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Psychology doctorate students travel abroad

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Rebecca Lopez

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Several students in the School of Professional Psychology’s doctoral program not only devote five years toward earning a clinical psychology degree, but work toward becoming fluent enough in Spanish to treat patients who prefer Spanish.

The school offers classes to the doctoral students that allow them to complete their Psy.D. with a concentration in Latino culture and language. These classes are offered as part of the schools tracks which allow students to use elective credits to more closely study an area of interest.

According to the Latino Bilingual Track Director, Robin Shallcross, the track developed in 2005 out of a growing need in the Portland metro area. Shallcross, who at the time was the Associate Director of the Psychological Service Center in downtown Portland, said she received “desperate calls to help the Latino community” without the use of an interpreter. In order to improve her own Spanish skills, Shallcross said she took a one term sabbatical and went to Oaxaca, Mexico on a faculty development grant.

With 11 percent of Oregon’s 3.8 million residents identifying themselves as Hispanic, they are the single largest minority group in the state and there will likely be a demand for clinical psychologist with bilingual skills. Beyond the state of Oregon, Shallcross said her students, once they complete the program, “have a ticket to [work] anywhere in the country,” given the significant number of Latinos living in the U.S.

While students learn how to address issues that are pancultural like depression, anxiety and family and relationship conflicts, other parts of the curriculum are specific to the Latino experience. According to Shallcross, the Portland area tends to have Latino patients who have recently immigrated to America. For this reason, the students in the track study acculturation issues.

Other elements of the Latino Bilingual track seek to teach clinical psychologists more about the culture and family structures. For example, Shallcross said the students learn about spiritual aspects of the culture including the fact that some Latinos still visit a cuandera, which is a spiritual healer similar to a shaman. Once students have a better understanding of the culture, they are able to treat beyond their own western orientation of psychology.

Students have the opportunity to really learn more about Latino culture by taking an immersion course, usually in Mexico, where the main focus is to expose students to the language, people, food and spiritual healing. However, Shallcross said because of recent events like the outbreak of swine flu, the track has not done another immersion course since 2008. Eventually Shallcross said she would also like to offer immersion courses in other parts of Latin America, but funding is one of the main obstacles to traveling to locations other than Mexico.

The program works to put Latino patients at ease not only be enlightening students on the culture, but also by having set standards of fluency and treating anyone who comes to the Pacific’s Hillsboro Iris Clinic, regardless of citizenship. In order for a student to complete the track, students must score at the advanced level on the Spanish proficiency examinations.

At the Iris Clinic, Shallcross said that the patients are never asked about their citizenship. Because of the clinic’s status as a private organization, they do not have to ask questions about someone’s legal status. She said she believes this fosters a sense of trust and encourages people who need counseling to visit without feeling vulnerable to deportation.

The Iris Clinic is located in the Health and Education District in downtown Hillsboro. To schedule an appointment call 503-352-7333.

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