Florina Petcu: Sports Psychology / Creative Movement and Drama Therapy

Florina Petcu
Sports Psychology / Creative Movement and Drama Therapy
Faculty Mentor:  Prof. Matthew Crump, Psychology, Brooklyn College
Home College:  Brooklyn College
World and U.S. Champion, Thai Boxing
Thomas W. Smith Academic Fellow
Memorial Scholarship for Students in Education or Human Services
Harriet Brows Scholarship for Social Change
Alvin and Stanley Snadowsky Award for Academic Excellence in Psychology
Phi Theta Kappa
Dean’s List

Florina Petcu performed her first solo ballet at the age of eight, portraying a white dove, the symbol of peace, in her native communist Romania. That is when she realized performance was her true calling. She went on to study acting and dance, and later performed all over Europe, in New York at Lincoln Center, and on television and in movies – she even landed a small role in the 2006 heist movie Inside Man, in which she traded lines with Denzel Washington.

Sports were also a big part of her life. When she emigrated, she started competing in martial arts and took up Thai boxing and Brazilian jujitsu. In 2007, she represented the U.S. in the Thai Boxing World Championship in Thailand, winning a silver medal (the highest medal for the sport and the only U.S. silver medal won that year); she has also earned a North American Championship and two U.S. Championships.

Yet, unsatisfied with her accomplishments onscreen and battling the injuries that had accrued after several years of fighting, Petcu eventually sought a more stable profession and returned to college in hopes of one day becoming a licensed therapist.

In 2009 she accepted a job with Education in Dance, an integrated arts enrichment program where she worked with special needs children. Seeing how children responded to music, creative movement and theater games, she was motivated to continue her education to become a sports psychologist. She chose CUNY BA with a plan to put the therapeutic effects of movement, dance, acting and sports into practice. “As a CUNY BA student, I had the opportunity to work closely with my mentor as well as top faculty at Brooklyn, Baruch and Kingsborough Colleges. This exposure broadened my horizons and inspired me to choose the most challenging courses to ensure breadth and depth in my education.”

At Brooklyn College she was an advocate for mental health counseling, working for the Healthy CUNY Initiative Campaign and promoting counseling services for students on campus. She also worked as a research assistant in Prof. Israel Abramov’s Psychology Lab. She does volunteer work for a domestic violence shelter in Harlem, applying movement and expressive arts therapy with the children ages 2-12 who are victims of abuse or witnesses to violence. “It is a rewarding although emotionally charged work, and I love every minute of it,” she says.

Sports continue to be a mainstay in her life; at Brooklyn College, she was on the varsity soccer team and was one of the three captains in her senior year. This was a particular triumph: she wasn’t allowed to play soccer in her youth. At the time, sports were solely the domain of boys, she said, though she’d routinely sneak away to kick a ball around with friends until she got caught. But her athleticism – even at age 37 – was enough to garner a starting spot on Brooklyn’s team. About transitioning from individual sports to playing a team sport, she says it furthered her understanding of sports psychology, especially the dynamics between so many players and the coach.

Building upon college-level work in creative movement she completed in Romania, Petcu took her courses at Baruch and Brooklyn Colleges. She completed two Independent Research Projects, Online Control of Attention during Performance and Unconscious Risk Assessment and Optimization of Decision-making during Performance. For her Honors Experimental Psychology course, taken with her mentor, she wrote a paper on Cognitive Processes in Mixed Martial Arts; they are preparing the paper for publication.

She is now in the Clinical Psychology Masters program at UC San Francisco and wrote to say, “We started the practicum already in parallel with classes. I am working with teens with academic problems using mostly CBT, and adult clients using psychodynamic therapy at the clinic. It is a great program and very demanding, an awesome rollercoaster.”