Hope and Inspiration: A Survivor’s Story with Dr. Debra Warner

Dr. Debra Warner is a leading forensic psychologist, TEDx speaker, trauma expert, training professional, and author. She addresses diverse topics including PTSD, multicultural therapeutic techniques, gang intervention, prison reform, human trafficking, violence against women, substance abuse, relationships and mental health.  She currently is a Professor for the Los Angeles campus of The Chicago School of Professional Psychology’s Psy.D. in Clinical Forensic Psychology. Dr. Warner is a sought out expert witness, psychological evaluator, and consultant.


Dr. Warner is also a male trauma expert, spouse of a male survivor and author of His History, Her Story, a Survival Guide for Spouses of Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse and Trauma and Barbara and My Boys.  She has devoted her professional efforts to helping men and their loved ones confront and conquer their long term effects of trauma on the male psyche. She frequently addresses issues related to the #Mentoo movement, and challenging masculinity stereotypes and dismantling stigmas related to male trauma.


Dr. Warner completed her doctorate in Forensic Psychology from Alliant International University in Fresno, California.. She received her Master of Arts and Master of Education in counseling psychology from Columbia University, Teachers College, in New York City, and has served as an adjunct professor for several universities and as Lead Faculty for Chapman University’s Marriage and Family Therapy program. Dr. Warner has also served as Special Assistant to the Dean of Academic Affairs: Diversity and Community Engagement and Lead Faculty for the Forensic Psychology department for Los Angeles and Irvine. Some of her other professional assignments have included the Department of Homeland Security, Los Angeles Police Department, C.U.R.E.-A Better Los Angeles, the Department of Defense, the Department of Corrections and Regional Center. For these assignments she designed the program elements related to mental health and evaluation. Moreover, she served and clinical supervisor relating to human trafficking, trauma, PTSD and multicultural therapeutic techniques.



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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • The indelible impact of a mentor
  • Learning through discovery
  • How to build a door of opportunity
  • Believing in yourself matters, get it done
  • An influential role model that leaves a mark on the community
  • Shine bright like a diamond—a diamond in the rough

In this episode…

Are you a lone wolf? Do you work best when you go it alone? Not so fast…

In this episode of Unconventional Life, Dr. Debra Warner shares her doctoral journey with Dr. Russell Strickland. She discusses her experience with not having a mentor and the direction in which she was headed until she met the right person at the right time. With the proper guidance, Dr. Warner gained the confidence needed to set her target higher, resulting in her earning her doctoral degree. Despite the odds and negative perspectives of others, doors of opportunity were opened, and her educational journey continued.

Believe and invest in yourself, possibilities are endless. Ask Dr. Warner!

Resources Mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by Dissertation Done, America’s #1 authority in dissertation completion for working professionals.

Founded by Dr. Russell Strickland, Dissertation Done serves people in two ways:

  1. If you’re struggling with your dissertation, getting ready to start your dissertation, or just plain wanting to get your dissertation done as soon as possible, go to www.dissertationdone.com/done and Let’s Get Your Dissertation Done
  2. If you’re busy living your Unconventional Life and have a message that you want to share, maybe you should join our Expand Your Authority Program to become a published author. Go to www.dissertationdone.com/book and let me know that you’d like to talk about Expanding Your Authority.

Visit www.dissertationdone.com to learn more about our other services and leave a message or call them at 888-80-DR-NOW (888-803-7669) to schedule your free 30 to 45-minute phone consultation.

Episode Transcript

Disclaimer: This transcript is here for your reading convenience. It was created by machines and may (a-hem) contain some errors. If you email us about these errors, the machines will undoubtedly find out. I hope they won’t get angry.



Intro  00:03

Welcome to An Unconventional Life, a podcast where we share stories about the crazy one percent out there, who earned their doctoral degrees, and then went on to use them in crazy, cool, unique and unconventional ways. Here’s your host astrophysicist turned teacher, author, dissertation coach, and more, Dr. Russell Strickland.


Dr. Russell Strickland  00:28

Hello, and welcome to an unconventional life on your host, Dr. Russell Strickland, the founder and CEO of Dissertation Done, and today I have with me Dr. Debra Warner. I want to see if I can get through this intro because my goodness, she’s a heavy hitter. Dr. Warner is a leading forensic psychologist. She’s a TEDx speaker. She’s also an author. So, we’re just checking all the boxes here. She works with male survivors of abuse and violence, which is an interesting niche. And I can’t wait to talk about that. When I say she’s an author, I mean, multiple books, and with multiple collaboration, and I’ll leave it at that for right now. We’ll talk about that. That’s really interesting as well. And she has a background from Columbia University. She got her doctorate degree from the Alliant International University in Fresno. And she’s been on a program with Bill Murray, but not that Bill Murray for quite some time. And I’ll let her tell you about that as well. Dr. Warner again, I hope that that kind of convinced folks to listen in. Welcome to the show today. Thanks for being here.


