ABA Tech Thought Leaders 001 | Dr. Jose Martinez-Diaz

This week on Operant Innovations, we introduce our new series - ABA Technologies Thought Leaders. Throughout this series we will be hearing from the amazing minds behind ABA Technologies. How they got into the field, what is ABA Technologies, and where we are going.

In this episode, we get to sit down with Dr. Jose Martinez Diaz to hear all about his journey into the field.

If you have feedback or suggestions, please contact us at operantinnovations@abatechnologies.com.


Shauna Costello (00:03):

This week on operant innovations, we introduce our new series. ABA technologies thought leaders throughout this series. We'll be hearing from the amazing minds behind ABA technologies, how they got into the field. What is ABA tech and where are we going. On this episode, we get to sit down with Dr. Jose Martinez Diaz to hear all about his journey into the field.

Jose Martinez Diaz (00:33):


Alison King (00:35):

Alright, so we're going to go ahead and get started with our operant innovations podcast today. So of course, this is brought to us by ABA technologies and we have the pleasure as the professional development team with Dr. Alison King, Shauna Costello and Kelly Therrien to be interviewing the founder of ABA technologies Dr. Jose Martinez Diaz. So welcome to the podcast.

Jose Martinez Diaz (00:57):

Thank you for doing this and having me, uh, I hope that I can do well.

Alison King (01:05):

I'm sure you will. We've got just a couple of questions for you. We just know that, um, you know, so many people want to hear more about you and about your history and how you came to be who you are and the icon that you are in the field. So if we could just start, can you tell us some about your history, sort of how you came into the field of behavior analysis, uh, some of your educational background and just sort of that path?

Jose Martinez Diaz (01:26):

Yeah. Well, I can talk for over an hour just on that, but, uh, some people have heard my story of a local and how, when I was about seven years old in Cuba, that I, that my mother told me that the reason I couldn't go outside the Gates of our house out into the street was because there was a local in the neighborhood, the local next door. I called him. And her was actually about a block away. Cause we lived in a, in a several acres, but I was, uh, she was worried that he would escape and then that he would hurt me. And because he had hurt my uncle, her brother, uh, when my uncle was a teenager, uh, and he, and I asked about this local and they said that he had been my uncle's friend. They had gone to school together and all, but one day he got violent and tried to strangle my uncle and that after that the parents locked him up in the attic and that they hope that that's, she hoped that that's where he still was. So he couldn't hurt anybody else, which totally, totally, totally hurt me. And for my mother to be saying that also hurt me because my mother, I wouldn't think would have wished anything like that on anybody. But I felt like I can't, I have several acres to run around in and where I live, but I want to go out on the street and I can't go out on the street, but this, well, this man has been locked up in the attic and not able to go anywhere for decades because this was when he was a teenager. And I knew my uncle wasn't in his forties. So, and my goodness. I just felt very bad for the man. So I asked my mother isn't there any way to help him and she said, there's Massora and Massora was the local lunatic asylum.

Jose Martinez Diaz (03:46):

And you can imagine one flew over the Cuckoo's nest. And some of those movies and books about asylums, I've watched many of them. And a lot of them are true. That's the way things were. And perhaps in places they still are, unfortunately, and of course they didn't help him there. And I said, are there any people who can help people like this who are crazy? And she said, well, there's psychiatrists. That's all she knew was psychiatrist and nothing about psychologist, but she said the psychiatrist. And I said, well, is there, are there any psychiatrist here in Cienfuegos? And she said that there had been one, and he wasn't able to help him at all. And that, and I said, Oh, I want to meet him.

Jose Martinez Diaz (04:44):

I want to talk to him, see how he helps people that are crazy. And she said, well, he's actually stopped. Or Nino's dad said Tonino was one of my classmates at the time. And I said, Oh yes. So I'd like to meet him. Maybe I can go visit San Berdino. And she said, uh, no, he's, he's not alive anymore. And I said, Oh, he died, what happened. He must not be that old. And he said he killed himself. And that's how I found out about suicide. And that people actually killed themselves. And I felt really bad about that too. And then I found out here is somebody who helps crazy people and here's somebody who actually knows how to help people. And he does something crazy. Cause I thought killing yourself sounded like the craziest thing there was.

