New counseling emphasis at CSUF aims to destigmatize mental health in the Latinx community

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illustration of a man looking hesitant as he opens a door labeled 'counseling'

The CSUF Department of Counseling will offer a new emphasis for master’s students in providing multiple mental health services specifically for Latinx and Spanish-speaking clients in the fall 2018 semester.

The new program, Ánimo: Latinx Counseling Emphasis, will work to meet the demands of cultural and linguistic proficiency in counseling assistance for the largest demographic at CSUF.

The program will consist of five courses that teach counseling concepts such as assessment, diagnosis and treatment, in addition to addressing cultural components within the Latinx community.

“I noticed that our students who are working with Spanish-speaking or Latinx clients weren’t always having supervision to help (the students) work with the clients in a more effective way,” said Olga Mejía, Department of Counseling associate professor.

Mejía said this experience led her to develop the program, which she stressed is important due to the stigma that has surrounded counseling and treatment of mental health in the Latinx community.

“If someone has diabetes or some physical illness, you go to the doctor,” Mejía said. “But if it’s depression or anxiety, it’s like ‘You can just get over it, just sleep better or eat better.’ That somehow the person can control it, but that’s not true.”

She said that Latinx culture is so “family focused” that the notion of talking to a stranger about personal problems is uncomfortable for many in the community. Mejía said research refutes these beliefs, however, showing that talk-based therapy can be extremely beneficial to mental health.

While there is a belief that previous generations have made these treatments taboo, there is also an optimism that this focus could help break those barriers, Mejía said.

“Our parents and their generation stigmatize mental health so we don’t talk about it,” said Paola Martinez, a third-year health science major. “Bringing this counseling program is really great for us, the students, so we can start having this discussion with our family and friends.”

Students enrolled in the emphasis will be required to have  proficient level of Spanish-speaking skills which can be verified through a verbal test or the completion of Spanish for Health and Human Services, or a similar undergrad Spanish course.The program also includes an exit requirement to verify intermediate Spanish-speaking skills in a therapeutic setting.

“I’m excited for our master’s level students to have that training, and for the Latinx community to have mental health services that are more effective in targeting their mental health needs in a culturally appropriate and culturally sensitive way,” Mejía said.

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