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‘La Chancla’ y El Novio? This Bilingual Therapist Is Destigmatizing Mental Health in L.A.’s Latinx Communities

9:38 AM PDT on October 16, 2020

[dropcap size=big]P[/dropcap]hrases like “la ropa sucia se lava en casa” and “ataque de nervios”  may sound outdated to Latinx youth, but because of the enduring stigma of mental illness within the Latinx community, these phrases are still commonly used to dismiss the need for therapy and gloss over symptoms of depression. 

Living in this culture of denial has proven to be deadly, with suicide being the second leading cause of death for Latinx aged 15 to 34. Tech-savvy marriage and family therapist, Adriana Alejandre, is working to break that long-standing taboo with Latinx Therapy, a mental health-focused podcast that tackles issues relevant to the Latinx community in episodes like “¿Y El Novio?” and “Cuando La Chancla Cruza La Linea”.

After starting the podcast in 2018, Latinx Therapy has now expanded into an online Latinx therapist directory and an active digital community with more than 85 thousand Instagram followers receptive to the virtual workshops, group therapy sessions, and panel discussions offered by Latinx Therapy. 

Alejandre, 28, recently took a moment to chat with L.A. Taco about the need for culturally-informed therapists and jokes about 'la chancla.'

L.A. Taco: How did Latinx Therapy get started?

Adriana Alejandre: got licensed in 2017 and launched my own private practice that year. I quickly realized that there was a huge need for bilingual and trauma services because I had a waiting list. I felt frustrated with not having a network of Latinx Therapists to refer to, and not having resources for my current clients. My immigrant parents taught me to never wait for someone to create what I need, so I began researching and decided to launch Latinx Therapy, the podcast, in early 2018. Upon launching, I received many inquiries for Latinx Therapists so I hired a web developing team to help me create the directory. 

Where is Latinx Therapy based? 

Latinx Therapy is based in Burbank, California but our work is done nationally. Before the pandemic hit, we were touring different states and bringing Latinx Therapists together to network and create communities. 

Latinx Therapy has an active online presence with virtual workshops, a podcast and so much more. What’s the importance of social media and digital media in the field of mental health today?

The digital world is the way we get exposure and connection to our community. It helps to create word of mouth. I often get images of folx who take pictures of their parents listening to my podcast. Overall, I strongly believe that digital media platforms have contributed to breaking the stigma of mental health and have created more access to therapists and spaces where the Latinx community can speak about mental health and feel less alone. 

I think that digital spaces make it easier to be vulnerable and feel connected to others.

Why is it important to have culturally informed therapists within the Latinx community?

Culturally-informed therapists are considerate of the client's beliefs, identities, and backgrounds, which are the elements that are incorporated into their treatment. Culturally informed therapists typically also have similar backgrounds and use self-disclosure as a clinical tool to connect with the client, when appropriate to do so. But most importantly, therapists with this awareness see the clients as individuals and part of their cultures, rather than pathologizing traditions and practices from their cultures. 

Why do you think Latinx youth are more likely to talk about mental health and seek treatment than previous generations?

I think that digital spaces make it easier to be vulnerable and feel connected to others. Previous generations, like my own, experienced connections through in-person interactions, but as the digital age advances and more apps and platforms are available to connect with people globally, I think our Latinx youth gravitate towards these options. Our culture also highly stigmatizes speaking about feelings and contradicts the natural instincts that teens have, which is to talk and express themselves even if that's in a frustrated tone. These forms of expressions are often labeled as "talking back" and receive consequences, which is what leads to the stigma of mental health and/or for Latinx youth to reach out to others, strangers, online.

There are so many entrepreneurs and much diversity [in Los Angeles] when it comes to therapists of color that it makes it feel safe to discuss and create mental health programs.

L.A.-based mental health-focused organizations to follow?

Everyone across the nation needs to follow their local NAMI chapters (the National Alliance of Mental Illness) and Mental Health America chapters. Each city should have its own network that offers free support groups, and currently, due to COVID, most are being done virtually.

Here are a few others that are only in L.A.: Miracles, Valley of Hope, YWCA, Peace Over Violence

What sets L.A. apart from other places when it comes to tackling issues and building community around mental health? 

There are so many entrepreneurs and much diversity when it comes to therapists of color that it makes it feel safe to discuss and create mental health programs. There are also many non-profit mental health organizations doing great work in L.A. now (compared to the 90s, when I grew up) that are promoting services to our communities that embrace mental health to create more accessibility. This has increased awareness of the issues and motivated many individuals, like me to become a therapist. 

Latinx Therapy recently joined the #FueraTrump campaign, why is this campaign important and how is the Trump presidency affecting mental health within the Latinx community across the nation? 

We joined the #FueraTrump campaign because the Trump administration has been impacting the mental health of many of our communities and risking the lives of many Americans during this pandemic. The leadership through the Trump administration has been biased and prejudiced. Trump had a difficult time during the debates denouncing white supremacists, but previously has also been blatantly racist towards the Latinx community, such as referring to Mexican immigrants as "drug dealers, criminals, and rapists." Since his time in office, it has seemed like racism has increased and more people are comfortable discriminating and committing even more hate crimes than what was already occurring. All of these words and incidents impact our undocumented and Latinx communities. 

I think our culture has a toxic relationship with romanticizing abuse and feel that this contributes to normalizing abuse and stigmatizes reaching out for help because of the quantity of people laughing at the experiences that actually caused trauma and potentially other realities, like anxiety and depression.

Memes about abuse (like the chancla) in the Latinx community, are they cathartic or normalizing abuse?

I think our culture has a toxic relationship with romanticizing abuse and feel that this contributes to normalizing abuse and stigmatizes reaching out for help because of the quantity of people laughing at the experiences that actually caused trauma and potentially other realities, like anxiety and depression. I wish people would feel seen and validated by receiving nurturance rather than masking pain through jokes, which happens on a subconscious level because it's a cycle. 

Therapy and activism, do they go hand in hand? 

Therapy and activism must go hand-in-hand. Historically, therapy has replicated oppressive practices and therapists can serve as a tool in the system to decolonize these practices. Activism can be done outside of therapy, and within therapy through supporting the client.  

Where do you go to decompress and mentally reset in Los Angeles?

I love Mi Ranchito Veracruz, the restaurant in North Hollywood.

Our favorite family park is the Ralph Foy Park in Burbank because they redid the playground and the slides are super tall, but the park is also right next to a library.

I love shopping at the Sherman Oaks Westfield mall and the Americana because of its aesthetics.

Is there anywhere in L.A. you can’t wait to visit when the lockdown orders are lifted?

When the pandemic is over, we hope to visit close family friends who have purchased a home and have not been able to have a housewarming party. I really miss my family and friends.

What’s next for Latinx Therapy?

We are launching a national non-profit to create therapy scholarships for the Latinx community and continue breaking the stigma of mental health through education. We hope that Latinx Therapy can be created into an App in a few years where bilingual mental health resources can be accessed. 

Thanks for speaking with us. 

This L.A. Taco profile is part of a series highlighting the Latinx community in Los Angeles, published in collaboration with Discover Los Angeles, in honor of Latinx Heritage Month.

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