That means many people living in one of the wealthiest and most diverse corners of the country cannot find a therapist who literally speaks their language—much less understands their cultural background.
That lack of representation isn’t just a local problem. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mental health counseling field remains overwhelmingly white— in the 2020 BLS report on labor force ethnicity and race, 87.5 percent of “mental health counselors” were white. That’s on par with the American Psychological Association’s 2019 assessment that 83 percent of psychologists are white.
This is not a surprise; there is no exposé to be had on an institution or industry that’s always looked a certain way. And yet, as stigma around mental health disorders fades and Americans become more open about their own need for mental health care, the concurrent conversation becomes, how do we diversify the mental health field so that care reaches everyone?
“Wanting to support the Latino community is a big driving point for me in all of this. I know how much of a gap there is, I know how much of a stigma there is,” around getting mental health help in Latinx culture, Valdez says. After becoming a dad a year ago, Valdez says he’s even more motivated to reframe such narratives. “Instead of just trying to succeed as an American, how can I succeed as a Latino American? And how can I pass down what that means to my Latino American son?”
Valdez is expanding his knowledge base by pursuing the Latinx counseling emphasis, one of four offered by SCU’s counseling psychology program; LGBTQ counseling, health psychology, and correctional psychology are the other three specializations. An emphasis functions like a minor, with courses counting toward the 90 units a student must complete before obtaining licensure and becoming a professional counselor. Though no organization tracks how many U.S.–based counseling master’s programs offer similar specializations, based on anecdotal evidence from faculty and students, it seems Santa Clara’s emphases are a bit of a rarity. In getting an emphasis, a student gets a more in-depth understanding of a particular population’s mental health needs, as well as the barriers they face in accessing help, better preparing the student to work within that community after graduation.
As for his family back in New York, Valdez says they’re supportive albeit confused. “They’re like ‘Why are you leaving your job at all these great tech companies to become a therapist?’” But for perhaps the first time in his life, he knows he can navigate this, that he’s actually not letting them down on the unspoken contract they’d forged by moving to the U.S. so that he could have a brighter future. “I feel very assured in myself and know this is the right thing, while maintaining a healthy balance and boundaries with them about it.” Balance and boundaries? He sounds like a therapist already.