Latina/Latino Clients: Capitalizing on EA Opportunities
By Gerardo Canul, PhD
The steady stream of Latino immigrants coming into the United States has increased with each passing decade. The Southwest, in particular, has experienced the most growth in the Latino population in the last 20 years, although this increase has spread to all parts of the U.S.
As of 2015, there were more than 56 million Latinos living in the US, with over two-thirds of Mexican origin (U.S. Census Bureau, 2015). There are numerous implications for individuals employing and serving this population – this includes employee assistance professionals.
In 2000, when I began teaching undergraduate and graduate psychology courses, the Latino population in the US was roughly 35 million. As an educator and EA provider, I have had to continually adjust my knowledge of Latino history and factors affecting immigration. I have come to appreciate that the largest ethnic group in the country has many constants related to culture – and yet these factors are also fluid and cultural background may vary from individual to individual (McGoldrick, M., Pearce, J.K., & Giordan J., 2005).
One needs to have a solid knowledge base about this population. While there are many similarities between Latino groups, there are also significant differences within these groups. Without a thorough understanding of a client’s cultural background, the likelihood for misunderstandings and inaccurate assessments is inevitable (Canul & Cross, 1994).
When an employer misunderstands an employee’s actions and/or apparent inactions, this may be due to a cultural difference. It behooves the employer to accurately assess the employee’s actions before reaching a conclusion based on a misunderstanding. Terminating an employee or having an employee quit due to a misunderstanding implies financial loss for employers in terms of additional time and effort required to recruit, train, and maintain a steady workforce.
As an example, Latinos in the earlier stages of Americanizing may rely on a supervisor to provide directives while an employer may implicitly understand that one must demonstrate initiative and independence as soon as possible in order to establish one’s value to the organization.
For EA professionals, the implications are also significant for successful assessments and referrals. First and second generation Latinos – those who are in the initial stages of Americanization – are more susceptible to dropping out of mental health services. The main reason is that Latino clients often feel misunderstood by their providers. In this instance, the client may be waiting for the clinician to take the lead in a session and remain attentive, yet quiet. Consequently, the clinician may interpret the client’s aloof nature as being resistant (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001).
Latinos’ Diverse Histories
Learning more about various Latino subgroups may occur in various ways, such as through consultation with a Latino expert. Finding the time to do this is not easy with the fast-paced lives that nearly all professionals lead these days. In this article, I will strive to identify and share the elements that may enhance the proficiency of EA professionals.
As noted, to more accurately understand, assess, and serve the Latino population requires adequate knowledge of core cultural Latino values and beliefs. This might appear to be a daunting task, but possessing at least some understanding about Latino history provides a strong starting point.
In the next sections, I will share significant historical events and factors that are shared across all Latino subgroups.
The advent of the Spanish Inquisition brought with it a mass exodus of conquerors, explorers, and persecuted people (Sephadric Jews) who sought fortune in other lands, which included the Americas and Caribbean. Undoubtedly, by bringing with them their language, religion (Catholicism), and an identity system influenced by collective action, this influx of Spaniards to the New World had a significant influence on culture, which has continued to this day (Mendocal, 2002).
Culture and Religion
Some Latinos continue to closely practice the Roman Catholic religion, while other Latinos may do so mainly for the sake of maintaining family history and/or cultural-social practices. The concept of fatalism is central to the Roman Catholic faith. In other words, suffering is part of life and one must suffer in silence until a specific stressor disappears. Knowing this information and considering whether it applies to the Latino client’s self-understanding is part of the task of providing competent EA services. Exploring what having a stressor means and recognizing the Latino client’s coping belief may offer valuable insights for EA professionals (McGoldrick, et al., 2005).
Spanish and English Language Skills
As mentioned earlier, the Spanish language is another strong common denominator among Latinos. First and second generation Latinos in the US will vary with regards to their use and fluency of Spanish. It is also common to have various degrees of fluency and command of the Spanish language within families.
Furthermore, one might expect that the use of English will differ within families and from individual to individual. In other words, you will seldom find an individual who solely speaks Spanish.
