Elias Moitinho, Ph.D.
AACC Note: This month is National Hispanic Heritage Month. Take some time to learn more about how to best serve Hispanic clients in your area. We hope this blog gets you off to a great start!
Chances are that one of the 50.5 million Hispanic/Latino individuals in the U.S. have already been to your office. The Hispanic/Latino population is the largest minority group in the U.S. and is projected to reach 30.2% of the U.S. population in 2050, almost “one in every three persons.” As a Christian counselor, you must increase your Hispanic/Latino cultural IQ to be culturally competent to counsel them effectively. The process begins by learning to appreciate the richness of the Hispanic/Latino culture.
Obviously from a biblical perspective, Christian counselors should recognize the uniqueness of each cultural group and develop creative methods to minister to them (1 Cor. 9:20; Acts 17:16-34). We learn from the example of the apostle Paul who ministered to Jews and Gentiles by using different strategies. For instance, he preached to Jews (Acts 13:13-43; 14:1-3; 18:7; 19:8) and reasoned with them from the Scriptures (Acts 16:17; 17:1-3). However, when he witnessed to the Gentiles in the Aeropagus, he also quoted some Greek poets (Acts 17:28).
When interacting with a Hispanic/Latino client, you must avoid stereotypes and should accept your client’s self-description. According to a 2006 survey by the Pew Hispanic Center, “48% of Latino adults generally describe themselves by their country of origin first; 26% generally use the terms Latino or Hispanic first; and 24% generally call themselves American on first reference. As for a preference between “Hispanic” and “Latino”, a 2008 Center survey found that 36% of respondents prefer the term “Hispanic,” 21% prefer the term “Latino” and the rest have no preference.” So, when in doubt, ask your client.
We must realize that this cultural group is multiethnic and multicultural including individuals of a diverse educational, political, economic, and religious background. However, several similarities bind Hispanic/Latino individuals together including the Spanish language, a collectivistic orientation with strong family-centered values, a strong hierarchy within the family and community, and clearly defined gender roles. Some of the core values of the Hispanic/Latino culture identified in the literature that I will briefly describe here include: familism, personalism, simpatÃa, hierarchical family structure, traditional gender roles, and fatalism among others.
Familism arises from a collectivistic orientation and denotes a strong loyalty to the family and leads to strong cohesion. Hispanic/Latino family members are interdependent and have a sense of obligation to help the family, thus family needs tend to be more important than individual needs. Moreover, decision-making is a family-centered process. Acculturation affects familism as Hurtado notes that “children’s levels of familism decrease and they become more independent and self-reliant as levels of acculturation increases.” So, be aware that for low acculturated Hispanic/Latino individuals, discussing problems with outsiders, such as counselors, may bring a sense of shame to the family.
Personalism is an essential part of the Hispanic/Latino culture and it refers to valuing individual dignity. Succinctly, it means that people are more important than things. This value is consistent with a biblical worldview that teaches that every person was made in the image of God and has intrinsic worth (Gen. 1:26-27). Therefore, because of personalism, the Hispanic/Latino culture emphasizes warm and friendly personal interactions. Closely related is the collectivistic concept of simpatÃa which emphasizes valuing harmony and, consequently, avoiding conflict. So, you will have to pay extra attention to how you build rapport with your clients.
The Hispanic/Latino family structure tends to be patriarchal and follow a rigid hierarchical structure. I have seen many large extended family networks with close relationships among grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and other members of the extended family. Family members provide social, emotional, and even financial support to each other. We have to be careful not to label these families as enmeshed. Also, a multigenerational household is not uncommon and, traditionally, the elders are highly respected. Therefore, careful assessment of the family system will be extremely essential to effective counseling.
Traditional gender roles include the concept of Machismo, which traditionally means that the husband is the protector, provider, and the decision-maker for the family. Unfortunately, this concept has been distorted by many a men who abuse their power within the family. On the other hand, women are expected to be the nurturer of the family. I have observed that mothers have a strong influence even upon their adult children. Generally in counseling, it will be wise to join the husband/father as the leader of the family from the beginning of the counseling process.
Fatalism among Hispanics and Latinos means that they have an external locus of control. Due to Catholicism, most Hispanic/Latino individuals mention the name of God frequently and even use the phrase “if God wills” with a distorted theological meaning. Consequently, their misunderstanding of God’s sovereignty and God’s providence may decrease personal responsibility and may lead them to become passive and to feel powerless.
It is of utmost importance to know your Hispanic/Latino clients and how acculturated they are to the American culture. Do not overgeneralize this brief information to each person. Rather, know that acculturation brings about psychosocial changes and influences your client’s language use, values, behaviors, norms, and worldview. Furthermore, acculturation exacerbates intergenerational conflicts. Therefore, learning more about the Hispanic/Latino culture will not only increase your cultural IQ but it will also help you avoid pitfalls when counseling Hispanic/Latino clients. I will share with you some of these pitfalls in my next blog.
Elias Moitinho, Ph.D., LPC-S, LMFT, BCPCC is director of the M.A. licensure counseling programs and an associate professor of counseling at Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA. Dr. Moitinho has many years of pastoral ministry, counseling, and teaching experience having served in various roles such as pastor, counselor, seminary professor, and director of a Christian counseling center. Prior to joining Liberty he served as the Hope for the Heart chair of Biblical counseling at Southwestern Baptist Theological seminary in Fort Worth, TX. Dr. Moitinho is interested in cross-cultural counseling focusing specifically on the Hispanic/Latino population. In addition to his ministry experience in his native country of Brazil, Dr. Moitinho has taught as guest professor in seminaries in Mexico, Cuba, and Spain. He is an active member of the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC). His email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Laura B. Shrestha and Elayne J. Heisler, The Changing Demographic Profile of the United States, March 31, 2011 Congressional Research Service, 22. Available from http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL32701.pdf.
Edward A. Delgado-Romero, “Counseling a Hispanic/Latino Client-Mr. X,” Journal of Mental Health Counseling, Vol. 23, Issue 3 (July 2001): 207-221.
Jeffrey Passel and Paul Taylor, “Who’s Hispanic?” Pew Hispanic Center, May 28, 2009. Available from http://www.pewhispanic.org/2009/05/28/whos-hispanic/.
Be mindful that Brazilians speak Portuguese. Therefore, most Brazilians accept the term “Latino” to refer to themselves, rather than “Hispanic.”
See Azara, Santiago-Rivera, “Latino Values and Family Transitions: Practical Considerations for Counseling,” Counseling and Human Development, (February 2003).
See K. M. Antshell, “Integrating Culture as a Means of Improving Treatment Adherence in the Latino Population,” Psychology, Health & Medicine, vol. 7 no. 4,( 2002): 435-449; Celia Jaes Falicov, Latino Families in Therapy: A Guide to Multicultural Practice (New York: The Guilford Press, 1998); Monica McGoldrick, Joe Giordano, and Nydia Garcia-Preto, eds. Ethnicity and Family Therapy. 3d ed. (New York: The Guilford Press, 2005).
See AÃda Hurtado, “Variations, Combinations and Evolutions: Latino Families in the United States,” in Understanding Latino Families: Scholarship, Policy and Practice, ed. Ruth Zambrana (Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 1995), 48-49.
Celia Jaes Falicov “Mexican Families” in Ethnicity and Family Therapy. Monica McGoldrick, Joe Giordano, and Nydia Garcia-Preto, eds. 3d ed. (New York: The Guilford Press, 2005), 235.