By Dr. Delia Avelar, Clinical Psychologist
Mental health professionals in the United States (US) are being challenge by their inability to create effective models of engagement to serve vulnerable populations, such as immigrant Latina women. This population is growing rapidly in the US and an understanding of the broader socio political, economic, and psychosocial factors that affect the mental health of women continues to be an area of growth. Among the many challenges women face when migrating to the US include the acquisition of a new language and the adoption of the values and behaviors of a new culture. In the process of responding to the demands of the new culture, individuals experience acculturative stress. This form of stress has been related to negative mental health outcomes that include anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation (Kiang et al., 2010). Latinas experience more depression and are less likely to receive mental health services than White and African American women (Shattell et al., 2008). Professionals have examined protective factors that help Latina women adjust to the US. Findings indicate that due to their collectivistic values, immigrant Latina women perceive family and social support as a protective factor that helps buffer the effects of acculturative stress (Dinh et al., 2009). Unfortunately, many immigrant families leave family members and social supports in their country of origin resulting in a lack of resources and intense feelings of loss. Despite the need of Latina women for psychological services, the engagement and retention of Latinas in mental health treatment continues to be a challenge for clinicians.
One reason why Latina women do not stay in mental health treatment is that the treatment they receive does not acknowledge their values and does not meet their needs. For instance, Latina women share core cultural values and specific needs that are based on collectivistic experiences (Añez, et al., 2008). On the other hand, mainstream psychotherapy in the US reflects the values of the dominant culture and promotes individuality. In other words, women from collectivistic societies understand themselves through others. They value family, social and emotional bonds, and prefer communal goals. Furthermore, Latina women endorsed a holistic view of health that includes physical, psychological, and spiritual aspects of well-being (Brown et al., 2003). Thus, religious coping is common and spiritual beliefs most often guide the behaviors and thinking of Latina women. In conclusion, professionals need to respect and acknowledge the role of values and spirituality in the decision-making of Latina clients (Comas-Díaz, 2006).