Jose Martinez Diaz (05:43):

And I said, huh. And I went, uh, up to my room. And, uh, right next to my room was the library for the house. And I started looking up and we had an encyclopedia Britannica translated into Spanish and I looked up psychiatry. I looked up then psychology and I read all the stuff that didn't make any sense. And, and it really didn't make any sense to me whatsoever that any of this could help people, but I didn't give up. So I started, but I sort of put it on the back burner until I got to high school. And then as soon as I got to high school, I took a psychology class. Uh, even though it wasn't part of my program, I took it as an extra class that I wouldn't have to take over the summer.

Jose Martinez Diaz (06:40):

And, uh, and I read about Freud and that didn't make any sense to me, uh, either. And, um, and I says, wow, I dunno if there's any way to help these people. But I was fortunate enough that I then give it up because I went to the university of Miami and majored in psychology. And I figured maybe it's not psychiatrists who can help people, maybe it's psychologists. And, uh, and, and I started learning and I was fortunate enough that my first advisor and was behavioral Fred Newman. And, and I was in the honors program. So I got to spend a lot of time with my advisor. Uh, and, um, my first exposure to behavioral analysis was from him. And also I learned about the work of Fred Keller before I even learned about the work of BF Skinner, um, because Fred Newman, uh, used Fred Keller's approach to teaching and he, uh, he had a class I took from him in the summer after my freshmen year was set up as a PSI class, a personalized system of instruction. And he said, this is a behavioral way of teaching. And I took that class and I finished it in like three weeks and I got an A, and then I had the rest of the summer in which I didn't have to take the class. And I thought, this is wonderful. I finished my, my whole class. I was supposed to take all summer in three weeks and I've been getting bored and, and I felt really good about myself having learned this stuff fast and well, and then he said, Hey, you should be a tutor for the other students.

Jose Martinez Diaz (08:38):

I can pay you as a tutor, do that so well. And then he actually had me be a tutor in the fall and the spring of the following year. And I, and he taught me a lot about the PSI method and how to teach from a behavioral perspective. And in fact, even though that was not clinical psychology, which is what I thought I was interested in, helping crazy people. My first exposure was to, uh, an educational or a behavioral approach to education, which is what eventually I wound up doing. After I transition from clinical psychology to do education instead, which is, I, I don't know. I can go a couple of ways here now, because I can talk about then how I made that transition, where I can talk about then how I still pursued my dream of helping crazy people. But because essentially I did both, but different experiences led me to different things.

Jose Martinez Diaz (09:44):

So I guess I'll go historically in terms of the order of events, my timeline, the timeline, and in terms of the timeline was I was still interested in helping crazy people. I was interested in teaching people, but I was also interested in helping crazy people. And I say crazy. And because that's what the term that was used back in those days as a term like the it's like, you know, over the years and decades, uh, certain words become bad words, like curse words, like, uh, like, uh, mentally retarded. He used to be a, uh, an acceptable term. And then the developmentally disabled was a term. And then the, uh, then that was a bad term too. And oh my goodness, the language just changes. Uh, and, and, and you can't say certain things anymore that you used to say, but the, the, uh, I wanted to help people that heard voices and people that, that said things that didn't make any sense and so forth.

Jose Martinez Diaz (11:02):

They were very interesting to me, but I also wanted to help them. So I started working at the local mental hospitals, first I worked at Jackson Memorial hospital while an undergrad, as a psychiatric attendant. And I saw awful things happening there. What I saw was people being put in straight jackets, people being held down on the ground, faced down with people, holding them down, and then a nurse coming over with a big needle and then giving them a shot. And even chloral hydrate and smelled awful, and it's sunk them out. And they were taken and given electric shock treatments, and they came out like zombies. And when I remember trying to talk to them afterwards, and even the day after, they didn't remember things that we have talked about the day before, and it was like, they didn't remember me anymore.

Jose Martinez Diaz (12:09):

And I thought this can't be good. This can't be good. And I, and the head nurse there told you, I shouldn't be talking to them any way that my job was to empty bedpans and take care of their physical needs, that there were people there to help them. And I made the mistake of telling her, you really are helping them? It looks like you're hurting them. I got fired. Anyway, that was my first experience in working in a psychiatric hospital. I got fired. Uh, and I'm glad I got fired because I couldn't have stood another day in that place. So then I went to work at variety's children hospital, but there was a unit there. The psychiatric unit was run by, uh, people that were not the did not own variety's. It was a company that rented a whole floor of that hospital month. And every clinical schools, they work all because they started out of schools.

