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Hispanic Leaders in Mental Health

Cardinal Innovations Healthcare — September 16, 2020 — 4 min read
These are Hispanic leaders who changed psychology into a more inclusive practice. These pioneers’ work and commitment to their culture started the conversation about the mental health of Hispanics in the United States.

George I. Sanchez (1906-1972)

An expert in mental measurements and bilingual education, George Sanchez is the founder of Mexican American educational psychology. His contributions include a series of articles about the intelligence testing of Mexican American children. He was the first to argue that intelligence quotient (IQ) tests lacked validity, given that these children did not have the same life experiences or English language proficiency as their American classmates.

In 1940, Sanchez became the national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), a major civil rights organization for Latinos in the United States. During this time, he was an nonstop activist for the equality of minorities.

[Photo credit: Association for the Advancement of Mexican Americans (AAMA)]

Martha Bernal (1931–2001)

Martha Bernal earned her doctoral degree in clinical psychology from the University of Indiana in 1962, becoming the first Latina to do so in the United States. With a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), she began her early contributions and studies about desirable behaviors in children with autism. In 1986, Bernal became a professor at Arizona State University, where she researched how Hispanics and other minority children develop their identities.

Bernal’s work focused on increasing multicultural training in clinical and counseling psychology. She served on the American Psychological Association (APA) to address ethnic minority concerns. Bernal also helped establish the Board of Ethnic Minority Affairs of the APA and the National Latinx Psychological Association (NLPA).

[Photo credit: Feminist Voices]

Edward Casavantes (1927–1980)

In 1969, Edward Casavantes founded the first professional association of Hispanic psychologists, the Association of Psychologists por La Raza (APLR), which later became the National Latinx Psychological Association (NLPA). This was a bold step to get professional support to lay down the roots of Latino psychology and mental health.

Casavantes was also the first one to comment on the diversity among Hispanics. For example, he argued that Mexican- Americans are diverse in several aspects like skin color, socio-economic status and ways of life.
Lastly, Casavantes’ book El Tecato: Social and Cultural Factors Affecting Drug Use Among Chicanos is one of the first contributions to the literature on substance abuse and treatment of Mexican Americans. The book was later published by the National Alliance for Hispanic Health (NAHH), the first national mental health organization to advocate for the mental health needs of Latinos.

Rene A. Ruiz (1929–1982)

Rene Ruiz worked to increase the number of Hispanics in psychology and improve mental health services for minorities. He helped establish the APA’s Committee for Equality of Opportunity in Psychology and was often called by the NIMH as a consultant on minority group mental health.

In 1973, Ruiz worked with Stanford University professor Amado Padilla on Latino Mental Health, a volume that became the first state-of-the-art review of the literature on Latino mental health. Ruiz continued his research on various themes relevant to the Latino community, such as acculturation, issues of aging, and ethnic identity among children.

[Photo credit: NLPA]

José Toro Alfonso (1952-2015)

José Toro Alfonso was committed to protecting the rights of Hispanics and the LGBTQ community. He was elected as a fellow of the Society for the Psychological Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues of the APA in 2010. He also was awarded the Interamerican Psychologists Award in 2009 and the Distinguished Professional Career Award by the NLPA in 2014.

His extensive research includes over 50 articles in peer-reviewed national and international journals and over 10 scientific books. His contributions, written in English and Spanish, focused on gender, masculinity, HIV prevention, domestic violence, and addictive behaviors in LGTBQ individuals. Alfonso served as a clinical psychologist, professor, and researcher at the University of Puerto Rico from 1998 until 2015.

[Photo credit: NLPA]

Israel Cuellar (1946-2008)

Israel Cuellar constructed the Acculturation Scale for Mexican Americans (ARSMA). This ground-breaking scale measures the ways in which Mexican Americans adapt to American culture. Cuellar’s assessment was published in the Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences in 1980. It remains a widely used instrument to deliver appropriate mental health services. Cuellar’s contributions also addressed Latino multicultural mental health and health disparities in minority populations.

[Photo credit: NLPA]

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