Friday May 21 is the World Day for Cultural Diversity, a day designated by the United Nations to encourage people to learn about others and bridge the gap between cultures.  Espyr is joining in that spirit with this contribution from our guest blogger, Dr. Gerardo D. Canul, who writes about the histories of the Latinx community in the US.  

Our world continues to become more diverse. Whether it be at work, in the community, or in our personal lives, growing diversity allows us the privilege of connecting and collaborating with people of all backgrounds. One of the fastest growing populations in the United States is that of Latin American countries, which brings a dense and well-established heritage. Within the field of mental health, providers aim to better understand the nuances of this population in an effort to provide culturally informed services.

When I began to provide mental health services the total Hispanic population was close to 34 million.  In 2021 the U.S. Census estimates the Hispanic population to be close to 60 million. While there are many parts to the Latinx experience in the United States, there are specific variables that will be reviewed.  Each part merits and requires a much deeper analysis in order for there to be efficient delivery of mental health services to the Latinx community.

Increasingly, the challenge for mental health providers and other health care providers will be to effectively understand the role of multidimensional cultural experiences within the diverse Latinx population. Furthermore, the role of local, regional, and state differences throughout the United States will merge with the different cultural histories that Latina/o/x clients will present to service providers.

There are several important variables to analyze and include in making sense of a Latinx client’s life. Considering the major social justice movements experienced in our country within the last year, I believe that a focus on skin color and gender identity is important.  Likewise, understanding the influence of the Catholic Church in a Latinx developmental history with regards to skin color and gender is needed.

Mental health providers working with Latinx clients will need to carefully consider the role of the Catholic Church’s core beliefs.  For over five hundred years the Roman Catholic Church has been a central part of most Latin American countries.  For many Latina/os in the United States there is a deeply rooted practice of the Catholic belief system. The coping style and willingness to engage in mental health services is influenced by many variables: personality, temperament, family history, modeling, and the culturally-driven propensity to suffer in silence and accept one’s burdens as part of their fate.

Another deeply rooted practice that was established by the Spanish migrants in the Americas with tacit approval of the Catholic Church has been the hierarchy of skin color. Throughout many Latin American countries, the generational practice of prejudice towards a darker skin color has been a constant. As we witness in the United States’ greater advocacy for social justice, it is possible that some Latinx individuals and families will be confronted with their long-held family practice of disparaging a person due to their skin tone.  The skin color-based prejudice has been and is part of the Latin American experience.  One factor to consider will be that for some Latina/o families the feelings and thoughts one may have towards skin color and prejudicial experience may be unreconciled. It is imperative for mental health providers to recognize the role of shame with regards to skin color that a Latinx client may hold.

While linguists, psychologists, Latinx intellectuals, and other social scientists engage in a lively dialogue, there are individuals who are increasingly strident in their call for greater gender equity by advocating for a switch to the gender-neutral term, Latinx.  Once again, we look to the developmental history of the Latin American countries and find that preference for males is yet another deeply rooted practice reinforced by the Catholic Church and core cultural values brought by the long-ago Spanish migrants.  The history of oppression and subjugation based on gender has been present and practiced to varying degrees between individuals, within families, and throughout Latin American communities for centuries.  For a service provider, the challenge will be to determine the client’s gender identity history and preference for acknowledging and addressing one’s gender-based experiences.

Based on the U.S. Census, a significant portion of the Hispanic population are minors.  In the near future many will enter the work force.  Increasingly, as Latinx youth witness major social movements such as the Women’s March 2017, LGBTQ social movement, and the Black Lives Matter social movement, a greater need to self-understand may occur.  This may lead to a Latinx client questioning their familial developmental histories and needing mental health providers who are competent and responsive to the needed dialogue.

While the clinician’s instinct may be to challenge (which is an acceptable intervention consistent with Americanized mental health perspectives) a Latinx’ behaviors, beliefs, and/or core values, this may require a more thoughtful approach.  As the service provider establishes not only trust, but more importantly has earned the credibility of the Latinx client, a deeper processing and growth will hopefully be possible.

About the Author

Gerardo D. Canul, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist with several years of teaching experience at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Dr. Canul brings a balance of theory and practical information to his work.  His interest areas are ethics, child psychology, and Latinx mental health.

Dr. Canul also provides mental health and consulting services to individuals, agencies, and courts throughout the Southern California area. His current area of research involves non-traditional interventions in mental health—using images to facilitate the identification and expression of sensory and deeply felt experiences and emotions.

About Espyr

For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions – solutions like our AI powered chatbot, TESS – to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized counseling, coaching and consulting solutions help people and organizations achieve their full potential by providing mental health support and driving positive behavioral change. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.