Dr. Debra Warner  01:32

Thank you for having me on the show.


Dr. Russell Strickland  01:37

Oh, well, I want to start off the show by letting folks know that today’s episode is being brought to you by Dissertation Done. At Dissertation Done, we help adult doctoral students through the dissertation process. So if you know that you’ve got a dissertation coming best thing in the world you can do is what all leading executives and entrepreneurs do is that’s get a coach get somebody to guide you through this process, because it doesn’t make sense on its own. And if you happen to be in the at the point where you know that you need some help, again, feel free to reach out to us, you can do that by going to DissertationDone.com/done. If by any chance you’ve gone through that dissertation journey. And perhaps you want to be in the expert space as a coach, consultant, Counselor, something like that. The best way to get the word out is to become a published author. So, if your name is Dr. And your first name is Dr. And you literally wrote the book on your area of expertise, I mean, that’s a slam dunk. When you want to present yourself to a new customer, client, or patient. We help folks there you can go to DissertationDone.com/book to find out more. So that’s the commercial again, Dr. Warner, what an interesting background you have, I cannot wait to get into some of this.


Dr. Debra Warner  02:46

Yeah, you know, it’s a I’ve had quite a journey. Since day one.


Dr. Russell Strickland  02:50

That’s the thing. I mean, that’s when we talk about an unconventional life. The whole idea here is there are certain traditional paths that people take. And with the doctoral journey for so many people that path is I’m going to go from high school to college to graduate school. And I’m going to become a research professor. That’s the traditional path, getting a doctoral degree. But so many folks out there follow this unconventional path. Maybe they don’t go to school right away, maybe they do other things with their degree. And you kind of fit both of those roles, in a sense. So, tell folks a little bit about what got you started on your doctoral journey. And, you know, how did your academic journey begin?


Dr. Debra Warner  03:28

You know, it’s funny, because I was sitting there telling my kids the other day, you know about that, because I didn’t have a mentor.


Dr. Russell Strickland  03:36



Dr. Debra Warner  03:36

I didn’t have anybody, and my kid is up to be in the junior Scholarship Program, which is, you know, amazing, you know, because when I was in school, no one talked to me about that no one talks about what past there were like how to get to college. I just knew I was in class and I’m like, there’s got to be more than this. And I remember going to the counselor saying how do I go to college? Like, what’s college prep? Like, what’s that? He goes I think that’s too hard for you. I don’t know why he said that.


Dr. Russell Strickland  04:03



Dr. Debra Warner  04:04

And I just said, no, it’s not but it but him saying it to me, made me put a fire underneath me. So, I remember sitting in English class saying, I’m going to write books one day, I’m going to be an author, you’re going to see me doing things like that because no one expects it from me. And they’re going how are you going to do that? So, I absolutely no idea but God’s gonna guide me. Right?


Dr. Russell Strickland  04:25

If you have the desire and you know where you want to go, you know, the path is something that you can you tend to be able to find as long as you know what your destination is. So that’s helpful. I don’t know whether we should give this person the benefit of the doubt at all because he did inspire you to get it done. But I don’t know that that was the goal.


Dr. Debra Warner  04:46

Well, you know, what’s funny is that he put me it was funny because I remember I TA’d for the AP college prep classes, but I wasn’t in them.


Dr. Russell Strickland  04:56

Oh, wow. So, it was


Dr. Debra Warner  04:58

Do you see what I’m saying? Like


Dr. Russell Strickland  05:00

Yeah, that’s weird.


Dr. Debra Warner  05:01

I was good enough to TA.