Jose Martinez Diaz (13:13):

And then they expanded into having other kinds of programs with potential programs and psychiatry later on, they were exposed in 60 minutes. And I was glad because that was another crazy place. The people who were in those places were less crazy than the people who ran those places is what I found. But by the way, by this time, I had found out that behavioral analysis could not only help in teaching, but could help people with a clinical what I call clinical problems, uh, problems in the, I call them clinical because it's clinicians who work with them, right? And it's clinical psychologist specializes in helping people that are given diagnosis by either psychologist or psychiatrist from some other clinician, right. That can give a diagnosis. But I learned that I, in my sophomore year, I took a class and learning the principles of learning from a behavioral guy who was a later on, I found out that what he had learned with the experimental analysis of behavior.

Jose Martinez Diaz (14:25):

So we read Reynolds of principles, a prisoner of operant conditioning, and we read us Skinner's science and human behavior. And then we read a bunch of articles. And, uh, and then, and then we had a rat lab and I took a second class learning too from, from him also. And then we even learned more stuff. And then we even learned about behavior modification. One of the books was a behavior, uh, a behavior mod textbook from the time it . This was all at the university of Miami. We had a behavioral faculty there at the time. In fact, my good friend, Joe Wyatt, that went up going into this PhD program at West Virginia was getting his master's there in experimental analysis of behavior. Of course it was called experimental psychology, but it was behavioral.

Jose Martinez Diaz (15:25):

So it was the experimental anlysis of behavior. And we had, we had the operant laboratories with the Skinner chambers, the operant chambers there and all that. So we learned all that at the university of Miami. I came out trained in the experimental analysis of behavior and not as a graduate student level, but as an undergraduate, no, I don't think it's that way anymore there, because a lot of schools when cognitive and the psychology department from cognitive starting in the mid seventies, but later on, I went to school in the sixty, in college at the sixties and early seventies before the cognitive revolution took over

Kelly Therrien (16:10):

Well, that's amazing how much you were able to do, even in an undergraduate program to have exposure to so many different things. And to just the breadth of it sounds like it was really impressive.

Jose Martinez Diaz (16:20):

Oh, well, yeah. Well, there were several factors, not only as a university of Miami, really good. It's still really good, but the faculty were top notch. But the other thing is I was fortunate enough to qualify for not only the honors program, but some something called privileged studies. It's where, you came in and they waived all your prerequisites because of your test scores. And, and you're going to work closely with your faculty advisor to design your own curriculum, uh, to suit what you wanted to do without having to take all the stuff like, oh, you have to take so many social sciences, so much history, so much of this so much that I've been, that I knew all that stuff already coming into college. Well, I had, I had, I read voraciously all through my life from the time I was a little kid, I just read and read. So when they tested me, it seemed like I knew about all the, all the basic subjects. I knew science, I knew liberal arts. I knew all that stuff already. So I just, and then I met, uh, spent a lot of time with my advisor first, Fred Newman. And then the, the second man was what's called Bob Jones, uh, his real name, was Marshall Robert Jones. But he went by Bob and, uh, and he said, I'm, I'm not a dyed in the wool behaviors, but I'm an empiricist. And the behavioral approach has the most empirical support.

Jose Martinez Diaz (18:02):

That's what he told me. And, and, and, and, and he's, and he said, maybe one of those days we'll discover there's something better, but now that's what the research shows. And, and, and then he showed me how there were clinical applications. So for example, when I was working at variety's, uh, and a month at airy, uh, clinical schools, I had a boy with autism there that, uh, uh, he, he was there and he was engaging in self-injury that's the first time I saw self-injury and how they restrained him and given him a five point restraints to a bed most of his time. And they also gave him lots of shots and put him in straight jackets and so forth. And I thought it was cruel and inhumane, but they said that there was nothing else they could do for him, but keep him safe. And then Bob, when I talked to Bob Jones about that, he gave me articles by Ole Ivar Løvaas to read and by Todd Risley from the early days, cause Todd Risley had done work on the, uh, on that as well.

