Meet Dr. Sandra León-Villa: Dismantling Negative Cycles in Latinx Mental Health to Promote Openness

Jul 27, 2023 | Main Blog | 0 comments

It’s sadly a common occurrence for Latinx people to approach therapy with hesitation. After all, our community has stigmatized any mention of mental health. We are raised to be self-resilient and strong, but this tendency has made many of us suffer in silence.

Nevertheless, many knowledgeable mental health professionals are raising their voices to inspire the Latinx community to seek treatment without shame. They are culturally adapting these spaces so that they become more comfortable for patients to begin healing.

Dr. Sandra León-Villa, Xicana, first-gen Liberation Psychologist, is one of them. She is a real-life superhero dedicated to decolonizing approaches to therapy and involving indigenous practices in her sessions.

“I implement spiritual practices but only when it’s something that resonates with the person I’m working with or something that they already practice,” Dr. León-Villa said. “I do implement things like yoga, mindfulness, meditational work, and breathwork, but I also implement things like sacred smoke, sage, palo santo, and other practices that come intuitively.”

She explains that including ancestral knowledge in her practice has been very beneficial because it helps Latinx people find a bridge that connects their culture with therapy.

“We also have a lot of cultural things that I implement like dichos in our communities, these little proverbs that have been passed down,” Dr. León-Villa said. “Not only do they send the message that I understand you, but also, it’s validating.”

Dr. León-Villa highlights that the best way to have more open mental health discussions with the community is to begin with this cultural-common ground and to approach Latinx of all ages with an abundance of empathy.

“Our parents and even our grandparents didn’t have the luxury or the privilege of healing the way our generations today are able to. We are very privileged that we can even sit with our emotions,” Dr. León-Villa said. “So, part of that is normalizing conversations and understanding that they were probably in survival mode trying to make ends meet while trying to live the American dream.”

Sadly, many members of our community have to live in this constant survival mode due to the shame surrounding therapy. The concept of releasing to a professional all the weight we have been carrying is met with animosity. This is due to pre-existing stereotypes and fears of being perceived as “weak.”

Join Dr. León-Villa and other mental wellness experts as they discuss the mental health concerns of Latinx and BIPOC communities at our It’s OKAY! Pause, Breathe, Proceed – BIPOC event on Monday, July 31st at 4 pm PT /6 pm CT /7 pm ET. You can register for this free event here. ASL interpretation will be provided.

“Women are socialized to be strong, we are supposed to be these strong women,” said Dr. León-Villa “but by hiding our own experiences with difficult emotions, thinking we appear strong by hiding them, we are really teaching our kids that it is not okay to sit with these feelings.”

Today, it’s critical for our generation to dismantle these ideas since the more we normalize speaking about our feelings, the more common these conversations become. Many members of the Latinx community aren’t aware that trauma can get passed down genetically and impact both physical and emotional health, but the more we recognize this, the more the negative cycles will end in our community.

That said, Dr. León-Villa does not want us to only focus on our trauma but on remembering who we are and all the tools our ancestors have shared with us –  breathwork, yoga, sacred smoke, among many others. We have a rich history that, if remembered, can heal and unify us.

“Part of liberation psychology and decolonizing mental health is acknowledging our intuition, acknowledging that we have this innate ancestral wisdom that we carry,” Dr. León-Villa said. “We don’t just carry trauma; we carry these gifts.”

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