Dr. Russell Strickland  05:02



Dr. Debra Warner  05:03

And so, I said, okay, well, this is what you need to do to do these things. So, it made me go on this journey. And I went to junior college and I then I transferred. Then I, I met this amazing person when I was an undergraduate, and I was walking down the quad and she goes, Oh, hi. And I said, Hi, she goes, What are you doing? I said, I don’t know walking. She goes, you want to go to grad school? I said, What’s grad school? Like, I have no idea. Like, then she goes, okay, tell me what you want to do. I said, well, I’m studying psychology and anthropology. I’m getting like, I was getting two BA’s at the time, because I was just an overachiever. I just thought the more I got the smarter I’d be, I don’t know people take me seriously. So, I was in a dual major and, and she said, You know what? You sound like someone we really want. And I said, okay, she goes, give me your email, and you apply here, and I’ll put you on the top of the stack for admissions. And I said, Sure, whatever. So, she ended up being from Columbia University. Oh, wow. I didn’t even know what Ivy League was until my boyfriend’s family at that time said you shouldn’t see yourself as an ivy leaguer. I said, What’s an ivy leaguer? I mean, I just didn’t know like, I was a fish out of water. And so, I ended up getting in. So, I’m sitting in class that was the year Ennis Cosby son died, he went to school with me. I went to school, there was a I meet Michael Douglas, his son was there was like, I mean, I These are people that and I, you know, I don’t exactly remember who they were. But I’m interacting with people like this and the connections I made. There. Have I still have them to this day, right. And I realized, oh, this is an opportunity for me to learn something. And I remember I met one of my good friends. She’s done a TED talk to Jen Harmon. And she started helping me figure all this out. And then I met another friend who told me you need to get a doctorate. Like you’re here for a Master’s. And that’s great. But you need to get a doctoral degree. I said, why she goes, because then you can do these things. You can teach it to university, you, you’re helping people now. Like imagine what you can do if you have the credentials to go behind them. And so I said, Oh, no, no, no one’s gonna let me in a doctoral program. They’re like, what are you talking about? So, then they, these friends of mine, who had been exposed, started telling me these things to do. And then once I, I applied it, it’s funny. Well, let me back up. I went to I started doing internships. That’s what really got me into things. I started exposing myself by taking these classes in internship. And that is what got me realizing what forensics was like, what type of population I remember this, this guy tore payphone out of a wall, because he had at the time, he call it Dissociative Identity Disorder, multiple personality disorder. And so now it’s called dissociative identity disorder. And I remember that he was in a love triangle, he tore a payphone on the wall. And I’m like, what kind of patients are those? They’re like, those are forensics patients. I said, I want to do that the rest of my life.


Dr. Russell Strickland  07:58



Dr. Debra Warner  07:59

Because I just it didn’t ravel me. It didn’t do it, you know. And so, I remember waiting two years for the program. And then I applied to Alliant, and I was one of the first graduates that they had in the first four, you know, in like the nation, and I remember thinking I can do this better. I said that because I didn’t, I just felt like I needed more. So, I created a program. You know, I’m at the school I work for now. And um…


Dr. Russell Strickland  08:25

What school is that?


Dr. Debra Warner  08:27

I can’t say because you’ll have to pay him. So, edit that out.


Dr. Russell Strickland  08:32

So, we won’t talk about that now. But when you say you created a program, tell folks what type of program are you talking about here?


Dr. Debra Warner  08:38

I made a forensic psychology program. I started you know, I remember, you know, I started putting the courses together like they had started wanting to do that. And I remember thinking, oh, my God, let’s, let’s make this the program that I didn’t have. And so, I started doing all this community engagement, everything I did, I brought students with me still now to this day. There are always students around me because I never want someone lost like me. Right? So now I’ve taken that in other levels and anything I do, like I create conferences, I create trainings I and my staff are students who want to learn and their students and doctoral programs and master’s programs because I say nope, your door will open if you get educated. Now, that’s not to say people who don’t right? educate themselves and expose themselves won’t have doors open. But I also know that because I went to college and because I did these things, there are other doors that are open to me that have benefited me that I know how to do things because I got exposed, right.


Dr. Russell Strickland  09:43

And there are so many you one of our guests previously mentioned you that you think that opportunity comes knocking when you get your doctoral degrees like it comes into the window, down the chimney, yeah, even imagine Oh, all the things that are available to you because There’s only so the census I’ve checked this data a few times, there’s only about one to 2%, about one to one and a half percent of the population, depending on the year has an earned up to world degree a research based tour. Yeah, that’s a hot commodity. You earn that degree. And particularly when you think about, okay, I’m not just going to be a professor, because that’s where all the competition is, you know, honestly, almost everybody that one thing is about two or three things. I’m going to be a research professor, but you go do something else. Everybody wants a piece of that, everybody.


