Latino Mental Health Addresses Crucial Need
April 10, 2007 - West Roxbury, MA, - With the hope of making a dent in a mental health system not yet prepared to meet the mental health needs of Latinos, students Jeanine Baillee of Trinidad (left), Juan Rodriquez of Mexico (center) and Zachary (Zach) Blumkin of upstate New York (right), recently entered the newly created Latino Mental Health Training program at the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology (MSPP) in West Roxbury, MA.
The program launches one of the first in the country—designed through immersion in the Spanish cultures and language—to train Latino and non-Latino psychologists in caring for the complex mental health needs of Latino populations.
“The need for mental health professionals specifically trained to provide mental health services for Latinos has reached a crucial point”, states Amaro Laria, PhD, director of the school’s Latino Mental Health Training program. “One out of eight individuals in the U.S. is Latino, yet only two percent of psychologists are capable of providing care to these people.” The program will also supplement the training of Latino psychologists educated outside the U.S. to make them eligible for licensure and practice in the U.S.
MSPP student Juan Rodriquez emigrated from Mexico City to California at age nine, subsequently studying high school psychology and training to be a peer counselor with Spanish speaking students. He was the only counselor out of twenty who spoke Spanish in a school which had fifty percent Latino students.
“I know what it’s like to come into a new culture where there is no support system and you feel the need to talk in your native language and provide for your family,” he says, “there is much concern about money and also no time for mental health”.
In a culture where Latino men, especially, tend to be macho about seeking mental health services, Rodriquez feels it important to educate Latinos that it shows strength to admit depression and seek help for psychological treatment.
Dr. Laria agrees that while Latinos have no resistance to seeking combined spiritual and medical help, there is much resistance in seeking mental health treatment due to stigma and shame. “This is an excellent example of why the need for both language and cultural immersion,” says Laria. “Latinos often speak of hearing voices. This is very common; it might be the spirit of a deceased grandmother assuring the patient everything will be alright. It’s crucial, therefore, that psychologists working with Latinos understand the specific sub-culture of the Latino patient.”
Dr. Laria further explains that understanding and speaking the Spanish language—while an obvious need—is most important in dealing with mental health treatment which requires a higher and more sophisticated level of language fluency than physical medical care.
Zach Blumkin feels it essential to understand the culture of a patient. Following college, and while interning in a Seattle mental health clinic, one of the largest problems he saw was the cultural disconnect as one of the major problems between patients and clinicians. “I feel cultural immersion is even more important than language immersion because the language will come (you can always take a language class), but understanding the culture is crucial in understanding behavior.”
Trinidadian Jeanine Baillee applauds the strengths of both language and cultural immersion in her psychology training. Recruited by Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island due to her tennis prowess, as captain of the university tennis team Jeanine traveled extensively participating in competitions. “I traveled so much, I know the frustrations of not being understood, yet cultural immersion is key for me too, learning the cultural nuances and how cultures deal with mental illness.”
A psychology major at Brown University, it was her fascination with the mind that brought Jeanine into psychology. “In tennis I was always a good player, but even when I was winning, my mind would choke on the court. It’s the mind-body connection, after your body can play tennis, the rest is a mind game.”
While other programs in the U.S. may focus on Latino needs, the MSPP program is the first of its kind in the U.S. with a serious commitment to enhancing Spanish fluency in students with an intermediate level of Spanish. The program requires doctoral candidates to spend two summers in Latino American countries, as well as at clinical sites servicing Latinos.
The three doctoral students are greatly looking forward to their upcoming two summer immersion training in Latino American countries: Juan hopes to train in a country other than his native Mexico “for greater learning”; Zach has no location preference, but is leaning toward Costa Rica and Jeannine intends to learn outside her native Trinidad.
About the program: The Latino Mental Health program was inspired by the late Dr. Cynthia Lucero, a graduate of MSPP, whose career addressed the needs of Spanish speaking people. The new Latino program is dedicated in her honor. Lucero collapsed during the 2002 Boston Marathon and later died.
About MSPP: MSPP welcomes Latino students and a diverse student body for all its programs. Founded in 1974, MSPP has created and offered a unique approach to doctoral training for psychologists focusing on the immediate integration of clinical experience with academic studies. The school’s mission is to bring benefits of psychological training to other areas of American society, including schools, the workplace and the courts.