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Psychology Professor Presents Findings on Latino Mental Health at Conference
Tomas E. Martinez, professor of psychology at Seaver College and the Graduate School of Education and Psychology, shared his expertise on mental health in the Latino community at the 14th annual Latino Behavioral Health Conference, held September 15 to 18 in Los Angeles.
Martinez presented two workshops to Latino colleagues at the national conference. One explored the case study of a Latina adult diagnosed with depression and posttraumatic stress disorder, while the other focused on the findings of adolescent group therapy treatment.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, an estimated 37% of Hispanic Americans have no health insurance, compared with 16% for Americans overall. That troubling statistic, coupled with what Martinez calls lack of community "knowledge and education in the concept of mental illness," reveals the need for more help in the Latino community to deal with mental health disorders. The conference delved into issues of drawing sufferers to seek professional help and dealing with problems associated with their treatment.
"The workshops were designed to present our findings to the professional community, and teach the skills we learned from our own cases," says Martinez, whose workshops were attended by approximately 150 fellow Latino members of the mental health profession.
Martinez presented the case of a woman coping with depression and motherhood. "We discovered she had been a victim of sex abuse since the age of five, which triggered her psychosis," says Martinez. "Further exploration found she had been gang raped at age 12, and we believe the voices she has heard in her head ever since came from that experience."
His second workshop explored group therapy treatments with adolescents who had been sexually abused by members of their family. The consensus of both case studies was that abuse in Latino families is often ignored or denied, and that treatment is not often, in Martinez's words, "culturally sensitive in light of Latino family dynamics involved in 'breaking the code of silence.'"
"By challenging the cultural view that abuse in the family simply doesn't exist, we're able to help victims," explains Martinez, who is also a training consultant to Los Angeles mental health services for outpatients with psychological and emotional issues. "We're able to tackle the victim pathology of blaming themselves to protect the family status quo. We're transforming their self-perception as victim to survivor."
The 14th annual national conference was timed to coincide with the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15 to October 15. The conference was funded by the Los Angeles Department of Public Health.
Martinez is a fulltime faculty member of Seaver College who also teaches at the Graduate School of Education and Psychology. He is a community psychologist who specializes in mental health systems research, cross-cultural psychology, and family violence. At Pepperdine, Martinez teaches cross-cultural psychology and clinical practicum.
His research interests include the fields of child and spousal abuse, cross-cultural mental health treatment, and high-risk youth and family intervention. He is a consulting psychologist to a mental health agency in the San Fernando Valley. He earned his bachelor’s degree in clinical psychology from California State University, Long Beach, and his Ph.D. in community clinical psychology from the University of Michigan.