Over 60 million Latinx/e individuals currently live in the US, yet this community is often underserved—and perhaps especially when it comes to mental health care. In this episode, we talk with Dr. Mariaimeé Gonzalez about the work she is doing to make sure that counseling for Latinx communities is done by diverse and well-trained professionals who understand the specific issues this community faces.
Click here to learn more about Mariaimeé Gonzalez. Read the recent article about the Latinx Mental Health and Social Justice Maria and Syntia Santos Dietz co-founded. explore the Seattle MA in Clinical Mental Health Counseling here.
Gina Pasquale was our guest host. Gina’s episode from season one, “How We Can Support Children Through Hard Times By Being Better Listeners” can be found here.
Recorded November 19, 2021 via Riverside.fm. Released December 1, 2021.
The Seed Field Podcast is produced by Antioch University.
The Seed Field Podcast’s host is Jasper Nighthawk, and its editor is Lauren Instenes. Special thanks for this episode goes to Karen Hamilton and Melinda Garland for their contributions.
For information about this and past episodes and to access a full transcript, visit theseedfield.org. To get updates and be notified about future episodes, follow Antioch University on Facebook.
[00:00:20] Jasper Nighthawk: Welcome to The Seed Field Podcast. The show where Antiochians share their knowledge, tell their stories, and come together to win victories for humanity. I’m your host Jasper Nighthawk. Today, we’re happy to again have a guest host for The Seed Field Podcast. You may recognize the voice of Gina Pasquale, the therapist and therapist educator who we interviewed back in Season One for an episode titled, How We Can Support Children Through Hard Times By Being Better Listeners. She’s here in the studios with me right now, and I want to ask you, Gina, how did your interview go?
[00:00:55] Gina Pasquale: I feel like it was such a fun experience to hear somebody tell about their work. I really just wanted to sit back and listen the entire time because she had so many wonderful things to share, and I really think that our listeners are going to learn quite a bit. I learned quite a bit from the experience.
[00:01:12] Jasper: That’s great. Who actually did you speak with?
[00:01:15] Gina: I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Mariaimeé Gonzalez and Maria is currently the chair of the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program out at our Seattle campus. She was here today to talk to us about Latinx-specific counseling, as well as the Latinx Mental Health Institute that she recently co-founded.
[00:01:34] Jasper: That’s so cool. I love that this was a chance to kind of bridge because you work in the New England campus, she’s out in Seattle, but you guys got to discuss what’s going on in both and especially this new institute that she’s starting. Thank you so much, Gina, for taking over the hosting duties today.
[00:01:49] Gina: Thank you for inviting me. It’s been an absolute pleasure.
[00:01:52] Jasper: All right, let’s roll the tape.
[00:02:03] Gina: Today on The Seed Field Podcast, I’m lucky to be joined by Dr. Mariaimeé Gonzalez. Maria is a professor of counselor education and the chair of the Clinical Mental Health Counseling Program at Antioch University Seattle. In addition to teaching and supervising aspiring counselors, she is dedicated to promoting social justice and advocacy in her students and in our communities. Welcome to The Seed Field podcast, Maria.
[00:02:27] Dr. Mariaimeé Gonzalez: Thank you for having me, Gina.
[00:02:29] Gina: With the intention of acknowledging positionality as we begin to explore Latinx-specific counseling, I would like to share that I’m a 42-year-old cisgender white woman, able-bodied, primarily of Italian heritage. I grew up in the context of educational and financial security. A clinical psychologist by trade, a mom, a spouse, mountain biker. I think that’s it for today. How about you, Maria?
[00:02:56] Maria: Yeah, Gina. Thank you. I am a Latinx, Latine, Latina, born in San Juan, Puerto Rico. I was raised in the States, I identify as being bicultural, cisgender, mostly raised lower SES, to be honest, first-generation college grad, and have a PhD in counseling education. I live with my partner, and I identify as being incredibly collectivist, relational, and really grounded in my community.
