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Why Latinos In Kansas City Need More Therapists Like Them

Courtest of Melanie Arroyo
Therapist Melanie Arroyo says she sees an increasing amount of stress impacting her Latinx clients and communities.

Latinos seek help for mental health issues at half the rate of non-Hispanic whites. Yet when they do, as with other people of color in Kansas City, they can have more difficulty finding providers with a similar cultural background. 

Melanie Arroyo is a licensed counselor and art therapist at the Wyandot Center for Community Behavioral Healthcare. She is Mexican American and her clientele comes from a variety of backgrounds, but most of them are from Latino communities. Arroyo says there's a cultural reluctance about seeking help.

ARROYO: "There are the internal or social barriers, so that looks more like, el 'que diran' — what will people think or say — if they find out that I’m seeing a therapist. And there’s also this notion that therapy is for the locos. And I try to tell my clients, I let them know therapy is not for locos or locas, you’re not crazy. So trying to get around that notion that their issues are not worthwhile getting into therapy because they’re not that bad."

JOHNSON: "Could you give me an overview of the people who you work with who are from the Latinx community?"

ARROYO: "So for example, I work with Latinos who do speak English and they could meet with a, say a white counselor, but the benefit of meeting with me is not only do I understand their life experiences, but we have some shared experiences, say, like in the immigration story, or the dynamic between us and our parents. But also, something that people don’t take into consideration, is if they experience certain traumas, say back in their childhood, when Spanish was their first language, it’s always best to process your traumas in the language you experienced it in."

JOHNSON: "So what are some of the different Latinx communities that you see and how are their mental health needs different?"

ARROYO: "That varies. I get to work with some college-age individuals and their issues look a lot different than those of an older generation and more traditional Mexican persons, for example. So for the younger generations, I think, either there is a lot of anxiety, and minority stress that they experience in school. The burden that they feel like they have to excel and honor their parents. For the older generations, I see a lot of issues with relating with their family members, especially because there is that difference with the generational difference, but also the acculturation difference. And also language struggles. So how do we navigate having this family that was raised in different times and different cultures."

JOHNSON: "Over time have you observed any pattern to the number or reason for why Latinx people need to seek out a mental health professional?"

ARROYO: "Living in the age of Trump has caused people a great deal of distress. Just feeling the overwhelming sense of racism and the not being wanted, feeling like they don’t belong. This can raise levels of anxiety for people. So I’ve seen these patterns. And it’s kind of sad, though, because it might come up in conversation or I see it in other people that I run into, but this is often not a driving factor that brings them in for therapy."

JOHNSON: "What is it that people from the Latinx community most need to consider when they believe it’s time to seek out help?"

ARROYO: "It’s just a matter of starting with that first step and looking around and asking. I want people to know that the process of finding the right therapist can be long and exhausting and arduous but in the end when you find just the right person, then you know it’s totally worth it."

Michelle Tyrene Johnson is a reporter at KCUR 89.3 and part of the public radio collaborative Sharing America, covering the intersection of race, identity and culture. This initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, includes reporters in Kansas City, St. Louis, Hartford, Connecticut and Portland, Oregon. She can be contacted at michelle@kcur.org.

Michelle is a reporter covering race, identity and culture and is an assistant talk show producer.
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