Treating Hispanic Teens: Cultural Differences to Consider

Treating Hispanic Teens: Cultural Differences to Consider

In the last decade, the American Psychological Association has become more and more sensitive to cultural differences. There is a growing recognition that mental illnesses are not standard across cultures. What is considered to be a symptom of a disorder in one culture might be entirely acceptable in other. One example of this is the view within the Native American culture that hearing the voice of a deceased relative is considered normal. However, typically, in Western culture, this might be seen as a symptom of a psychotic disorder.

The same is also applies to the therapy room, particularly with Latin-American teens. The Hispanic culture differs from that of America despite the ever-growing integration of both populations.

For instance, Latinos highly value family. In some cases, discussing personal family issues might feel like a form of disloyalty to a Hispanic teen. A therapist would want to be mindful of this concern and perhaps invite family members to participate in therapy when appropriate. This might help reduce feelings of disloyalty and betrayal that an adolescent might experience when participating in therapy, especially during the first few sessions.

Although the American culture tends to place value on asserting oneself, the Hispanic culture tends to value the harmony between people more than individuality. With this in mind, it might be challenging for a teen to admit a problem he is having with his mother, for example, while she is attending therapy with him. Instead, it might be better to discuss the problem with the adolescent alone and then later with his mother. Even giving voice to this in the therapy room can help build rapport with a Hispanic teen so that he or she can more and more comfortable sharing personal struggles.

Hispanics value interpersonal relationships. Typically, an American therapist will rarely disclose any personal information to clients. However, doing so with Latino adolescents (and adults) can increase the level of rapport, trust, and belief in the professional abilities of the therapist. As with any client, a relationship that is respectful and caring can help build therapeutic rapport. However, this seems to be particularly true with Hispanics.

Furthermore, Latinos tend to have a high level of respect for individuals of authority. For this reason, they might place a significant amount of value on the suggestions offered by the therapist. This could in fact serve the psychological growth of an adolescent well. However, some Hispanic teens might actually fear their therapists because of their perceived authority, preventing an authentic therapeutic relationship. Furthermore, some parents of Hispanic descent, especially undocumented immigrants, might carry considerable fear of American professionals, fearing possible deportation, which also might inhibit the productivity of therapy sessions.

All of the above are important to consider when treating a Hispanic teen. Although most adolescents receiving treatment in the United States might already be acclimated to American society, their cultural views, beliefs, and traditions might still play a significant role in their mental health treatment.

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