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The Talking Therapist

To bond with her Latina/o clients, Mariel Buque is learning to “self-disclose”

Mariel Buque
Mariel Buque

Mariel Buque arrived at age five in the United States from the Dominican Republic. She learned English and became a stellar student.

“I know the Latina/o immigrant experience because I lived it,” she says.

But not every facet of it, as Buque, a fourth-year doctoral student in TC’s new Latina/o Mental Health concentration was reminded last year, when she began counseling a client of Mexican descent.

“There were many similarities between our cultures, but there were also unique aspects of her experience that I needed to learn about – and just being a native Spanish speaker wasn’t enough,” she says.

[ Read more: Celebrating Our Students This Holiday Season ]

For example, Buque’s client made frequent use of dichos – proverbs, sayings and double entrendres that Spanish-speaking families and communities rely on as a kind of shorthand for discussing life’s weightiest matters. Dichos vary from country to country and even region to region.

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“I turned to my professors and trainers in the program who knew more than I did about Mexican culture and indigenous cultures within Mexico,” Buque says. “It was humbling, but ultimately it enhanced my work and made me more confident.”

In 2014, Buque was one of six TC doctoral students funded by the federal Health Resources & Services Administration to receive training in integrated psychology/health care. She now works onsite at Columbia University Medical Center, rotating through the Hospital Adult Outpatient Service’s ambulatory clinics – obstetrics/gynecology, cardiology, pediatrics – to provide short-term dynamic and cognitive behavioral therapy for patients who also are receiving medical treatment. The premise is that Latinas/os who receive counseling are more likely to get medical care, and vice versa.

To that end, Buque is “extracting and using cultural information to help people navigate therapy” – work that sometimes takes her out of her comfort zone. “As a counseling psychologist, you’re taught to strive for neutrality,” she says, “but with Latinas/os, you must engage in personal small talk. Otherwise they won’t come back.”

This past fall, Buque took on a supervisory role in the program.

“I didn’t think I’d ever get the opportunity to be trained like this,” she says. “I take pride in being Latina, and now I’m serving my own community.” – Joe Levine

Published Wednesday, Dec 21, 2016