Counselor Thomas Florez

3: Thomas Florez – A Revealing Journey on How to Become a Passionate Counselor and Therapist

In this interview, Thomas Florez discusses the significant events and people that led him to become a passionate counselor and therapist later in life. Armed with a master’s degree in mental health counseling from Doane College, he reveals how his real-life experiences and multiple licensures and certificates have helped him relate to, and connect with, his clients to help them create their own success story.

Tom also offers advice to those interested in becoming a counselor and shares how he decided what graduate school to attend. He has worked in various hospitals, rehabilitation and treatment centers including the Friendship House, St. Francis Memorial Hospital, Hall County Detention Center, and Horizon Recovery Center.

Tom worked as a dual diagnosis outpatient counselor and therapist at Mid-Plains Center for Behavioral Health and Professional Care Counseling before taking a position at Richard Young Hospital as a therapist. He has worked with the Aftercare-In-Action organization to help inmates make the transition from being incarcerated to re-entering the community. Tom now works at Alfrey and Florez Counseling in Grand Island, NE helping his clients find their authentic, genuine selves while changing their direction in life.

Tom attended Doane College where he received a B.A. in Human Relations and an M.A. in Mental Health Counseling. He is a Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner (LIMHP) and a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor (LADC). Tom is also a Certified Sex Offender Treatment Specialist (CSOTS).

Interests and Specializations

Tom specializes in addiction issues and family/couples conflict. He works with adolescent behavioral issues and is a Licensed Alcohol and Drug counselor as well as a Certified Sex Offender Treatment Specialist. The types of therapy he is trained in include Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).


Bachelor of Arts (B.A.), Human Relations (2010); Doane College.
Master of Arts (M.A.), Mental Health Counseling (2013); Doane College.

Counseling Certificates and Licensure

LIMHP – Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner
LADC – Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor
CSOTS – Certified Sex Offender Treatment Specialist

Podcast Transcription

BradleyWelcome to the Master’s in Psychology podcast where psychology students can learn from psychologists, educators, and practitioners to better understand what they do, how they got there and hear the advice they have for those interested in getting a master’s degree in psychology or related field. I’m your host, Brad Schumacher and today we have the privilege of talking with Mr. Tom Florez. After graduating from Grand Island Senior High, Tom attended Chapman University before attending Doane College where he received a B.A. in Human Relations and an M.A. in Mental Health Counseling. Tom is a Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner (LIMHP) and a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor (LADC). He is also a Certified Sex Offender Treatment Specialist (CSOTS). Tom has worked in various hospitals, rehabilitation and treatment centers, and has worked with the Aftercare-In-Action organization to help inmates make the transition from being incarcerated to re-entering the community. We are excited to have Tom as a guest as we know some of our audience may be interested in becoming counselors. Tom, welcome to our podcast.
ThomasThank you Brad for having me, I appreciate it.
BradleyWell, to start off, again I want to thank you for taking the time to meet with us today and I, as I said, most of our listeners are going to benefit from your experience and your advice. You have a good experience behind you, and we’re just going to go ahead and get right into it. First of all, tell us a little bit about yourself.
ThomasWell, I’ve been in the field since 2013. I’ve got my own private practice with my partner. And we’re serving the central Nebraska area. So that’s, I was married, and I have seven children, the youngest is an eleven-year-old.
BradleyAnd I noticed that you just had one that just had a birthday, based on your…I did some research on Facebook as well…And I think you had one, I think, was it…was it…was it Cody who just had a birthday? Yeah.
ThomasHe’s our 11-year old. Yeah.
BradleyOkay. Well congratulations…seven kids. My gosh, keeps you busy.
ThomasI am 62 years old. So, I think we’re kind of done now.
BradleyRight, right. Well, it definitely keeps you busy and then you have to keep in mind all their birthdays. When I was scrolling through all of the Facebook posts that you had it was interesting to see all of the reminders of the birthdays, as well as some of the fun stuff that some of your kids have been going through, for…I think you called her CC…is it Cecile?…debuted as a stand-up comedian back in January last year. How did that go?
ThomasRight. Cecily. She’s, she’s the youngest and she did really well. I was, I was a little apprehensive because I’ve never seen her as being funny but when she got up there. She did really well so. Everyone seemed to enjoy her, so.
BradleyGood….Good, good. So, you know what I wanted to ask you, was you know what initially got you interested in counseling?
