. “I had been working one on one with people. And I was interested in thinking more about psychology's role and intersection with public health, with community health, with prevention and education initiatives,” she said. Instead of solely responding to problems at an individual level, Czincz wanted to build infrastructure and broaden accessibility so more people could have information about and access to resources. Her thinking was that policy, prevention, and education are areas of focus where she could make a difference.

This conviction led Czincz to the Consultation Center at Yale and a one-year internship that transformed how she envisions caregiving. “They do wonderful work, and I was able to focus on prevention, education initiatives, and program evaluation in the child welfare system and in the public school system,” she said.

Following that internship, Czincz joined SHARE, led at the time by Carole Goldberg, PhD. The initiative was forged when resources for people encountering sexual trauma were scant. SHARE developed a three-tiered approach for helping Yale community members dealing with sexual misconduct, according to Czincz. First, information: “information, training, workshops and other educational services on a variety of topics related to sexual misconduct, relationships and sexuality, and resources.” Second, advocacy: “facilitating access to mental health services and medical care, help with initiating a complaint or legal process, and court-based advocacy.” Third, support: “SHARE’s professional counselors are able to meet with individuals for one-time consultations, referral facilitation, ongoing counseling (students), or on an as-needed basis.”

After Goldberg retired from SHARE, Czincz became its sole director; today, she’s responsible for implementing its mission to help support all Yale community members who may be dealing with sexual misconduct, and raising awareness of both the definition of sexual trauma (in short — anything that feels traumatic) and what resources exist. Yale community members come from a variety of backgrounds, and many times these are informed by generational or personal trauma.

Given the sheer variety and scope of contexts in which violence and exploitation become more prevalent—pandemics, economic anxiety, war, and displacement of the sort characteristic of earlier centuries—SHARE plays a crucial role for the Yale community.

“People find ways to deal with what life throws at them. My father and people of his generation endured trauma, but also posttraumatic growth. We’ve gained a sense since then of how these types of experience impact people and how they go on to lead their lives,” said Czincz. “I hope SHARE makes finding that way forward a little more bearable, so that members of the Yale community don’t have to feel as though they’re alone.”