It is helpful for therapists to engage Latinos with their spiritual power and reconnect them with their history, family and community feelings. One good approach is the CFT or Community Family Therapy. This approach focuses on skills and strengths, psychological clearance and drive, and support systems. CFT goals are to create an autobiography full of positive action plans and family development, to build a network of positive resources, and to provide leadership and civic engagement. The therapist must encourage and help Latinos to maintain their culture, and, at the same time, adjust to the US culture, for a successful family life.
When helping Latino families, it is important to focus on environmental resources and constraints, and values, with a variety of approaches. Cultures overall and family are important priorities to Latino families. Latinos may have witnessed terror, violence, tortures, crimes and family losses. They may have rigid family boundaries and become socially isolated. They have high expectations of their children to make up for their lost family members. There is considerable interconnectedness. Family conflicts can develop when Latinos realize that life in the US is more difficult than they thought. The culture and Migration Dialogue Technique is a successful therapeutic method. This method has a psycho-historical aspect of the family’s migration. Family members, history and decisions are best to be explored during the therapy sessions.
One hypothetical case example is Jose, whose mother is South American and whose father is Central American, and who migrated to the US, 18 months ago. A therapist can start asking questions about his personal and society history, family, culture and emotions surrounding his migration. The therapist would then acknowledge and validate this information with the client. The therapist can assure the client about total confidentiality. In the end, the therapist could then focus on realistic action steps and plans to help the client become active in the new US society and community and, still, feel proud of himself, his family and his origins. Also the therapist could have a session with the other family members, separately or all together with the original clients, to bring unity, confidence and reassurance.
According to predictions, Latinos will be 50% of the US population in 90 years. Their number will correlate with and be proportionate with their influence in politics and society. The US welfare will depend on their positive contribution, which, on its turn, will depend on the decrease of marginalization and oppression most Latinos experience. It would be helpful to engage Latinos with their spiritual power and reconnect them with their history, family and community feelings. They must feel embraced to contribute for betterment.
Clients are the best source about their culture. Before making assessments, therapists must keep in mind the clients’ values and the values of the dominant society and culture. Therapists must avoid stereotypes and they must avoid pathologizing normal processes. Often Brazilians’ attachment to their families is pathologized. Brazilian women use a demonstrative and body oriented communication way that has been misunderstood as sexual and seductive. The therapist, to summarize, must be aware of his or her own culture and values and aware of the client’s ones.
The best treatment for Colombians is to use comprehensive and creative approaches, and, at the same time, approaches to increase functioning and acculturation within the American society. One good approach is the CFT or Community Family Therapy. This approach focuses on skills and strengths, psychological clearance and drive, and support systems. CFT goals are to create an autobiography full of positive action plans and family development, to build a network of positive resources, and to provide leadership and civic engagement. The approach must also focus on social class, legal status, regional origin and reason for migration. Possible old traumas must be healed. Colombian identity is reinforced while bridging the mainstream community.
Creative cultural encounters and inter-generational dialogue create new cultural forms. When dealing with Cuban families, the history between the US and Cuba must be addressed. Cubans in the US have been longing to be reunited with their families, to reaffirm their culture. Dealing with losses and reintegration is important. Integration is continuously based on acceptance, tolerance, and respect for the difference.
Dominican families are different from one another. In general, most of them struggle with difficulties, such as unemployment, to adjust to the US life. Dominicans live geographically very close to the States. The therapist must encourage and help Dominicans to maintain their culture, and, at the same time, adjust to the US culture, for a successful family life.
When helping Mexican families, it is important to focus on environmental resources and constraints, values, with a variety of approaches. Cultures overall and family are important to Mexican families. The therapist can stress similarities and contrasts, possible dilemmas and enrichments with the US values and the Mexican values. Some of them are individualism versus collectivism, indirectness versus directness, and egalitarianism versus hierarchy. All of this work is likely to unfold respect, curiosity, collaboration, and understanding.
Puerto Rico is part of the US but Puerto Ricans’ socioeconomic status keeps decreasing. The island is marginalized. Puerto Ricans have little access to resources. They are highly spiritual. Therapists must help them gain access to their rightful resources and keep their hope alive. Contextualizing their experience in terms of social class, ethnicity, gender and race is important. Puerto Ricans’ existential loss is political.
