Therapy is Ours: Healing Through Talk is Ancestral Reconnection

Talking as a path toward healing is one of our many ancestral gifts.  Although the roots of what is now known as therapy was not developed with Brown people in mind, the wisdom of sharing our struggles and pains through talk has a long tradition in our ancestral past. Our indigenous ancestors would reach out to elders, to their community, and their circle for healing. Chicano psychologist, Amadao Padilla, in his research talked of the tonalpouhqui, who were individuals in Mexica (Aztec) society who focused on mental health issues and healed people via lengthy conversations. 

Despite the stigma around therapy, it’s important to realize that even our current cultural characteristics lend themselves to a process of healing through talk (i.e. counseling) in various ways. Below are some common aspects of current therapy that are similar to current cultural practices in our Brown population:

  1. Plática is a pathway to personal and therapeutic connection. 
  • Our common cultural practice of plática brings us a sense of comfort; a sense of home. In talking with a therapist, plática is an important part of the process. Imagine the therapist is inviting you over for café and pan dulce. Although therapy is more than just this, the practice of plática is a culturally relevant way to introduce the concept of counseling. 
  1. We have the cultural practice of Personalismo. 
  • Personalismo is about individualizing each interaction you have with others. Its purpose is to know, more personally, the person in front of you. We see this practiced often in our communities. In the same way, therapy is always customized to each different, unique person who comes into the room. The therapist’s job to learn about your specific story and get to know what makes you unique. 
  1. Our cultural styles of interaction values a treatment that emphasizes affect rather than cognition (Roll, Millen, & Martinez, 1980). 
  • In their discussion of the 7 Latina/o/x psychological strengths, Raza psychologists Hector Adames and Nayeli Chavez-Dueñas found that we have a strong ability and desire to share strong emotions with each other (i.e. collective emotional expression). Affect refers to feelings; to emotion. Likewise, a main aspect of current counseling is to “connect with our emotions.” Speaking from the heart (affect) is a significant way in which we communicate with each other. Emotions and emotional expression is a big part of our culture. This is important for therapists to know so that they can find a way to translate that emotional expression/connection that happens in our daily life into the “emotional talk” that they are trying to facilitate in the room. 
  1. Interconnectedness is a central belief in Chicanx/Latinx healing (Cosmas-Diaz, 2006).
  • We know that collectivism, interdependence, and familismo are threads that run through Brown culture in many aspects of our lives. This sense of community and peoplehood is often seen at the (extended) family level. This value can also be seen in counseling as therapists have increasingly realized that we can’t always “do it all ourselves” as many self-care gurus will say. Thus, therapists should be able to realize and recognize this cultural value that we also carry with us when we are in the healing process of counseling. 

For these reasons, I say  “therapy is ours.” In other words, although going to a therapist may still feel very foreign, many of the concepts that exist in therapy are not foreign to our community. In fact, our ancestors have practiced “healing through talk” for centuries. So, yes, therapy is ours; and not just for Raza, but for other communities of color who have strong collectivistic values. It is another healing way that we can reclaim and reconnect to. 

Of course it is up to the therapist to respectfully incorporate these practices and connect them to treatment, however, it is also important for our community to know that our culture already has practices that the mental health field proclaims are so important for successful therapy. 

– Dr. Manuel X. Zamarripa, Institute of Chicana/o Psychology

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