In Fall 2020, ChicagoCAC received a federal grant that enabled us to partner with Mujeres Latinas en Acción, a local Latina organization, to address domestic violence concerns that may emerge when children and their families visit the center for forensic interviews and family advocacy. Part of the grant enabled Mujeres to co-locate two mental health professionals who specialize in domestic violence at ChicagoCAC. One of them is Ana, a domestic violence therapist who, as part of her role, is responsible for receiving and assessing new client referrals from ChicagoCAC staff to determine what services they might need. She provides short- and long-term counseling services to caregivers, both individually and in groups, and supervises the domestic violence counselor from Mujeres who is also onsite at ChicagoCAC. Ana spoke with us about her background and experiences in the field.
Tell us about Mujeres.
Mujeres Latinas en Acción is the longest-standing Latina-led organization in the nation, offering community services that empower Latinos and their families, and supports them as they survive and heal and thrive within programs. We offer domestic violence programs such as group counseling and court advocacy services that help guide you through the process of obtaining an order of protection if you need one. If Spanish is your first language, then you’re going to have someone there that can translate, but also emotionally support you within that process. All of our DV programs—individual and group, adult and child therapy—include crisis intervention.
We do both appointments and walk-ins, and from first contact we do an assessment to see if that person will benefit from our services. Some other services we offer include legal and medical advocacy, community education, professional, and volunteer trainings. We have a parent team support program and a Latino leadership program, Empresarias del Futuro, which is a community engagement and mobilization program.
How did you get started in this line of work?
I come from a community that often has language barriers. As a little girl I translated for my parents all the time and I knew how being bilingual really helped the Spanish-speaking community. As an adult, I still found myself doing this kind of work personally, even if I wasn’t doing it professionally. There weren’t a lot of Spanish-speaking community services when I was growing up, but I knew about Mujeres from a very young age. When I found out about this position, I knew it would really help my community out to be able to provide the correct services and communicate with them in their language.
Can you tell us about what you’re currently doing as a therapist at Mujeres and ChicagoCAC?
Before coming to ChicagoCAC, I had seen the building when I drove past it on Damen, and I always thought it was a school or day care. Now I know what they do instead, and I’ve also learned that everyone at ChicagoCAC is very friendly, respectful and caring.
I work primarily with victims of domestic violence. They aren’t necessarily women because domestic violence doesn’t discriminate based on gender: it can happen to anyone, binary or not binary. We do have child therapy for domestic violence or sexual assault, but I primarily work with adult victims. We work with clients from ChicagoCAC in the same way we work with any of our clients. We treat everyone with dignity and respect and do all we possibly can for those who need our services. Perhaps the only difference is that everyone at Mujeres is bilingual.
We do about ten to twelve therapy counseling sessions per client, then encourage them towards our group sessions. I think every case can be different depending on the person’s situation. One of the big challenges is that clients can feel very overwhelmed, due to how many questions they have to answer during so many interviews and the number of services they might receive. So, my job is to make them feel comfortable, gain their trust, and let them know this is a safe place and that I’m not here to judge them, but to help them through the process and to find the correct services they need.
In the first session I let them know everything is confidential — everything is between us and nothing is shared with anyone. I also let them know that we’re in this together throughout her process or his process, but it’s also my job to help them understand and reach their needs or goals.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
My favorite part is being able to see the clients start to have a difference in the way they feel about themselves. After we’ve worked together for a while, they can look back and understand the implications of something they couldn’t understand before, and put their coping skills that they’ve been learning into practice. They feel more secure. You can really see the difference start to finish.
My second favorite is seeing them able to achieve a goal—wanting to feel better, attend a class—whatever it is that I can help them through the process of achieving. Maybe that’s something they don’t even know when they first enter our doors, but I can help them find it and achieve it.
How do you decompress and manage your stress from what can be intense work?
You know, every case can be difficult in a way. Once I set up a session, I try to leave a gap—at least 30 minutes to an hour—in between that and the next session so I have some time for breathing, or maybe to relax for a bit or process whatever I need to process during that time. That gap can also let me catch up on my reports and paperwork.
When it’s time to go home, I automatically try to ‘switch off’ by listening to music or making space while driving home, do something to separate myself from the work. It’s kind of difficult right now to make space from work at home when you work at home, but to keep those things separate I put myself in the habit of putting my phone away and not looking at it unless it rings. For fun, I like to listen to music, or watch a movie or show. I also like to spend time with my family or other relatives, it’s always nice to hear from them.
Is there anything you want to add in closing?
As I mentioned, domestic violence doesn’t discriminate across gender—it can happen to anyone. But you’re not alone. There’s always therapists or counselors, or organizations to help you advocate for what you need. It may take courage to call us, but we will help you—we’re here to help.