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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  • Hola,
    Me parece muy interesante su experiencia profesional por lo cual me he tomado la libertad de contactarle con el fin de ver la posiblidad de obtener su recomendacion u opinion en relacion a como incursionar en el area de Orientacion y Psicoterapia en USA. Soy un profesional en Recursos Humanos con una experiencia laboral de alrededor 17 anos, 10 de los cuales son aca en USA. Tengo un Master Degree en Human Resources Management (USA) y una Licenciatura en Psicologia Industrial. Actualmente me desempeno como Director de Recursos Humanos en la Industria Hotelera. Ultimamente he estado pensado en cambiar my career path, y la Psicoterapia y Orientacion son una de mis primeras opciones. Entiendo que hay una gran demanda de profesionales en este campo por lo cual le agradeceria altamente cualquier sugerencia/opinon que me pueda proporcionar. Mil gracias de antemano por su tiempo y consideracion.

    Argenis Jose Sosa

  • 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

  • Your journey is incredibly inspiring; I’m currently toying with the idea of studying in the field of psychology and trying to figure out what to do with it, if I did- this type of patient payback, garnered solely from the self-satsifaction of helping others, reminds me exactly of why I wanted to enter such a career type in the first place. I find people and cultures overwhelmingly fascinating- I love getting to know people from all different walks of life, and I feel that’s helped me see things in a better perspective growing up. Like you, I come from a bilingual family- however instead of Mexican American, I am Cuban American in Miami, a place where bilingualism readily pays off. 

    I’ve found myself frustrated often with the surprising lack of latin therapists in my area, and realized through your story that I could probably quash my fear of slow business if I simply ‘became the change that I wanted to see in the world.’ 

  • Wow! It is great to be able to read in retrospect how someone with so much experience in the field has to say and how she sees herself and her line of work. My cousin is a Psychologist with her licenses already, and she is the spot where you were before. She is Puertorrican, thus bi cultural and bilingual. However, she is struggling to find the company that wants to pay what her work is worth. Perhaps, she should open her own practice just like you did. We live on Fort Lauderdale Florida and there are many Latinos in this area.

  • This is definitely an inspiring and eye opening article. I enjoyed reading about how you balance out your personal life and work life. I am going to school and majoring in psychology and plan on becoming a therapist so when I get out in the field I will definitely remember these tips!

  • I am an undergraduate Psychology student, in Miami, which consists of a largely Hispanic community. I am also Hispanic, of Cuban descent, and I can understand why a lot of people would need a therapist who is sensitive to their culture.

    Especially among Hispanics, mental illness is extremely stigmatized, and many do not get the help they need for this reason. They think psychologists are for “crazy” people, as was said in the interview.

    This is why initiatives such as Active Minds are so crucial, especially communities such as South Florida. Active Minds is a club dedicated to raising awareness and eliminating the stigma that surrounds mental illness. By doing events on-campus and in the community, such as lectures, movie nights, free hugs, and walks like Out of the Darkness, we encourage others to seek help when they need it. I am the Vice President and Mental Health Awareness Coordinator of the Florida International University chapter, and it’s this kind of stigma that we need to keep in mind when we design events.

  • This article is one of the most inpiring acticles in relation to the topic at hand. I am an undergraduate student pursuing a degree in Neuroscince the biological study of the nervous sytem and the brain. I am a Hispanic first time generation student here in Colorado. The very idea of helping people in areas of how they think and act is very intriguing. The potential of possibilities of any one person with the disire to create and reinvent themselves is most stimulating in all of creation. It is for this very reason such as yourself, that I will dedicate my life to helping others who are in search for answers to each unique questions as to why or what…

  • I can only begin to say you are an amazingly strong woman. To be widowed at 29 with two children and establishing your career at the same time is a highly respectable feat. I can never truly understand what you went through, but I know it had to be difficult and I know it takes every ounce of will to carry on and be strong. I truly admire your strength.

    As a child, I first was intrigued by the psychology field, specifically the one explored in this interview. I learned from a young age that I was able to communicate with others effortlessly and others found it easy to converse with me. I was that “one friend” who people always turned to after a bad break-up, bad experience, or someone that they just needed to confide in. When I read this interview, I almost wished that I had pursued the path of psychotherapy.

    However, the psychotherapist here also wished she had spent more time on her writing. I, in reality put my focus on English and Creative Writing. So it’s a little ironic how I can read this and in a way, see what “could have been.” Not saying my life would follow the events of her life, but I could imagine myself helping couples with marital issues, and helping people through their toughest times, because that was the one thing I knew I could never be tired of. Helping people on a daily basis would be a feeling that can never be succeeded. But I confidently chose a different path for my career.

