Robert Wright draws from a deep well – a strained childhood, combat service and Christian faith – as he works to heal hurting marriages and families.
Wright brings a rare combination of skills and personal experience to his work as he approaches his 20th anniversary of private practice as a marriage, family and child counselor. He also straddles two counties – as a resident of Fallbrook who practices his craft in Murrieta – as he approaches his 70th birthday.
“It has all rounded out the spiritual dimension of who I am,” Wright said in an interview during a break between clients.
Wright noted it was his wife who suggested that he become a counselor, a career shift that occurred after he served in the Navy, worked in pharmaceutical sales and raised money for a Georgia-based international health organization.
But the stage was set decades earlier when, as a child, he took it upon himself to help his parents cope with some of the emotional challenges they faced. Wright said he did not know his mother was ill until he returned home from school one day to hear a Catholic priest explain that she had died of alcoholism. Wright was 12 years old at the time. His mother was 44.
“Growing up hard was commonplace then,” Wright recalled.
The Vietnam War interjected another harsh reality when Wright came of age. He was drafted, but did not resist service because his family had deep ties to the military and a relative was part of the first wave of Americans to storm Normandy’s beaches during World War II.
“I guess you could say that (military service) was in my DNA,” he said.
The draft launched Wright into flight school and into Vietnam as a helicopter pilot. There he was assigned to high-risk rescues of American pilots who were shot down over land or water. He was a target of gunfire while in the air and mortar fire while on the ground.
His squadron was involved in about 200 combat missions and it was credited with rescuing more than 150 downed pilots. Wright was decorated with medals for his valor and his service.
His next key assignment was less risky, but equally mesmerizing. His duties in Navy public relations included work as a press secretary to six returning prisoners of war. That Operation Homecoming assignment thrust Wright into TV and celebrity circles that few service members ever experience.
Wright’s military service also included a stint as a recruiter who provided stunt-laced flights to prospective pilots.
“What a job. It was fabulous,” Wright said of his military experience. “I packed a lot into those eight years.”
After the military, Wright helped sail a 36-foot boat from Maryland to the Virgin Islands. A bicycle trip took him from Del Mar to Delaware. He built upon his previous college course work and earned a master’s degree in marriage, family and child counseling. He became a Christian and met his soon-to-be wife at a Christian learning center.
Along the way, Wright and his wife raised five children. Wright’s initial professional forays into the counseling field – which he said “really honed my skills” – were at family life and adoption centers in Hemet and Oceanside. He currently sees about 50 clients a week in his private practice.
“Counseling is an art form,” Wright said. “It isn’t easy. You have to know how and when to talk and to listen. It’s a challenge.”
Wright estimates that about 15 percent of his clients are military veterans or active duty personnel or their spouses or families. He said his combat experience gives many of his military clients an assurance that he truly grasps the horrors of war and the tensions of always living on the edge.
“The guys are really encouraged when they know I’m a vet,” he said. “In (counseling) they will talk to me. I’ve had guys unload some heavy stuff in here.”
While those clients typically struggle with the same emotional difficulties as their civilian counterparts, infidelity, anger management, traumatic shock, suicide and pre- and post deployment pressures often run rampant.
“My heart goes out to them,” he said.
About 50 percent of Wright’s clients seek him out because of his Christian faith and counseling approach, he said. His resume notes that training in Biblical counseling and self-confrontation round out his educational background.
“My door is open to anybody,” he said. “I am an optimist and I see in people an opportunity to change. I like to get them out of the victim mentality and move them into how we can change.”
Robert Wright can be reached by telephone at (951) 304-0882. He is listed along with other therapists on www.theravive.com and his website is www.heartsongcounseling.com.