Bilingual Psychotherapist Copes with Loss by Helping Others

A bilingual psychotherapist with thirty-five years of experience shares her journey from being a young widowed mother of two to becoming a therapist who helps people take control of their lives and overcome everything from substance abuse to depression, marital issues, and more. 

What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in this field? How would you describe yourself using only three adjectives?
I am a bilingual psychotherapist; I have a private practice in psychotherapy and have worked in the field for thirty-five years. I would describe myself as loving, understanding, and service-oriented

What’s your ethnicity and gender? How has it hurt or helped you? If you ever experienced discrimination, how have you responded and what worked best? Do you speak another language, and has it been helpful in your career?
I am a Mexican-American female; my ethnicity and gender have helped me tremendously since I have successfully bridged both cultures. I grew up bilingual, which has helped me to navigate well in working and relating to people in all walks of life and cultures. Being bilingual has helped me to understand both the Hispanic culture as well as the Anglo culture since typically I am able to listen to people who are unaware that I speak their language when they are speaking freely. I  help people understand areas of difficulty in their lives when I am able to communicate with them in their own language (I not only use their language but their cultural background as well).

Growing up in Texas from the ages of three to sixteen, I experienced a great amount of discrimination. When I was a small child, I simply endured it, said nothing, and tried to act invisible. This allowed me to survive and to avoid further abuse. As I grew older, I adopted a creativity in dealing with the abuse. I would invent stories about how my flour taco was really a “magical flute” that was quite special, or I would dare my Anglo neighborhood kids to eat a “flower” off of a cilantro plant. As an adult, I have since moved out of that state, but it has become my passion to be an advocate and educator for the Hispanic clients whom I serve. I speak Spanish as my first language and learned English at about age two to three. Spanish has helped me tremendously in my life and career. There is a tremendous need for Hispanic psychotherapists. I give Spanish workshops on marriage, sexual abuse prevention, and domestic violence for perpetrators and therapy in general in my practice and for the Archdiocese.

How would you describe what you do? What does your work entail? Are there any common misunderstandings you want to correct about what you do?
I am a psychotherapist. I counsel people regarding marital, depression, grief, anxiety, immigration and acculturation, family issues, etc. Lots of people say that other family members won’t come in because “No estan locos” they’re not crazy. I respond, well if they were crazy, I wouldn’t treat them.

On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What might need to change about your job to unleash your full enthusiasm?
Ten. I’m overly enthused and sometimes that is a problem with overworking myself. I then crave a break.

If this job moves your heart – how so? Ever feel like you found your calling or sweet spot in life? If not, what might do it for you?
Yes, this job moves my heart. I am able to help my Hispanic people in a was unavailable for my mother, a monolingual Mexican first-generation immigrant. I can now help them with therapy, immigration issues, and orientation to the Anglo society. I feel like I’m helping my mother every day. I also do sliding scale payment system or pro-bono work which warms my heart. My work has variety: some office counseling, writing, public presentations, and workshops; I also work in psychotherapy with the Archdiocese. Yes, I have found my calling!

Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?
My father raised me as a woman to strive for the highest education possible as a means of succeeding in life and being self-sufficient. This served me well since I was widowed with two children (age two and three) at the age of twenty-nine. I raised my children by myself for seventeen years and developed my career simultaneously.

How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?
I got my Master’s in Counseling and Psychotherapy, so I’ve always had my heart intent on helping people in this area. If I had it to do it over, perhaps I would focus more on my writing and cooking skills; however, I do these as an avocation and thoroughly enjoy them also. I also incorporate them into my work with people. So I don’t think I’d change anything.

What did you learn the hard way in this job and what happened specifically that led up to this lesson?
I learned that I should have had more confidence in myself to start my own practice earlier. I worked many years for agencies and institutions that, in hindsight, took advantage of me, giving me mere “migajas” compared to what I could have been making myself monetarily. However, all this did help me to develop a wide-base to my practice. I acquired experience in domestic violence with perpetrators, displaced homemakers, drug and alcohol, career counseling, marital counseling, etc.

What is the single most important thing you have learned outside of school about the working world?
To keep asking questions until you can figure out the solutions to problems. Everything can be figured out and I learn something every day. When you have confidence in yourself, others gravitate towards you also.

What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in this job?
I was afraid that it would be a struggle to have a full-time business; however, it turns out that because I’m a bilingual and bicultural, I am in high demand and typically try to turn people away by referring to other therapists, yet they rather wait until I am available. Word of mouth has been my only marketing except for listing myself on for a while.

Why do you get up and go to work each day? Can you give an example of something that really made you feel good or proud?
I get to help people. I can’t call in sick without calling every person scheduled that day since they are the real bosses. I feel good when male perpetrators come back with their wives years later to continue with marriage counseling. I feel good when couples bring me flowers after their therapies to thank me for helping them have happy marriages. I feel happy when I can present to large groups and see tears of joy or smiles and nods of approval from them.

What kind of challenges do you face and what makes you just want to quit?
I think that sometimes the work can get to me. I struggle with finding the balance, and sometimes, I think my family may suffer for it. When I become aware that I’m in that over-worked state again, I make a real effort to scale back and take care of family and myself. Some days I wish it was easier. Like today, I get to answer this questionnaire and finally breathe again.

How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance? How?
As I was saying above, sometimes it’s hard to maintain a work-life balance. But I am very conscious of it and have put parameters on myself to help to maintain it. I will only work the first and third weekend of the month on a workshop or some other work-related commitment. I only work on Thursday evenings; I take off Thursday mornings until 1:00 p.m. I work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every other day of the week. I don’t take work home (paperwork etc.) because I devote my attention to my husband when I’m home and care for myself by knitting, reading, cooking or watching a movie together with my husband.

What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough and/or happy living within your means?
I’d say about $30,000 to 50,000, more or less. I’m trying to work smarter vs. harder. I’m paid enough and live within my means, with an eye to making more due to the inflation.

How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?
I lead groups with my husband overseas to Spain and Italy for spiritual pilgrimages a few times a year; sometimes, we go on our own. And we go visit our kids when any of the five of them asks us to go. This is enough travel. I’d like to find a time to be alone though; I’m working on it.

What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?
As a minimum, you need a master’s degree in a psychology-related area to be a psychotherapist and have the skills of empathy, listening, and understanding.

What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?
You have to have a heart for it; otherwise, you won’t be any good or be able to put up with the work and dedication that it involves.

If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?
I would like to be half retired, writing more, cooking more, and knitting more as well as doing more public presentations. I would also like to do more traveling with my family.

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