UTSA’s bilingual counseling program addresses the widespread lack of Latin American mental health services | UTSA today | UTSA


“This inequality in mental health care increases the risk for these communities for more severe and persistent forms of mental illness, as mental illness often worsens without treatment,” said the consulting professor Heath Trepal who is part of a team of UTSA faculties at the College of Education and Human Development (COEHD) that leads the bilingual counseling certificate training program.

There are currently about 70 mental health training programs across the country. UTSA is one of only four programs fully accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), which offers a specialized bilingual counseling training program for school and clinical mental health counselors.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health in 2015, roughly half of Latino millennials were without mental health care. Barriers to mental health care worsened during the pandemic. It is estimated that about six in ten Hispanic adults with reported mental health problems have not received treatment.

Participants seeking the UTSA’s 12-Level Bilingual Counseling Certificate must pass a Spanish language exam, complete two courses in the Bicultural Bilingual Studies Department with an emphasis on cultural and counseling skills, and complete mental health fieldwork in Spanish, including supervised consultations with Spanish speaking customers. The program offers language tests and remedial programs to help students improve their communication skills in Spanish.

Assistant Professor Claudia Interiano-Shiverdecker, who co-directs the Bilingual Counseling Certificate program and teaches one of the required mental health courses in Spanish, shows students how best to use culture and language in counseling the Latino community.

“How do you translate ‘self-care’? This idea doesn’t translate very well into Spanish, ”said Interiano-Shivedecker. “We make sure that we rely on concepts that resonate with the Latino community.”

The UTSA Bilingual Counseling Certificate is part of a strong mental health curriculum at the university. UTSA currently offers undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate programs for those entering the mental health field, including those interested in elementary and secondary schools. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, there were an estimated 5 million bilingual students in the US public school system last year alone, but there is still a shortage of bilingual school psychologists. UTSA addresses this shortcoming by offering a pipeline of well-trained mental health professionals to meet the needs of K-12 students.

The UTSA Department of Counseling has provided training for the community during the most difficult times. In 2017, the department received nearly $ 2 million for creating curriculum and services to meet the mental needs of survivors of the Sutherland Springs Church shooting. Derek Robertson, Associate Professor in the department and Co-Head of the Bilingual Counseling Certificate Program, helped shape the training. He was also an early adopter of virtual sessions – he offered this resource before it became the standard method of treatment for many of today’s services.

“Members of smaller communities tend to be embarrassed because mental health is seen as a stigma,” said Robertson. “Virtual meetings allow more privacy and immediate support.”

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