ThomasAh, that’s interesting question. What got me interested in counseling. Ahh, I was actually later, it came later in life for me. I was about 42. To kind of preface it a little bit, when I was 25 years old I was married to my first wife, and we had got into a car accident and we had two children in my young my oldest son was killed.
BradleyOh no, I’m sorry to hear that.
ThomasYeah. And that kind of ended our marriage. I mean I’d known her since she was 14, she was the love of my life. But tragedy either separates you or brings you closer and with being as young as we were and no one really telling us how to deal with the trauma, we kind of we kind of went our separate ways, dealing with it best as we could. And as time went by, I dealt with it through addiction. And through the years, and not really dealing with it by the time I became 42 I had come to the conclusion my life needed some changes. Still not looking at being a therapist whatsoever. And I had some experiences with the legal system, as you may have and so once I made a decision to go in a different direction with my life, I decided that I wanted to get a job. Wasn’t really sure what I was going to do. And my brother had a friend that was working as a tech at the treatment center here in Grand Island. And so, he asked me if I wanted to be tech. And I go, sure. And basically, you march people around and get them to the classes and take notes and watch them at night. Whatever their behavior is. But what it kind of made me decide to become a therapist was I seen the transitions of people coming in, struggling with their addictions, as I had in the past. And seeing transformations in their life, and I, I had thought that this is something I wanted to do. I want to be a part of, you know, take a and perhaps you know contribute to what I could from my own experiences. And so, there was two therapists that I worked with that they approached me and asked me if I would be interested. If I have ever thought about being a therapist and I was laughing like no, no, no. That wouldn’t be me. Not from my background and the fact that was that I was in my already in my 40’s and a therapist that I had worked with Dick Stocker. He was amazing. He was 78 years old and he was able to connect with people, regardless of age from 18 to 80. He just had that ability to connect with them. And I thought that was amazing. And he had told me, hey that’s I was 40 when I started. And so, it me made me think it was possible. So that’s kind of how I became, I wanted to do something that was, that contributed to the community that was greater than myself, you know. Previously had worked in the restaurant field and I’d really hadn’t got I did it because they knew how to do it, but it was really not anything that I was, that I felt passionate about. So, once I started work, going to school and studying the field. Yeah, I got pretty passionate about it so.
BradleyWell, you know, it’s interesting that you say that because a lot of times when I talk to people, they always say something either abrupt something happened in their lives that actually got them to think about going down that career path and it sounds Like this was one of them, especially your, your friend and colleague Dick, who showed you that it doesn’t matter your age, you can still relate to everybody. And in some ways, you know, unfortunately, you had to go through that experience and that addiction. But in other ways that almost gives you a little bit more credibility when you’re talking to people about their own addiction and if you, you know, if you share that or if you feel free to share that with your clients, it helps them relate to you a little bit more. Don’t you think?
ThomasAbsolutely, absolutely. And many people have asked me, do you have regrets having to lose your child and go through all that addiction and all that all the trauma that goes along with that. And if you had asked me 30 years ago I would of said, absolutely you know it’s been horrible and but today I look, it was an invaluable experience because I am able to connect with my clients. There’s not too much they can come in and talk with me that I can’t identify with and that was the purpose of coming in and as a therapist to help them navigate through the course of recovery and restructuring your life. In, you know, in order to be more productive and happy. And oftentimes people feel like you know I can’t. This is my life; this is where I’m at. And I felt the same way and realizing. No, it’s not. It’s about choice and what are you willing to do you know to get where you want to go.
BradleyRight. No, that’s exactly right now on one of your websites you actually have two websites, one on Psychology Today, another one on Psychology Today. One of them is for Alfrey and Florez Counseling, which we’ll talk about a little bit later. And then the other one is your personal one as well. And in both those both those cases. You have a little a couple paragraphs in there talking about, hey, if you want to open up your potential and move forward. Just like you were saying, that’s where a good therapist and counselor can help guide you and help you cope with some of the stuff that you’ve been going through, as well as some of your clients. So, I applaud you for applying that and sharing that with your clients because again it’s another way to relate with them and have that credibility. So, for those listeners and audience members. I wanted to let you know that Tom is out in Nebraska and in Nebraska, the counseling licensure in Nebraska. There are two levels and Tom, you can correct me if I’m wrong, but based on my research. The two levels of counseling licensure out there are. The first one is Provisional Licensed Mental Health Practitioner (PLMHP). And the second one is the Licensed Mental Health Practitioner (LMHP). Both may work with clients, but the second one, the licensed mental health practitioner is a full life licensure level. And also has the expanded ability to diagnose and treat severe mental illnesses. Is that kind of a good summary of what’s happening in Nebraska.
