Víctor A. Pérez Flores has made a career out of helping people. After graduating Drew, he worked as a community support service provider and senior case manager for Hope House, a division of Catholic Family and Community Services, where he took on several roles, primarily working with individuals infected with HIV to remove barriers to care and achieve viral suppression. Víctor’s desire to become a competent provider led him to seek further training. In 2014, while working full-time, he started a Master’s program in Counseling, with a focus in Clinical Mental Health and received his diploma in May 2018. Since then, Víctor has worked as a bilingual clinician in Morris County, and as an Intensive In-community Clinician, working with children, adolescents, and their families throughout New Jersey. Víctor is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in Counseling and Supervision at Kean University. He also works as a doctoral assistant and holds a co-teaching internship. Since graduating Drew, Víctor has maintained a strong connection with the forest; he has returned for intramural volleyball tournaments, guest presented for the EOS summer program, Drew Honduras Program events, and has maintained great friendships with fellow alumni.
VICTOR AT DREW
Victor came to New Jersey in 2004 from the Dominican Republic. While in high school, he had many caring and supportive teachers that encouraged him to continue onto higher education. One of those teachers introduced him to Drew University. Once on campus, the Educational Opportunity Scholars (EOS) further supported him academically, financially, and emotionally. Víctor majored in Psychology and Spanish and is grateful for the support and guidance he received from his advisors and mentors, Drs. Jill Cermele, George-Harold Jennings, and Raul Rosales. While earning his degrees, Víctor also held multiple roles, such as working as an instructional technology servicer for classroom equipment, tutor, peer counselor, peer mentor, interpreter, receptionist, transcriber, driver, and student staff for on-campus events. He was also a member of honor societies such as Chi Alpha Epsilon and Sigma Delta Pi. Víctor participated in many international programs while at Drew. He scaled from member to board member, and later co-chair of the Drew Honduras Project (DHP). Víctor was able to volunteer his time and energy, working with children of lower economic resources, both in Honduras and the Dominican Republic. He attended a semester abroad in Seville, Spain, and had the opportunity to travel to and learn about nearby European and African countries. He later participated in a Drew International Seminar (DIS) to Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. Besides his great times with his friends, ‘The Drew Crew’, these traveling experiences were highlights of his time at Drew. “Traveling put me in a different context, where I could learn about different cultures and the world at large.” He also loved being a part of the E.O.S. program and said, “EOS started as a program but turned into a family in this new home. My peers then are still my friends today.”
What inspired you to pursue an M.A. in Counseling and Clinical Mental Health at Kean University?
I started working at Catholic Charities and Community Services as a case manager, and was expected to help with the individuals’ interpersonal relationships and other difficulties they were dealing with at the time as well. I found that I didn’t have all the skills necessary to do so, and I wanted to learn how to be more effective and efficient. I started looking for ways to do this. I had mentors within the program that were counselors and I watched them closely. I went back to Drew and had conversations with Prof. Cermele and Dr. Jennings to really inform myself about how they got there. Counseling made sense to me; I knew it was something I wanted to do it, so then it was just a matter of applying. I started doing research into different programs in social work and counseling in the area because I wanted to be close to home. I went to Kean University’s open houses and interactive presentations and like Drew, Kean felt like home. It was a challenge, because I was working and attending school full time, but I did it.
You are a Licensed Associate and National Certified Counselor; what prompted you to pursue a PhD?
Looking back at my time at Drew and my experiences in the Master’s program I felt I wanted to learn more and further myself through education. So far it’s been worth my while. I’m learning new skills, especially when it comes to teaching.
What attracts you to the mental health profession?
Most of my interest came from working for The Honduras Project at Drew. I already had the background in psychology and doing these service trips made me realize that I wanted to continue to help people. Working as a Case manager confirmed these feelings. Helping others is more of a calling, a vocation, and I’m able to express that through my work.
Your first job out of Drew was as Senior Case Manager at Catholic Family and Community Services. How did you get that position and can you discuss your job responsibilities?
There was a Career Services Wine and Cheese networking event at Drew where they invite students to network with alumni and other employers and I had an opportunity to meet with the supervising manager at the time. We talked about the things that I was involved in at Drew, especially the Honduras Project, and it so happened that they had an opening and were looking for someone who could speak Spanish, with a background in psychology, and experience helping others, so it was a perfect fit for me at the time. After I had that conversation, I followed up, interviewed with them and got hired.
The first component was being a case manager for individuals with HIV and AIDS, identifying barriers that would prevent them from accessing medicine, etc. My job was to connect them to services. I served as an advocate for them when challenges arose. I was also responsible for providing education in Morris County to discuss and educate on HIV, doing support groups about HIV and AIDS, and I was also in charge of doing emergency assistance; that was a program set up to help people who couldn’t pay their rent or their utilities. I was also a housing coordinator helping clients with HIV and AIDS find adequate housing.
What did you do as Clinical Intern at the Excel Treatment Center?
In that role I helped to run the outpatient groups for individuals with substance abuse issues or other problems. I would also do individual therapy sessions. This helped me learn the ropes by giving me experience with being in the room with someone. A lot of my work in case management helped out with this role and the practical component of mental health counseling.
It’s more of a community counseling center where we treat all types of mental health issues, not just substance abuse. With Clear Conscience Counseling, I go into children’s homes or in communities and provide mobile counseling services.
What do you feel are your strengths as a counselor and what do you enjoy most about your work?
One of my strengths is being multilingual. I am fluent in Spanish and conversational in Portuguese. Other strengths include that I am always open to learning new things. I think it’s important to know that though sometimes you don’t see results right away, you eventually helped that individual go forward. It is rewarding to see people put the effort into making and sustaining changes and knowing they are better off after being with you. It’s very gratifying to see you make a difference in a person’s life.
What is your general philosophy and approach to helping a client and what do you think is the biggest misconception about mental health counseling?
Counseling needs to be genuine. You have to be there in the moment and stick to who you are. I think a lot of people are expecting immediate results. They may think of a Counselor as a superhuman who can wave a magic wand and change them. Some people are surprised to understand that they have to put in some effort to improve their lives.
There is still a stigma attached to mental health, how can we work to overcome this?
I think the solution is more longitudinal. You have to start early. Young people should be taught to value their feelings and exposed to counseling and other health services. They need to learn that counselors are not there to change them, but rather to help them.
What do you feel is the key to your success?
Success is always in development but I think that my ability to be open and adaptable in situations has helped me.
ADVICE FOR STUDENTS
What advice would you give a student who is interested in becoming a counselor or therapist?
I think students should major in psychology because it provides knowledge that can be transferred into counseling. Students should also find internships that deal with human or social services, anything that gives you exposure to interacting with people or connecting on a more human level. Counseling is about the relationship you are forming with people. If you go into counseling with no previous experience interacting with people, you’ll be in for a big surprise.