    I chose it to be versatile, so it excites me to see what my major can produce for me. I believe deeply that I carry the same skills needed to be a psychotherapist, “skills of empathy, listening, and understanding.” I might not be able to practice it professionally as she does, but I will be able to talk about it, write about it, and share it possibly with millions of strangers across the world. I believe her and I share the same traits, and I can only wish to match her strength, but I believe we have the same goal. The goal to touch everyone, as often as we can, and as powerful as we can. Whether through weekly visits or a journal or article I may write, we will be there to always lend our ears and heart.

  • I picked to read your story because having OCD I have always been drawn to a career in psychotherapy. My therapist is also bilingual and a Mexican-American. This has truly been a positive thing in our therapy sessions because she understands the culture I was raised in more than an Anglo-American therapist would. It is nice to see that you balance your work with your life as well because it can become stressful, this is one of the things I must work on myself. Your strength truly shines in the fact that you were able to not only raise your children but also developed your career. Your story was truly inspiring and I am glad I have read it.

  • I chose your story because it reminded me a lot of how my mother grew up. She was widowed at 27 with two children. It took her eleven years before she returned to school because after all the abuse she faced at the hands of my father and after I was molested when left in the care of a family member she became very paranoid and wanted us to be next to her at all times.

    When she finally went back to school she was both working full time and going to school full time, but I was able to see her graduate with honors. She is currently still in school working on her masters to be a social worker. It was amazing to see the strength and determination in her eyes to make sure she bettered herself and took care of us at the same time.

    I truly admire the strength that single mothers possess and your story is one that I truly admire.

  • Reading her story it is more than inspiring she went through some hard situations and in the end reached what she wanted and lives happily. It is people like her that drive me to be what I want to be.

  • Reading her story shows that no matter how hard things may be at times or how many obstacles you may come across, if you try hard enough, things will go your way. I love her story and it has really given me the confidence I need to know that nothing is impossible.

  • I chose this story because I can
    relate a lot to the experiences retold in here. I have just barely started my
    Master’s of Education in Counseling Psychology and reading this story
    encourages me in keep pursuing my education to reach my goal. This interest in
    earning a degree in Counseling Psychology is highly related with this quote,
    “There is a tremendous need
    for Hispanic psychotherapists.”

    in a border area near Mexico and having lived my whole life in one of the most
    dangerous cities (Ciudad Juarez) I know firsthand that there is a need for
    psychologists. Mental health is rarely promoted in hospitals and people tend to
    be reluctant in going to a psychologist because they lack information on what a
    psychologist does and how can a psychologist help. This, of course, is also
    related to my field of interest, which is that of developing a therapy that
    will help in halting recidivism in criminal settings. Mental health and
    rehabilitation programs for criminals are rare if not non-existent in prisons
    in Juarez; the programs that certain rehab centers have center mainly around
    religion and twelve-step programs, but do not address the correlation between
    crime and substance abuse, nor a proper therapy to help lower the percentages
    on recidivism.

    want to help people; this is how I mainly relate to this story. I want to
    develop a therapy that could be useful in my interest area in order to have a
    safe environment for citizens and a prison system that’s not cluttered with
    recidivists. This is my drive to continue with my education and to keep

    the author, my father has always aided me in continuing my education and
    encouraged me to be independent. He has always highlighted the importance of my
    education and, thanks to his support (both emotional and economic), I’ve been
    able to continue studying and aiming for higher grounds.

  • Her story really encourages me to continue in pursuit of my dreams. I know that this career can take up a lot of your personal time but it is very rewarding when you are able to help others bare with their problems. Albert Einstein once said, “only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile,” and I trully believe in that statement. There is nothing more rewarding in life than knowing you are leaving a legacy of hope, peace, empathy, and love. You serve in hope that others would choose to live a better and healthy life. I was encouraged by her story in so many ways.

  • I agree that more Hispanic (and minority) psychotherapists are in demand. There is still high negative stigma associated with mental illnesses, such as depression and bipolar disorder within the Hispanic and African American cultures. That is where we psychotherapists have to step in and break this stigma down.

    I’ve read around multiple websites that mental illness is slowly become the most prominent form of disability among people of all ages. We can’t have people not be treated simply because certain races or cultures “are not supposed to be seeing a psychotherapist”. Being an Ethnic Studies and Psychology double major, I can say that there is racism associated with such thought processes. Mental health is something everyone deserves to be treated for, if necessary, regardless of the culture or race one associates themselves with.

    I myself am biracial (Mexican and African) and have been under the supervision of psychologists and psychiatrists due to my depression. So it is very encouraging to hear of someone who shares my culture and is so passionate about helping those with depression as I would like to do in the future someday. This interview was very inspiring and it motivates me that much more to continue my path towards becoming an Occupational Therapist.

