Captain Sam Oldham with his wife Jill and two daughters - Erin and Lilly
Captain Sam Oldham with his wife Jill and two daughters, Erin and Lilly

Capt (Dr.) Samuel Oldham, a licensed clinical psychologist serving the United States Air Force, was once a History major at SAGU. He was a bright student. However, he was uncertain what he wanted to do with his life and most importantly, the plans God had in store for him.

He gained experience as a student worker for several departments around campus including Marketing, Residential Life, Registrar, Distance Education and Admissions.

“I was all over that place!” Dr. Oldham exclaims.

During his sophomore year in 2005, a counseling seminar changed his life's course and career path. Dr. Timothy Myers, Director of Student Counseling Services, spoke on the importance of understanding one’s own family system. “It was a big eye opener that helped me understand many of my own experiences growing up,” Dr. Oldham recalls. “From that point, I started taking more and more psychology classes.”

Dr. Oldham continued his interests in history but minored in psychology. As his interest in psychology grew, he decided to major in psychology, graduating in 2008. After SAGU, he worked as an adult probation officer in Fort Worth, Texas, before entering the doctoral clinical psychology program at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois.

For Dr. Oldham, his journey to become a psychologist in the Air Force began with a confluence of his lifelong dream of serving in the military and harsh economic reality. “I was sitting in school, worried about how to cover expenses with a pregnant wife and tons of student debt when I first began talking to recruiters.” He learned about the Edward F. Hebert Health Professions Scholarship Program, a Department of Defense initiative which allowed him to commission into the Air Force while continuing at Wheaton full-time. The program covered his school and personal expenses, but more importantly, led to valuable mentorship and direction.

One experience directly impacted by his Air Force mentor (Dr. Ann Hryshko-Mullen, of San Antonio, Texas) was his time training as a practicum student in the Operation ENDURING FREEDOM/Operation IRAQI FREEDOM program at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center in Chicago.

“During this time, I was deeply touched by working with men and women who had put their own lives in harm’s way to protect our country….it was both inspiring and challenging,” Dr. Oldham said.

Dr. Oldham completed his doctoral internship from 2013 – 2014 at Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center, located at Lackland Air Force Base, near San Antonio, Texas.  He was then stationed at Sheppard Air Force Base, near Wichita Falls, Texas, where he began clinical work in earnest while completing his doctoral dissertation. In 2015, the 10-year journey that started at a SAGU counseling seminar bore its richest fruit when he received his Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) in Clinical Psychology from Wheaton College and earned the title “Licensed Clinical Psychologist #1980” from the great state of Alabama.

Today, he is a captain in the United States Air Force and the Program Manager for the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention and Treatment program at Sheppard Air Force Base. He supervises three active duty Air Force mental health technicians, all of whom either have or are working toward national certification as substance abuse professionals.

Dr. Oldham says the treatment process for the military is different than a traditional counseling practice. In a traditional private practice setting, the client sets the session’s pace and the session’s agenda is led by topics the client wants to pursue. This also follows the typical business model which is driven by revenue. Often, this can lead to unequal distributions in services. Many people who can afford quality mental health care receive it to address mild concerns, while many who cannot afford quality care are the most in need.

Treatment in military settings is primarily driven by individual need and military readiness. Most members of the United States military, along with their dependents, have relatively high access to mental health services. Due to the unique nature of military mental health, triage of services is determined solely by need rather than ability to pay.

“Some of what we do is kind of a reflection that we are a government entity that also works a lot like a small town,” Dr. Oldham says. “We have to provide a full range of services, and they are specifically prescribed to enhance the Air Force mission. Often our focus is, ‘How do we help this person function his or her best in the context of being a member of the military?'”

As Dr. Oldham reflects on his career and the path that led him to this point, he believes his time as a student and a student worker at SAGU strongly impacted him and his practice today. Dr. William Armistead, Program Coordinator and Professor of Psychology, who served as a mental health technician in the Air Force and later as a psychologist in the Army, was a key mentor to Dr. Oldham.

“When I came to SAGU in 2004, there weren’t very many people pursuing advanced or doctoral studies in the counseling/psychology program,” Dr. Oldham says. “This field typically requires that one have a bachelor’s and graduate degree to attain professional licensure. Many of my peers at the time sought master’s degrees or work in a related field that did not require graduate-level certification. He (Dr. Armistead) was one of my most adamant supporters when I wanted to take a risk and pursue my doctorate.”

Dr. Oldham will be making another major transition this July. Taking advantage of one of the key benefits available to active duty psychologists, he will leave his position at Sheppard Air Force Base to obtain specialized training in safety and aerospace psychology at the Air Force Safety Center, located at Kirtland Air Force Base, near Albuquerque, New Mexico.

“This will be an exciting opportunity for professional and personal growth, one that is not typically available in the civilian sector,” Dr. Oldham says.

“Since I have been in the Air Force, it has really been a fantastic experience - to be a part of something bigger.”

Dr. Oldham is happily married to his wife Jill for eight years whom he met during his psychology studies at SAGU. They have two daughters, Erin and Lilly. The family is highly involved in the local homeschool community as well as their local church.