[00:03:27] Gina: Thank you, Maria. That’s helpful. I will like to start off our conversations with getting to know you a little bit more. Could you talk a little bit to us about your pathway into the profession, what that looked, what inspired you along the way?
[00:03:41] Maria: Yes, absolutely. I love that question because I think about not what, but necessarily who inspired me along the way or so relational. Of course, I like to start off with my foundation where I was born, and that’s in Puerto Rico. I was born in Puerto Rico in the ’70s, times of a lot of political activity that was happening between Puerto Rico and the United States as a commonwealth, for those who are not familiar.
My father specifically was really involved in politics. He really was fighting for the independence of Puerto Rico. At that time, he experienced a lot of police brutality, threats, and possible jail time due to his political activity. In the ’70s, after many years of hardships, my parents decided to move to the States. I had two older brothers when I was at that age, so together as a family, we moved to Missouri, [chuckles] of all places. It was a cultural shock, to be honest.
While living in Missouri, we were exposed to a lot of overt racism and other discriminations. It was during this time as a family where my parents openly talk to us about issues related to oppression. Now we didn’t use the language oppression, but later on, that’s what it was. What they kept coming back to is this power of family and community. Lean into our strengths as Puerto Ricans, who we are, and not forget who we are.
My father still stayed very active in human rights work and my mother also, and so I was exposed to that. I realized that we all had a place in our communities to do this work. For me growing up, I was trying to think about, what will be my place in my community? My middle brother, Javier, said, “Hey, why don’t you look up counseling,” and I’m like, “What’s counseling?” [chuckles] I looked it up and he talked to me more about it. I looked more into it, and I fell in love with that. I fell in love with what I found out about counseling.
It really reminded me of experiences when I was younger about– A specific experience that comes to mind is that there was a time where my father had lost his job. My parents had divorced by that time in my life and we were displaced. We lived in a car for a couple of months. It was my father, Javier, and I. We traveled throughout the US, and we lived in different kind of hotels, motels, and campsites. I just remember meeting all these amazing people along the way, and I just remembered the stories they were sharing. No matter what backgrounds we all had at those times, we had our stories.
When I was looking into counseling, realizing the power of story sharing, it really took me back to those experiences of realizing how powerful our voices can be and how powerful our stories can be when we share them with each other, and what we can get from that from one another. I leaned into that, and I pursued the counseling education at that point.
Again, it was those who were really beside me who inspired me to keep going further. What I love about education and wanted to go that route, is that I had a mentor, Dr. Kent Butler, and he said, “Listen, Maria, there’s only a few Latinas who are counseling educators in the United States. If there is a way that you can go to really think about going to get your PhD, you can be part of that culture to help other Latinas become counselor educators and continue have an inclusion and visibility in this profession. It starts with each and every one of us. Why not you?”
[00:07:43] Gina: That’s so powerful, Maria. That’s powerful. It sounds like from the very beginning of your story, the very beginning, there’s been this thread of relationship and the power of family and community, and how beautiful and empowering it is to take the risk to reach out to others and to accept that support, to accept that guidance. I’m very curious about – thinking about the reality that so much of what we learn in counseling, and in psychology, and in education is all about the individual. The individual finding their own grit, the individual standing on their own two feet, all of those sorts of things. I’m curious, when I think about Latinx-specific counseling, and I’m wondering if you could share with us how that inspired you and shaped your view of counseling?
[00:08:34] Maria: Absolutely. I think when I first started learning about counseling, the theories of it in my MA program, you’re right, Gina, they’re incredibly individualistic. I think because I have seen differently, I have seen different in my own community, in my own experience, I knew that there was cultural capital that we can bring to this profession. I thought to myself, “Wow, this is great to learn and these are foundational theories but,” there’s a but or an and, there could be multiplicity in this, that there are so many places that we can evolve our profession. This profession can evolve by learning from other communities and cultures.
In a way, I had to navigate what would be appropriate to use with my own clients, my own community, and really find theories or work that really lend to Latinx collectivist cultures, but I think for me, I understood that there is a lot of work to be done to dismantle some of the really colonized theories that we use in this country.
