MSPP Launches Program to Train Latino and Non-Latino Psychologists to Meet Critical Shortage Which Addresses Complex Mental Health Needs of Latinos in the U.S.
To meet a critical need for culturally-sensitive mental health services for Latino populations, the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology (MSPP) is launching one of the first programs in the country designed – through immersion in Spanish language and cultures--to train Latino and non-Latino psychologists to care for these underserved communities. The program will also supplement the training of Latino psychologists educated outside the U.S. to make them eligible for licensure and to practice in the U.S.
“The need for mental health professionals, specifically trained to provide services for the complex mental health needs of Latinos has reached a crucial point,” says Amaro Laria, PhD, director of MSPP’s Latino Mental Health Program. One in every eight individuals in the U.S. is Latino, and it is estimated that one quarter of the nation’s population will be Latino by 2050. In contrast, only 2% of psychologists are capable of providing care to these people. In addition, many Latinos resist going to mental health professionals because of a cultural stigma associated with mental illness. “Even among Latinos who access mental health services, 50 percent never return after their first visit, most likely due to a lack of ‘cultural fit’,” he says.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports an alarmingly high rate of suicide attempts among U.S. Latino adolescents – higher than either white or African American children. Given that over a third of Latinos in the U.S. are younger than 18, and a majority U.S. born, this finding suggests an extraordinary mental health epidemic among Latino children and adolescents.
In contrast to these distressing figures, however, adult Latinos have a lower suicide rate in comparison to non-Latino whites. One suggested explanation is the Latinos high reliance on spirituality which promotes a sense of hope and acceptance in the face of adversity. Although Latino countries are predominantly Roman Catholic, Latinos will also seek spiritual help from other sources, including Santeria (the belief that saints have influence over all elements of life). Folk healers are also part of a Latino’s help-seeking regimen.
“However, we must avoid stereotyping”, cautions Laria. “If a Latino has cancer, he may seek a folk healer to rid himself of bad spiritual influences, while also seeking medical help to treat his cancer. Although there is little or no Latino resistance to seeking combined spiritual and medical help, there is much resistance to seeking mental health treatment due to stigma and shame. These are especially prevalent based on the socio-economic and education level of the sufferer. In addition, there are cultural differences. A concern about panic attacks or depression in mainstream U.S. society may be regarded in Latino populations as a case of nervos (nerves) or having the blues. “Latinos may often speak of hearing voices, explains Laria. “This is very common, and it might be a spirit of a deceased grandmother assuring the patient that everything will be alright.”
Accordingly, It is crucial that psychologists working with Latinos understand the specific subculture of the Latino patient. “It is just as crucial for the clinician to understand their own biases”, says Laria. “Even if you come from an urban area in Latin America, you may not understand the culture of rural and poor Latino patients.”
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. While other programs may focus on Latino needs, the Lucero Latino Mental Health 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 serving Latinos during the academic years, which demand them to use their Spanish skills constantly.
According to MSPP’s President Nicholas Covino, “Using the Latino Mental Health program as a model, the school is committed to expand its training in the future to meet the needs of multi-diverse populations: Asians, Afro-Americans and American Indians.”
Inspiration for the Latino Mental Health Program came from 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 under the auspices of the Dr. Cynthia Lucero Center at MSPP. Lucero collapsed during the 2002 Boston Marathon and later died.