Dr. Marco Gemignani, assistant professor of psychology, is coordinator of the clinic. “We realized there are very few possibilities for Spanish speakers in Pittsburgh to receive affordable counseling and therapy,” Gemignani said. “The community is growing fast here but not the services for them.”
Because the community isn’t centralized in a specific neighborhood in Pittsburgh, the population tends to be invisible here.
“Most people are surprised that there is a fairly large Hispanic population in Pittsburgh,” Gemignani said. “This makes the Latino community here fairly isolated. When we see isolation and a lack of social networks, we see an increase in anxiety, depression and substance abuse.”
But convincing Spanish speakers to get help is a challenge in itself. While a stigma against mental health services exists in many populations, it is especially strong among Hispanics.
“Particularly among immigrants from Latin America, mental health is associated with severe pathologies and being crazy,” Gemignani explained. “So we do community outreach and try to normalize it.”
Gemignani states that a lack of familiarity of mental health services contributes to the stigma, so increasing the community’s knowledge about what psychotherapy entails and how it can help is making a difference.
The initiative has garnered a $30,000 grant from the Staunton Farm Foundation, which supports non-profits focused on behavioral health services that benefit southwestern Pennsylvania residents. In addition to covering the cost of the psychotherapy itself, the grant money also will facilitate marketing and advertising, community outreach and administrative expenses.
Denise Mahone, a third-year psychology doctoral student at Duquesne who provides bilingual psychotherapy services through the clinic, notes that an important benefit of the program is that neither insurance—nor even a social security number—is required to receive services.
“We’ve had a great response from the Spanish-speaking community and also from other providers in the area who are bound by only being able to take clients with insurance or with a social security number,” Mahone said. “It makes us really accessible. We’re filling an important need for a truly underserved population.”
The program already provides services to about seven Spanish speakers, but the goal is to reach out to more members of Pittsburgh’s Latin American community.
“One of the challenges we face is reaching out to members of the Latino community who are the most isolated,” Gemignani said. “These are people who aren’t connected. They don’t have friends, don’t go to church to hear about us and they don’t read the newspapers.”
Individuals who want to speak with someone in Spanish to schedule an appointment can call 412.396.6562 on Tuesdays from 2 to 4 p.m., Wednesdays from 9 to 11 a.m. or Thursdays from 4 to 7 p.m. The Psychology Clinic is located in Room 908 of Rockwell Hall on Duquesne’s campus.