La Esperanza Fills Void in Counseling Services to Latinos


At first glance, Jesus Santana seems like an unlikely confident for Latina women seeking counseling services for domestic violence. Tall and muscular, he towers over the often dainty women. But after meeting him, clients are impressed with his sensitivity to their special needs.

“I can relate to their issues in so many ways and it doesn’t take long for them to see that,” said Santana, a Puerto Rican therapist who speaks Spanish and understands first-hand issues related to family violence.

Among the many issues causing anxiety and stress among his clients are: difficulty finding work, isolation and poverty, distance from other family members, alcoholism, domestic violence, fears related to immigration issues and sexual abuse. Latinos also have a disproportionately high rate of chronic diseases, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, which can cause undue stress.

Over the last two years, La Esperanza – Sussex County’s leading nonprofit provider of services for Latino clients – has expanded its behavioral health services to include three therapists who provide a comprehensive approach to address the cultural reality of mental health services.

Latinos don’t fully understand the need for behavioral health services and are leery of therapists, said Zaida Guajardo, executive director of La Esperanza. She said Latinos traditionally seek help for emotional issues from extended family, local community, traditional healers, and church leaders – resources not available to many who have relocated here.

Language, transportation and child care also cause significant barriers when it comes to treatment. Yet, without assistance, the situation for Latinos only worsens, leading to serious family issues, breakdowns and, in some cases, suicide.

“The need is huge. That’s why our therapists go beyond the traditional one-hour talk therapy approach to determine what else is happening in their lives,” said Guajardo. The Family Services staff at La Esperanza assists clients with transportation, referrals for emergency shelter, health care, food, clothing, work training and more. A third department focuses on Educational Services, and La Esperanza will soon re-introduce Immigration Services for clients.

Since June of 2010 when La Esperanza began its behavioral health program, the center has counseled 160 clients, including families and children affected by the Earl Bradley sex abuse and rape case. Clients have also teamed up with therapists to create a support group for victims of domestic violence. Guajardo said La Esperanza also works hard to find bi-lingual therapists who can relate to a wide range of clients. Santana, for instance, is the only male bilingual therapist in Sussex County

In addition to female clients, Santana has a unique opportunity to serve Hispanic men. “More and more men are starting to request these services,” Guajardo said, noting that Santana is also exceptional in reaching out to teenage boys.

“All of our therapists bring tremendous diversity to the table and the clients identify with them, which makes them more receptive to the therapeutic sessions,” she said.

For information about supporting La Esperanza, including volunteer activities, please call Mirla Gomez at their office in Georgetown at 302-854-9262.