Lifeskills South Florida Staff Overview
Chief Executive Officer
Klay Weaver, LCSW
With over 25 years of behavioral healthcare management experience, including over 18 years in executive leadership, Klay joined Lifeskills South Florida in 2015 as its Chief Executive Officer. Prior to joining Lifeskills, he served as the COO of Skyland Trail, where he oversaw the organization’s strategic growth, financial operations, clinical operations, and marketing. With roots in community mental health, Klay led two of the largest community mental health centers in the state of Georgia, providing services to over 17,000 individuals annually in 11 counties.
Klay received a Bachelor of Arts in Education and an M.Div. from Asbury Theological Seminary and an M.S.W. from the University of Kentucky. A licensed social worker for more than 20 years, he has enjoyed being active in the community serving on multiple non-profit boards including the Red Cross, Georgia Community Service Board Association, and most recently on the Delray Drug Task Force.
Daniel Bober, DO
Dr. Bober attended medical school at Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine. He completed his adult/child/adolescent psychiatry training at the Yale University School of Medicine and a fellowship in forensic psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts School of Medicine.
Dr. Bober served as a mental health policy fellow in the U.S. Senate through the American Psychiatric Association and the Yale University School of Medicine. While in Congress he championed the cause of veterans and active duty service members with mental illness. Dr. Bober currently holds a faculty appointment as an Assistant Clinical Professor at the Yale Child Study Center.
In treating adults, Dr. Bober’s clinical interest and expertise lay in working with individuals that have addiction, trauma and personality disorders. His is career has afforded him the opportunity to treat co-occurring disorders in inpatient, outpatient and research settings.
He is Board Certified in General Psychiatry, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and Forensic Psychiatry by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and he is certified in Obesity Medicine through the American Board of Obesity Medicine. Additionally, as a Diplomate of the American Board of Addiction Medicine, Dr. Bober is a Certified Addiction Medicine physician. He belongs to several professional societies including American Psychiatric Association, American Academy of Child, and Adolescent Psychiatry, American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law and the American Society of Addiction Medicine.
Chief Operating Officer
Sergio Muriel, LMHC, CAP
Sergio joined Lifeskills South Florida, with over 20 years of healthcare experience, including 10 years in leadership roles. Prior to joining Lifeskills, Sergio worked as Executive Director of a mental health facility and oversaw the strategic growth and vision, as well as day-to-day operations of the company. He was directly involved in developing the mental health component of the company, helping many struggling individuals and families find the care they needed.
Sergio is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Certified Addiction Professional, trained in EMDR. Sergio graduated from Florida Atlantic University with a Master’s degree in Education, specializing in Mental Health and Rehabilitation Counseling. Sergio continues to stay involved in our local community through various organizations, such as Miami-Dade County in 2007, “2007 Employee of the year”; Lindsey Hopkins Education Center-School Advisory Council in 2010 “Appreciation Award; and Miami-Dade County, Mayor and Board of County Commissioners in 2009 “Appreciation Award”. His passion is in helping individuals and families that have been affected by mental health and substance use. He is also fluent in English and Spanish.
David Ockman, PsyD, CAP
Dr. Ockman, a licensed Psychologist, and Certified Addictions Professional, has worked in the field of mental health and addiction for more than 20 years, beginning his career in 1993. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from Florida International University, a Masters and Doctoral degrees from The Miami Institute of Psychology, and has been licensed as a Psychologist since 2002.
Dr. Ockman brings a broad range of experiences to his role at Lifeskills South Florida focused primarily on the Substance Use Disorder track which includes clinical, supervisory and administrative capacities in therapeutic/residential communities, hospital settings, IOP and state regulatory positions. He has spent most of his career utilizing CBT and MET modalities and finding ways to provide the most effective interventions for patients and their families.
Dr. Ockman spent seven years as one of the supervising Psychologists of interns and residents for an APPIC approved program. He was born and raised in South Florida and enjoys finding great places in Florida to take the family.
Director of Clinical Services for Ft. Lauderdale
Kristen Gurdak, PhD, LCSW
Kristen Gurdak is the Director of Clinical Services for Lifeskills South Florida Fort Lauderdale. She is a licensed clinical social worker and intensively trained in Dialectical Behavior Therapy by The Linehan Institute. Dr. Gurdak received her Ph.D. from New York University specializing in stigma and community integration for those with serious mental illness. Dr. Gurdak brings her clinical expertise and research knowledge to the Lifeskills team with several years of clinical social work experience and peer-reviewed published research conducted through Columbia University Department of Psychiatry and New York University School of Social Work. Dr. Gurdak has a wide array of clinical and administrative experience in community mental health settings, mental health outpatient services, residential treatment, inpatient rehabilitation, and in private clinical practice. She believes in a client-centered integrative approach to treatment to create a “life worth living”. Kristen enjoys traveling and exploring different cultures – she has visited over 10 countries.