ThomasCorrect. But there is a third license or as an independent mental health practitioner and the difference between a licensed mental health practitioner and the independent is that a licensed mental health practitioner has to work underneath either an independent mental health practitioner or a psychologist where the independent doesn’t need to work underneath the psychologist. But and provisional is usually the area where your, you’re out of college or gaining your experience. You do that for about three years. 3000 hours and it is that really truly is where your education begins. I mean, it’s invaluable. I’ve when I was going to school, my professor asked all of us, whether are you ready to be a therapist. Do you think you’ll be a good therapist? I’m older. I was an older student in most, oh yeah, I’m ready, I’m ready to go all the I know what I need to do. I know how to do this. And when he come to me. I’m again being older, I guess I had a different respect. I thought, no, I don’t. I’m not I don’t know anything, you know, and he just, he just he was pretty impressed with that answer, he says, Will you ever know enough? No, I will never know enough. Right, right. The lifelong learning, you know,
BradleyYeah, I think you could apply that Tom to almost any anything in life, whether it’s, you know, a career or just life as you get older, you have more experiences and you can share that knowledge with other people, but you’re always learning. There are so many different things out there you can learn from so….
ThomasAbsolutely. And I learned from my clients. I absolutely learn from my clients as well. So, it’s a, it’s a collaborative effort for both on both parties.
BradleyYeah, and hopefully you share that with your clients and tell them, hey, this isn’t only a one-way street. I learn from you and that almost puts them in the situation, and they realize, hey, this is a given take and it’s not only one way. So, I think they feel more respected when you acknowledge, hey I’m learning from you as well.
BradleySo that leads me to my next question we were talking about education and your professor asking you “Will you ever be ready?” or “When will you know you’ll be ready”. My next question is talking about as an undergraduate at Chapman University, what kind of work and study did you engage in. Now, you mentioned, I should give a caveat here. You did mention that you really weren’t planning on going into the counseling route or becoming a therapist until later. So maybe this doesn’t really apply, but I’ll ask it what kind of work and study did you engage in as an undergraduate at Chapman University in Southern California?
ThomasActually, when I was going to Chapman out in California, I was in the Marine Corps and we actually had classes on base. And I was just doing GenEds at the time. But I did take a introduction to psychology course. Just because when I was in high school. I’d always found that sociology, the social sciences…sociology, history and psychology…always was fascinated with that with those classes and always loved them. And so, when I took that class, I that’s when I started thinking, you know, could get a degree to be a psychologist. And I took the course. I loved it. And that was about the only class I took that was a psychology course at that level at that university. And so, it kind of opened the door, or the possibility. But after a while you just kind of dismiss it like, no, you know, I think I want to be a lawyer. So, I just kind of put that aside, but you know it’s I’ve always been told you if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.
BradleyRight, right.
ThomasIt certainly didn’t take me where I thought I was going to go. But that kind of began to open my mind and thinking, you know, this would be kind of a neat field to be in because you’re doing so, I felt like you were doing something more than just pulling a paycheck, you know. Like the Marine Corps, you’re there you’re there for a greater good than yourself, you know, and that’s kind of what attracted me. But again, I only took the course at Chapman at that time. And then I just I stopped going to school. We had gotten in a car accident where I lost my son. And that really took the wind out of the sails. Kind of I lost any drive or desire to do anything. We just…go ahead.
BradleyYeah, and I understand that I went through a divorce myself and it, it just impacts you more than you can imagine. And you lose focus. So, I can, I can relate to that in that way. But on the you know the upside. The end result is it’s helped you become a better person and become more valuable as a counselor and therapist. You mentioned that you were in the Marine Corps and I did notice when I was on your Facebook page, for your birthday this year, you had a fundraiser for the Wounded Warrior Project. I have volunteered there before. And so that kind of explains why you’re involved there but share a little bit more about what their mission means to you.
ThomasWell, it’s my way of giving back to my brothers in arms. Being able to still even though I’m no longer in the Marine Corp, being able to provide that support because in the military. Being able to have your brothers back, supporting them, being there in the time of need, uh it’s a huge thing for any military service member and so you want to do as much as you can to support those organizations. And, uh. And kind of let them know that there’s they’re not forgotten and still, uh, they’re still contributing and a valuable member of our society, especially at the times when they come back and and they’ve lost a limb. Or are there suffering from Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is when they need us the most.