Jose Martinez Diaz (19:14):

And some of the other folks, and, and, uh, they, I read the stuff as we can help them. So again, I go up to the, to the, uh, clinical director there who was kinda in charge of, uh, treatment. I talked to him, he was a licensed clinical social worker. And I told him all about this. Here's how we can help this kid. This is what I've learned and brought him some articles. And he said, well, I'm the clinical director, but I'm not in charge of treatment. The psychiatrist is, she signs off on all the treatment plans here. Uh, this is a medical facility. This is hospital. Not, not, not an outpatient clinic. You have to talk to the psychiatrist and I thought, so I set up an appointment to talk to her and I talked to her and she says, maybe you don't need to work here.

Jose Martinez Diaz (20:15):

And I got fired again. So anyway, I, I wanted to help people. Those people weren't helping people. I was getting exposed to all this bad stuff. I was trying, I was learning all the good stuff at the university of Miami. I was trying to bring it back and tell the people in the places that I was working about it, and I was getting fired for it. So I already knew that I had to, uh, that I was going to get my PhD ever since I started at the university of Miami. Uh, everybody told me all the faculty, all my advisors told me, you know, you need to get your PhD. You need to get your PhD, that you can't stop. Anyway. So I was PhD bound, but the experiences of getting fired, I said, I can't be working as an underling. I have to be in charge of treatment. I have to get my PhD.

Kelly Therrien (21:16):

And good for you not to get discouraged by the firings and things, to try to find a different path that you were coming up against this resistance and not being able to make a difference to keep trying.

Jose Martinez Diaz (21:27):

Oh, not only that, the last time I got fired I started by ABA Technologies. Because I kept getting fired for decades, after that. I'll have to tell you some of those stories some other times, because really I have never, ever, ever not fought for what's right. And for the client's best interest. And that is not always what the people who are in charge are all about. They're about something else. And the contingencies in place operating on their behavior are counter productive in terms of let's do what's good for the people we are helping. And, and there's financial contingencies. And there are other types of contingencies. I won't get into them now that's for another time. But what happens is somebody like myself comes in and starts rocking the boat and saying, you're not doing this right. We need to do this for people and we need to do this. Right. And then they, so if you, if you're not the boss, they get rid of you and hey, but I've always been able to find something else to do.

Jose Martinez Diaz (22:52):

I've never been unemployed for long, and I've always had two jobs. Anyway. I've never had just one job. I don't think even when I was a paper, boy, I had another job, uh, back in when I was 13 years old. Uh, so anyway, so the, uh, so the thing is that at the university of Miami is where I learned about behavior analysis, where I'm getting to expose to Fred Keller first, then BF Skinner and operant conditioning, as it was called back. Then now it's called operant selection. Uh, for those of you are still calling it operant conditioning. But anyway, the, uh, the, the thing is that then I'd want advice to go to the West Virginia university for my PhD by Bob Jones. And that was the best advice I've ever gotten. And this is why he gave me that advice. He said, look, there's only a few schools in the country where you can learn applied behavior analysis, behavior mod, to really help people. And that's what you want to do.

Jose Martinez Diaz (24:10):

There's a lot of really, really good programs in the experimental analysis of behavior. But you want to be a professional. You want to be a clinician. You don't want to be in the laboratory, working with rats and pigeons, do you? Because he knew me. I wanted to help people. So if you would have a much bigger choice, if you just wanted to study it, go into an experimental psychology program and learned more about working, uh, uh, doing experiments with rats and pigeons, plenty of those, but for behavior not, you need to go to one of these programs. Now, the programs are Western Michigan, who already had a great reputation, but they only have a master's program at the time. They only did later on, they had their PhD program and you can't do much with an asterisk. That was, of course, before board certification and licensing for behavior analyst, it was true.

Jose Martinez Diaz (25:11):

You could practice as a licensed psychologist and there were not clinical social work programs that were behavioral. There were no mental health counseling programs that were behavioral. It was all clinical stuff, clinical psych stuff, psychology programs. But anyway, I think that you can go to Kansas, but that's a program that's really human development and you won't, and you can get your PhD there and come up with a lot of good stuff, but you won't be able to be a licensed psychologist. And then you'll have to work at a state institution all your life or worked for the government or something. But I know you, you don't want to work for people. You want to work for yourself and you will also want to make some money because, uh, I know, and we shared, I'd been to his house. He had a nice house. He had a nice practice on the side. He was not a poor man. And he said, you know, you know how I live? You want to live like me, right? It's like, yeah, well, you need to get licensed to do that. Yeah. Well, you know, I like helping people, but I also like making money.

