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Language and Culture in Mental Health Practice


Sponsored by the UTPA Department of Social Work through its Hogg Foundation Bilingual Scholarship Program, this mini-conference will include four workshops that focus on the importance of language and culture in working with Latino older adults and immigrant populations in the Rio Grande Valley. Two of the workshops will focus on ethical practice principles in working with these two populations. The mini-conference is designed to promote cultural and linguistic competence of social workers and other licensed helping professionals who seek further development of practice skills for work with culturally diverse Spanish speaking populations in the Rio Grande Valley. The workshops will discuss strategies for culturally appropriate assessments and interventions that take into account the Latino client’s literacy and language proficiency, unique cultural experience and level of acculturation. The mini-conference is being funded through a grant from the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health.

Course Objectives:

  • To raise awareness of the particular challenges involved in providing effective mental health services to monolingual Spanish speaking clients, including linguistic competency and field-specific terminology in Spanish
  • To examine how language and culture can impact effective communication between  mental health practitioners and their clients
  • To explore the barriers to mental health services to older adults who are monolingual Spanish speaking
  • To explore the mental health needs of immigrant women and children who have experienced trauma through the migration experience
  • To examine ways to address linguistic and cultural differences found within Spanish speaking populations seeking mental health services in the RGV
  • To examine the intersection of ethical concerns embedded in mental health services to culturally diverse Spanish speaking clients
  • To provide the opportunity to apply ethical principles relevant to practice with Spanish speaking older adults and immigrants through case vignettes

    Will be updated.

Who Should Attend?

  • Social workers and other counseling professionals.


Dr. Ezequiel Pena

Topic: "Introductions and Keynote Address"

Time: 9:00 am- 10:00 am

Dr. Ezequiel Peña, a native of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, earned his PhD in Counseling Psychology from UT-Austin after earning his B.A. in Psychology from Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. He is currently an Associate Professor in the Psychology Department of Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio. He serves as the Training Director for the Counseling Psychology Doctoral Program and he is the Director of his department's Psychological Services for Spanish Speaking Populations (PSSSP) certificate program. He is known in the mental health circles and universities participating in the Hogg Foundation's Bilingual Scholarship Program as someone with particular expertise in linguistic and cultural competency in mental health practice.

Dr. Peña received the 2012-2013 OLLU endowed Moody Professor award in recognition of his contributions to academic programs through effective teaching and outstanding faculty leadership. He has served as the National Latina/o Psychological Association’s (NLPA) inaugural fellow through the Council of National Psychological Associations for the Advancement of Ethnic Minority Interests and currently serves on the NLPA’s Leadership Council as Professional Development Coordinator. He recently completed a year as president of the Bexar County Psychological Association. Throughout his experience in service, training and leadership, Dr. Peña has examined the importance of culture, language and identity in efforts to empower and serve racial and ethnic minority communities.

Celina Garza

Topic: "Mental Health and Latino Older Adults"

Time: 10:15 am- 11:00 am

Celina Garza, LMSW, received both Bachelor’s and Master of Social Work degree from UT-Pan American and has practiced social work in the Rio Grande Valley for the past ten years. For approximately five years, she supervised crisis and outreach projects at Tropical Texas Behavioral Health, where she also provided training and consultation for law enforcement agencies to assist them in dealing with persons with mental health issues.  She is currently the Assessments Coordinator at South Texas Behavioral Center in Edinburg, providing appropriate dispositions utilizing external and internal services and coordinating inpatient hospitalizations to secure client safety.  Her practice has also involved extensive work with older adults in both Adult Protective Services and nursing home settings.  Her workshop will provide important insights on the mental health issues affecting this largely underserved Spanish speaking population in the Rio Grande Valley.