Another common theme involves the role of a person’s accent while speaking either Spanish or English. The perception that someone’s accent is too “Mexican” may deter this person from using their English-speaking skills. The implication is that a provider who is aware of these factors and the possible dynamics it may create, will likely begin gaining the client’s trust (Canul & Cross, 1994).
There are also specific social factors that form and shape the lives of third and fourth-generation Latinos. Again, there are numerous factors, but I will briefly address two of them.
One is the number of Latinos/Latinas who have relationships and marriages with individuals of different ethnicities, religious beliefs, and political perspectives. This factor is augmented by skin color. With more Latinos/Latinas marrying outside of their ethnic group, the diversity of skin color, and the views toward ethnic identity has been further diversified.
An EA professional should refrain from arriving at an immediate conclusion and contemplate the degree and influence of the multiple dimensions of the individual. The implication is that appearing to be darker skinned may say something about the person’s family of origin, but may not be an accurate characterization of their level of Americanization.
Latinos’ Communication Styles
In this article, I have identified the prominent role that culture, language, ethnicity, and skin color play in influencing how individuals relate to one another. Communication is another such factor. More traditional (less Americanized) Latinos may rely on an indirect style of communication when addressing issues that involve strong emotions and/or differing points of view with individuals in positions of authority, such as a supervisor, or even an EA professional.
A Latino/Latina client who distances, denies, and/or minimizes the stress he/she is experiencing, and the need to engage with the EAP, may benefit from being reassured of the degree of confidentiality available to them. This is in contrast to an Americanized Latino who has learned that directly speaking one’s mind is more the norm. In this case, a highly Americanized Latino client will seek services that are consistent with American values, practices, and beliefs (McGoldrick et al., 2005).
The Growth Continuum
I think of Latinos’ experiences, and that of Americans for that matter, as being on a continuum. In both cases, there are numerous factors that influence one’s life. If I am a farmer who harvests corn in the Midwest, I may share similar values and concerns as an individual who harvests oranges in Florida or apples in the state of Washington. And yet, there will also be certain values and beliefs that may separate one farmer from the next.
Increasing one’s level of knowledge about the multi-dimensional and increasingly diverse Latino population is an ongoing requirement for our profession. One path may be the traditional route of reading and participating in workshops. This may include incorporating brief consultations with an individual to identify potential areas of concern, in order to increase competent delivery of services.
In addition, expanding one’s self-awareness of issues related to skin color, such as gender roles, political views, and mental health conceptualizations, may also provide a deeper understanding into how these roles differ in the day-to-day functioning of Latinos, as opposed to other Americans.
In each contact with a client, there exists an opportunity that may enable the individual to receive the full range of services available to them. At the same time, these interactions offer the prospects for EA professionals and employers to reap the benefits of effective delivery of services.
George Canul, PhD, has more than 20 years’ experience as an educator, clinician, and consultant. He maintains and independent EAP practice and regularly provides workplace trainings and professional development courses. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Canul, G. & Cross, H. (1994). The influence of acculturation and racial identity attitudes on Mexican Americans’ MMPI-performance. Journal of Clinical Psychology. 50(5), 736-745.
McGoldrick, M.; Pearce, J.K.; & Giordan, J. (2005). Ethnicity and family therapy, (3rd Ed). New York: Guilford Press.
Mangels, J.A., Good, C., Whiteman, R.C., & Maniscalco, B. (2012). Emotion blocks the path to learning under stereotype threat. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. 7(2), 230-241.
Mendocal, M.R. (2002). The ornament of the world: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians created a culture of tolerance in medieval Spain. Boston, New York, and London: Little Brown.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2001). Mental health: Culture, race, and ethnicity, a supplement to mental Health: A report of the surgeon general. Rockville, MD: Author. Office of the Surgeon General. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm. nih.gov/books/NBK44243.
U.S. Census Bureau (2015). U.S. Hispanic population. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from www.census.gov/newsroom/facts-for-features/2015/cbl5-ff18.html.