Culturally Competent Mental Health Practice: A Case Study of an Organization Serving Latino Immigrants
O'Grady, Caitlin Lucille
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There is a large body of research documenting the barriers that the U.S. Latino immigrant population experiences in accessing mental health services, yet research identifying strategies for addressing these barriers is limited. There are few empirical examples illustrating what culturally competent mental health practice with Latino immigrants entails at both the level of the individual provider and the level of the organization as a whole. With the aim of addressing these gaps in the literature, this study explored service delivery at a Chicago organization that provides mental health services to uninsured Latino immigrant adults. Informed by a Latino critical race theoretical framework, this study employed a case study design with a transcendental phenomenological qualitative approach to gain insight into how service providers and service participants described and experienced service delivery, as well as how services addressed community members’ mental health needs. Data collection methods included open-ended individual interviews with 10 service providers and 11 mental health service participants; observation of routine program activities; and collection and analysis of agency documents. Findings indicated that an understanding of community members’ lived experiences informed all aspects of service delivery at the organizational level and at the level of individual providers. The organization addresses community members’ mental health needs through their delivery of services that: 1) promote holistic well-being across multiple environmental contexts; 2) integrate an understanding of acculturative processes; and 3) challenge the oppressive social structures with which community members interact. While culturally competent practice is commonly misinterpreted in the literature as requiring a mastery of finite knowledge of individuals’ cultural values and beliefs, service delivery at this organization challenges these misconceptions and demonstrates that cultural understanding entails an ongoing process of learning about individuals’ lived experiences within the sociopolitical context in which they are situated. Implications for social work practice, policy, education, and research are discussed.