Nurse Manager for Ft. Lauderdale
Aimee Payton, BSN, RN
Aimee Payton is the Nurse Manager for Lifeskills South Florida, Fort Lauderdale. She is a registered nurse currently pursuing her MSN and Primary Mental Health Nurse Practitioner licensure. Aimee earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing from Walden University and graduated with distinction from Jersey College School of Nursing. Aimee began her career in the behavioral health field in 2011 and has worked diligently in the field of mental health and addiction since 2014 where she has had eight-plus years of Director of Nursing experience. She has worked in an array of residential, detox, corrections, and acute care mental health facilities and has dedicated herself to continued work within this community. Aimee enjoys traveling, spending time with her loved ones, and believes that everyone should be treated as family.
Director of Nursing
Jackie Pavone, RN
Jackie Pavone, RN has been a nurse since 2011 and has spent her nursing career working within the mental health and substance abuse specialty. In her position as Director of Nursing she leads a team and oversees all nursing services. In addition she coordinates medical care and is well versed in working with clients and their medical complexities.
Jackie has worked within all levels of care from acute inpatient to outpatient services.
She received her ADN from Palm Beach State College and her Bachelor’s degree from Florida Southern College.
Jackie has a competitive spirit and enjoys watching and playing sports in her free time.
Assistant Director of Nursing
Jamel Lewis, RN, BSN
Jamel Lewis is the Assistant Director of Nursing for Lifeskills South Florida in Deerfield. Jamel earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing from Chamberlain University. He has dedicated his 22 years as a nurse to delivering exemplary patient care. He started his career in New York as a wound care nurse for military veterans. He then transitioned to nursing elderly patients in long-term care facilities. Ten years ago, his family moved to South Florida and his career path led him to working with mental health and addiction patients. Jamel has held numerous supervisory and directorial positions over the past eight years. His job satisfaction comes from knowing that he is helping to improve his patients’ lives. In his personal life, Jamel can be found at the gym doing CrossFit or at the theatre watching Marvel movies with his three children.
Director of Quality Improvement & Utilization Review
David Duquette, PsyD
Dr. Duquette, Director of Quality Improvement and Utilization Review at Lifeskills South Florida, earned his Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Carlos Albizu University and completed his pre-doctoral internship at South Florida State Hospital. Prior to joining Lifeskills, he was the Utilization Review Manager at the largest community mental health center in Colorado, where he authorized all levels of mental health services for Medicaid consumers. He also brings a wealth of knowledge and experience in obtaining authorizations from private insurance companies.
Director of Residential Operations
Joe Soutar, CRRA
Born and educated in the U.K., Joe has worked extensively in an operations role in the mental health and substance abuse field. His experience includes working as a director for inpatient detox and crisis stabilization through every level in the continuum of care. As an advocate for spirituality through the 12-Step model, and simultaneous neutralization of co-occurring dual diagnosis profiles, Joe works passionately to advance the quality of support offered to each client he oversees. Joe has served as a line of communication between clinical staff and clients and has focused on cases of high acuity and chronic relapse. He has worked closely with the FARR certification body, as well as DCF and JCAHO, and has acted as an educator to direct care staff through training and management. Joe is a Certified Recovery Residence Administrator (CRRA) through the Crisis Prevention Institute in the safe management of disruptive behavior. Joe also assists in the management of the transitional living program at Osceola House. As a Residential Supervisor at Lifeskills, Joe has a desire to ensure that every client is set up for success in their treatment.
Clinical Director of Outpatient Services
Miguel Nerys, LMHC, NCC, DBT-Intensively Trained, EMDR-Trained
Miguel is the Director of Outpatient Services at Lifeskills South Florida, specializing in addiction and trauma. A Licensed Mental Health counselor and National Certified Counselor, he brings a wide array of experience from the mental health and addiction field. He earned both his undergraduate and master’s degree from Lynn University. Miguel is intensively trained in Dialectical Behavior Therapy by The Linehan Institute and is a nationally trained EMDR therapist. He has worked in a trauma-specific unit of a community mental health organization dealing with abused children and their families and has also worked with active duty military at a psychiatric facility in North Carolina. He has mostly recently worked with relapsing clients that are treatment resistant. Miguel has traveled to Cambodia and Vietnam to establish a foundation for the poor and provide training on the western practice of psychology. Additionally, he has volunteered for the Big Brother Big Sister organization in providing child support in Boca Raton, Florida. In his spare time, he enjoys listening to a good TED Talk/Podcast and enjoys astronomy and photography.
Director of Admissions
Jorge A. Vázquez-López, BA
With a professional background in both luxury hospitality and residential treatment admissions, Jorge Vázquez-López is distinguished by his passion for excellence in customer service and his constant striving to exceed client expectations. In addition, he has extensive experience working with complicated clinical cases and is accustomed to working with clients from diverse cultural backgrounds. Jorge is currently enrolled in Palm Beach Atlantic University where he is pursuing a Master’s of Science in Mental Health.
Lara Eisenberg, MSW, DBT-Intensively Trained
For several years, Lara worked in a treatment setting with adults suffering from mental health and substance abuse dependency issues. Shortly after beginning her career at Lifeskills as a clinical intern, she was introduced to the clinical and admissions team. Her work at Lifeskills allows her the opportunity to work with clients and witness the transformation they make and the strength they have as they journey to recovery. Lara received her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of South Florida followed by her Master of Social Work degree from Florida Atlantic University. She is also intensively trained in Dialectical Behavior Therapy by The Linehan Institute. Lara looks to continue working in the field of Social Work and receiving her license as a Clinical Social Worker.