BradleyYeah, I agree. I also volunteer at the Veterans Affairs (VA) Hospital locally here and it’s more difficult to do that now because of the COVID, so they’re not allowing people in. But we would go in all the time and help them with their annual picnic and then we’d go in once or twice a month and help them with some of their games. And you see it on their faces when they see other people coming in and just recognizing them and, you know doing things with them. We have to never forget that they have contributed and are still in a lot of cases contributing today. So, I applaud you for helping out with that Wounded Warrior Project as well. So, the next question is more for our listeners and our audience members and our viewers. What kind of things did you consider when selecting a graduate school and how did you decide on Doane College for both your B.A. and your M.A.?
ThomasWell, when I was looking at colleges, the more I would say, the University that most attend in this area is the University of Nebraska Kearney. I wanted to, I was looking for more of a private college, but one that had a reputation of academic excellence. Uh, and so does Kearney. I mean Kearney is an excellent college, but Doane College was actually here in Grand Island. They have a satellite college here. And their main college is in Crete. And I actually went to the Crete College before I started my classes. Just because I wanted to see what the campus looked like and it was very regal. Very Ivory League looking. But when I walked in and did the tour of the college, you stop by and you see some of they take a lot of pride in their academic awards and those who have gone on to Fulbright scholarships. They had a few that went to Oxford University or Rhodes scholar. There was a few of that went that were actually Rhodes scholars, so that tells me there where the emphasis is in that University. There was a professor, a Dr. Donald Belaw, that he taught in our undergraduate, but he also taught the master’s level at in Grand Island. And I had so much admiration for him and respect he was just, he was just brilliant. I really did want to study underneath him, which I did. So that was kind of the was kind of the driving force of my decision.
BradleySo, it sounds like you wanted more of a private experience. Private college experience as well as it sounds like this doctor in Grand Island was another reason why you wanted to study there because you absolutely work with him. So that kind of leads into my next one. Oh, I should get back. So, when you talk about Crete, you’re talking about the island of Crete.
BradleyOh, OK.
ThomasCrete, Nebraska is just a few. I think it’s like 20 miles from University of Nebraska Lincoln.
BradleyOK, I just wanted to clarify, I just wanted to clarify because I recently traveled over in Europe and stuff and I actually went to the island of Crete and I’m going. Well, really Doane College is out there too? You know, I just wanted to clarify. I don’t live out in Nebraska, so bear with me. Hey, that that does lead me to my next question. You already kind of answered it a little bit. Uh, I was going to ask you about some of your fondest experiences and memories while attending Doane College, and it sounds like some of them are studying under that professor that you looked up to…anything else come to mind?
ThomasYeah, there was a yes, there was another professor that I studied under Jerry Allen. He was very open-minded. And studying underneath him, he challenged you. It wasn’t really just you read the book and he instructed you. He really challenged you to think for yourself, to come up with creative thoughts. And I enjoyed working with him as well. His experiences, he had been gone to theology school. He had gone to these different universities. He had studied in Sweden and the Netherlands. I mean, he was well-rounded and to listen to his experiences and how it applied to our field. You know, was I thought it was invaluable studying underneath him, so he was another one that I really enjoyed. And I enjoyed working with the students, all the students that were there because we were a small group. You might have 6-7 people in your class at any one time. There’s up to even 20 people, which is not huge when you’re looking at major University. But the interaction, I learned as much, I think, listening to the professors as I did, listening to the students and their responses. I actually had a student tell me; she was super smart. I mean, she was a 4.0 student. I mean, and she’s just she had made a comment that I don’t learn anything. You know, and I’m sitting there I think…Do you listen to everyone else’s responses? Because if you did, I said that’s where you know the material. It was obvious that she knew the material. But you also can learn from others and how their perspective was, you know, so that was that it was kind of, uh, I enjoyed that as well.
BradleyYeah, you mentioned that you went to the Netherlands and so do you travel much internationally or have you.
ThomasI didn’t, uh, Professor Jerry Allen did.
BradleyOh, I see. Ok.
ThomasHe went to the Netherlands, at the University in the Netherlands. Ok, and so that experience enhanced our learning experience.
BradleyYeah, definitely, and the reason that I was bringing that up is that would be another thing that you could tell your student at that time is hey, all these people from all over the world. If they’ve traveled, and even if they haven’t traveled outside the United States, we all we all know that South, East, West, North all have different cultures and different expectations and norms and so just their experiences from those different areas are going to come in as well. And even if everybody’s from Nebraska, everybody is still going to have a different experience in a different perspective. So, I like pointing that out to the student and letting her know, hey, you’re book smart. But listen to what everybody else is right, right? So yeah. I do have a follow up question. I mentioned earlier in the intro that you have a master’s degree and Mental Health Counseling was your focus. What advice would you give somebody who was interested in going down that route and getting a master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling, any advice that you’d have for them?
