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Hearing the Call From Uvalde, Texas

Hearing the Call From Uvalde, Texas - My Time as a Counselor in Uvalde Amidst Tragedy

It has been over three months since the events in Uvalde, Texas transpired. As I reflect on the events, I feel that it is time for me to open up about my experience and what I witnessed.

My name is Maria Guerrero and I am a licensed professional counselor. I have been in practice for over ten years serving the Houston community, and I have never seen such a need for mental health help.

Uvalde is still facing impacts from the aftermath of the shooting that need to be addressed immediately. This community needs skilled therapists who can provide treatment in their native language and have the cultural knowledge needed to understand the unique issues facing our Latinx/Hispanic population.

How skilled training can provide help with the call.

Becoming a therapist or a mental health provider is a calling. As a mental health provider, I was trained on how to treat grief and trauma, but nothing really prepared me to face the anguish, despair, desolation and sadness to name a few of the feelings that I witnessed during my experience helping the victims of this terrible tragedy.

Being a therapist is a calling to make a difference. And once an organization seeking bilingual clinicians called me asking for my help –since there were not enough Spanish speaking providers in Uvalde– I answered.

After consulting with my loved ones, that same day I began my journey.

If you are called to work with trauma survivors, there are many ways in which training can help enhance your abilities as a therapist or clinician. For example, I was lucky enough to train in Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR), which has been shown through research studies to be an effective treatment for PTSD symptoms.

Laura Fontaine, LPC (my consultant) guided me and recommended that I use the Recent Traumatic Event Protocol from EMDR. Without her help it would have been extremely overwhelming to assist, but thanks to her I already had a plan. Getting there was difficult since there were no hotels due to the craziness of the media, news cast, and other people that were in Uvalde. I was asked to stay at a ranch in Yancey, Tx, which is one hour away from Uvalde.

Once I stepped in Uvalde, it was like this whole city had stopped. Yes you see people at gas stations, getting food, stopping at the bank and running errands, but the energy is different. No matter where you stopped there was a sadness that was almost palpable. I could hear locals talking about what had happened and what got my attention is that everyone seems to know everyone. What you don’t know about Uvalde is that is a very small and close community.

The real work started once they assigned me to my place of work. I introduced myself and the type of therapy that I was going to be doing to all my clients who ranged from 8 years old to 50 years old.

I went to help not knowing how much time I would have with each client, so I chose an approach that would yield immediate results. That is why I chose EMDR instead of talk therapy. The goal of EMDR is to activate traumatic memories in the brain and assist the client to remove and clear feelings connected to those memories. I mentioned that I would not be doing talk therapy. I briefly educated a group of 5-10 people on what EMDR is and what to expect from our time together. In addition to practicing EMDR, I also educated parents and loved ones on what grief is according to the Grief Recovery Method .

The importance of bilingual mental health professionals.

When working with families who do not speak English, it is essential to have a bilingual therapist on staff. This can be particularly helpful to parents who are illiterate or uncomfortable with the English language. The ability of these families to communicate effectively with their therapists will help them understand the purpose and goals of treatment, allowing them to be engaged in the recovery process.

This was a lot of change for a small community in such a short amount of time. Realistic expectations and empathy was highly encouraged. I left Uvalde, giving each and everyone of the clients I saw and their loved ones a hug, telling them that even from a distance in Houston, I could be reached for continuation of care, or to refer them to someone who could assist.

Spanish speaking therapists are not a luxury, but a necessity.

People in rural areas, small towns and communities are some of the least likely to have access to mental health services. In many cases, there is no one providing mental health services within hundreds of miles. The closest therapists may be hours away from where you live.

In small communities and rural areas, language is often a barrier for residents seeking help for their mental health needs. Bilingual therapists are in high demand but can be hard to find because resources are scarce and demand is so great. People need someone who understands them, who will listen without judgment or prejudice; someone they can trust enough with their most vulnerable secrets or darkest fears; someone they feel safe with—someone like you!

You can be the one to answer the call from Uvalde, Texas.

Coming back to Houston and having 4 hours to myself since I drove, I could not help but sob. Feeling injustice and pain from the experiences these clients shared with me caused conflicting feelings within me as a therapist and a human. Children had to do unmeasurable things to survive, parents and friends didn’t know how to talk about grief, let alone grieving the loss of 22 individuals.

As a therapist, I felt overwhelmed but as a human, I felt angry and a sense of despair that I have only felt one other time in my life.

I was called because WE DON’T HAVE ENOUGH MENTAL HEALTH practitioners on that side of Texas, especially bilingual practitioners.

The purpose of this blog and the reason why I am opening up about this experience is not only to have some kind of cathartic moment typing up my feelings and experience, but to cause some type of feeling in you… the reader.

Whether you have an interest in mental health, whether you have a passion to help others or want to support me or my practice, I am asking YOU to do something.

Being in Uvalde, watching those crosses in the plaza with pictures of children and adults that died because of something that we could have prevented has sparked a fire inside of me. I have made it a personal mission to educate the community or inspire someone to join me in this mission for change.

If you're bilingual and would like to help people with mental health issues, then Uvalde is calling you.

(link to volunteer, link to donate)

I encourage you to join an organization, to follow your passion whatever that is, to hold your loved ones tighter and remember that the inner fight, that one that is in our hearts, almost no one gets to see. We are all fighting against negative thoughts, unpleasant feelings, trauma, grief. The work starts with ourselves, getting help, talking to someone. You don’t have to struggle alone. Practice empathy and be kind.

If you’re someone with trauma or are someone experiencing some emotional stressors, please call us. Click here to get started.

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