Kaleigh Dietz, MEd, CRC
Kaleigh Dietz is an Admissions Counselor at Lifeskills South Florida. Kaleigh originally joined the Lifeskills team as an Intake Coordinator, where she welcomed clients to Lifeskills and helped guide them through the intake process. Kaleigh brings experience in concierge patient care and hopes to bring a concierge experience to clients here at Lifeskills, while also creating a warm and welcoming environment for them to begin their healing process. Kaleigh graduated from Florida Atlantic University with a Master’s in Counselor Education and is also a Master’s level Certified Rehabilitation Counselor in the state of Florida. Kaleigh is also in the process to obtain her Mental Health clinical license in the state of Florida.
Denise Etherton, MA, LPC
Denise has worked in the mental health space for over 20 years. She is an experienced Admissions Counselor, Licensed Professional Counselor, and mental health advocate. She takes pride in providing education about the best care possible for those seeking mental health and substance abuse treatment. Her passion is to pave the way to hope and healing for potential clients and families who are navigating the treatment world at Lifeskills.
In undergraduate school, she holds a double major in Psychology & Criminal Justice from Lindenwood University. She also holds a graduate degree in Professional Counseling from Lindenwood University and is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) through the State of Missouri and telehealth for Florida. Her treatment modalities include CBT & ACT along with mindfulness training.
She is a married mother of 4 children and 2 dogs (Kylo Ren, the Goldador and Baxter the Shorkie). She enjoys reading, listening to podcasts, watching true crime documentaries (this makes her husband nervous), being with family and friends, and going to the beach and theme parks.
Barbra Quirk, BS
As an Admissions Counselor, Barbra guides individuals and their families through the admission process with support, compassion, and information to connect clients with life-changing care. She originally joined the Lifeskills team as an Intake Coordinator and Clinical Intern, providing her with extensive clinical knowledge, crisis intervention skills, and an understanding of positive/motivational interventions. Barbra attended Florida State University, earning a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and obtained her Master’s Degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Lynn University. Barbra brings past experiences working for a local non-profit delivering substance abuse prevention programming to young adults, families, professionals, and educators within the South Florida community.
Alexis Saitta, BS
Alexis joins the Lifeskills team as an Intake Coordinator, where she welcomes clients on their first day of treatment and guides them through the intake process with warmth and compassion. Alexis received her B.S. in Behavioral Healthcare from University of South Florida and began her career as a child welfare case manager before working in mental health admissions. Outside of work, Alexis enjoys photography, time in nature, live music, and all things creative.
Arthur Chen, PsyD, CCTP-II
Dr. Arthur Chen has two master’s degrees in psychology (Master of Applied Psychology with a specialization in Counseling and a Master of Clinical Psychology) along with a Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology. He serves as a full-time clinician at Lifeskills South Florida where is oversees the Clinical Trauma Pathway and conducts psychological testing. Moreover, he is a Certified Clinical Trauma Professional – Level 2 (CCTP-II) with the International Association of Trauma Professionals (IATP). CCTP – II is the highest certification in trauma obtainable by the IATP. He is also intensively trained in Exposure with Response Prevention (ExRP) for the treatment of OCD. In addition to his years of experience working with eating disorders, primary mental health, and substance abuse, Dr. Chen has worked with patients with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), anxiety (including Generalized Anxiety and Phobias), depression, thought disorders, and personality disorders. He also serves as an Associate Professor of Psychology at Broward College.
Dr. Chen has presented at psychology conferences throughout the United States. He is fluent in both English and Mandarin. He is also passionate about giving back to the community and has volunteered with various charities in South Florida. Dr. Chen facilitates regular training, including mental health education and hostage negotiations, to local police departments throughout South Florida. He has been a Big Brother through the Big Brother Big Sister Program of America for the last 16 years. He was very honored to have been the nominee for the Men with Caring Hearts Outstanding Male Volunteer Award given by the Florence Fuller Child Development Centers, Boca Raton, FL in 2016. In his off time, Dr. Chen is an avid outdoorsman, including a passion for automotive racing, motorcycling, and horseback riding. He has ridden horseback throughout the United States, South Africa, and Costa Rica.
Sandra Bernstein, LCSW, REBT-Trained, DBT-Intensively Trained
With over 15 years of mental health and addiction experience, Sandra is a primary therapist providing individual, and group therapy utilizing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), MI, and Dialectal Behavioral Therapy (DBT) modalities and solution-focused techniques. She is an expert in CBT, working in exposure therapy especially with anxiety and mood issues. Sandra has worked in individual and group settings in outpatient mental health centers and residential levels of care. She has managed family counseling and outpatient programs monitoring the delivery of clinical services to youth and their families. She has also been a Qualified Clinical Supervisor providing clinical supervision to therapists for licensure. Sandy is REBT Trained through the Albert Ellis Institute. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology at Temple University and her Master of Social Work at Barry University.
