How a Latinx therapist discovered a gap in mental health services for an underserved demographic: 'I had a wait list'

Adriana Alejandre, founder of Latinx Therapy. (Photo courtesy of Adriana Alejandre)
Adriana Alejandre, founder of Latinx Therapy. (Photo courtesy of Adriana Alejandre)

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month 2021, Yahoo Life is profiling some of the many professionals who are focused on serving some of the country’s most marginalized populations — and on changing the field of mental health while they’re at it. Read all the interviews here. 

Adriana Alejandre

Founder of Latinx Therapy, a national, bilingual mental health hub of resources for the Latinx community.

Yahoo: What inspired you to join the mental health field?

Adriana Alejandre: I'm Mexican and Guatemalan; both of my parents are immigrants; I'm first-generation to go to college and to have a career — and I was also a teen mom. So I've experienced firsthand trauma, and that's why my passion is in mental health. All of these personal experiences that I mentioned have influenced my "why" — the reason why I started Latinx Therapy, the reason why I became a therapist and began studying in the field.

How did your passion turn into the organization that you founded in 2018?

I was licensed for one year and I realized how lonely I was in the field, and also the need in the community. I had a wait list, and I didn't think it was fair for people to be waiting for my services. I felt like there should be more of us out there and I wanted to build a community — I knew that there were more. So I started off with a Facebook page and then from there came the idea of, well, there's so many voices out here, and I know my clients would benefit from not only having our sessions once a week, but from also hearing interviews with other mental health professionals that identify as Latinx. And so that's where the Latinx Therapy bilingual podcast idea came about. Then very quickly ... because it went viral once it launched in 2018, I had to start building a directory [of mental health providers], and so I hired web developers to help me do that.

What are some of the traumas connected to the Latinx experience that make this organization so important?

Acculturation from immigration is one. The process of immigrating here and many of our families leaving their families or leaving past abuses, the lives that they had in the other countries. Learning a whole new language and raising children here if they choose to do that. Going after the American dream, which oftentimes hurts their own mental health because of being undocumented — you have to work extra hard and have little time for your family, which goes against the cultural values, how they were brought up. So that's very loaded.

Outside of that, there's the institutional abuses that go on. There are statistics of how people of color are not paid as well in comparison to their white counterparts. And then the mental health challenges of not having access to insurance or not knowing how to navigate the system. And coming with cultural messages that you shouldn't need anyone else's help but your own family's. And so all that guilt that gets accumulated, because asking for help becomes a skill — a skill that we didn't learn. Intergenerational traumas of not dealing with issues within our own systems, within our own families and how a lot of trauma and abuse gets normalized in the household. Depression gets normalized — a certain level of anxiety as well. And we just live through that day to day, not knowing that that changes our physiology, the way that we think, the way that we see quality of life.

What approach do you take to unpack that intergenerational trauma?

I like to start off with teaching my clients coping skills. We provide psycho-education coping skills and learn about them because when I'm seeing someone from a marginalized community or someone that's from a different cultural background, most of the time I'm not just treating their symptoms, I'm treating symptoms that come from their other family members. … So I have to know how they're presenting and why they're presenting these things. And so that is where I start dissecting through the initial sessions and therapy, to kinda get their narratives, … It's very much also asking what's worked for you and what hasn't worked. What have you tried and what have others in your family tried? So that I can know what's accepted and what's not. Then introducing how family can influence our mental health, our strategies to cope in the next phase.

How do current and ongoing conversations about children in cages at the border or anti-immigration sentiments affect your clients on a day-to-day basis?

Everything that goes on in the media and social media definitely has the potential to affect my clients. I've learned in this past year of the pandemic that obviously everybody is different, and just because I'm weighing on it very, very heavily and it's on my mind, I can't assume that it's also on all of my clients' minds, because every single one of them have coped so differently. Some people, depending on their trauma history, may need to retreat from that information. We need to deactivate their social media or not go online or see the news. So I take an approach of asking … them if there's something that's going on in society that they wanted to talk about.

How do you envision the evolution of mental health within the Latinx community?

We've already been seeing some changes from just creating Latinx Therapy, where a lot of people are talking more so with their family members — they have more tools to be empowered to bring up therapy and mental health in their households. But I think the long-term vision is for people to really see us as a resource where they feel confident to be able to have these discussions more consistently in their homes. So I really hope that therapy becomes more normalized and that mental health becomes as normalized as medical health. The true vision within our field, and as a therapist, is that younger generations continue breaking stigmas and not seeing mental health topics as taboo.

Also that therapy becomes more accessible — that mental health services and mental health care can become more financially accessible, because that is an issue. Therapists are underpaid when working for the government or at nonprofits and [have] a higher rate when working in private pay because of all the entrepreneur costs. … We're creating these multimedia platforms so that we can also have our voices be validated, and have an influence in the field of psychology to … normalize how to provide proper care to our communities.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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