The need for available mental health services in the Latinx community was apparent before COVID and has grown even more so in an Omicron-booster-masked up world. In previous articles, we’ve shared about the traumatic impacts resulting from COVID and the lingering stigma attached to mental health. It’s time we spoke about IFR’s perspective on mental health and service delivery.
Conventional mental health theory has biological origins – that there is a chemical imbalance that suggests something is wrong with a person’s brain. It is about the self. As a result, individuals can feel like they fall short because something is wrong with them. Moreover, the structures and systems of a medical model are largely transactional, limited to a number of sessions, and neither holistic or integrated into clients’ environment. Under this way of thinking, mental health services help “fix” a client. It’s no wonder that mental health stigma in the Latinx community has persisted.
While the mental health field now looks at additional factors other than biology, IFR has always viewed mental health as a psychosocial and community issue. In this context, the “self” is our community, not just the individual. When our community experiences social and political disruptions due to displacement, unemployment, COVID, or racism, for example, many of us may experience anxiety, depression, uncertainty, grief or loss. They are environmental and sociopolitical schisms, not biological or chemical ones. A healthy community and a health individual is contingent on our capacity to remain connected and related to each other. It is about personal and community well-being; it is relational rather than transactional. As a result, we recognize that healing takes place in community, churches, on soccer fields, and in tardeadas, and asadas. Healing happens wherever we draw strength and empowerment. Moreover, because the health of our communities support the healing and wellness of individuals, our communities also serve as venues for prevention.
This is why two of IFR’s philosophical pillars are central. First, tú eres mi otro yo requires that we mirror our clients’ experiences. Being linguistically capable and culturally informed enhances the relational capacities of individuals, families and community. The role of biculturality/multiculturality and how it is integrated into clinicians’ practice is critical because mental health phenomena is expressed differently in different communities. Our emotional responses have a context; to heal, it’s important that the provider understand that context. One’s cultural community is not as an abstract but central to their identity and healing. Each clinician serving the Latinx community doesn’t need to be an immigrant, monolingual Spanish speaker; however, it deeply enriches the trust that is built and healing that is possible if the clinician understands the individual, family and community impacts as immigrants or children or grandchildren of immigrants.
Second, the philosophy of la cultura cura permeates all of IFR’s programs, services, activities and interventions. IFR’s founders defined it as a cultural lens through which we see the world. This is another area where IFR differs from conventional mental health practices. A favorite story depicts this well…
A college-bound young Latinx woman and her mother went to a mainstream therapist for assistance. The mother had been very ill and the daughter felt she needed to stay home to care for her rather than go away to school. The mother wanted her daughter to reach her goals and begin her future. The original therapist diagnosed the daughter as suffering from separation anxiety and an unhealthy attachment to her mother.
Not feeling supported, the mother and daughter came to IFR for help. Sharing the same story, IFR’s therapist understood the right of passage it felt for the daughter to assume responsibility for caring for her mother. Not feeling blamed or pathologized, the mother and daughter were able to reach an agreement: the daughter would care for her mother for one year, and no matter what, would start college the following year. The daughter felt empowered to know she was doing what she’d grown up seeing as the responsible way to care for one’s parents. The mother felt good knowing her daughter would soon pursue her college education. This was only because IFR’s therapist shared and understood the cultural values at work in this mother-daughter relationship that a culturally appropriate and healing solution was possible. This illustrates how one's sense of self is constructed and maintained in traditional societies as a "we" and not as an isolated individual self. This is the simple beauty of la cultura cura.
This is what IFR means when we say we offer mental health services that are culturally-grounded, healing and empowering.