Dr. Alonzo Cavazos

Topic: "Ethical Practice with Latino Older Adults"

Time: 11:00 am- 12:00 pm

Alonzo Cavazos, LCSW, Ed.D., is currently a Professor in the UTPA Department of Social Work. He earned his MSSW at UT Austin in 1975 and his doctorate in Educational Administration and Supervision from the University of Houston in 1994. He joined the UTPA Social Work Department at UTPA in 1990 and has served in various leadership positions in the department, including MSSW Program Director and Chair of the Department. During his expansive professional career, he has specialized in mental health and individual, marital and family therapy. His teaching specialties are direct social work practice, statistics, research and social work ethics.

Hogg Scholar Alumni

Topic: "Lunch: Discussion of Hogg Bilingual Program"

Time: 12:00 pm- 1:30 pm

Martha Ann Martinez, LMSW, Marivel Herrera, LCSW, Mayra L. Avila, LMSW

Topic: "Mental Health Needs of Immigrant Populations"

Time: 1:30 pm- 2:45 pm

Martha Ann Martinez, LMSW, earned her BSW from UT-Pan American in 1986 and her MSSW from the University of Texas at Arlington in 1991. A social work practitioner with vast and varied social work experience with Spanish speaking populations in the Rio Grande Valley, Ms. Martinez is currently the Shelter Director for the Family Crisis Center, Inc. in Harlingen and a Counselor with Willacy-Cameron Cooperative Special Services in the Raymondville Independent School District. In her work with victims of domestic violence, she addresses mental health needs of immigrant women residing in the Cameron County and other RGV communities. She also provides training and presentations to community groups and supervises university students in social work and counseling internships.

 Marivel Herrera, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, received her Bachelor of Social Work and Master of Science in Social Work degrees from The University of Texas-Pan American. For more than six years, she has been employed with International Educational Services, providing clinical services to immigrant children in its shelter in Los Fresnos. She is currently its Lead Clinician, providing counseling and therapeutic services, including crisis intervention. Her work includes individual counseling and leading resident groups on specific issues, referral to outside psychiatric/ psychological services as needed and facilitating staff development services. Shelter residents are monolingual Spanish speaking immigrant children who have suffered the trauma of migration and separation from their families.

Mayra L. Avila, LMSW, obtained her Master of Science in Social Work degree from The University of Texas-Pan American with a concentration of Advanced Practice with Latino Individuals, Families and Groups. She is currently the Counseling Services Coordinator at Hope Family Health Center. During the past three years, she has provided counseling and behavioral health services in Spanish for low income individuals, couples and families and has conducted psychotherapeutic group work with clients of the agency. She conducts education, supervision and training and therapeutic sessions in an effort to help her clients develop coping strategies to deal with daily stressors and to promote mental health. She is committed to serving Spanish speaking and immigrant populations of the Lower Rio Grande Valley through community education, training and clinical services.


Estela Soza Garza, LCSW

Topic: "Ethics and Cultural Competence"

Time: 3:00 pm- 4:00 pm

Estela Soza Garza, LCSW, is a faculty member in the UTPA Department of Social Work.  She was the Director of the Department’s Field Education Program for the past eight years.  She earned her MSW from Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio.  Ms. Soza Garza’s extensive social work experience includes work with a number of social service agencies in the Rio Grande Valley, including Tropical Texas Center for MHMR, Child Protective Services and Adoptions, Buckner Children’s Services, Rehab Care, and UHS Day Treatment & Inpatient Unit.  Before joining the faculty at UTPA, she taught at South Texas College and was the Chair of its Health and Human Services Program. In the course of her career, she has conducted numerous training workshops, including training on social work ethics. She has worked with Valley Interfaith, a direct action organization focused on social and economic justice issues for over fifteen years, currently serving on its Executive Committee.  

Program Details


Community Engagement & Student Success Building (CESS)


Friday 9:00 AM - 4:00 PM, August 9th, 2013


Fee is $45/person

Note: This conference includes 5 hours of CEUs for Licensed Social Workers (LSW, LMSW, LCSW), and Licensed Professional Counselors (LPCs)


No Prerequisites required. However, CEUs are awarded only to licensed professional groups listed above. 


August 9, 2013
Future Session
CALL (956) 665-2071