ThomasIn response in regard to the school itself?
BradleyHow to select a school. What courses to take. General advice now that you’ve gone through it, any of that advice. I know a lot of our guests ask hey I need some advice on what criteria should I look at when I’m selecting a school? Well, that’s an open-ended question and it’s a loaded question because it really depends on what you’re going to school for and what you want to get out of that, and so I’m leaving it kind of open to you. Any kind of advice that you might have for somebody who would be interested in in the counseling route.
ThomasWhen I was looking at a college or University to attend, I really looked at the faculty and their experiences. Were they academias or did they have real life experience? You know, I looked at the emphasis that the University had as far as their endowments, how much, what kind of a financial support are they giving that particular Department. Um, as far as after graduation, oftentimes they’ll tell you that you can as soon as you graduate, you can practice. And you can, at least in Nebraska you can go out in private practice. Would I advise that? Because that’s exactly what I did…No, I would not. Because of your provisional status and this is I’m sure unique from state to state, but in my particular experience we were only being able to, one you don’t have any connections, and networking is huge. If you have the idea that I’m going to be a mental health practitioner, I’m going have my own private practice and I’m not really interested in the entrepreneurship side, then go work for an established facility or agency because you going to wear two hats when you’re in private practice. You’ve got to be an entrepreneur. You’ve got to go out networking. You’ve got to know a little bit about advertising. But as I’m going back on the provisional level. Get the experience. Get the 3 or 4 years of experience. Work underneath someone and ask them about, if I wanted to go into private practice, how do I do this? Because they don’t teach you that at college, they don’t teach you how to have a private practice. All the responsibilities of the advertising and the networking and how to how to bill for your services and how much to bill. You don’t learn any of that so get your feet wet in an established agency, or someone else’s private practice. Ask lots of questions. And after you get fully licensed and you’ve got some experience, then go out and try to venture out on your own. But before you have got to know, you’ve got to do the networking you really do. Because that’s where your referrals are coming from.
BradleyRight, until you build up your established practice and word gets out.
ThomasExactly reputation, yeah.
BradleyYeah, the reputation. Now you mentioned, knowing how to network and building up your network, getting that experience, how long does it usually take to become a full-fledged…is it based on hours or years or, how does that work?
ThomasIt really does depend on hours, how many hours of clients that you have. There’s certain things that you have to accomplish. How many specific hours for your assessments? You got to do so many assessments. You’ve got to have so many client hours. You’ve got to have so many hours if you’re going to, you can go from a provisional to a Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner (LIMHP). But you got to have hours in the severe and persistent diagnosis. And not every client you see is going to meet that criteria. So, you have to have so many hours in that area. So, it depends on how many clients you’re seeing. And, how many hours you’re putting in. So, if you’re working full time and you see a full load which would be about 20 clients or more, it will take you about three years.
BradleyOk. Well that gives us a better idea of what to expect and the other thing that I think you were highlighting, not only networking but almost surrounding yourself with what I would kind of refer to as an executive board. Those people that you can go to for advice on career choices. How do I do A, B and C? How do I improve on A, B and C? Maybe having somebody as a sounding board. Maybe somebody talking about how to run this as a business and surrounding yourself with all those people that can give you some of their experiences and share that knowledge. Because you’re exactly right. You’re all Gung Ho, I’m ready to go, and then you realize it’s not that easy. You have to bring in the clients and build your reputation and build that practice. So, I like that you’re highlighting that and surrounding yourself with those appropriate people to give you that chance and that advice is very good advice. Thank you. I did see that you worked back in 2009, 2010, that you worked with the Friendship House in Pennsylvania. Tell me a little bit more about your role and experience there.
ThomasYeah, that was the friendship house here in Grand Island, that wasn’t in Pennsylvania.
BradleyOh, when I looked it up it showed, do they have multiple locations?
ThomasI don’t know.
BradleyOK, my apologies, so tell us about your experience there.
ThomasWell, I, interesting experience. I actually started there and, I don’t know how to put this delicately. I started actually in there in 1994 as a resident.
BradleyOh, OK, so there’s the relationship and you went back to it.
