Clinical Impact Statement: Specialized clinical training provided by the GSPP Latinx Psychology Speciality can increase cultural self-awareness and enhance student clinicians’ ability to serve culturally and linguistically diverse populations.
There are many considerations that influence the decision to embark on a graduate education, including but not limited to values, career aspirations, family supports, timing, and finances. For students of color, this process often includes additional questions, such as, “Will there be other students who look like me or share similar backgrounds? How inclusive is the environment? Will I be able to be myself?” The Latinx Psychology Specialty at the Graduate School of Professional Psychology encouraged us not only to continue asking these questions after our arrival, but to take an active role in shaping the answers. The Specialty provided us with a space that helped fill our cups when they were running low, and challenged us to learn about ourselves, our own biases, internalized oppression, and how to use this knowledge to provide culturally and linguistically responsive mental health services to Latinx communities. We want to tell the stories of our individual journeys in this program, what we learned and who we became. The first assignment we receive in the Latinx Psychology Specialty is the “I Am Poem,” an exploration of our individual identities. We would like to share these poems in hopes that they will inspire others to find creative ways to ask important questions, look deeper within themselves, and to use such insights as tools to deliver better and more positively impactful services to all communities.
With a quick, unmistakable glance it’s clear, the number 91.5 pales in comparison to that of 1,763. The first represents the number of miles between my hometown and the farthest I had ever been from home as of early 2017. The second is the number of miles between my hometown and the University of Denver, the school I committed to for a two-year Master’s program in Sport and Performance Psychology. Deciding to move to a place that is more than 19 times the distance I’m used to was an emotional and introspective process that involved several determining factors, one of which was the Latinx Psychology Specialty at (GSPP). As familiar as Hispanic/Latin culture felt to me at the time, Latinx Psychology was entirely foreign. Full disclosure, I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but my Latin roots pushed me to pursue the certification. In a way it served as my sense of home almost two thousand miles away, which seeing as it was my first solo journey, no sister, no family nearby, the feeling of home was much needed.
Because I proudly bare the label of Latina and already felt fully immersed in all things Hispanic culture, I initially felt the class would be somewhat of a review, common sense, an easier ride throughout my journey in professional psychology. I felt I knew everything there was to know about “my people,” ignorant to everything there really is to know about the extensive span of Hispanic/Spanish/Latin cultures and their people. Enlightened, aware, prepared, proven rightfully wrong are four ways I would describe the end product after two years pursuing this certification. There was much more behind Latinx Psychology than I had anticipated. The specialty coursework gave me knowledge of acculturation, culturally adaptive interventions, and various therapeutic models that have become absolutes in directions and approaches when working with Latinx clients. Today, I stand with a foundation that will help guide me through my efforts in changing the statistics regarding mental health in the Latinx population.
The growth spreads far beyond academic. My experience as one of three cohort members offered space for invaluable personal growth. Biases and stereotypes surfaced for the first time. Ignorance, generalizations, instances of transference that have lived within me with no explanation until now have greeted me and forced reflection, revealing layers and layers of internalized oppression. My longtime cultural issues finally made sense. This specialty has helped me paint a clearer picture of my roots. It has provided me with tools that will ultimately make me a stronger practitioner and use what I’ve learned as I walk alongside clients to guide them in painting a clearer picture of their own roots, that’s my goal.
As a way to commemorate our time in the intimate classrooms, share our newfound knowledge, and celebrate all that has come of the specialty, the Junta was presented as our final assignment. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to conclude my Latinx Specialty experience. The evening was breathtaking, the atmosphere inspiring, the audience incredible, the night one of the best I’ve had and a highlight of my graduate career. Though I was undeniably terrified to share my story I was proud to do so and empowered in the moment. Speaking my truths aloud to a room full of friends and strangers brought me even closer to my roots. In those moments and the one’s following directly after, the Junta allowed me to deeply relish in the feelings I depicted in my writing, they evolved from realizations to tangible experiences.