When helping Salvadoran families, therapists may deal with language barriers, and needs such as clothing, housing, personal safety, food, and immigration legal advice. Encouraging them to use human resources in their community to create social networks is important. Sometimes causes of stress are also sources of resilience. Often their families live in a polarized milieu, which is dependent on political and religious affiliations, which need to be kept secret. Some families have been traumatized and are healing at their own pace that sometimes, at the beginning, affects the therapy sessions’ costs, times and places. Families have a hierarchical structure and leadership. To continue effective therapy, therapists must consider families’ expectations in goal setting. To succeed, therapeutic interventions must accompany sociopolitical ones.
A lot of Central Americans live in the US illegally. They derive from Spanish people and have been through centuries of socio-economic and political challenges. The US has been worried about the possible rise of communism in Central America and has been restricting migration from Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. They are poor countries with limited resources.
Today Central Americans are 5% of the Latino population. They live geographically scattered. Central Americans in the US have a legacy of violent war and, as a consequence, they are unstable financially. They are stressed about their illegality and have had a traumatic migration experience.
Therapists must be aware of Central Americans’ history and the history of their country of origin. Therapist must be aware of their migration stresses. They may have witnessed terror, violence, tortures, crimes and family losses. Their emotional wounds, from years of oppression, must be addressed.
Refugees often suffer from survivor’s guilt, self-recrimination, disassociation, and trans-generational unresolved grief. Common reactions to traumas are helplessness, sadness, aggression and shame. They may have rigid family boundaries and become socially isolated. They may communicate their traumas in convoluted metaphors or not talk about them. They tend to mourn collectively. They want to find existential meaning. They have high expectations of their children to make up for their lost family members.
It is important for therapists to acknowledge and empathize with Central Americans’ traumas. It is helpful for therapists to explore the emotional meaning of their secrecy and of the expectations of their kids’. It is helpful, empowering and healing for Central Americans to become politically and socially active and speak out. Central Americans can learn a new perspective.
With therapy, Central American can become proud and resilient. Unlike other refugees, Central Americans do not have access to federally funded education, health benefits, and food programs, which affects their integration and adaptation in the US. Because of their illegal status, they tend to be discriminated against and they tend to live in fear. Again, it is important to emphasize how fearful and traumatic their migration experience can be. They may be dealing with feelings of never be able to go back and with repressed feelings. Family conflicts can develop when Central Americans realize that life in the US is more difficult then they thought. Because many Central American refugees cannot legally migrate to the US, they resort to paying “coyote” people to help them enter the country via risky ways that can take months of inhuman mistreatments, even including rapes and robbery. Sometimes this resort can be unsuccessful and result in deportation, when caught by US immigration authorities. Often immigrants do not have time to process their traumas. Often they feel cheated by the land of freedom.
Central Americans are mostly Catholic and share similar and strong values with South Americans, such as familism, machismo and marianismo. Their culture is mixed with the indigenous culture, such as the Mayans’. Again, many Central Americans, including women, come from a history of Revolution and guerillas. Women are the first to adapt in the US, given the nature of the jobs they take, such as house sitting and babysitting. Some Central American men resent it, coming from a patriarchal culture. That resentment may become psychosomatic, it can transform into depression, and, in general, into relational conflicts, confusion, anxiety and substance abuse.
The US system is quite different than the Central American system. All the Central American countries, including Panama and Belize have similarities and differences. They share fragmented identities from mixed racial backgrounds, including Blacks in the Caribbean and mestizos (European-Indigenous mixed). Central Americans in the US today have conflicting and contradictory role models, such as Hip-hoppers, gangsters, macho sex symbols, independent women, successful professionals (also called White dressing brown traitors), etc.
The culture and Migration Dialogue Technique is a successful therapeutic method. This method has a psycho-historical aspect of the family’s migration. Family members, history and decisions are explored during the therapy sessions. Changes, acculturation, adaptation, social networks and losses are also explored. Retelling the stories can be emotionally healing and can resolve conscious and unconscious and repressed feelings. The therapist shows human empathy and social (collective) empathy to validate support and correct emotions, traumas and distress. Throughout this process, there is mutual learning and realistic goal setting. Another successful therapeutic strategy is to contextualize the clients’ experience by exploring the impact of sociopolitical contexts. This experience is liberating and shifts the client from self-blame to accountability. Forgiveness and reparation take place. Redirecting their anger to the source of their oppression is empowering. In this way, clients regain a sense of mastery. The last step is when the clients are ready to commit to political activism and social justice.
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