ThomasYeah, I started there, so again, while it was one of those experiences where, like when I left there, I actually told the, we had a house manager who had just gotten there and I told him that it will be a cold day in hell before I ever come back. So, in 1994 I left, and then and it was 2000, I guess it was 2013.
BradleyYeah, on your page, your LinkedIn page, it shows 2009 and 2010 for The Friendship House.
ThomasAlright, I was anyway I went back to because I was doing my internship for my drug and alcohol license. That’s a completely different license from your mental health. I was still attending college then, but I had already completed all my requirements for a drug and alcohol counselor. And so, when I went back there, they actually, the house manager was still there and couldn’t quite place me. He knew he knew me when we were introduced and the next day when I came back, he says, he goes, so how cold is it outside?
BradleyRight, exactly right.
ThomasHe actually had a card on me with that quote, but the experience there was phenomenal. We had the guy, the therapist that I worked under was he had actually the 4th license in drug and alcohol that was ever issued in the state of Nebraska, which is that’s you know, that’s he’d been in the field along time. And he was a student of the drug and alcohol counseling and he was phenomenal, I learned so much from him. We had a client that was Native American, and he could relate to that client and connect with him and being able to integrate the principles of recovery into his native beliefs. It was just amazing because he was so well-read. And I would, as far as knowledge goes, although he only had an associates degree, I would put him up with anybody with a Doctorates degree. He was just that knowledgeable and to have an opportunity to work under him was just phenomenal. So, I liked that experience, I loved the experience of coming back to where I had started so many years ago. And being able to tell others that you’re you know, that was the whole purpose of me coming into the field was, you know your life doesn’t have to end here. Life is only beginning, you know, an where you go is absolutely up to you.
BradleyYeah, that’s good advice now. I’m not going to go through all of your steps that you have on LinkedIn because you’ve been to multiple hospitals and you’ve been to different recovery centers and work there and one of them that I did on notice that kind of stuck out a little bit as I notice that you work with the with Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) clients while at your time at the Horizon Recovery Center. How was this experience different from any of your other previous experiences up until that point in your career?
ThomasI had work I was working with juveniles at the time and I had never worked with juveniles and the whole time that had been a counseling. And I’m, by this time I’m in my 50s and so I was a little intimidated because I didn’t feel that it’s been a long time since I was a teenager. And wasn’t sure whether I can connect, and that’s huge with when you’re counseling, you have to be able to make that connection and being able to relate to your client and I wasn’t sure how they would perceive me. As you know, being this old guy, he doesn’t know what’s going on. You know he’s old, times are different now. And so, when I started working with them, I realized that I wasn’t that far away from remembering what it was like at their age and I was able to connect with them. When I took over the IOP for the juveniles it was very instructive. It was more another, they would come for three hours a day, three days a week after school. And so, and then they would come in and the way it was structured, it was like another class. Of course, you have information that you have to get to them. And so, when I asked if I could have free reins with this, they said absolutely, do what you want with it. An so I made it more interactive. I made it fun. I made it, those who wanted to challenge it. Because when you get teenagers, you’re going to get I’m not doing this. I don’t need to do this. You know you can’t tell me anything that I don’t already know. And so, I would get OK. Well, then you tell me, tell me how you know what, what, what it is, is that what it’s like for you? You know and it was it really was interactive, and they enjoyed it. It wasn’t like a classroom and I think when they feel that they’re being heard. And if they have something to say, you’ve got their attention. They asked me about my personal experiences, and because I had experienced some of the same things that they had as far as the addiction goes and the usage, they realized, wow, this guy really knows what he’s talking about because he’s been there himself. You know, and so it was, I loved it. I still talked to some of the kids that I talked to back then, they’re grown adults with kids, and I still keep in contact with them, so yeah.
BradleyWell good, that’s always nice to hear. I was a teacher for a number of years and I still kept in touch with some of the students even after. And it goes to show you that they have respect for you and they actually looked up to you and value your opinion as well. I know we have…you have a little bit of time left here, so I’m kind of narrowing down my questions for you. One that I do want to ask for our audience is you also worked at a couple places as a dual diagnosis, outpatient counselor or therapist…Can you explain what that means for our audience?
ThomasDual diagnosis therapist is someone who, it’s just simply someone who has a master’s degree in mental health, and you have a license in drug and alcohol counseling as well. You can practice to be a drug and alcohol counselor without getting your master’s degree, but today, that’s getting kind of phased out because it’s a credentially-oriented society and insurance reimbursements want people with a master’s degree. Although there’s still many out there that didn’t go that far, but it certainly I would advise any student that if you want to work with drug and alcohol, be a drug and alcohol counselor, take that extra step and get your Master’s degree.
