Dr. Raul Valdez was born in Laredo, Texas, the sixth child of ten in a family of migrant workers who traveled through the Midwest for work until he was 8 years old. At that time, his family decided to settle in Milwaukee, Wisconsin because his mother wanted her children to pursue an education without having to miss school during harvest times. Dr. Valdez lived in Milwaukee for 10 years where he became an avid Packers’ fan. In 1970, he joined the Marine Corps where he was trained as an infantryman and served 24 years, achieving the rank of Master Gunnery Sergeant before he retired in 1994. While on active duty prior to his retirement from the Marine Corps, Dr. Valdez attended National University where he earned his Bachelors Degree in Behavioral Sciences with an Emphasis in Chemical Dependency. At that point, Dr. Valdez sought the advice of his mentors who informed him that he would need a Master’s degree level license in order to open a private practice, teach and train counselors, or to be a director of a treatment program, all of which he desired. He was encouraged to apply for the MSW program at SDSU and to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.
Dr. Valdez retired from the Marine Corps on August 5th, 1994, and began orientation for the MSW program two weeks later. Upon graduation in 1996, he worked at Fleet Family Services as a Relocation Coordinator, obtained his clinical hours at the Family Advocacy Program (FAP), and earned his LMSW in 1998. He recalls flying back home to Wisconsin at that time, where his sister excitedly introduced him to people saying, “This is my brother, the doctor!” When he explained that he was not a doctor, his sister replied that he was “as close to a doctor as anyone in the family would ever be”.
Her statement stuck with him for many years. In fact, five years after that memorable comment from his sister, he came to the realization that his current job had become monotonous and that he needed a new challenge. At that point he knew it was time for him to pursue his Ph.D. and he called Dr. Allan Pluth , with whom he had worked at FAP and who had encouraged him to pursue his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. Dr. Pluth called a friend at Pacifica Graduate Institute and, a few days later, he got a call from Pacifica Graduate Institute inviting him to apply for the Doctorate of Psychology program, which he began a week after September 11th, 2001.
Dr. Valdez said the most challenging time in his career was from 2002-2004, when he worked with the sex offender population at the Naval Consolidated Brig in Miramar. He found it difficult dealing with the clients because of the crime they had perpetrated, their psychological make-up, and the fact that many of the men presented as normal, likable men, a fact he found hard to reconcile with their crime. During this time, he was also beginning to write his doctoral dissertation on children’s experience of feeling safe during their parents’ high conflict divorces. He found that his work at the brig was blocking him from successfully completing his dissertation work with children and left that position, he was then able to finish his dissertation within the next year and a half.
The most rewarding time in Dr. Valdez’s career was while working as a clinical social worker with active duty combatants who were dealing with trauma from deployment to Afghanistan and Iraq. During that time he was able to travel to Heidelberg, Germany where those men were sent for a 3-day decompression period following their tours in combat. Dr. Valdez said that in Germany he would sit outside of the hotel to make himself available to those in his care to comfortably talk about their experiences, evaluate any immediate needs, and ensure their psychological safety. He cited his own experience in combat as being useful in this work. He remembers this time as the best of his career, using all his experience and knowledge to help those with whom he felt a deep kinship.
Currently, Dr. Valdez works as a clinical social worker and psychologist in the Intensive Care Unit at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego. He prides himself in being a field instructor for second year MSW students from SDSU and in providing clinical supervision for social work interns working on obtaining their license. In the future, Dr. Valdez hopes to help build the best internship program at NMCSD that includes a teaching component so that students can learn about addiction and the recovery process, trauma and evidenced-based treatments for PTSD, and classes for preparation for the licensing examination. His advice to students is, “Don’t box yourself in to one area unless you’re sure that this is all you want to do forever.” He explains that his work with different populations created an enriching clinical learning experience and because of this varied experience, he feels prepared to help whoever walks through his door.
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written by Kelly Reilly