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Giving a population its voice

Kristen B. Morales

November 8, 2017

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In a small office building on the western edge of town, a professor and his students are creating a world of difference.

Here, in the offices of the Athens Latino Center for Education and Services, Edward Delgado-Romero, along with master's and doctoral students in the College of Education's counseling programs, are reaching out to local immigrant and Spanish-speaking populations to help them get the counseling services they need.

This outreach, which dovetails with other services the nonprofit ALCES offers the local Latino community, is innovative not only in its approach—giving students valuable clinical experience—but also in the way it fills a gaping hole of counseling coverage in the Athens area.

That's because until this counseling partnership began, Delgado-Romero, a professor in the Department of Counseling and Human Development Services, and one other professional were the only bilingual counselors in the five-county area surrounding Athens.

"The work is so difficult and so taxing," says Delgado-Romero. "There is a lot of trauma—there are things that happened back home that maybe people were fleeing or a lot of domestic violence, and almost none of the clients have received any help. And because there are not a lot of providers who speak Spanish, people bring their kids but can't be completely candid because their kids are the translators."

Delgado-Romero adds that bilingual mental health professionals typically have a high turnover rate, often work with an uninsured population, and often must spend extra time mentally switching gears from working in Spanish to writing case notes in English. The counselors must be bilingual and bicultural and often have to dynamically switch between languages and cultures on the fly.

But thanks to the partnership with ALCES, College of Education students are receiving training in this complex area of mental health. In the past year, dozens of clients in the Athens area received counseling from six student counselors who work under the supervision of Delgado-Romero, a Georgia licensed psychologist. Members of the counseling team also held consultations, rather than therapy sessions, with community members on issues such as financial aid for college or family conflicts. Overall, the graduate students and Delgado-Romero have spent more than 100 hours working directly with clients and many more hours in community outreach to battle the stigma that the overall Latino community has with mental health issues.

Even though mental health services are often just one facet of larger health issues faced by the population, it's outreach such as this, which spreads by word-of-mouth and grassroots efforts, that helps chip away at the sometimes overwhelming caseload.

"Often it's this intersection of medical and psychological," says Delgado-Romero. "Living a life of uncertainty takes its toll on your health."