BradleySo based on my experience, kind of the dual diagnosis comes into play when you have a mental health condition that you’re treating as well as maybe an addiction or something else, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and those are the dual part of that dual diagnosis.
ThomasYeah, and really the duality of that, and I’m going to probably reiterate what you just said. But uh, if you’re treating somebody with addiction, any type of addiction, there’s always going to be an underlining issue that is the foundation of that addiction. Oftentimes people say, why are you here? I’m a drug and alcohol, I’m an alcoholic and a drug addict. Actually that’s, and most people say that, but actually that’s a symptom of a much deeper-rooted problem. There’s something in that foundation that has created the condition where you feel that you need to self-medicate, you know. And so that’s why you really do want that master’s degree in mental health in order to be able to get down to what is the core foundation of that addiction.
BradleyYeah, that’s a good point, and so I kind of view it as a symptom or it manifests itself in that way that addiction that you’re treating. Now for those listening and watching there are a number of resources out there, but what I found Tom was, a lot of these websites estimate anywhere from 20% up to 80 or 90% of the clients that come in may have dual, you know, symptoms that you have to treat and it’s becoming more rare that you just treat one diagnosis. There’s something else that usually contributes to or has caused that second one. So, it’s interesting to focus on it as a dual diagnosis instead of just that singular. Of course, you have some of the simple ones that come in, and you, you know, help them through some short periods of their life, but I like the way that you had put it that it’s a symptom and you help them realize why they’re doing that behavior and then hopefully correct it at its source. I have a couple more questions, one of them that really stood out to me was many of our listeners and viewers may not know that you have served on the board of the Aftercare-In-Action organization since 2012. Would you mind sharing a little more about that organization, what they do, and what your role is?
ThomasWell that’s an organization that helps the transition of people that are coming out of the prisons. Being able to help them find resources or to reintegrate back into society, and being able to help them with, provide them with some type of foundational assistance in order to reduce the recidivism rate of them returning. Oftentimes when they are released, they’re not given enough resources or not enough information regarding the resources which creates some stress, anxiety, depression. And so, many of them went in there with addictive issues, and so what happens is when they’re starting to feel these symptoms of sense of desperation because they don’t know where to go and what to do and how to reintegrate back into society. They go back to what they know best, you know. And they start using again, and that’s where that’s where the recidivism rate begins, you know, where they’ll just go back to their old lifestyle. And so, they need help reintegrating and learning new skills, you know, and so that’s kind of what that organization is all about.
BradleyOk, it sounds like a great organization to help them basically get acclimated and get ready for release so it’s not as traumatic as it as it possibly could be. I know that you have a new website and I believe are you still working as a therapist at Richard Young Hospital as well as Alfrey and Florez Counseling? Are you doing both?
ThomasNo, no, I was required to, I left there for personal reasons and let me tell you what that was. I had already told you the story about my son getting killed and then me and my wife, who I’ve known since she was 14. We got married and we were young and we got divorced and but we stayed friends for those, I’m telling your audience, we stay in really good friends for those 34 years and of course we had a daughter that we were raising together. I went to work at Richard Young, and I knew she was a nurse there. And they were worried that because we were ex wives and husbands and will we be ok or, yeah, we’ll be fine. We’re still friends you know she’s like family you know. Long and short of the story is we ended up getting back together and now she’s my wife.
BradleyOh really, so your back together now. How long have you guys been back together?
ThomasWe got married last December, but we’ve been together for four years now. And, you know, the thing is that was one of the messages I wanted to share. Is that you just don’t know where life’s going to take you and when I had gone through my tragedy, my loss of my family and my son, that I had become suicidal as well. And I work a lot with people who are just that, and you just don’t know what journey you’re going to take. Why you’re experiencing these things and what’s for tomorrow, you know. And like me and my wife say it’s like, who knew that this is where we’d end up, back together, so. So yeah, I don’t, anyway.
BradleyWell, that’s a good story. That’s a good story to share. I have a couple of fun questions that I ask all of my guests here and one of them is what is your favorite term, principle, or theory related to your field and why?
ThomasWhat’s my favorite term, principle…
BradleyTerm, principle, or theory…yeah.
