UHCL prof to co-author guide to culturally appropriate mental health services

February 4, 2019 | Katherine Adams

UHCL prof to co-author guide to culturally appropriate mental health services

Roberta Leal, assistant professor of social work at University of Houston-Clear Lake, has been invited to co-author a training guide for professionals to provide culturally appropriate mental health services in school settings. The opportunity is provided through the National Hispanic and Latino Mental Health Technology Transfer Center funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Leal, who has focused her career on social work field education, has done extensive research on immigration and health disparities. “I’ve been asked to co-author a school-based training curriculum, and I will be addressing three modules,” Leal said. “I’ll be creating this guide with a committee of professional colleagues, and the purpose is to train school-based practitioners like psychologists, nurses, social workers and educators on the need for mental health services and to guide the Latino population to access appropriate medical or mental health treatment, taking into consideration the unique cultural factors.”

The guide will become available nationally, free of charge.

Leal explained that there were cultural factors in the Hispanic and Latino community that could preclude their access to receiving necessary treatment. “The guide is meant to fill in the gap for providing mental health services in school settings,” she said. “It will provide key evidence-based tools to help provide interventionists with the information that will be more effective in treating diverse populations.”

She said she would be addressing three modules in the guide. “First, we’ll explore the cultural adaptation of clinical applications in treating Hispanics and Latinos,” she said. “Because of the diversity among Latinos throughout the U.S., the guide will make sure mental health services are culturally relevant to the population they’re serving.”

Additionally, mental health services could be delivered more successfully, Leal explained, if practitioners took into consideration the cultural and family values of this population. “There’s a high propensity for Latinos to seek out what’s considered community-based medical or mental health treatment,” she said. “Those can be herbal or natural remedies. Or, people often visit faith-based support groups for reducing stress. These have a positive influence on the families, but are not always the most effective interventions with more complex mental health issues. Seeking out an herbalist for a medical or stress-related problem is rooted in many indigenous populations and is still very present in the Latino community.”

Leal says the guide would help educate the community on how to access the needed help while training practitioners on how to deliver the services. “I’m hoping to reach out to the community and school professionals to meet in the middle and address mental health issues appropriately,” she said. “To be effective in facilitating a behavior change in the family, there needs to be a bridging of ideas. It’s helpful to receive support from the community or use home remedies, but it’s also good to seek out more formal treatments that might be more effective. We’re training practitioners to be prepared for these cultural interventions.”

Many times, Leal said, people in this population have never seen a licensed mental health provider before, or perhaps they’ve never seen the same medical practitioner regularly. “There’s no medical ‘home’ for their records and there’s a lack of culturally relevant primary care in the community, which leads to an inconsistent medical or mental health history. School-based practitioners need those records to support and treat families more effectively,” she said.

The guide is scheduled to be completed in the spring. “We are expecting to roll out the first implementations of the training in April,” Leal said. “We’ll go through multiple revisions and allow reviews by experts to make sure that key terms and cultural practices are correctly identified and supported by the literature in the research before piloting the trainings.”

With her social work experience in greater Houston, Leal said she hoped some of the pilots would take place in the Clear Lake area. “It’s a natural fit for me to be in the helping profession,” she said. “Culturally, the Latino and Hispanic community believes in collectivism to address a social issue. That lines up well with social work, and the way we address issues is by connecting people to resources, programs and others who can get to the root causes of problems so that  situations can get better.”

For more information about UH-Clear Lake’s social work program, visit www.uhcl.edu/human-sciences-humanities/departments/clinical-health-applied-sciences/social-work/.