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Where the Battle Begins

Since early childhood, I have held a deep passion for music, dancing, painting, and photography. I attribute this in part to my father, a self-taught cinematographer, who exposed me to the arts and the powerful emotions and messages that could be expressed through them. But it was my mother who had a tremendous impact on how I viewed the world and my place in it. Through her devotion to our family and helping the community, she exemplified love and compassion. As a young girl born and raised in war-torn San Salvador, El Salvador, I realized quite quickly the fragility of life and what a troubled place the world had become, at least my small world.

When I was only five years old, a bomb detonated next to our family home. Voluntarily, some of us fled to Chiapas, Mexico, but the stress of exile life and the long-lasting effects of living in an environment of chaos and war took its toll. Within a few years, our family fractured, with only my mother and me, the youngest of four, returning to our homeland.

Growing up in El Salvador and witnessing poverty, war atrocities, and natural disasters impacted and altered my childhood and my destiny. By the age of eight, I had firmly decided on a vocation as a bodhisattva. Of course, as I child I didn’t know the word or what it meant until much later in life. So, for a lack of better understanding and vocabulary, I chose to become a psychotherapist. As a young woman embarking on a journey of self-discovery and healing, I found a clear path through the arts, service and education, and pursued a degree in psychology (Licenciatura en Psicologia) from the Universidad Doctor José Matías Delgado in San Salvador. I focused on individual and family therapy with children and worked in the oncology department at Benjamin Bloom Children’s Hospital. In addition, I worked at the Ilopango’s Women’s Rehabilitation Center, a correctional facility where I conducted psychological diagnostic assessments and provided short-term interventions to inmates.

I eventually moved to California and in 2011 earned my master’s degree in social work from the University of Southern California (USC), specializing in military social work and veteran services. I completed internships at both the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Long Beach and the Alzheimer’s Association of Orange County. I served as a substance abuse counselor and mental health specialist for the Gardner Family Care Corporation in San Jose, facilitated workshops at Art and Creativity for Healing in Laguna Niguel, and worked as a bilingual clinician at Western Youth Services in San Juan Capistrano. But no matter what I had accomplished or achieved, my childhood in San Salvador followed me. If it was my life’s work to ease the pain and suffering of others; I knew I had a long way to go.

Facing the War Within

Military Families and Combat-Veteran Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Family Therapy Approach Based on Resilience and Military Culture