Despina Karfis, PsyD, DBT-Intensively Trained
Dr. Despina Karfis has had her doctorate in clinical psychology for 15 years. In addition, she has been working with clients with mental health issues and substance dependency for over twenty years. Dr. Karfis earned her Doctorate and Master’s degrees in Clinical Psychology and has made strides using cognitive behavioral therapy and other evidenced based modalities. She has received specialized training in Forensic Psychology and has special talents in working with those suffering from traumatic events. She completed an APA accredited internship and a dissertation called: “A Relapse Prevention Program for the Prevention of Eating Disorders”. Dr. Karfis is known to be a professional who is skilled for working with the most challenging clients and enjoys monitoring their success through measurable outcomes. She enjoys “traveling and spending time with her two children and husband, playing board games, watching movies, sports, dining out and building happy memories”.
Tara Alhadeff, LMHC, CAI, DBT-Intensively Trained
Tara Alhadeff has almost 20 years of clinical experience in both residential and outpatient settings. Tara is known as a skillful motivator, leading clients to examine their current patterns and supporting them as they re-calibrate for coping with daily challenges. She has extensive interest in working with those experiencing co-occurring disorders and their families. She utilizes evidenced based approaches including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Interpersonal Therapy and Motivational Enhancement Therapy. Her extensive experience in Recovery Coaching supports clients as they move out of the pre-contemplation stage of change.
Tara brings an expertise in Intervention as she has completed intensive training and is certified as an ARISE (A Relational Intervention Sequence for Engagement) Interventionist. This has supported her treatment of clients requiring behavioral interventions and those suffering with addictions in the most effective manner. Ms Alhadeff is also a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC). She received her bachelor’s degree from Boston University and her master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling from Nova Southeastern University. Tara is artistic and creative and enjoys spending time with her family.
Nicolle Goldfinger, PsyD
Dr. Nicolle Goldfinger is a Primary Therapist at Lifeskills South Florida. She earned her undergraduate degree in psychology from The George Washington University and both her Masters and Doctoral degrees in Clinical Psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Nicolle utilizes evidenced-based approaches, which can be tailored to each client’s individualized needs including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy(ACT). Dr. Goldfinger has an extensive history of treating clients with mental health issues and addiction, including substance abuse and eating disorders. She has almost 15 years experience in the field and her clinical effectiveness has helped her clients heal and develop the skills for remaining successful post-treatment. She is known for fostering a therapeutic alliance with her clients, that encourages both trust, support and empathy. Dr. Nicolle is a Florida native and enjoys being outside in the Florida sunshine!
Robert Bruno, PsyD
Dr. Robert Bruno has his expertise in serving clients with mental health issues and substance dependency. He has been immersed in this work for the last 11 years. He graduated from Florida State University in 2009 with a double major in Psychology and Biology. Dr. Bruno then earned his Masters in Professional Psychology and his Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from William James College in Newton, MA between 2014 and 2019. He devoted a portion of his career in community mental health on a Mobile Crisis Team for over 5 years. Dr Bruno obtained valuable experience becoming an expert in crisis intervention techniques and working with those living with severe mental illness, mood disorders and personality disorders. Professionally, he utilizes evidenced based approaches and has focused on the process of a true multidisciplinary approach to symptom reduction and treatment. Dr. Bruno has returned to South Florida to serve the community that first gave him the drive to help those living with mental health issues. He also enjoys playing piano, camping, fishing and spending time with his wife in the beautiful South Florida weather.
Marie Valsaint, PsyD
Dr. Marie Valsaint is a primary therapist at Lifeskills South Florida. She earned her undergraduate degree in both psychology and sociology from Florida Atlantic University (FAU). She completed her Masters and Doctoral degrees in Clinical psychology at Alliant International University. Dr. Marie has diverse experience working in residential settings providing evidenced based therapies. She loves to incorporate trauma-informed, culturally sensitive care and mindfulness into her work in order to assist her clients in reaching their full potential.
In her free time, she loves to travel to different states in the country and spend time with her partner, young daughter and their pet (Mia). She also loves to find ways to incorporate her culture into her daily living.
Florin Coltea, PhD, LMHC, CAP, NCC
Dr. Florin Coltea earned a Ph.D. In psychology with a specialization in addiction and was trained in the “Scholar-Practitioner model”. Dr. Coltea has been treating addiction and mental health disorders for over 20 years. He is a licensed mental health counselor and is a Certified Addictions Professional and Qualified Supervisor in the state of Florida. He also has experience and expertise in neurodevelopmental disorders and in the use of ABA therapy. He has held leadership positions and Cognitive Remediation is his special interest as it is especially effective for many clients at Lifeskills South Florida. In addition, Dr. Coltea is a professor and has published research on the experience of recovery from opioid addiction. When not working with patients, Florins’ most favorite thing is taking his wife and 2 kids on vacations to Europe.