Dr. Debra Warner  10:31

Well, they do. And you know, what’s funny is because I did that, I’m working on my second one. So, you actually are making this tape to me, right? I’m, I’m that population that you’re talking about? Because I went into forensics, but I loved IO psychology. It’s something I really wanted to do. But I’ve learned that I wanted to do it with diverse populations. And so, I am finishing my dissertation finished my classes, and I’ll be having my PhD and I have a psyche in psychology, because I knew what doors that would open for me just having that right. And, you know, it’s it. It’s been an amazing journey. But I realized, like, the world is your oyster, you make it what you want it, no one’s gonna do it for you. But you can I mean; you get one life. One. And you know, there’s worries, finances all that stuff. But somehow things work out. Right? If you want to do it. You know?


Dr. Russell Strickland  11:31

That that’s, that’s, that’s so true. That what you were saying about just getting, you know, getting one life, you got to make the best of it. It’s 100%. True. And when you say that you have to make it. People will help people will want to be a part of this, there is this amazing halo effect around having your doctoral degree as well. So people will invite you on to podcast people invite you do various things to sit on their boards or committees or whatnot. Yeah, because outside of the university setting where PhDs are a dime a dozen, they’re really looked looked upon highly favorably in the, in the population in general. And


Dr. Debra Warner  12:10

oh, my God, yeah. People will help you, I will tell you, I wrote this book. This is the cutest story, but it will horn this. And I wrote this book called Barbara, my voice. And the reason I wrote this book is because I had been doing gang intervention work for years, right. And, but it took years to get into this population, it’s very close group, right. And so you have to take your time, you have to get credibility, like, and I respect those guys, what they do is they go on the streets, and they help the they help the streets like law enforcement, first responders defuse the situation, right. And so if there is there is a threat, or there’s something going on, they will help because they have street credibility, to help defuse it. So people don’t get hurt, they do safe passes for children. Like it’s amazing, right? But what got me is that I struggled with because I didn’t want them to see me as a letus. Because I worked really hard to get there. And I remember when I wrote the book, I was standing at my conference I do every year for male survivors trauma called script. And I said, I am more proud of this than anything because I got to be a part of something that most people will not get to be a part of and know you like, this is amazing to me, right? And they stood up. And one of them in particular said to me, we are a reflection of you. You went and did that you you help us, you know, open doors for us that we normally wouldn’t have. And it’s because I went on got educated but I I knew who I was, I didn’t take on that persona. I’m the doctor. No, I am the doctor of the people I am using to help others. I never lost me.


Dr. Russell Strickland  13:52

And mentioning that that is something that’s the reason why I work with doctoral students. So inspirational. Almost every student, when I when I first started working with them, or before I’ve started working with when I’m deciding whether to work with a student or not. I asked them what their motivation is, why are you getting a doctoral degree. And virtually every single time it’s about helping someone. Sometimes it’s quote, a so-called self-serving, it’s I don’t want to be a role model for my family or something like that. That’s not all that self-serving, but that’s kind of as bad as it gets. But a lot of times it’s this other population, there are people in the community, there are folks that are, you know, not heard, and to be able to go out and help make the world a better place, I think is so important and so inspirational. And it’s what people find fulfilling. That’s why I think we have so many doctoral students that we work with who might be in their 30s. Well, I’m 30s 40s 50s 60s were like this is what I want to do is I want to be able to kind of give back to this this group. And I want to do it in a way that I know that I can be effective. And so much of that is not necessarily about getting doctoral education, which is important, but it’s about getting that credential so that you’re recognized for what you can deliver.


Dr. Debra Warner  15:06

Yeah. And I do know that, you know, I know that if I didn’t have the credentials, why, I mean, you have people who are on the internet, and I won’t name names who are offering these courses and offering these things, and they have no credentials. They’re just offering them for life. And it’s like, well, why, like, no, you need to go get trained. And I can tell them their tapes, that they have no training, no, and that that can damage people really damaged people.


Dr. Russell Strickland  15:29

Yeah, you do have to be careful to know what you are, what you’re doing. Have the credentials to be able to help people. But I do think it’s important that you know, what you’re doing that you’re there, you know, with a good heart and also a good mind. So that you know, enough to know that one of the things we talked about I they drilled into me in graduate school know what, you know, I know what you don’t know. It’s perfectly okay not to know everything, because no one does. So, get used to that. They said it’s not okay not to know anything, but we’re going to take care of that while you’re here. And yeah. And by the time you’re done, we want you to know what you know, know what you don’t know. And then be very clear when you’re talking to people about the difference. Yeah. operating in a zone of that knowledge where what you do know, perfectly fine, operating outside of that zone of knowledge perfectly fine. You just need to make sure you’re letting folks know, we’re speculating here. I’m talking to you this maybe this works.


