According to the latest census data, Orange County grew by 163,943 residents between 2000 and 2010. 137,394 of those were Latino. Latinos are the largest and fastest growing racial/ethnic minority in America, but due to economic, cultural and linguistic barriers, many of this demographic are not able to take advantage of mental health services.
Observing this phenomenon, Associate Professor of Psychology Dr. Miguel E. Gallardo created Aliento The Center for Latina/o Communities located at GSEP’s Irvine Graduate Campus. The center focuses on addressing the needs of the underserved Latina/o community through embracing a community-based perspective that recognizes the strengths inherent in the community that are often translated into or misinterpreted as deficits.
“Many mental health professionals continue to struggle in building successful therapeutic relationships with Latino clients due to not fully understanding the multiple ways that members of Latina/o groups feel alienated and misunderstood,” says Dr. Gallardo. “Consequently, the quality of therapeutic interventions decline and Latino clients become more reluctant to seek out or continue receiving mental health services.”
The center integrates a community service and outreach component to directly address the needs of the surrounding Latino communities. The outreach efforts include working with local church communities and other entities to provide preventative educational programs covering topics such as parenting skills, relationships, and stress management. This outreach will have the added benefit of destigmatizing therapy in the Latino/a community.
Dr. Gallardo led a six-week research project in Mexico City, where he conducted a qualitative research study with Mexican therapists. He conducted qualitative interviews with Mexican therapists in order to elucidate the therapeutic process. He also conducted a series of interviews in the United States with Latina/o therapists, who work with the Mexican/Mexican American community. In total, Dr. Gallardo and his research team conducted 41 interviews with therapists from Mexico and the United States.
A major goal of this qualitative research study was to identify specific interventions Latina/o therapists employ to connect and therapeutically work with Mexican/Mexican American clients, and more importantly, to assess therapists’ understanding of the effectiveness of these interventions when working with this community. These national/international perspectives will provide a deeper understanding and a knowledge base of information for therapists working within a U.S. context with Mexican/Mexican American communities.
In conjunction with the Aliento Center, Dr. Gallardo in laying the foundation for the Latina/o Mental Health Emphasis in the MFT program aimed at better preparing therapists to provide services to Latina/o communities. This new program will focus on enhancing students’ cultural and linguistic competencies, emphasizing compassion and responsiveness to help destigmatize therapy with Latina/o communities. According to a survey conducted in 2002 with 268 Latinos living or working in Orange County, the need to speak to a therapist in Spanish is extremely important. In the survey, 71 percent stated that they didn’t believe there were enough Spanish-speaking therapists in the area.
While Spanish language proficiency is not required for acceptance into the program, incoming students with knowledge of the Spanish language will have the opportunity to expand their therapeutic and assessment language skills and students who have no prior experience with the Spanish language will be equipped with a basic Spanish language vocabulary that will enable them to implement basic introductory language skills.
The academic program will launch in the fall of 2013.