We invited members of our Guidance Center staff to share their thoughts on this important awareness month. Amanda Gonyer, LMFT, sheds light on the challenges faced in accessing and receiving mental healthcare in the Latinx community.
It’s no secret that mental health services are in high demand right now. With everything going on in the world, it’s more important then ever to have access to mental health providers to help process these “unprecedented times.” I have heard so many friends and family discuss the difficulties of accessing mental health care due to long waitlists or providers simply no longer taking on more clients. Unfortunately, high waitlists are not the only barriers to receiving services. If you are apart of the Latinx community, other barriers may include language barriers, cultural stigmas, difficulty finding the “right” therapist, and immigration status.
Let’s say you are able to get into the chair of a therapist despite the stigma. It can be really invalidating to see a therapist that is not culturally competent or aware of the experiences and stigmas of your culture. I personally have felt this myself when trying to find the right therapist. In the Latinx community, family and traditions are a centerpiece of our culture. I once had a therapist who challenged my thoughts around trying to offer support for my family. It felt completely invalidating and I ultimately chose to seek another therapist. If it was my first time in therapy, this experience could have turned me away from seeking any other mental health services in the future. You can be left feeling unheard and invalidated, like I did. Having a therapist who is able to understand and align with your experience can be a crucial part of the therapeutic process.
In addition to a therapist not being culturally sensitive, language is perhaps one of the biggest barriers to receiving adequate services. Studies have shown that bilingual clients are evaluated differently when interviewed in English as opposed to Spanish. Bilingual therapists are highly sought after to help provide much needed services to the Latinx community and often times have full caseloads and waitlists. This leads to families needing to wait for services or being seen by an English-speaking therapist despite English not being their first language.
Another barrier to receiving mental health services is immigration status. Often times, immigration status can cause Latinx families to be apprehensive of seeking services for fear of being deported. This is a huge problem because immigration and acculturation come with a lot of stress and often trauma. Research shows that older Hispanic adults and Hispanic youth are vulnerable to stresses associated with immigration and acculturation. Although there are resources available to help connect undocumented families to services, the fear of deportation and being ripped apart from their family is so high that it prevents people from receiving services.
So how do we get through some of these barriers? The biggest way is to seek out a Latinx and Spanish speaking therapist. Don’t get discouraged when the therapist is not a good fit. There are a ton of therapists out there and you have to find the one that is right for you. It is okay to request a therapist that has the same cultural background as yourself. Ask your insurance provider for specific referrals or do your own research on the therapist online. When you do find a therapist, in the first session/phone call, ask any questions to see if they will be a good fit.
There are a lot of programs available to the Latinx community to help with the other barriers such as immigration and increasing awareness to help break the stigmas in the Latinx community. I have listed some resources down below. One of the most important things we can do is to continue to have discussions about barriers to seeking and receiving mental health services in order to help elicit change.
National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights: 1-510-465-1984
Call 2-1-1 for help connecting to resources in your community
 Jimenez, Daniel E., et al. “Stigmatizing Attitudes toward Mental Illness among Racial/Ethnic Older Adults in Primary Care.” International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, vol. 28, no. 10, 29 Jan. 2013, pp. 1061–1068, 10.1002/gps.3928. Accessed 27 June 2022.
 “Mental Health Disparities: Hispanics and Latinos.” Www.psychiatry.org, American Psychiatric Association, 2017, www.psychiatry.org/File%20Library/Psychiatrists/Cultural-Competency/Mental-Health-Disparities/Mental-Health-Facts-for-Hispanic-Latino.pdf. Accessed 27 June 2022.
Amanda Gonyer, LMFT, is a clinical therapist in The Guidance Center’s San Pedro Clinic, where she helps guide children and families struggling with mental health conditions or abuse toward positive and productive futures. She is especially passionate about utilizing creative approaches utilizing art and play-therapy to help create a safe and supportive space for her clients to express and process their feelings. Before joining The Guidance Center team in 2020, Ms. Gonyer worked with juvenile youth on probation and minors at Star View in Compton. Ms. Gonyer earned a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy in 2019 at California State University, Dominguez Hills.