The concluding piece of my presentation was a poem I wrote in the very first class of the specialty; it was our first assignment. The poem outlines the person I am and goes as follows:
I am Elizabeth
Survivor of cancer, student, wanderer, fighter,
lover, hey, that’s her
Jaime Rubio, Elizabeth Rubio 3…2…1…
there she is
Music, art, dance devotee
Cinema and sweetness, front row seat
Embracer of all sensations and experiences
Who loves family, friends, and the journey
That of hypocrisy, inconsideration, needless cruelty
Sharp teeth bore from the depths of liquid land
She’s scared to fall right through the sand
Where’s her family? She’s alone? Don’t let it be real
Dreaming of life satisfaction, worldly adventures,
smiles and pride from loved ones
Florida Native, Puerto Rican, Dominican roots
Despite the hours of tireless work, the moments of stress, and worry about excessive vulnerability and judgment, the Junta, the specialty was needed; I needed it. It was the unspoken permission I unknowingly needed to explore who I am more profoundly and because of that I walk away a better version of myself.
I was drawn to the University of Denver Graduate School of Professional Psychology because of its Latinx Psychology Specialty, and the clinical emphasis here on culturally responsive training and social activism. As a daughter of immigrants, I am a part of the Latinx Psychology Specialty today because of the barriers that once made mental health services feel inaccessible to my family, and because of the cultural ties that served as a protective factor when things fell apart for us. This intersection between accessibility and culture drives my clinical work as a third year PsyD student—and is one of the ways I am working to redefine mental health within my community.
As a member of the Latinx Specialty, one of the greatest lessons I have learned is that making mental health services accessible for Latinx and other minority populations means not just increasing the number of bilingual therapists, such as myself. It also means rethinking the way I do therapy. For me it’s been recognizing my own power and privilege as a therapist and the power differentials inherent in relying only on traditional models of psychotherapy.
For example, traditional models of psychotherapy expect clients to come to us, and penalize clients for lateness and no-shows. We talk a lot about resistance, and commitment. One phrase I have heard over and over again is the importance of not working harder than our clients. I’ve been challenged to rethink this model within the Latinx Psychology Specialty, however, because many of my clients are often facing enormous systemic barriers and oppression, and are many times working harder beneath the surface than we can imagine.
Through my work in this Specialty, I have found working with communities is as important as working with individuals. The intersections between community and individual health has led me to focus my clinical work on non-traditional models of therapy aimed at increasing access to clients who fall between the cracks of traditional outpatient therapy models. Integrated care, for instance, is a model in which therapists are imbedded within existing community supports. I see families in their neighborhood pediatric primary care, where they have existing relationships with their children’s doctors, and where they do not need to make an extra appointment to see me. Our Latinx families often falls through cracks in the U.S. mental health system. Integrated care is just one of the ways we help to seal those cracks. Other ways have included collaborating with a local radio show to provide Spanish language psychoeducation on maternal mental health and working alongside local promotoras to reach individuals who would not otherwise seek services, directly within their own homes and communities.
I strongly believe in intersectionality. The intersections between clinical practice and social justice represented by increasing equity and access to care for diverse minority populations. The intersection between my Latina identity and my professional identity, between community and health and between art and stories and mental health.
I am Alex
I am thunderstorms without warning in the afternoon and the lazy crystal sea rolling in on white beaches
Heavy humid air and ripe mangos, streets
full of laughter, peddlers selling windshield wipers and AAA batteries,
crowds playing dominos in door frames,
dogs that belong to no one.
I am drought and dust, dry California heat like a mirage over baked asphalt,
winding through miles and miles of orange groves,
grapes and strawberries.
People living off the land
and billboards over the freeway that say
“Pray For Rain.”
I am bad air and bad neighborhoods at 2am, finding first love
in an urban slum.
I am the island, and I am the valley
I am hija and the incorrect usage of ahorita
I am Dominicana and Central California
A Fernandez and an Ortega, a name that stubbornly refuses to fit on name tags,
identification cards or unfamiliar tongues
Graduate school is a journey that each of us embarked on from a different perspective and a with diverse range of experiences and questions. What we found within the Latinx Psychology Specialty is that every answer opens the way for another question, and that our journeys of self-discovery, growth, and professional development are never really finished. As we prepare to step into the next stage of our careers providing clinical care to diverse and underserved populations, the Latinx Psychology Specialty has given us the tools and inspiration to continue learning, empowering our communities and providing culturally responsive and accessible care to Latinx populations. We hope our stories will inspire you, as well.
Cite This Article
Rubio, E., & Fernandez-Ortega, A. (2019). Camino profesional y personal: A journey toward professional and personal growth through Latinx psychology. Psychotherapy Bulletin, 54(3), 37-40.