Jose Martinez Diaz (26:22):

But anyway, the, uh, and then he went over all the different programs, SIU, well, that's a rehab program. Again, you can't be licensed and so forth. The only place where you can get your PhD in clinical psychology and get, and get licensed and still learn behavior analysis and behavior mod is West Virginia University. And at the time that was true. So off I went country roads, take me home to the place I belong West Virginia, no mountain, my mother. Alrighty. So off I went to West Virginia and I never regretted it.

Jose Martinez Diaz (27:10):

I had a such a wonderful time there. I stayed five years before then I went off to do my internship. I did do my dissertation work after I left because I spent so much time doing other things in grad school and learning so much that I never had time to do my dissertation. And the five years I was there. So I did my dissertation. Uh, when I, I left them, my internship was at the clinical research unit for the study of schizophrenia, uh, state hospital, but it was by a UCLA staff, but with a UCLA research professor, uh, professor, professors. And the, and the psychiatrist was, it was a UCLA, uh, research professor. Uh, he only came one day a week, but he was, uh, uh, UCLA, the rest of the time over in the main campus, uh, the psychologists were UCLA faculty and their BAC is from UCLA and, uh, and, and so forth. And that trained with Lovaas, uh, some of them and so forth.

Jose Martinez Diaz (28:22):

And that's where I did my internship. And then I wound up doing my dissertation at the clinical research unit also, but at the time that I was there, I also did a rotation at the, uh, it was called the autistic children's research unit. And that was also started by UCLA people by Ivar Lovaas and some other folks from UCLA. And so that's, so I was at a state institution, but I was more like a university research centers there that I, that I, that I was working. And that's where I stayed working at both places, because I wanted to still work with both locals, the people with schizophrenia, diagnosed with schizophrenia. I enjoyed that so much, but I also worked in the, uh, and the, uh, autism children's unit. And I stayed there for 10 years working and learning more and, and feeling like I was really, really helping people.

Jose Martinez Diaz (29:24):

And at last I was happy and nobody tried to fire me while I was there. And I, and, and I wasn't the boss, but my boss assisted in both places in the, in the unit, the director of the autism program, there was Izzy Perel who had trained as a behavior analyst. I think he had his PhD also. And he, he loved that, uh, that I was a formerly trained behavior analyst because most of the psychologists they hired and that's what they hired at the time psychologist and behavior analysts, because there was no such thing as a separate thing that you could jobs for behavioral analyst that didn't exist back in those days. We're talking about the late seventies and early eighties here. Uh, the, the, uh, the, the, uh, again, they hired us a psychologist, licensed psychologist. Okay. And then the, my boss was, uh, also psychologist, but behavioral and, and he was also in doing the best to help people. And we got along for and work together for a long time. And then on the clinical research unit, it was Steve Wong who had trained at Western Michigan. And he was that licensed eligible by then, they'd had a PhD program. Uh, they had to retrain in some clinical stuff to become a licensed. Uh, but for being a UCLA research professor, he didn't have to be licensed.

Jose Martinez Diaz (30:57):

But anyway, so, uh, in fact, I don't think he ever got licensed in California cause as a research professor. He didn't have to be in what he was doing was research and not clinical practice. The psychiatrists were signing up on the, on the clinical practice stuff. But anyway, it was interesting times, but I learned a lot. And I, and I've always said that between the university of Miami, with Reed university and then the UCLA camera you experienced for 10 years. So it was a total of 19 years of getting ready to make a difference. And I was making a difference, but I felt like it was time to do more. And then I left when I was, uh, by then I was 37 years old. And I can tell you that part of the story some other time.

Shauna Costello (32:01):

Thank you for joining us on operant innovations. Stay tuned for more from Dr. Jose Martinez Diaz, Tom Freeman, Darnell Lattal and more. If you have feedback or suggestions, please contact us at operantinnovations@abatechnologies.com.


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