Lead Therapist for Ft. Lauderdale
Dana Engel, PhD, LMFT
Dana Engel is the Lead Clinician for Lifeskills South Florida Fort Lauderdale. She is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and is a masters-level Certified Addiction Professional. Dr. Dana received her Ph.D. from Nova Southeastern University and focused on integrating systemic clinical models and family work in the field of substance abuse and mental health treatment. Dr. Dana brings her clinical expertise and research knowledge to the Lifeskills team with multiple conference presentations on integrating a solution-focused approach to support the academic culture along with research on supporting loved ones of individuals struggling with substance abuse or co-occurring symptoms and experiences. She has significant clinical experience working in the treatment field, initially beginning her clinical career working with registered sex offenders before she transitioned to working in residential treatment in primary therapist and clinical support roles. Dr. Dana is an advocate for Dialectical Behavioral Therapy work and is also known as “DBT Dana”. She is also an adjunct professor teaching psychopathology, addictions, and systemic treatment courses for a Marriage and Family Therapy online university. Dr. Dana enjoys spending time with her family and cat, Olive, traveling, watching her alma mater Florida State University football games, and loves eating at her favorite local restaurants as a proud “foodie”.
Associate Director of Family Services
Sheryl Gross, LMHC
Sheryl earned her bachelor’s degree in Communications from the University of South Florida and a Master of Science Degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Nova Southeastern University. She focuses on building better family relationships and dynamics, improving communication styles, and supporting necessary therapeutic interventions. Sheryl is highly skilled in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, and Motivational Enhancement Therapy techniques in her approach with clients and families. She has more than a decade of experience in effectively treating addictions, trauma, and severe mental health issues. Sheryl supports motivating and empowering clients and families to make the healthiest and most proactive choices for their lives. When not working, Sheryl enjoys family time with her husband and daughters and exploring family activities in South Florida.
Krista Valz, PsyD, CRT-Trained
Dr. Valz is a licensed clinical psychologist and earned her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Her training has included individual and group work in a variety of settings including psychiatric care, outpatient mental health centers and residential levels of care. She completed her pre-doctoral internship at South Florida Evaluation and Treatment Center where her clinical focus was forensic psychology and worked at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, FL with a clinical concentration on neuropsychological testing. Dr. Valz is trained in Cognitive Remediation Therapy. At Lifeskills, she facilitates specialized groups for clients diagnosed with bipolar and psychotic disorders, schizoaffective disorder, and schizophrenia at both the residential and outpatient levels of care.
Mirella Ezeta, PsyD
Dr. Mirella Ezeta is a Family Therapist at Lifeskills South Florida. She earned her Master of Science in Mental Health and Doctoral Degree in Clinical Psychology from Nova Southeastern University. She also was trained in Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT) at the Albert Ellis Institute in New York.
She has been providing individual, family, and group therapy for almost 20 years for individuals with severe emotional problems, trauma experiences, and addiction diagnoses.
In her work as a clinician, she considers the crucial for the client’s recovery. working with the family system allows her to teach strategies for effective communication and the development of healthy relationships. Her passion for attachment issues also is reflected in her ability to develop and retrain healthy attachment within family members.
Dr. Mirella is bilingual and has expansive experience working with diverse and multicultural families.
Esther Entin, MSW
Esther Entin is a Family Therapist at Lifeskills South Florida. She earned her Master’s degree in Clinical Social Work from the Wurzweiller School of Social Work at Yeshiva University in New York. Esther’s work focusing on the family is integral in promoting recovery, related to both mental health and addiction issues. She takes an evidenced-based approach to family work. Her use of structural and systemic therapies leads to long-lasting improvements in family dynamics and communication. She is known for motivating change in family systems and supporting those in challenging times. When not working with clients and their families, Esther enjoys spending time with her husband, their four children, and grandchildren.
Rabbi Brandon Gaines
Rabbi Brandon Gaines has been a teacher, leader, guide, and source of coaching and motivation for over 30 years. He possesses a Master’s Degree in Chinese Medicine, as well as a Rabbinical ordination from Yeshivah Pirchei Shoshanim of Israel.
He was the first black belt of Martial Arts master, Tom Bloom, a national champion who was amongst the first wave of students who graduated under Grand Master Chuck Norris. Brandon trained diligently with Master Bloom for over 15 years culminating in the obtaining of a 3rd degree Black Belt in Korean American Tang Soo Do. Additionally, he obtained a Black Belt in Ninjutsu under Master Michael Cairns (top student of legendary Martial Artist Frank Dux), as well as certification in Kung Fu Northern style Long Fist under Master Jonathan Wong.
Using these skills, Rabbi Brandon Gaines has mentored and encouraged those with mental health and substance abuse issues, helping them heal and prevent relapse. He is skilled and has a successful track record in utilizing experiential therapies in residential settings.
He moved to southern Florida with his wife and 4 children from California and has brought his talents and experience to LifeSkills.
Milieu Supervisor for Ft. Lauderdale
Edgar Smith, MS
Edgar Smith is the Milieu Supervisor for Lifeskills South Florida Fort Lauderdale. He has a master’s degree in Counseling and Human Systems and a master’s degree in Education. He has received extensive training in Trauma-Informed Care and has dedicated his career to assisting others in meeting goals and maintaining a positive balance. Edgar is a former Director of Residential Services and Group Home Administrator with extensive experience in utilizing clinical and therapeutic approaches to assisting others in their journey. Edgar has provided managerial oversight for multiple programs for community-based agencies in Palm Beach County and Broward County. As a former educator, Edgar enjoys assisting others in problem-solving by breaking down skills and steps to facilitate independence. Edgar enjoys traveling and spending time with his family.
