Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

The Need for Specialized Clinical Training in Mental Health Service Delivery to Latinos

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

The Need for Specialized Clinical Training in Mental Health Service Delivery to Latinos

Article excerpt


Research demonstrates the need for specialized clinical training to develop culturally sensitive therapists who can provide effective mental health treatment for Latinos and other ethnically diverse populations (De La Cancela & Guzman, 1991; Donahue & Thomas, 1998; O'Sullivan & Lasso, 1992). This paper proposes developing community-academic partnerships as one approach to help professionals develop cultural competent therapeutic skills.

There is a great need for mental health services and specialized training for Latino populations. Latinos constitute the second largest minority group in the United States. Of these approximately 63% identify themselves as Mexican American. As a group, their numbers are rapidly growing. It is projected that by the year 2010, if not sooner, they will surpass African Americans as the nation's largest minority group (WICHE, 1996).

Although Latinos are the nation's fastest growing ethnic minority population, studies show they have lower mental health utilization rates, higher dropout rates, and fewer average sessions than other ethnic groups (Gallo, 1993). Many researchers have taken this alarming under-utilization rate to be the result of therapists not being sensitive to the needs and culture of Latino clients.

Studies have been conducted that suggest that Latinos will utilize mental health services and will remain in therapy longer if they are treated in a mental health center in their community and by individuals who are aware of their culture (O'Sullivan and Lasso, 1992). Racism, poor treatment, and the perception that one is not understood may also increase these dropout rates.

Minority clients treated by culturally insensitive therapists are often over-pathologized because their cultural practices and worldviews do not fit into a Eurocentric psychological framework. Graduate student therapists who do not receive training in minority issues tend to be less aware of cultural factors that may affect treatment and are less adept in treating diverse populations.

Therefore, the question which must be addressed is "How can this problem be remedied at the preventive level within graduate programs in psychology?" Many clinical psychology graduate programs do not have specific training sites where students can receive specialized clinical training and supervision in working with ethnic minority clients. In the past decade, with changes in mainstream accrediting bodies requiring "cultural competency," there has been much more research in how cultural sensitivity can be achieved among professionals and students in training. The field of service learning has provided much valuable research on how to train students in providing culturally competent services to underserved minority groups.

Service-learning refers to experiential educational and research training which addresses social issues and community needs (Keys et al., 1999). This model provides students with the opportunities to apply classroom knowledge to community settings. Recent research has been conducted which demonstrates the link between service-learning and the development of cultural competency (Seifer, 1998; Flannery & Ward, 1999).

Service-learning has been shown to (1) increase students' interests and skills in working with minority communities; (2) increase students' understanding of cultural, community values, traditions, and customs; and (3) teach students to develop appropriate interventions and programs that incorporate culture and build on strengths. Finally, this approach provides experiential learning where students can learn in a minority community instead of congregating in traditional classrooms with others similar to themselves (Flannery & Ward, 1999).

In addition, service-learning provides a means by which students can train and learn to work with minority populations in a context that combines experiential, affective, and cognitive learning. …

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