Obituary of Selmer Wathney, Ph.D.
Selmer Wathney, Ph.D., died September 8 at his family home in Nevada City, as he wished, after a heroic 11-year battle with metastatic prostate cancer. Preceded in death by his parents, Bea and Monty Wathney, he is survived by wife Karen and son Lars, previous wives Michelle and Sandi, cousin Reita in Vermont, an aunt and legions of cousins in Norway. He visited Norway frequently throughout the decades and considered these cousins his brothers and sisters. He was extremely proud of his Norwegian heritage. He also loved sports cars, great friends, and all things Italian. Longtime resident of Nevada City and Sacramento Moving to Nevada City at the age of one, he grew up on cattle ranches, attending a one-room schoolhouse (Blue Tent School), continuing to Nevada Union High, graduating in 1963. He kept in touch with many childhood and high school friends. Selmer enlisted in the Merchant Marine Academy but changed to the U.S. Army in 1966-69, where he was stationed at the U.S. Southern Command, Quarry Heights in the Panama Canal Zone. He served as Specialist 5, Intelligence Analyst and Department Editor. He always said it was an honor, was proud of his service and all who have or are serving. Attending Sierra College on the GI Bill, he quickly found his way into a dual major of psychology and anthropology, and began his career with the California Youth Authority (CYA), first as a Youth Counselor in 1974 at the Preston School of Industry, then transferring to Sacramento’s Wintu Intake Treatment Program. He earned a master’s in Psychology from Sacramento State University, attended psychology graduate school in Bergen, Norway, then returned to complete a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at the California Professional School of Psychology, Fresno, CA. Professional Accomplishments Dr. Wathney’s first post-doc position was as psychologist at Atascadero State Hospital where he developed training for staff working with incarcerated patients. This work morphed into one of his published papers cited worldwide. After one year, he returned to CYA because he felt he could change the lives of youth more effectively than adult prisoners. Much of his 30-year professional career was spent in dedicated service to the staff and wards of CYA. Not only did he provide direct psychological treatment to the CYA’s most seriously emotionally disturbed wards, he worked diligently to train staff, improve mental health evaluation processes and treatment procedures. He was responsible for developing a Critical Debriefing Program to support staff at NRCC and was a senior member of the hostage negotiation team. Dr. Wathney led departmental efforts to prevent ward suicides by creating a suicide risk assessment process. He led committees at Headquarters and was the contact person with the administrators in Sacramento. He developed training of trainers statewide at the 11 CYA institutions. When there was a spike in suicides, Dr. Wathney was charged by the CYA Director to address the problems and spearheaded a Suicide Prevention curriculum.
A consummate professional, Dr. Wathney relentlessly reviewed research to increase his knowledge and to provide the best treatment for clients. He supervised psychologists and graduate interns, trained staff in stress management, suicide prevention, psychopharmacology, psychological assessment and the provision of psychological services to youthful offenders. He was also a recognized expert in the treatment of sex offenders and helped to develop and implement strategies to meet legislative mandates for sex offender treatment. Dr. Wathney was instrumental in development of the Mental Health Strategic Plan, the Comprehensive Treatment Needs Study and procedures for administration of psychotropic medication and consent. Throughout his many assignments in the CYA, Dr. Wathney committed himself to the well-being of his clients and his co-workers. He won the hearts of his CYA “family” with his caring and giving personality. He was a true leader who was respected throughout the State. Dr. Wathney eventually rose to become the Chief of Staff for Mental Health for the CYA before retiring in 2004. In his own words, he wrote, “I think we did a lot of good there. We treated a lot of kids at Wintu, and set many others on their paths.” Retirement to Nevada City Returning to his beloved family ranch in Nevada City, he was unfortunately diagnosed with prostate cancer one year post-retirement. He gamely underwent treatment and continued to enjoy life, traveling the world with his wife Karen. Dr. Wathney became a Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Cancer Center volunteer and saw many patients in the Cancer Center while they were coping with the rigors of chemotherapy. He was a respected peer counselor, a support group member, and staff considered him a valuable colleague. Gifts in his name can be made to Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Foundation for the Cancer Center. A memorial to Dr. Selmer Wathney will be held at a future date.
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