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Parishes partner to provide mental health support

Culturally comfortable care for Spanish-speaking families

By Ashley Wiskirchen

Ilsi Palacios is the Hispanic Services Coordinator at Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri.

In her role, she provides case management for Spanish-speaking clients and manages the Clinica para la familia (CLIFAM) program — a partnership with seven local Catholic parishes that provides Spanish-speaking counseling to clients of Catholic Charities.

“I first met Maria” — not her real name — “after someone she knew referred her to work with me at Catholic Charities,” Mrs. Palacios shared.

“She was going through such a difficult time — her health was poor and she was growing desperate, struggling physically, spiritually and mentally,” she continued. “I knew she would find healing and comfort in counseling through Clinica para la familia, but she was uncomfortable with the idea of counseling in the beginning.”

Mrs. Palacios continued to meet with Maria, providing case management services to help meet basic needs, but also encouraging her with gentleness and compassion, to care for her mental health.

“After three meetings together, Maria felt comfortable moving into the telehealth counseling online through CLIFAM,” Mrs. Palacios shared.

Many who find themselves in times of stress, grief or desperation face challenges accessing the mental health support they need to heal and grow.

Sometimes it comes from within — the stigma that going to therapy must mean something inside is broken.

Other times, lack of access to a safe, comfortable setting — or long drives with time taken from work or family life — inhibit individuals and couples from receiving the mental health services they need.

CLIFAM seeks to alleviate the burdens of accessing mental health services by providing a safe and culturally comfortable counseling experience, and seven Catholic parishes in this diocese have committed to implementing it for their communities.

Parishes in California, Columbia, Jefferson City, Lake Ozark, Marshall, Milan and Sedalia facilitate the CLIFAM program for community members.

“Each time Maria went to her counseling appointment, she was greeted and cared for by a parish staff member,” Mrs. Palacios noted.

“The way that these parishes welcome our clients, help them to feel comfortable by accompanying them to the counseling room and caring for them, it makes an impact on our clients,” she said.

Parishes that facilitate the CLIFAM program commit to providing a safe, secure and comfortable counseling space, the equipment to connect to the telehealth sessions, and the Wi-Fi needed to complete calls.

Five of the parishes have regular volunteers who help schedule and welcome clients; two of them have parish staff members who welcome clients and accompany them to the counseling room.

“The shared language is invaluable,” Mrs. Palacios said, “but so is the cultural understanding with your counselor.”

She continued, “Many Spanish-speaking families live with multiple generations in their homes, have unique needs in discussing their marriages, parenting, and family situations — men and women have different comfort levels and needs in counseling, and CLIFAM seeks to address all of these by beginning with that shared cultural understanding in place.”

Maria, along with many others in this diocese, found healing, hope and peace in her experience with Clinica la para familia.

“If there’s one last thing to be said, it is that everyone — men, women, married couples and whole families — can benefit from counseling services,” Mrs. Palacios stated.

“We make an effort to take care of our physical health, our spiritual health, but we need to also care for our mental health, which can be more challenging,” she emphasized. “With Clinica para la familia and the help of local parishes, we provide the comfort, access and support to do so.”

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Mrs. Wiskirchen is the senior director of Communications at Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri.