Counseling Latina/Latino Clients Using a Family Systems Perspective
For individuals in the U.S. & U.S. territories
In Counseling Latina/Latino Clients Using a Family Systems Perspective, Dr. Joseph M. Cervantes demonstrates an indigenous therapeutic approach integrated with more mainstream psychological practice. This model, which he calls Mestizo spirituality, is a narrative approach that sees physical illness and psychological issues as interpersonal stories that, once told and understood, can provide meaning to the client. In this approach, the therapist takes on the role of a guide or cojourneyer helping to foster a healing environment for the clients.
Working with Latina/Latino clients involves assessing their level of acculturation, something that varies depending not only on how recently the clients have come to the United States, but on how the client's family relates to their culture and community.
In this session, Dr. Cervantes does a spiritual assessment of a young woman who is struggling with family issues, primarily her separation from her husband, who had been abusive and unsupportive of her life goals. Dr. Cervantes assesses the client's strengths, helping her to see that she may already have the skills and support to move beyond what she has experienced in the past as well as to handle the problems she currently faces.
After several years of practice with a diverse ethnic and cultural client population, the therapist has developed a conceptual approach that he has labeled Mestizo Spirituality. This perspective has been forged through many years of practice with Latina/Latino and related indigenous communities. This philosophical approach is directed specifically with Chicano/Mexican American and Mexican individuals who share similar psychohistorical and sociocultural backgrounds that have been primarily influenced by a Mesoamerican belief system.
As such, Mestizo Spirituality refers to an indigenous therapeutic approach that is integrated with more mainstream psychological practice. Indigenous healing refers specifically to beliefs and practices that are specific and designed to treat those individuals of a given ethnic and cultural group. The meaning of indigenous is intertwined with a Mestizo perspective which refers to the majority of Mexican Americans who are a combination of Spaniard and Indian heritage.
This unique fusion highlights the role of deities or saints, devotional offerings, vows of penance, intercessory prayer, and pilgrimages to sacred sites and shrines as a primary frame of reference. In addition, there is a strong belief in energies and cosmic forces which are external to individuals yet impact and influence one's life through personal reflection, prayer, and an awareness of one's identity in a respective community.
Significant to Mestizo spirituality is the idea that illness or the imbalance of an individual is viewed as an interpersonal story that provides meaning and understanding when explored and understood. Consequently, the experience of an individual is seen as a life journey in which the unfolding of what is sacred in one's personhood and community becomes demonstrated as the awareness level of the narrative story for the individual becomes more sophisticated.
Key concepts in therapeutic intervention that highlight this perspective include the following:
- Awareness, responsibility, respect, and kindness with the sacredness of one's life journey;
- Review and renewal of one's religious/spiritual beliefs, traditions, and rituals;
- Forgiveness of one's past wrongdoings and reaffirmation of one's connection to a larger cosmic reality;
- Learning to become a person of knowledge leading to the development of being impeccable; and
- Realization that service to others is a natural order of things.
This perspective implies that as a practitioner one must take responsibility for his/her psychospiritual awareness in development in order to be able to foster and stimulate a therapeutic and healing environment with the client. The therapeutic relationship is defined as a therapist who becomes a guide or cojourneyer as opposed to observing a more traditional doctor–patient relationship. Further, the therapeutic posture tends to view psychological problems and behavior impairment as manifestations of spiritual modalities or distractions.
Therapeutic techniques can often include some combination of guided imagery, relaxation techniques, and clinical hypnotherapy. These distinct processes allow the movement of emotional, mental, and physical energies to bridge the client's symptoms and problem areas, existential meaning, and a prompt recommitment to the client's identified community. Therapeutic goals involve the facilitation of a dialogue about the sacredness of everyday life that is interwoven with the client's presenting complaints. A review of how the client's life journey has been understood serves as a primary narrative for the individual's existential dilemmas and life position.
Secondly, the therapist reviews the client's complaints in the contexts of evaluating his or her autobiographical history. It is anticipated that this review would allow the development of a therapeutic climate to be present that would lead the client to a deeper awareness and responsibility for direct participation in one's life journey.
Thirdly, the issue of forgiveness forms a salient dimension in this dialogue by allowing the client to let go of one's faults and failings. The recommitment to one's social and community network allows for a reinvolvement and affirmation toward a higher purpose.
Fourth, learning to speak from one's heart is the idea of impeccability, namely, that one is true to one's word and subsequently develops a renewed sense of responsibility for one's own well being and that of others in his or her community circle.
Lastly, the intention of the therapy is to have the client give back to one's community as a salient aspect of new learning. In brief, service to others goes hand in hand with one's personal healing.
Joseph Michael Cervantes, PhD, ABPP, has been in clinical practice as a child and family psychologist for over 30 years. His dual-ethnic affiliation as both Chicano and Mexican Indian provides him a unique perspective relative to working with disempowered families and Latina/Latino immigrant populations and an understanding of being indigenous in a majority culture.
As a professor for over 10 years in the Department of Counseling, California State University, Fullerton, he combines the roles of teacher, mentor, researcher, and practitioner throughout the scope of his professional responsibilities. As an independent practitioner, Dr. Cervantes has focused his expertise in the area of forensic child and family psychology that emphasizes professional involvement in family court and the evaluation of psychological hardship cases for undocumented immigrant Latina/Latino populations.
Dr. Cervantes' involvement in teaching and practice has been expanded in the last 3 years through his participation on the American Psychological Association's Committee of Ethnic Minority Affairs, where he now serves as chair. In addition, he was elected president of the National Latina/Latino Psychological Association, where he is presently serving his last year in this capacity. These positions have helped to give him a national perspective on the issues impacting psychological practice with diverse ethnic and cultural populations.
- Cervantes, J. M. (2008). What is indigenous about being indigenous: The Mestizo perspective. In B. W. McNeill & J. M. Cervantes (Eds.), Latina/o Healing Practices: Mestizo and Indigenous Perspectives. (pp. 3–27). New York: Routledge.
- Cervantes, J. M., & Parham, T. (2005). Towards a meaningful spirituality for people of color: Lessons for the counseling practitioner. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 11, 69–81.
- Duran, E. (2006). Healing the soul: Counseling with American Indian and other native peoples. New York: Teachers College Press.
- Matovina, T., & Riebe-Estrada, G. (Eds.). (2002). Horizons of the sacred: Mexican traditions and U.S. Catholicism. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
- McNeill, B., & Cervantes, J. M. (Eds.). (2008). Latina/o healing practices: Mestizo and indigenous perspectives. New York: Routledge.
- Morones, P. A., & Mikawa, J. K. (1992). The traditional mestizo view: Implications for modern psychotherapeutic interventions. Psychotherapy, 29, 458–466.
- Ramirez, M. (1998). Multicultural-multiracial psychology. North Veil, NJ: Aronson.
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