  • In reading her biography, some of it reminded me of my daughter and the obstacles that she has faced. My daughter is Mexican and Paiute Indian and is now only 14. She has faced discrimination and prejudice and I will tell her about this woman. It is important for individuals to know that there are others out there that have gone through similar circumstance. It helps that she can be empathetic to her patients because of her background. I too am a Hispanic female, raised in an Italian and American cultures. There was prejudice within my own family because of being Hispanic. It takes great fortitude to achieve what she has done, and to be able to use it for positive influence instead of dwelling on the negative.

  • I was affected in a positive way by her story because her goals align with what I want to do. I have respect for her tackling this challenging yet fulfilling degree. I hope that I am able to make a difference in other people’s lives and use my Spanish for the positive. At my graduate school there is an option to obtain Bilingual certification, and doing this would help my community in south Florida.

    I have seen that there is a need for bilingual psychologists in Miami where the large population is Spanish. That would be a dream of mine to help fellow Spanish citizens overcome their struggles as minorities.

  • The way this woman has found a balance in her life is inspirational to me. I too wish to use my soon to ba acquired degree in psychology to help people. It can sometimes be very easy to lose yourself when you poor your heart into your work. When you care about the people you are trying to help and the work that you are doing it can sometimes seem impossible to achieve equilibrium in your personal life.

    During my early scholastic efforts I often experienced an imbalance in my personal life. My sleep quality and personal relationships would suffer during periods in which I focused too narrowly on my undertakings. Since then i have learned better. I do believe that my life was meant to e lived for others, but that doesn’t mean that i cant be lived for myself as well. In order to achieve our potentials we must respect our personal needs as well as our professional obligations.

  • I chose this story because it helps me to realize that one day I’ll be able to help people too. It encourages me to keep striving for the best because eventually not only will I benefit, but so will the people that I help. I’ve been in tough situations, an abusive home, struggling with self-esteem issues and depression. It was so hard to bounce back from that black hole, but now that I have recovered, I feel the need to help other people like me recover. I know that my experiences will help me to guide others down the right path and I can provide someone with a crying shoulder. It comforts me to know that there are other people in the world that want to provide for the less fortunate or help those who cannot help themselves. And just as those people have comforted me, I hope that one day I can comfort them.

  • This story really gave me the confidence to strive forward because any one is capable of living out their dreams. I am a first generation college student and had no idea what to expect. I got involved and found myself being mentored by amazing people who were in my position. I started out my freshmen year as a Pre-Nursing major, but soon discovered Psychology was my calling. I want to help teens that are going through difficult situations, because when I was in a bad situation I turned to a psychologists and counselor. I want to be there and help people who need me. I know that it will be struggle to get to the top but with all that effort, I will achieve greatness!

  • I was hoping to find a story like this one! I too want to get find a career in the field of either psychiatry or a regular M.D. Reading this interview has motivated me to keep on this path and pushed me a little bit more into my goals. One of my concerns in boarding this career choice, is the fact that it takes a minimum of 9 years to become a psychiatrist. In my family, starting a family, meaning having children is something very important, and given that i would spent most of my young adult years in school, may complicate things. But like this psychoanalyst said: I manage to do both simultaneously. I know i can accomplish great things in my career as well as keep a family and balance it all, just how I know that there is amazing people like her, that can.

  • I have known that there is a huge need for spanish speaking psychotherapists in the US. It is great to see someone with shared heritage doing well and loving the profession that I would like to see myself in one day.

  • It makes a lot of sense that there would be a high demand for bilingual psychotherapists because of the Hispanic culture and their misconception of therapy altogether. As a Cuban-American scholar that has a degree in Psychology, I have experienced quite contradictory perspectives in my life. My family has the idea that only people with mental problems, seek the help of a psychotherapist and that family problems should be resolved within the home. On the other hand, the American culture as well as my background in psychology emphasizes how counseling can make a huge impact. Sometimes getting the perspective of an outsider can really bring different angles to the problem at hand and bring some clarity. As a bilingual myself, I agree with this psychotherapist that communication is not only verbal, but also utilizing your cultural background to make a better connection with your clients, or in my case when I start nursing school, my patients.

  • I have chosen psychotherapy as my career path for many of the reasons listed in this piece. One of the key points in this article that speaks to me is that in order to be a good psychotherapist one has to have a heart for it. Having a passion to help others in this way is what determines a good therapist from a so-so therapist.
    Another key point of this article can be summed up in one word: balance. Clearly, when dealing with people and their problems all day one must be able to shift focus and not take work home with them. Being able to be fully present for one’s clients and go home and be fully present for one’s family is a valuable lesson to learn and the therapist being interviewed here is proof.
    As far as the pay goes, if your heart is in it then the money doesn’t matter. You can’t put a price on job satisfaction.