That’s why I like to say, not just counseling, but I use the words mental liberation. Because throughout all these experiences, whether it was witnessing my parents, my brothers, my communities, my mentors, they were all doing different kind of liberation work. When I was trying to think of my place in this, [chuckles] I thought to myself, “This is all liberation, but as a mental health professional, specifically, I was learning liberation work, mental liberation work. Because I think of specifically liberation psychology, which came out of South America, Latinx roots. The power of communities within the community, the power of stories within our stories. The same with education. Education needs to have our narratives, to have our stories, to have what helps regarding our definition of wellness and healing. I realize that as being an educator, I could be part of the voices to bring that narrative into the learning experience.
On the first day of class, I asked my students, “Who do we want to bring into the space with us while we are working together in this class?” The people who have made an impact on us of why we are here today, let’s acknowledge that. Let’s acknowledge our elders, the generations that came before us, the people who have stood beside us, who are here today as we’re learning from one another because they are also part of this journey one way or the other, correct? How do we honor that in this experience? That’s collectivist in itself, to acknowledge that, even within the learning experience as students in creating the culture together in that classroom. There’s a lot of honor and power in that.
[00:11:39] Gina: Thank you. Thank you for sharing that. When I think about also what you are likely teaching your students, and then I think about my own educational trajectory and what I learned when I was in graduate school, it also makes me reflect on my own clinical work. It makes me reflect on the work I’ve done with my Latinx clients, and how if I had been more knowledgeable about the issues you are talking about right now, how I could have been of such greater service, and I could have been so much more effective.
I’m curious, just to lay some groundwork for our listeners, if you could tell us a little bit about some of the unique issues you see the Latinx community in the US facing, especially as it associates to mental health and accessing mental health services.
[00:12:26] Maria: I think one, this piece that you had touched on earlier is how do we provide more culturally responsive approaches with Latinx/Latine clients, and that we don’t just lean into traditional individualistic ideologies when we’re working with those who are quite relational, and really looking at how they construct wellness. Because if that’s how we are working through that particular paradigm to the paradigm of wellness, then we want the client to be the expert of how they are defining their own cultural wellness in that particular journey, and being thoughtful and honoring that throughout that experience as mental health professionals, and working through it with a social justice lens on a micro, meso, and macro level. Honoring the oppressive systems that might impact that individual, but also, how would they like to do their own liberation work and their journey as a client with their particular counselor in a collaborative relationship.
Then, how do we provide liberation work towards Latinx communities and with Latinx communities, because there are so many oppressive factors that are happening. A big part is learning how to do social justice work with your clients. A way of doing that is being part of the changes even on a macro level to help with systemic issues that are impacting these communities. We have to get out of our offices. [chuckles] We have to get out of even our safe boxes that we’re used to. Some people have more privileges than others, but stepping outside of that, taking risk, and learning to be accomplices in the work of liberation beside Latinx individuals in the communities in this country.
I definitely want to at least acknowledge that there is a helpful approach to working with Latinx clients, using what we call the MECA model, which was created by Dr. Falicov which actually the MECA means Multidimensional Ecological Comparative Approach, which is a long title. What it means is a systemic approach to work within a cultural framework with Latinx families that specifically narrow down on the most common experiences that are brought up within the session.
What’s nice about this particular model, it narrows down on cultural and ecological issues that families often experience here in the United States when they go to a mental health professional. What’s great about this model is that it looks at four particular themes. One being migration and acculturation, which looks at the realities related to when, why, and how a family migrated here and the acculturation experience. Looking at also the ecological context, examining diversity, and how and where the family lives and fits in the broader social-political context. The next is the family organization, which considers the family system in regards to diversity, values, the family arrangement because this is so important, especially when working with collectivist Latinx families. Last is the family life cycle. This actually dives deeper into the diversity of how developmental stages and traditions are culturally and contextually patterned within these particular systems.
[00:15:58] Gina: So,beyond just the individual work, sitting in an office, really taking both the micro approach of being really understanding the issues individuals face, so that you can be as competent as possible in those settings, but then also dedicating time, space, heart into the macro level of the systemic shifts and changes that need to happen. It’s sparking in my mind, remembering that my– I have a middle school daughter, and middle school is awful. There’s no way around that one.
[00:16:30] Maria: [chuckles]
[00:16:31] Gina: No one wants to do that again. She recently had some experiences where she was being harassed by some kids. I was sharing this with a colleague of mine, a Latina woman, and she had something similar happening with her daughter. Then this moment happened where we had this striking experience of recognizing how the school system was responding to me, as a White woman, compared to how the school system was responding to her, and we are both professionals in the community.
Within 24 hours of me reaching out to the school, my daughter had an affirming, positive experience where she felt empowered, and she felt like the school had her back, and something was being done. I felt as a mother that if my voice wasn’t heard the first time around, I knew exactly which avenues I could go and I knew that there was absolutely a way my voice was going to get heard. I knew I had the power to do that.
My colleague has had the exact opposite experience, and her daughter is feeling disheartened. She is feeling, as a mother, like she has no power in the system at all. That was reminding me of these systemic changes you’re discussing. Like if those two children now are going to go through the rest of the middle school experience into their high school years, having had a vastly different emotional and psychological experience of how schools respond.
[00:18:00] Maria: Oh, absolutely. I think about even my high school counselor told me I was not college material.
[00:18:07] Gina: Woah. Woah.
[00:18:09] Maria: She wouldn’t even meet with me to talk to me about college. I can definitely understand that there is a huge impact on the systemic barriers and messages that are told to communities that are Brown and Black. This goes, in turn, to realize oppression of how we carry these forward. If we don’t have somebody there necessarily to say, “That’s not okay, that’s not right, that’s not true, don’t listen to that person, or don’t believe that message that’s being sent,” then sometimes people think that this might be what we would say, “truth” but it isn’t, it’s oppressive, it’s oppression, and it’s harmful on so many levels and ways.
I think we have a responsibility as mental health professionals because we do listen to the lived experiences. We do hear how the oppression has impacted people. We also hear on the other side, how they have found liberation and hope and power and resilience and all these other strengths that our clients bring, but we do need to be part of that change. Our liberation is bounded together. With that, how are we holding ourselves accountable in that liberation to be bounded together? How have we, in a sense, earned that honor to be bounded?
[00:19:36] Gina: How do we create more visibility for Latinx counselors who wants to come into this profession, so that they can–? When I went through school, there were plenty of White women around. I could visualize myself in the future. What are your thoughts about that? What are issues of visibility and access for folks who want to go into this profession?
[00:19:57] Maria: Yeah, when I was in my master’s program, there was a lot of White women around me too.
I remember hearing a story or hearing an example in class, or a case scenario, and I’m like, “Ooh, that would not fly in a Puerto Rican family.” [laughs] I’m like, “No, that’s not– Don’t know that story.” I think there is definitely an isolation or loneliness that can occur if you’re the only person in that particular community, in a class, or in a program. I think it’s finding your village. I say this, even with my experiences, I had to find my village. I had to find mentors, other Latinas or mental health professionals who weren’t associated necessarily with my program, but who I can talk to. Who I can say, “Hey, I’m just curious, this is what we’re learning, how did you navigate that or make sense of it, or do you use that when working with other Latinx clients?”
I think of my students, who I know are alone, in a sense of visibility regarding representing their communities. Intentionally trying to connect them with mentors or people that can be part of their village, to start building that community. I also did readings outside the readings, because most of my readings, I remember in my master’s, weren’t about Latinx communities. I would see what else was out there and do those readings on my own.
I think the reality is that we have to get innovative with our own education and advocate also for our needs. I’ve seen this in our program, where people say, “Hey, can you include more readings about this particular community? Can we include more conversation time around this particular community?” I’ve always thought, why not?