Chef for Ft. Lauderdale
Carol-Ann Beckford is the Chef at LifeSkills South Florida Fort Lauderdale. She has a Culinary Degree from Treasure Island Advance Culinary School in San Francisco. Carol-Ann brings over 25 years of experience in Culinary Arts. She is also a Servsafe and a culinary instructor. Carol-Ann’s background is in fine dining and institutional cooking. She enjoys cooking with local and fresh ingredients. Carol-Ann’s passion comes from cooking with her grandmother in Jamaica. She enjoys traveling and trying new cuisine from around the world. Carol-Ann enjoys spending quality time with her family.
Karen Gauci, MPH, RD, LD
Karen is the owner and president of 2001 Nutrition Services, Inc., a company with a philosophy of providing education and counseling in all areas related to nutrition. Karen is a licensed Dietitian and Nutritionist, with a master’s degree in Public Health. Her specialties include nutritional evaluation, advice and diet recommendations for weight management, chronic disease risk reduction, health promotion and wellness, sports nutrition, pediatrics, eating disorders, substance abuse, and psychiatric problems. She previously traveled around the world to train personal chefs in the preparation of foods low in fat, cholesterol, sodium, and sugar. She also helps in menu planning, label reading, and proper portion control. Not only is she the nutritionist at Lifeskills South Florida, but she is also a nutritional consultant at the Palm-Aire Spa Resort in Pompano Beach, Florida. Karen is the author of the cookbook, “Delicious Nutritious Spa Recipes from the Spa at Palm-Aire.” A few years ago, Karen wrote a program for large corporations to help lower their health cost entitled “Superitis, A 5 Star Plan for Better Health”. She is a frequent speaker at corporate conventions and has appeared in programs for Toyota, The American Cancer Society, and Northern Trust Bank. Karen works with professional athletes and has consulted for the NFL’s Chris Carter’s FAST Program to increase athletic performance.
As a lifelong dancer, singer, and creative artist with a degree in Psychology, Buffy completed her Yoga Teacher Certification in 2016 at the 500-hour level under Philip Christodoulou of Anuttara Yoga Shala. Certified in Hatha, Vinyasa, and Anuttara Raja Yoga (Kriya), her teaching experience includes Yoga Basics and Alignment, Mindfulness Meditation, Hatha, Vinyasa, Raja, and Yoga Barre at commercial studios, treatment centers, and as a guest teacher for the Dance Department at Broward College. With a deep love of the creative-expressive and healing arts, Buffy experienced the transformation power of yoga first-hand and embraced its connection with music, dance, and psychology. From this platform she encourages the use of intention and imagination, mindfulness and conscious breathing, yogic philosophy, and asana to initiate the healing process from the inside out.
Heather Wright, ISSA
Heather has worked in the fitness industry for over 28 years and has been a nationally certified personal trainer for the past 17 years. She specializes in weight management, endurance, strength, and sports specific training. The Metabolic Fitness groups that she facilitates at Lifeskills are specifically tailored to meet the needs of the individual client in weight loss, increasing strength, regaining balance and coordination, or improving flexibility. The goal is to make sure the clients fitness needs are met and to improve their overall self-esteem, health, and wellness. Increasing self-confidence, mind-body awareness and mastery of skill are at the heart of Heather’s’ work.
Osceola House Manager
Ted Monticello, BS
As the Osceola House Manager, Ted focuses on assisting clients in developing a lifestyle of wellness and independence. He has over 22 years of experience and is well versed in multiple accreditation processes. Working in residential, PHP and Outpatient levels of care has allowed Ted to gain expertise in recovery, legal, case management, and programmatic issues. Ted graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Health and Fitness Management from Northern Michigan University. At Lifeskills South Florida, he brings a focus on supporting clients, building team, and teaching our clients skills for life.
John is experienced in working with adults with severe traumatic brain injury, substance use disorder, and dual diagnosis. He began his career in the substance use/ mental health in 1989 in New England and held many roles throughout his career including Team Leader, Program Director and Director of Patient Care. In his previous role, John supervised the day-to-day operations of a large department consisting of 90 direct care staff and two recovery residences. He was also previously a Crisis Prevention Instructor and an Anger Management Facilitator. John is experienced in CARF accreditation and DCF licensure and is familiar with the 12 step Recovery Model. He is passionate about helping people with disabilities and ensuring they are treated with the utmost dignity and respect.
Associate Director of Residential Operations
As the Daytime Residential Supervisor, Bill utilizes his training in DBT interventions and crisis prevention while working one on one with clients fighting through adversity, resolving interpersonal conflicts that arise in residential treatment settings, and organizing the client community to appropriate participation, redirecting maladaptive behaviors. Ten years ago, he left a comfortable position at a business run by friends to pursue a passion for helping others. He has cared for individuals of all ages battling mental illness, substance abuse, dual diagnosis, and comorbid medical issues, and he has served as liaison to families. Bill was also the Director of Safety and Security at an adolescent mental health and substance abuse treatment facility. He is experienced with the licensing and accreditation process with DCF and JACOH. His goal is always to ensure that our clients are safe and to seamlessly coordinate with clinical staff to maximize the client’s treatment experience and promote healing.
