A career counseling, consoling servicemembers

A career counseling, consoling servicemembers

Stripes Korea

Hilary Valdez is a retiree living in Japan. Prior to his retirement, Valdez was a Master Resiliency Trainer at Camp Zama. Valdez has extensive experience working with the military as a certified Substance Abuse Counselor and Emergency Trauma Specialist. He continues to counsel members of the military community and is also a freelance writer, publishing books on relationships, psychology, mental health and the military. He’ll also be writing a column that will appear weekly in Stripes Japan. We recently sat down with Valdez to get to know him a little better. Here’s what he had to say.

- What does a resilience trainer do?
Resiliency Trainers focus on positive psychology and finding positive elements in a person’s everyday life. The aim is improving well-being through enhancing: Self-awareness or identifying strengths emotions and behaviors; Optimism or what is controllable while being hopeful; Self-regulating emotions, and impulses; Mental Agility, or thinking flexibly, identifying a person’s top strengths and talents; and, Connection or improving positive communication, asking for support from others and increasing communication and strong relationships.

- How long did you serve in the Marine Corps and what made you go into this field?
I served four years in the Marine Corps as an NCO then four years as a Civilian GS worker. When I was about 9 or 10 years old my neighbor had his Dress Blues hanging on the door, I was “wowed” at how beautiful the uniform was. I wanted to wear dress blues and join the Corps when I grew up. But, for the honor of wearing the “Blues” came with a heavy price. Eventually, I worked for the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., as a Conciliation Specialist and Field Agent negotiating a broad range of civil and criminal activities. The Department trained me in various aspects of conflict resolution techniques. After that, more schooling and training with the Army and Navy with a focus on Trauma and Critical Incident psychology.

- What are some of the mental health challenges troops and retirees face in the Pacific?
For the troops: loneliness. A degree of social isolation and alienation. Depression, Anxiety, and Stress. For retirees, depending on their retiree status, having limited access to quality medical and dental care; for some, no access to the commissary or PX; having enough money to make ends meet; health related issues from active duty; feelings of being alienated from America and uneasiness of adjusting to American life if they chose to return. Many military retirees are in mainland Japan, Okinawa, Thailand, Philippines, and Korea.

- You’ve spent decades working with our military and their families, how do you cope with all the heartache you deal with? Who takes care of you?
I try not to personalize events. I want to stay objective and concentrate on the immediate needs of the family while keying into their emotional needs and well-being. It doesn’t do the client any good if I’m crying my eyes out while they are crying. However, as a helper, there is always a residual emotional side-effect of dealing with sorrow, you get emotionally “singed” to a degree. I have a support group and other Counselors who I speak with. I don’t sit around saying to myself: “Poor me, Poor me, Pour me a drink.” I don’t cope with my emotions by drinking. Alcohol is a depressant: I don’t want to be depressed, so, I go to the gym and ride my bike.

- You’re retired but continue to work with patients. Tell us about your connection with the military community.
I’m retired, but my knowledge, skills, insights, and abilities remain. Concepts of retirement have changed. It’s not like great-grandpa days where you hobble around and do very little. Today, no such thing as retirement, you just change your role in society. You shift gears and transition into a livelihood that fits your lifestyle. For me, I enjoy helping people. Currently, I conduct Cultural Seminars to Japanese and I have a private practice catering to young businessmen dealing with international marriages. Occasionally, I give seminars on Substance Abuse and Resiliency when called upon. However, I have active duty, civilian, and retiree friends in Japan, Korea, Manila and Bangkok, who I contact and meet regularly. All my closest friends and support groups are military associated. We chat at the gym, at breakfast, at the food court. My military friendships have become everlasting and meaningful. 

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