ThomasYou know what, I like working with the Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). Because not only helps you, it’s, I don’t know if your audience is familiar with dialectical behavioral therapy. It was founded by Marsha Linehan to work with borderline personality disorders. But what I like about that theory is the fact that it helps you regulate the mood. It helps you find out where is the foundation of this emotion. And then what do I do with it and how do I manage it. You know, oftentimes and different fields areas. And it’s something that you, you have to you have to dig deep and look and find the answers and that’s what therapy is all about. The therapist doesn’t, I always tell my clients that I don’t do nothing for you, I don’t. I’m there to help facilitate your recovery. I don’t take blame for your disorder. I don’t take credit for your recovery, but what I do do is provide you with the tools necessary in order for you to find a new path and how to stay on it. The best therapist, I think, doesn’t, they don’t have their clients come back with the same disorder again because they have already been given the tools on how and how to solve with the solutions that make sense.
BradleyIt does, yeah, and I actually had that as one of my questions, so I’m glad that you brought up the DBT – Dialectical Behavior Therapy as well, but, uh, I know we only have a few more minutes. I’m trying to be aware of your time, yeah, but I, I do have one other question that I’d like to ask you and it is kind of an overall question for you. What’s the most important thing you’ve learned in your life?
ThomasBeing ah, I would say. Being true to who you truly are. Being genuine to yourself, I would say that.
BradleyOK, well that’s a good question. I’d be remiss if I didn’t, I’m going to share my screen real quick and I’m going to show everybody the website that you guys have up and running for Alfrey and Florez Counseling. And it’s a nice straightforward website and I know that you guys are focused on different therapy…Depression, anxiety and addictions, trauma, relationships. Anything else that you’d like to share with us regarding the Alfrey and Florez counseling.
ThomasUh, no, the website pretty much covers what we do. We try to be multi-faceted and many of these things that we work on when we’re talking to addiction. This is what fascinated me about the field. Is it is so multifaceted that if when you say I’m going in; I’m going to specialize in relationships. Well, you have to have some background in all these other disciplines as well in order to be of service to your client. Because life isn’t in a bubble. You know we don’t just have relationship issues. Oftentimes those relationship issues turn around because there’s an addiction or because we have difficulty with communication. Uh, I do a lot of couples and nine times out of ten it comes down to communication. You know, not being able to effectively communicate how we feel or our thoughts. You know, and so we work a lot on those areas too. But yeah, so I mean our organization, again, the clinicians that we have, uh, are highly experienced and we’re just excited to be here each day.
BradleyWell, good, good to hear. I know that yeah, I have to ask this because I have to get this in before we sign off here. What are your children think of you being a counselor and has that impacted your parenting skills and do they think, oh my gosh, you have the advantage dad, you’re a counselor. Or do they see it as a burden or what’s the reaction of your kids knowing that you’re a counselor and you can help them that way? Or do you kind of take off that hat as a dad? Tell me a little bit more about that.
ThomasYeah, I just like I told my clients I can tell you because I do get the juveniles they come in with behavioral issues. I integrate, I have the family members come in because, again, if your son or your child has a problem you know then it’s a family problem. And so, giving them direction and suggestions and this and that and they always can you follow is that what you do. Um, no. I tell them not to yell at your children because you’re building barriers. And yet I go home and sometimes I forget. So, I’m like, well yeah, I’m working on it. But as far as my kids go, yeah, they don’t, they don’t listen to me. They do, they’re good and actually. It’s just that oh dad, you’re not the counselor. You know you’re not counseling me. I know.
BradleyRight. Is there anything else that you’d want to bring up during this podcast before we let you go? Anything else that I haven’t covered that you want to bring up?
ThomasNo, I just want to tell you I appreciate you allowing me this opportunity to speak with your audience. And, again, uh yeah, if you’re going into this field. I was once told by a professor that was giving a seminar that keep this in mind. If you’re looking for a vocation, get in a different field. This is an advocation. Now this is a lifelong learning experience in that it’s not a job, you know. And so, and you got to be passionate about what you’re doing because you put in some long hours, but I mean, for me, it’s not like I’m working at all. I love what I do.
BradleyWell, I appreciate you taking the time. We definitely have benefited from your experience and your advice. Thank you. I’m trying to keep, uh, keep you on schedule here. So again, thank you for being on our podcast. Stay in touch and if there’s anything else that you need from me or the website we’ll go ahead and post some of the information that I referred to both of your LinkedIn page, your Psychology Today…Both of those one for you and one for Alfrey. And then of course will include your website for Alfrey and Florez Counseling as well. Once again, Tom, I appreciate you being on the show and we thank you for sharing some of your experiences and advice.
ThomasAlright, thank you again.
BradleyAlright bye bye now
ThomasBye bye.
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