Dr. Debra Warner  16:25

Yeah. Well, yeah. And that’s what I mean, it’s not that you particularly have book knowledge or anything, even though we’re talking about getting a doctorate degree, even your life experience, stay in your lane. Right. You can’t do everything. When I go to court, I don’t testify on things I know nothing about, you know, I testify to what I know and what I’m an expert in, right. Because that that’s that one that’s not fair to the client. It’s not fair to the jury. And, you know, you’re giving false information, right? But the smartest person usually in the room is the one who says I don’t know, but I can find out. Yeah, right. Because the person who doesn’t do that, well, they’re not in tune to who they are. But they’re also not in tune to other people and what’s going on.


Dr. Russell Strickland  17:10

It’s, I hear you say, the smartest person I’ll say the strongest person, person that’s, that’s, you know, we haven’t gotten the best emotional intelligence yet, is the strongest in who they are. Because knowing what you know, and knowing what you don’t know, is fine. Being able to take it a step further, and being able to share that with other people without any kind of shame or, or, you know, any second thought that you’re damaged in any way, because you don’t know something. That’s where strength comes from. You know, I have not met, I’ve met a lot of brilliant people. I’ve not met anybody that knows everything. No. And so brilliant people, unfortunately, are very, very smart, but not strong enough to be able to admit when they don’t know something. And that’s, that’s, that’s where you get a problem.


Dr. Debra Warner  17:55

Yeah, yeah, I agree with you. I like that the strongest person because it’s, it’s hard to, for some a lot of people to say they’re wrong, right. And I’m like, honestly, I’m wrong all the time. Because that’s how I learned. That’s how I got here is stumbling, and picking myself up and dusting off my boots, because I have no idea how to get here. I still don’t know where I’m going. But I get there. You know,


Dr. Russell Strickland  18:18

I have a hard time saying I’m wrong. Because I try really hard to be right. But it’s happened to me. Because I know what I know. And I know what I don’t know. And so that’s not like I know everything, right? It’s like I try to steer clear of stuff I don’t know about. But I do occasionally run into those things where I’m like, Yeah, I think this is the way it works. And I drift a little bit. And yeah, you gotta you can own up to that. So Oh, yeah. I’ll say, Oh, that was bad. You know. That’s growing, right. That’s still Yeah, we’re, we’re all hopefully growing throughout this journey of life here. If you’re not growing, I don’t I don’t know what you’re doing.


Dr. Debra Warner  18:54

No, you’re not, you’re not you don’t know what you’re doing. And, you know, I learned that, you know, when I wrote my first book, because my husband’s a male survivor of trauma and violence, and I wrote the book because I was completely lost, because people don’t realize when you’re in a relationship with their survivor, the relationship is not the same as other relationships. It’s completely. It’s something I’d never encountered before. Right. And I remember looking for help looking for resources. There was a book in 1985. And I’m still waiting for. And so there Oh, yeah, there was nothing and so I asked my husband’s permission if I tell his story, but I had him actually do his own story. And then I what I did was tell his story from my perspective, but I also got experts to corroborate the experiences I was having so it can help other people. And that’s why I picked male survivors, as you know, the thing I do at my career, because I never want anyone to


Dr. Russell Strickland  19:47

be like, what are the things that these guys are dealing with?


Dr. Debra Warner  19:50

Oh my gosh, there’s well his was incredible sexual abuse, and I would say emotional abuse from his family and then but there’s also like I did, Barbara, my boys, that’s all on violence. trauma, there’s physical, there’s different types, there’s neglect. There’s abandonment, but each one of those types of abuses, you have different types of things that affect you. And imagine if you have all of those. Okay? Yeah. So, you have to deal with that I talked about that in my TED talk like these things that could crop up. Because men in our society, if you look at it, they have to be everything. They have to be the top athlete, they have to be the entrepreneur, the top executive, the best dad, the provider. Now, imagine your guy, you can’t be all those things. How is that when you admit that you have been traumatized, sir, you know, victimized where you become a survivor. Imagine how you hide that shame and that blame and all that, and you can’t admit that you’re wrong, or sorry, because society does that you can’t be vulnerable. Right? So, all of this is playing out in your relationships, whether you with a man or a woman, because you can’t say the secret. Right? So, it’s very, very hard. So that was where I had to learn. Okay, what about me? Am I doing to trigger this? But what is it that’s different here that is beyond his control?

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Dr. Russell W. Strickland

RUSSELL STRICKLAND, Ph.D., has been referred to as a “rocket scientist turned management consultant.” In truth, he applies an eclectic body of work from astronomy and nuclear physics to dynamic inventory management to market research to each of his student engagements.