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Reducing Barriers to Mental Health Care for Spanish-Speaking Families

By Ilsi Palacios with Ashley Wiskirchen

May is Mental Health Awareness Month! As we grow in our understanding of the value of caring for our mental health, we still encounter barriers for many in our service area. Some of these barriers we are familiar with, such as cost or location. Others pose a more nuanced challenge: like cultural understanding for individuals and families and shared native language.

So, native language, affordable cost, seven local parishes: what do these things have in common? Online counseling services through Clinica para la Familia (CliFam)!

Native language access for Spanish-speakers

Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri has removed the barriers so that the Spanish-speaking community can receive online counseling services in their native language, at a reduced cost and in seven parishes of our diocese. These services are provided by mental health professionals of Clínica para la Familia in Colombia. Faith, respect and dignity for each individual served are some of the values that Clinica para la Familia and Catholic Charities have in common.

Virtual access to counseling services hosted by local Catholic parishes

The seven Catholic parishes who host Clinica para la Familia programs are: Sacred Heart in Columbia, Annunciation in California, Our Lady of the Lake in Lake Ozark, St. Peter (El Puente Hispanic Ministry) in Jefferson City, St. Peter in Marshall, St. Mary in Milan and St. Vincent de Paul in Sedalia. With generous hearts, the staff and parishioners at each of these parishes have opened their doors to provide this valuable service. With their support, during 2022, 206 sessions were facilitated among the seven parishes. We are very grateful to the diocesan Hispanic Ministry Office, El Puente-Hispanic Ministry, the parish pastors and staff and each of the volunteers who make this project prosper. Their effort and dedication help ensure that each person, married couple and family can flourish within their own community.

These services first became available during the year 2020, a year that many of us will remember due to the unforeseen events that we experienced because of COVID-19. But it was also a year that left us with many lessons learned, including the value of caring for our mental health.

Many individuals, couples and families have experienced trauma, drastic changes or conflicts in their shared or individual pasts or face critical challenges in the “here and now.” Counseling accompaniment in a safe and private environment at their parish makes a difference. We know the significance of these services, which help individuals and families have healthy relationships and a better quality of life.

I have seen the changes myself in the clients that I’ve helped connect to CliFam. For example, I came into contact with a single mother who lost her job during the pandemic. She was completely desperate and hopeless. But, through case management intervention, prayer and online counseling, she has overcome many obstacles. Today, she is an integral member of her community of faith, working and enjoying motherhood.

This reminds us of the words of Christ throughout the Gospels: “I have come that they may have life and life to the full” (John 10:10). Through access to online counseling services, our communities find comfort and guidance, care and hope.

Offering mental health services in Spanish has proven to reduce barriers and increase access for Spanish speaking families across the Diocese of Jefferson City.

If you know of a local need for these services in your parish boundaries, you can learn more about Clinica la para familia (CliFam) online at: cccnmo.diojeffcity.org/clinica-para-la-familia.


This reflection was written by Ilsi Palacios, Hispanic Services Coordinator for Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri.

Ilsi is based in Sedalia, in a satellite location for Catholic Charities housed by St. Vincent de Paul Parish.

This partnership highlights the beauty of Catholic parishes working closely with the charitable arm of the Church.

Ilsi’s services are readily available to those who need it in Pettis County and the surrounding areas.

Catholic Charities, in collaboration with the Hispanic Ministry Office of the Diocese of Jefferson City and parishes throughout the diocese, is pleased to offer online counseling services in Spanish from Clinica para la Familia (CliFam).