[00:21:53] Gina: Why not? Yes.
[00:21:58] Maria: Right? [chuckles]
[00:21:55] Gina: Yes.
[00:21:58] Maria: Yes. That’s the same way anyway, when working with clients, is that, with clients, we have to think about how do we do our research if we don’t know a client’s background per se? How do we, as clinicians, go and do the research, bring in resources, find out more about that client’s background to be more competent when working with them? I think the same with working with our students.
[00:22:25] Gina: I love that idea of either find a way or make a way, somehow carve out a new path. You don’t have to just go with everything that has existed in the past when you want to meet the needs of the students, meet the needs of the clients. That makes me very curious about the Latinx Mental Health Institute that you recently co-founded. Can you start talking to us a bit about that? Is that an avenue to addressing some of these issues?
[00:22:53] Maria: Exactly. Yes. The answer is yes. [chuckles] To be honest, I’ve been thinking about something like this for 15 years, based off my own experience and my master’s program. I thought to myself, my instructors, none of them were Latinx. Even if they brought in readings, even if they were to hold conversations, the thing is, they weren’t from my community. How could there be a place where we could go where there are people from our communities working with the communities? Thought it would be so great if there was just a space for something like this for Latinx people.
It just sat there for these years in my mind, in a sense, as a goal that one day, maybe, if I have the opportunity and the funding, that’d be great to do. Then that day came last year. Luckily, I got to know Syntia, who’s amazing. She had a very similar dream and passion, and said, “Let’s go for it. [chuckles] Why not?” It starts with an idea, and then you take a risk, and that’s part of this work of efficacy. You don’t always know how it’s going to land, but you got to try.
Then Cathy Lounsbury came into the picture and said, “Hey, apply for this particular grant and see what happens.” Luckily, the grant was approved and we got funding to bring it alive. The goal was to create a community. You didn’t necessarily have to identify as Latinx to be involved. It was a place where we can come together though and honor Latinx narratives, and stories, and the power voice, and do liberation work, whether it’s through creating education opportunities. For example, we have a counseling certificate out of the Seattle campus. It’s probably one of the only counseling certificates in the United States.
What’s neat about that is that you don’t have to speak Spanish to take the certificate. You could be bilingual, you could speak English, you could speak Spanish. There are opportunities, training classes, where you can take that are specific about working with Latinx community through learning about theories, clinical skills, advocacy, bilingual group counseling. Different components to it.
We hope, with the institute, to expand on that, where we’ll have continuing education, which we have started. Where we have workshops, where we have speakers come in from the Latinx community to talk about ways that they have worked with clients and advocacy. We’re looking at research opportunities. We’re looking at global engagement, partnering with other institutions in Latin America, where students can have the opportunity to travel and work in those particular countries to do different kinds of service or training projects. Then also, partnering with other disciplines on social justice projects, where really, we can all learn from one another in our disciplines. We all have gifts to bring. How do we work together with those gifts to strengthen and evolve the work that we can do with Latinx communities?
[00:26:10] Gina: The scope of that is just fantastic, and really so much more expansive than anything I’ve heard of. One of the pieces that you wrote about in the description of the institute was about intersection of one’s cultural Latinx narrative. I’m curious about, when you all were forming the institute, how you see that as an essential ingredient for social justice and for everything that the institute will be doing.
[00:26:38] Maria: That was important because if people are not familiar necessarily with Latinx individuals, communities, we wanted them to know that we’re not all the same. That we all had different cultural intersectionalities that really impact our stories and narratives. We need to honor all of that. When we’re working with the individual, we need to honor all the intersections of that individual. It was important for us to be sure to bring in trainings, narratives, workshops, learning opportunities about how the different intersections really impact one’s life, how the different intersections impact how we work with our clients. We’re really thoughtful about that because that is part of the liberation work, is honoring all those intersections.
[00:27:31] Gina: It’s so full of heart. That type of work requires so much of the self brought into the community. I am really struck by how much you do, Maria. You have created so much in this world. I looked at your list of publications and was entirely intimidated. You’re on a million boards, you do so much different work. How do you sustain yourself so that you can continue on this path until the day you retire and beyond? What sustains you?
[00:28:01] Maria: That might be why I’m ready to retire, Gina.
No, I’m just kidding. Honestly, I thrive off of this. To me, it’s not just a career, it’s a lifestyle. Honestly, I love this work. I love liberation work, whether it’s through mental health, education, community work. I just feel a sense of community when I’m with others to do this work. I feel that I’m able to honor those who’ve come before me. I feel like I’m part of hopefully making it easier for those who come after us, that they can have less barriers along the way. That they don’t have a high school counselor that tells them that they’re not college material. When they go to college, that they can see a little bit of themselves and the stories and the narratives, and they have instructors who come from their communities.
There are days that are harder than others. Sometimes I get discouraged. I’m just like, “Are things going to get better?” Then I just realize, I look around me and just see all the resilience, and power, and just strengths that so many people are doing in this work. We’re not doing this alone. To me, there is a spiritual sense to this that I am surrounded by so much strength on so many levels of my life to continue doing this work. Knowing that it is for the communities in which we’re part of, or the communities in which we’re accomplices in liberation with, and that to me, provides, in a sense, a lot of purpose in the work that I do. I find a lot of honor in that.
[00:29:51] Gina: Thank you so much for sharing that with us. I think you’ve likely inspired many, many people. At the end of the show, we always ask guests a final question. It’s designed to be a way for listeners to connect to what they’ve learned about today in their own lives. All of the work that you’ve described today through the education of future counselors, the creation of the Latinx Mental Health Institute, it really embodies all the core attributes of Antioch, which are self, community, and action. Is there something folks just learning today about everything you’ve discussed about Latinx Mental Health, is there something that folks can start doing so they can take action themselves in supporting your important work?
[00:30:35] Maria: Yes. I think that one, getting to know more about Latinx narratives in general. Before you can dive in to mental health, dive into who we are as a community. Just take the risk. You don’t have to know everything if you’re not Latinx, that’s okay. Just lean into the opportunity to get to know us, to get to know our communities. Get involved in different kinds of community engagements in your own community. Start within your own block even, start within your own communities. I’m thinking of all different activities that happen throughout the year, where they invite people to come whether it’s through the arts, whether it’s through the churches, whether it’s through readings, poetry, music, dance, food. There are so many ways that we can learn about culture, and also reading books.
I really think there’s a lot of power in actually being beside somebody, [chuckles] putting the book down. Yes, you can read the book, but put it down and come actually talk to us, listen. That’s a big thing, just listen. Just listen to the stories, listen to the narratives, listen to the way that we share about our loved ones, the way we share about our communities, our passions, and just allow yourself to be open-minded and have cultural humility and learn.
[00:32:02] Gina: Maria, thank you so much for letting me stand beside you today, for letting us all hear your story. It was an absolute pleasure to speak with you and to get to know you a bit. Again, just thank you so much for joining us today.
[00:32:15] Maria: Thank you. Thank you for having me, appreciate it.
[00:32:28] Jasper: Our guest host today was Gina Pasquale. She teaches at Antioch New England. We’ll include a link to that program and to our interview with her from Season 1 in the show notes.
We’ll also include a link there to more information about the Clinical Mental Health Counseling Program in Seattle that Mariaimeé is the chair of. We post these show notes on our website, theseedfield.org, where you’ll also find full episode transcripts, prior episodes, and more.
The Seed Field Podcast is produced by Antioch University. Our editor is Lauren Instenes. A special thanks to Karen Hamilton and Melinda Garland.
[00:33:12] Jasper: Thank you for spending your time with us today. That’s it for this episode. We hope to see you next time. Don’t forget to plant a seed, sow a cause, and win a victory for humanity. From Antioch University, this has been The Seed Field Podcast.
[00:33:47] [END OF AUDIO]