| Giuseppe Costantino, MS, PhD
December 25, 1937 – February 18, 2015
Giuseppe Costantino, MS, PhD, was a champion who dedicated time and a tireless effort to the well-being of his beloved Brooklyn community. Akin to the 19th century Italian patriot Giuseppe Garibaldi, who battled for the unification of his native Italy, Dr. Costantino fought to make life better for others.
Born and raised in Italy, Dr. Costantino was a skilled guitarist and singer who idolized Elvis Presley. He spoke French, Italian, Spanish and English, and showed a passion for research and cultural competence at an early age. He served three years in the Italian infantry and worked as a secondary school music teacher before setting out to start a new life in the U.S. in the 1960s.
In 1961, he traveled to the U.S. to study psychology at Baruch College as a Fulbright Scholar. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in industrial psychology at City College, as well as a master’s degree in school psychology at City College, then received a doctorate in clinical and community psychology from New York University. He published and presented numerous books and journals.
He got his start with Lutheran Family Health Centers, now NYU Lutheran Family Health Centers, in 1977 as chief psychologist for Lutheran’s Sunset Park Mental Health Center and Lutheran Medical Center. Larry McReynolds, president of NYU Lutheran Family Health Centers, said, “Dr. Costantino left an indelible impression on the entire NYU Lutheran family. What stood out most to me was his devotion to help those less fortunate coupled with his desire to improve the well-being of people around the world. His yearning to constantly learn made him stand out. The husband, father, colleague, and man that he was and stood for will forever be etched in memory for years to come.”
His passion for the job was one of the most noticeable traits. Joseph Laino, PsyD, senior psychologist at NYU Lutheran Family Health Centers Sunset Terrace, said, “His work was everything to him, because he loved it. He would work from morning till night, always thinking about his work. He was very passionate and believed he could make a difference in helping disenfranchised communities.”
Dr. Costantino also worked at NYU Lutheran’s Sunset Terrace site as director of mental health services and many colleagues observed him as a man who lived to work but also saw him as a caring soul.
“Every year, Dr. Costantino would ensure Three Kings Day would be celebrated so that the children in the community would get gifts, donated from Lutheran Medical staff and outside sources,” said NYU Lutheran social worker Tania Hernandez, LCSW. “One year, we did not have costumes and I mentioned that my mother sews. Dr. Costantino drove to my mom’s home with material he got that day and asked for her help. She complied and we were able to get costumes for our clinicians to wear and play the role of the three kings that very day so the children could receive gifts.”
His love for children spurned a first-of-its-kind psychological test called TEMAS (Tell Me A Story), which measures behaviors, cognitive and affective functions in children. TEMAS was specifically designed for assessment and treatment of children and adolescents from 5-18 years old. Following the 9/11 attacks in New York City, Dr. Costantino’s development of the TEMAS treatment intervention was put to the test, in the psychology community. The TEMAS received glowing accolades for its pliability. The behavioral health professionals shared that because of the TEMAS measures, young children had the opportunity to express and address the trauma they experienced in viewing media videos, hearing of the event from family and their peers; and/or witnessing the disaster firsthand.
During a moving memorial service at NYU Lutheran Family Health Centers Sunset Terrace on April 28, Dr. Costantino's colleague of seven years, Tomas Cruz, LCSW-R, PhD, vice president for ambulatory behavioral health, spoke about how much "Dr. C" helped him in completing his doctorate and how dedicated he was to helping others. "He was a very caring, nurturing individual," Dr. Cruz said. "He was encouraging and was always working. His legacy will continue because of the large body of literature he published."
With help from his team at Sunset Terrace, Dr. Costantino traveled internationally to shed more light on TEMAS. “He conducted many presentations, his first in Barcelona, Spain, in 1984 on TEMAS,” said Hernandez. “He also presented in Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Stockholm and more.” Through hard work and skilled research, TEMAS became a popular evaluation tool. TEMAS will continue to be used at Sunset Terrace.
Constantly working and honing his research abilities, Dr. Costantino also helped build grant applications for NYU Lutheran Family Health Centers. “Dr. Costantino is responsible for obtaining more than $9 million dollars in grant funding, over the years. His successful efforts were a direct response to his hard work, the use of his professional network of stakeholders in the behavioral health and HIV/AIDS field, and his acute instincts for understanding the health disparities in serving the marginalized populations of the southwest Brooklyn communities,” said Richard Brown, LCSW-R, PhD, program director and partner in the National Child Traumatic Stress Network at NYU Lutheran Medical Center and NYU Lutheran Family Health Centers. “Giuseppe was well known in the grant funder communities in Washington. I can distinctly remember attending meetings with him at the NIH (National Institutes of Health) or in Washington at the SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) headquarters. There, one could actually feel the bond he had with both current and remote colleagues. He would move the more influential funders off into a corner and, in typical ‘Dr. C’ fashion, work his humor on them — until they consented to consider NYU Lutheran Family Health Centers in their next Request for Proposals. He was a master in ‘working a room’!”
Dr. Costantino was a sought-after researcher nationwide and traveled often to present his studies, but always came back to Brooklyn. “He passed up life-changing opportunities, turned down research grants because he was involved with and loved the (Brooklyn) community,” said his daughter Erminia “Nina” Costantino, director of the American Multicultural Institute.
While he worked tirelessly to become an accomplished researcher in his field, Dr. Costantino always made time to help in the success of budding psychologists. “About 10 years ago, Dr. Costantino brought two psychology students from Italy and trained them,” said Dr. Laino. “They returned to Italy and brought what they learned from him and their experiences back to Italy. Dr. Costantino also reached out and brought trainees from Puerto Rico to NYU Lutheran and trained them. There were many others. That’s just who he was, he thought not just of himself but of future generations.”
Dr. Costantino worked as clinical director at NYU Lutheran Family Health Centers from 1984 to 2005, and then transferred to work with NYU Lutheran Medical Center as part-time director of research and staff development. True to his devotion to work, Dr. Costantino helped obtain several more grants and frequently visited the Sunset Terrace site to develop the SAMHSA grant. He served as a professor at the Graduate School of Psychology, Touro College, and continued to train and mentor psychology interns and externs on TEMAS up until his passing on February 18. He was due to present a paper at the 14th European Congress of Psychology in Milan, Italy, in July, and also at the American Psychological Association in Toronto, Canada in August.
Many of his colleagues described Dr. Costantino as a man who was passionate about family and work. He was known as a caring man with a charismatic personality and good sense of humor. He was a prolific storyteller and had the ability to make patients feel at ease. He loved to repair antique furniture; made excellent lasagna, eggplant parmigiana, and cannoli cream filling; and loved to wear boots every day. And though he achieved a great deal throughout his career, his ambition never wavered.
“He accomplished so much in his career,” said his daughter Nina. “But he’d tell you he would have wanted to do more.”
Giuseppe Costantino, MS, PhD, is survived by his wife, Maryse, and daughter, Erminia “Nina” Costantino.
Related links to Dr. Costantino:
• Book: Cuento Therapy - Folktales as a culturally sensitive psychotherapy for Puerto Rican children
• Directory: Positive Aging Resource Center
• The TEMAS Test
• Book: TEMAS Assessment Multicultural Personality Psychology
• Touro College Study: Showing TEMAS Psychological Diagnostic Test Can Treat Anxiety and Depression in Minority Children
• Dr. Costantino's Latest Publication: Journal of the International Society for the Rorschach