When she was growing up listening to Spanish soap operas in the background of her home, Patricia Gonzalez learned Spanish and English at the same time throughout her youth. Her bilingual background now allows her to be a counselor at the Center for Human Growth, a member of the Unidos team and a mental health consultant at La Casa Latino Cultural Center.
The CHG is a training clinic in the School of Education. The center works with master’s and doctoral students to become counselors. The Unidos team, part of the CHG, is made up of doctoral students that speak Spanish and are interested in Latino mental health.
“We not only see university students, but we also take in members of the Bloomington community as well,” Gonzalez said.
Within the CHG, the Unidos team provides counseling services in Spanish and other community outreach programs.
The creation of the Unidos team was spearheaded by Dr. Ellen Vaughan, a clinical supervisor and licensed psychologist at the center who has background training in providing Spanish language mental health services.
When Vaughan came to Bloomington, her interest in Latino mental health was strong, so reached out to the community in order to see where the need for Spanish speaking services was, she said.
“What I learned from that is there’s a small Spanish-speaking community here but that there’s not a lot of Spanish language services,” she said.
Vaughan’s interest in Latino mental health started while she grew up in a largely Latino community in New Mexico, where learning Spanish was part of the education curriculum and cultural heritage in the community was valued. Her interest in speaking Spanish and connecting with others in their native language continued as she grew up. She combined her knowledge of languages with an interest in psychology during college.
This eventually culminated in her desire to provide linguistic and cultural-specific services. She said if the roles were reversed and she were looking for mental health services she would want to try to find support in English, even if it was not the language of the country.
As a result, Vaughan said she felt having a program that provided services with a background in understanding different cultures was necessary for everyone at IU to receive the help that they needed.
“Everybody needs mental health services that value who they are, that value their cultural background, that aim to understand that,” she said, “because that helps you work with that person and collaborate with them to reach their goals, whatever they are, in counseling.”
As a member of the Unidos team, part of Gonzalez’s job is to provide these kinds of services at La Casa. She is at the culture center from 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursdays.
These hours are not for counseling sessions; rather they are for walk-ins with students to talk about various problems and connect them to other resources.
“I just think that one of the things that I really appreciate about having the counseling services here at La Casa is that we’re really looking at students as a whole,” La Casa Director Lillian Casillas said. “It’s really providing the support that we want to do to help students get the support the need.”
Gonzalez said the problems she helps students with at La Casa can deal with stress management, relationship problems, navigating life as an IU Latino student and everything in between. The language spoken during these counseling sessions vary. Some are completely in Spanish and others are all in English.
She also said once she had a session in Spanglish because some words in Spanish have their own meanings that do not translate to English with the same emotion behind them.
Gonzalez finds that the work she does at La Casa is worthwhile. Even if she doesn’t talk to students one on one, she finds that being a familiar face when it comes to mental health is helpful to students, she said.
Even if students don’t need help at the moment, they know that services are available if it becomes necessary, she said. The connections that she makes with the students at La Casa are beneficial for both parties.
“I’m not sure if they know this, but it means so much to me,” Gonzalez said. “Community is something that is very important to me as an individual, so coming in, still very much a newbie to IU and Bloomington itself, it just feels that I’m getting even more connected to this community here. It makes me feel that, yeah, the work we’re doing really is impactful.”