Growing up in the Dominican Republic, I heard many negative connotations regarding therapy, counseling, psychiatry, and anything that had to do with seeking help for anything other than a medical condition. A common expression I constantly heard was “quien va con un psicólogo está loco/a” (seeking therapy is for crazy people), of course, hearing those things being a therapist was the last thing on my mind at that age and time.
One of the sad things of such environment is that individuals with severe mental illness were not and even now days are not receiving the proper attention or treatment. They are moving around the community displaying symptoms of severe mental illness diagnosis such as schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. Displaying behaviors that could potentially be harmful to themselves and others around them. Many times I witnessed people laughing at these behaviors and treating the person as if he/she were entertainers and at times provoking aggressive behaviors by bullying, humiliating, or convincing him/her of an alter reality that exacerbated the negative actions.
Most of the time I was not sure of what was going on, but I disliked to see how others around me entertained themselves with the “out of the norm” behaviors displayed. I would hear comments about the “manicomio” (psychiatric ward) as people laugh and joke about the person being “Loco/a” (crazy). It saddened and angered me to learn what the manicomio was; I felt powerless since I saw myself so insignificant to have a voice or even be an agent of a change. I felt there was nothing I could do, however, today it is a different story, I am a strong agent of change in my community, I intend to continue voicing my concerns and extending a hand to everyone in need.
On a positive note in my experience in the Dominican Republic, from time to time, I also witness those that show compassion and solidarity by providing food, shelter and sticking out to the injustices, which gave me comfort and hopes that something positive could be done to help change the system. My interest increased, so I started inquiring more about mental health, looking for a way to be part of the solution or at the bare minimum contribute to a solution.
In 2001, my family decided to move to Houston, Texas; I had no idea what the future held for me in a new country, different language, different culture, different prospects and the perspectives of possibilities to even dream of change was far, but the eagerness to search for new opportunities was always there.
From an early age, my father thought my sister and I that education was the path to achievement, that hard work was the way of attaining success. I was determining to be successful and continue to achieve my goal of helping my community. The transition was difficult as I encounter many setbacks, at times I felt my goals were in pause, and the anxiety of not knowing what would happen next was both frustrating and challenging.
My hopes and dreams of becoming a counselor never changed, instead were strengthened as I observe how children with disabilities had an opportunity for education, interaction with others, that in this country having a disability did not impede receiving an education, something that was non-existing in my beloved Dominican Republic.
In 2004, after being in the US for several years, the need for mental health services touch close to home, someone dear to me attempted suicide, I am grateful she survived. However, it was a wake-up call to become aware of the lack of Spanish speaking therapist in my community.
After being discharged from the psychiatric hospital, the real challenged begun, finding a Spanish speaking psychiatrist and therapist was nearly impossible and having to use a translator felt very impersonal to her and her family. That was my first exposure to the mental health system in the Houston area and what strengthened my passion for providing change for my community, becoming someone that could provide support in the native language, someone that was able to understand and relate to the struggles the Latino community face in the US.
I have been in the field of mental health for almost ten years now, in recent years, there has been an increase of Spanish speaking mental health providers in the Houston area; I am proud to say I am one of the many Latina/o lending a hand to the community.
My journey has guided me to provide counseling and support to women, children, and men survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse. To work with the increasing population of unaccompanied minor children crossing the US borders on their own and be able to provide comfort, safety, and hope in the midst of the chaos. To provide mental health services to the community in one of the largest mental health agencies for Harris County, as well as be able to have a private practice in which I can meet with clients in the evenings and weekends to accommodate their schedule.
It is an honor to have the opportunity to guide my community through the healing process and to provide education on mental health illness. Be able to provide education in a way my community can understand and demystify mental illness, that mental illness does not discriminate, that at some point in our life, we all need someone to talk to, someone that can relate and understand what is going on in our lives. I am privileged to be that person for a community that has been my home for so many years.
About the Author
Ana Valenzuela has a Master of Science in Mental Health Counseling from Walden University. Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor-Intern to practice professional counseling in the state of Texas under license #74356. She believes that the healing process goes hand by hand with a positive therapeutic relationship, it is an honor for me to be able to walk the road to healing with my clients to achieve the personal and emotional goals.
Her experience includes working with clients of various ages and issues such as anxiety, depression, grief, parenting, sexual abuse, domestic violence, trauma, school issues, anger issues, and family issues, working with families in the reunification process for separation due to various life circumstances, including separation due to immigration proceedings.
She has worked with adults, young children, teens, youths, and juveniles in crisis or who are dealing with various personal decisions for their lives. In working with individuals (adult and children), I attempt to be caring, supportive and bring an understanding of non-judgmental honesty, to help guide them through life stressors.
Ana Valenzuela, MS., LPC, NCC, LCDC-Intern
Licensed Professional Counselor
National Certify Counselor
Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor-Intern
Clearhope Counseling and Wellness Center
6021 Fairmont Parkway Suite 200
Pasadena, Tx 77504
281-769-2238 ext. 515
Clear Hope Wellness
Learn more about Ana