Counseling a Hispanic/Latino Client-Mr. X

By Delgado-Romero, Edward A. | Journal of Mental Health Counseling, July 2001 | Go to article overview

Counseling a Hispanic/Latino Client-Mr. X


Delgado-Romero, Edward A., Journal of Mental Health Counseling


The author responds to the case scenario of Mr. X assuming that Mr. X is Hispanic/Latino. Factors important in counseling Hispanic/Latino clients are reviewed. The following models of racial and/or ethnic identity are reviewed: Racial/Cultural Identity Development model, (R/CID; Sue & Sue, 1990); counselor client interactional model (Helms, 1990, 1995); and the culturally specific and clinically derived Chicano/Latino ethnic development model (Ruiz, 1990). These models are applied to the case scenario of Mr. X in the areas of assessment and case conceptualization. Finally the reader is provided with counseling considerations that are guided by the use of the identity models.

I am preparing myself for a new client, Mr. X, who is coming to see me for the first time in individual counseling. I know some things about him because of the intake paperwork he has filled out and through a call from a concerned faculty member in his department. In this article I walk you through how I will conceptualize and intervene with Mr. X using ethnic and racial identity development models.

The first thing I notice is that Mr. X has checked off the box on the information form indicating that he is "Hispanic or Latino/a". This is definitely something that I am going to need to know more about. I often caution people to be careful about drawing any inferences from such a broad term such as Hispanic. What do I know about clients who indicate that they are Hispanic or Latino/a? I know that they are one of 32.8 million Americans who have origins in Mexico, Puerto Rico, Central America, South America, and the Spanish-speaking countries of the Caribbean (Therrien & Ramirez, 2000). That is about it. Often, the name or term a person chooses (or is given by others) for their background is reflective of how that person views themselves ethnically, culturally, socially, or politically. The term Hispanic is a controversial panethnic (Jones-Correa & Leal, 1996) description that can gloss over vital differences among millions of people (Fabrega, 1990). I am reminded of Caetano's (1986) strong statement that the label Hispanic is "misleading, stereotypical, and racist" (p. 332). This term can be seen as emphasizing White European (Spain and Portugal) heritage at the expense of indigenous, slave, mixed (mestizo), and non-European heritage. The terms Latino and Latina, which are Spanish words, have been seen as more inclusive and politically progressive terms, hence I will use the term Latino/a throughout this article.

However, it should be noted that all of these terms define a group of people by the civilizations (Spanish and Roman) that colonized and oppressed them. Terms such as La Raza (the race) have been proposed to refer to Latino people in general, while a term such as Chicano, a term which is associated with sociopolitical and civil rights movement of the 1960s (McNeill, Prieto, Niemann, Pizarro, Vera & Gomez, 2001), has a very specific national, cultural, and political meaning specific to Mexican Americans. Garcia-Preto (1996) reminds us that many of the people who are referred to as Hispanic or Latino/a in the United States "in their countries of origin never will have described themselves in that way ... Proclaiming their nationality is very important to Latinos; it provides a sense of pride and identity that is reflected in the stories they tell, their music, and their poetry" (p. 142). Therefore it should not come as a surprise that some Latino people prefer to refer to themselves by their country of origin (e.g., Mexicano, Cubano). General terms such as Hispanic or Latino/a are an imposed and ascribed minority status that is often only salient in the larger political system of the United States. Although there may be governmentally sanctioned terms (i.e., the U.S. Census), there exists no empirical data to indicate which term is most accepted.

In light of our discussion about ways to define oneself, I feel that it is important and culturally consistent (the Latino cultural preference for personalismo--personal attention) to introduce myself.

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