Evening Shift Supervisor
Daniel came to Lifeskills South Florida in January 2010, with over 40 years of experience in the field of mental health and substance abuse. He has worked with Severely Emotionally Disturbed adolescents and developed group home programs with the Children’s Psychiatric Center in Miami. Daniel spent 18 years working at psychiatric hospitals in the Palm Beach County area before his arrival at Lifeskills South Florida. As the evening supervisor, he oversees our clients and ensures they are attending their needed outside meetings. As a former CPI instructor, he brings years of experience in the art of verbal de-escalation and the ability to assess those in need. Along with the evening shift, he also supervises our overnight shift and assists in the staff scheduling. Dan Thacker is a US veteran, as he is retired Coast Guard.
Jackie Parker was born and raised in Florida graduating and receiving her high school diploma from Highlands Christian Academy. Upon graduating, Jackie moved to Orlando, Florida to start her life and became a preschool teacher there for several years. After returning to South Florida, Jackie devoted 11 years to being a stay-at-home mom, raising her two beautiful daughters: Megan and Madison. In her involvement with actively raising her girls, she joined the Parent Teacher Organization eventually becoming PTO president. Now that her daughters are older and attending Calvary Christian Academy, Jackie is able to focus more on her passion for mental health and substance abuse. In 2020, she had the opportunity to become a Behavioral Health Technician at Lifeskills South Florida and leaning into her craft, she has received promotion to Weekend Supervisor. Jackie is an animal lover and owns 3 dogs, a cat, and a bearded dragon. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her children and pets, the beach and cooking.
Outpatient Primary Therapist
Reid Boland, MS, LMHC, REBT-Trained
As a Primary Therapist at Lifeskills South Florida, Reid brings a unique perspective to the clinical team. Reid earned his Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Miami University and his Master of Science in Applied Psychology at Lynn University. Following an intensive clinical internship at Lifeskills South Florida, Reid has provided both case management support and clinical care. Reid is REBT (Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy) Trained through the Albert Ellis Institute in New York City. He has worked with both young adults and adult dual-diagnosis clients and also has an interest in social anxiety and personality disorders. Over the years, Reid has worked in several settings including as a studio engineer while working on Music Row in Nashville, TN. Given Reid’s passion and musical expertise, he currently shares his office with the Lifeskills South Florida Outpatient Program’s music studio.
Outpatient Primary Therapist
Amy Max, MSW, DBT-Intensively Trained
As a primary therapist at Lifeskills South Florida, Amy works with clients in group and individual settings. She utilizes a strengths-based, non-judgmental and supportive approach in order to empower clients to move towards their goals. Amy uses a variety of evidence-based interventions such as CBT to help individuals explore different perspectives so they may develop more positive and accepting views of themselves.
Amy earned her Master’s of Social Work from Florida Atlantic University, as well as a graduate degree certificate in Addiction. Amy plans to continue her work towards earning her LCSW.
Amy considers herself a foodie and enjoys trying new restaurants, as well as cooking and entertaining. She loves traveling, watching movies, and running outdoors. Mostly, she loves spending time with her family and making memories.
Outpatient Primary Therapist
Jason Weed, LMHC CTP, NIP , EMDR-Trained
Jason Weed is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in the state of Florida who has experience treating adolescents, adults, and families seeking help with depression, anxiety, life transitions, Trauma, men/women’s issues, and relationship issues. He completed his Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from South University and received his Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from South University. Jason is currently in the process of attaining his PH.D in Advance Studies in Human Behavior. Jason has completed both his Part 1 & Part 2 trainings in EMDR through EMDRIA’s institute making him an EMDR trained Clinician. Jason has also completed his Level 1 NeuroAffective Relational Model training (NARM) and is considered a NARM informed Professional (NIP). Jason has attained his Certified Telehealth Practitioners certification with the Florida Certification Board (CTP). Jason utilizes relational, collaborative, strength-based, cognitive behavioral, mindfulness based, solution-focused and emotionally focused approaches to therapy always maintaining the creativity, flexibility, and awareness necessary to best meet the needs of every unique individual and couple. Jason seeks to establish a warm and caring relationship with you in order to assist in building on your strengths and better collaborate with you towards meeting your goals and living the meaningful life you value and desire.
Outpatient Primary Therapist
Celin Thomas, MS
Celin is committed to providing an atmosphere that fosters authenticity and encourages individuals to not only reflect, but feel their emotions without reservation. She supports her clients in exploring and strengthening their relationship with themselves and others, developing skills needed to enhance emotional awareness, and navigating life’s past wounds and present stressors. Celin strives to offer her clients with new perspectives so that they are able to gain insight and make meaningful changes.
