Counseling services are crucial for Indy’s immigrant community
Damaris Franco, “Counseling services are crucial for Indy’s immigrant community,” Indianapolis Star, November 9, 2014
I have always had a passion to help people. This desire is rooted in memories of listening to my grandfather’s stories of his immigration journey to the U.S., where he dreamed of providing a better life for his family.
In 2013, I was offered an opportunity to serve the Indianapolis immigrant community through the Center for Interfaith Cooperation, which hosts the Immigrant and Refugee Service Corps, an AmeriCorps program. IRSC has 12 host sites, including the counseling center at Christian Theological Seminary, where I serve as a marriage and family psychotherapist.
The faith-based focus at CIC and CTS enables me to serve my community by addressing immigrants’ poor access to health-care services. The most urgent need is for adequate mental health services delivered with cultural sensitivity and in immigrants’ native language. Through AmeriCorps, I am providing psychotherapeutic services to Latino newcomers in my native Spanish. Many immigrants experience PostTraumatic Stress Disorder. Terrible circumstances in their countries of origin add more to the already-severe emotional distress of adapting to a new environment. Often immigrants are not even aware of therapy, which was non-existent in their former home. They often face barriers in language, finances, legal status and access to resources. Discussing mental health may entail cultural stigmas and taboos.
These stresses pile on top of the complicated immigrant experience and complicate their navigation toward a secure future. The professional discourses common in my practice can be overwhelming. The fact that immigrants are able to find therapy in their native language has been transformative: Individuals can better manage their lives and find peace of mind.
There simply are not enough specialized therapeutic services to meet the counseling demands within the immigrant community. Too often a minor mental health challenge can spiral out of control and can threaten the welfare of an entire family.
As an AmeriCorps member, I’ve been able to form partnerships with mental health organizations wishing to help create initiatives for newcomers. We have helped set up an Ethnic Self-Help Charter that is comprised of community groups extending services to the immigrant and refugee population. We are working together to instill mental health awareness in the larger community.
The National Alliance for Mental Illness, a new addition to the IRSC AmeriCorps program, currently is educating Latino religious leaders. Why reach out to religious communities? The answer is simple: Immigrants trust their faith leaders. Their faith communities are their support system and their protection.
Overall, the strength and resilience I witness in the immigrants’ struggle inspires me to more fully appreciate my passion and respect for the therapeutic process. I’m humbled by my service as an IRSC AmeriCorps member. It has awakened in me a powerful desire to help my community, and most importantly, it has provided my life with purpose. I’m proud that my grandfather’s dream is alive in me today. His difficult immigration journeys were not in vain now that I am truly fulfilling my dream.
Here is a quote from the Bible that also gives me inspiration:
“I’m convinced that God, who began this good work in you, will carry it through to completion. …”
— Philippians 1:6