Celin utilizes a strengths-based approach as it empowers clients to recognize their own courage and resilience. She enjoys working from a client-centered and collaborative lens to meet the needs of her clients and values culturally sensitive therapy as it is vital in understanding how a client’s background and belief system impacts their worldview. Celin is influenced by therapeutic approaches such as Family Systems Theory, Emotionally Focused Therapy, and Narrative Therapy. Celin obtained her Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Healthcare from the University of South Florida and earned her Master of Science in Family Therapy from Nova Southeastern University. She is continuing to work towards her LMFT. Celin has a deep love for music, and enjoys spending time with loved ones, baking desserts, and practicing calligraphy.
Outpatient Primary Therapist
Alexa Vrionis, LCSW
Alexa is a primary therapist in the IOP program at Lifeskills South Florida. She earned her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Florida and her Master of Social Work from Florida Atlantic University. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the state of Florida with intensive experience in addiction treatment. Alexa employs a strengths-based and client-centered approach with a strong emphasis on restoring hope both to clients and their families. Alexa holds a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Certification from Florida Atlantic University and utilizes CBT, Mindfulness and Solution Focused techniques in work with her clients. Alexa has great interest in comprehensive wellness and strives to assist her clients in achieving balance and health across all areas of their lives, including physical, emotional and mental health. She believes this is instrumental in a person’s ability to reconnect with others and recover from mental health struggles and substance abuse. In her spare time, Alexa enjoys spending time with her two German Shepherd dogs and working toward new skills at her Crossfit gym. Alexa also has an affinity for foreign languages and loves to travel to new countries.
Outpatient Primary Therapist
Hannah Hlavacek, MS
Hannah is a compassionate counselor dedicated to providing comprehensive and holistic treatment services to individuals, families, and groups. She welcomes her clients with a fundamental belief in honoring their unique story, hardships, and struggles that brought themselves and others to a place where they may feel stuck in life. Skilled in motivating and facilitating meaningful change in client’s lives, she emphasizes the importance of building a collaborative therapeutic alliance, incorporating feedback-driven practices, actualizing a client’s potential, and establishing realistic steps that create a greater sense of purpose by encouraging clients to utilize their strengths. Hannah holds a safe space for clients to explore and modify their life’s strategies that once protected them and now no longer serve them. Whichever unique shade of life one’s story brings, Hannah believes it deserves to be heard and attended to.
Hannah utilizes evidenced-based practice approaches that promote a sense of belongingness, resiliency, empowerment, and adaption. She tailors care to each client intentionally integrating treatment modalities of CBT, DBT, TR-CBT, Adlerian psychotherapy, and family systems to meet the client’s needs. She enjoys working with a variety of different populations and cultural identities. Hannah completed her bachelor’s and Master of Science degree at Lynn university with an outstanding reputation in leadership and academic achievement. With a calling to help others, she has experience working with adults who have co-occurring mental health and substance abuse disorders seeking to help them source effective solutions to life’s challenges. In addition, she has experience as a case manager gaining additional resources and competencies to facilitate the achievement of goals within the intersectionality of a client’s home, cultural, and social environments. Hannah is dedicated to advancing the field of mental health counseling, completing an international trip abroad through ICASSI to share clinical knowledge and skills with counselors from around the world. In her spare time, she enjoys yoga, mindfulness meditation, playing piano, art therapy, and spending time with loved ones.
Outpatient Primary Therapist
Rachel Spiller, LMHC
Rachel is an LMHC with 12 years of experience treating both adult and adolescent clients diagnosed with a multitude of psychiatric disorders including, Bipolar disorder, Schizophrenia, Major depressive disorder, Substance use disorders, and many others. Rachel is well-trained in a variety of evidence-based interventions including CBT, DBT, Motivational Interviewing, and many others. Rachel encourages clients to focus on maximizing personal strengths while overcoming struggles and building self-esteem. Rachel believes strongly in motivating her clients to take a proactive role in their treatment as they look forward to a healthier future.
Rachel earned her BA from Sarah Lawrence college in Bronxville, NY as well as a MA from the Hahnehmann Art Therapy program at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA. Rachel loves creating art (drawing, painting, knitting), time with family, and Sami her cat (sadly Sami refused to be photographed).
Alumni Relations Manager
Stefan leads Odyssey’s efforts in developing the alumni communities at each of their facilities. Stefan’s approach sustains treatment effectiveness by providing timely, systematic, and supportive engagement forall clients who have completed treatment. With extensive experience developing and directing robust alumni communities in the addiction and mental health fields, he focuses on engaging people withintheir specific recovery journeys and developing community partnerships with a belief that long-term recovery is an attainable life goal.
Alumni Relations Coordinator
Brandi Petitti leads Lifeskills South Florida efforts in serving and guiding the Alumni and Alumni Family communities. She has served within various leadership roles throughout her career and has hands-on experience working in the mental health/addiction field with multiple positions of service. Brandi’s empathy, compassion, and consistent source of stability have provided her to be a beacon of hope in many people’s lives. Her many talents include her ability to engage people on their specific recovery journey, leadership, outreach, and crisis management. Brandi’s belief is that Lifeskills South Florida treatment works, and that long-term recovery is an attainable life goal.