This participatory action research was designed to create guidelines and strategies to improve the delivery of mental health services to immigrants from Central and South America to the US. The demand for appropriate strategies for addressing the mental health needs of this population is increasing. This study recruited 17 traditional healers and their clients in the US and Peru to share their understanding of mental health needs, the conditions for which someone might seek treatment, and those aspects of traditional cosmology and practice that could inform modern approaches. The findings identified patterns of generational trauma still evident from colonialism, the need to respect the traditional worldview of immigrants in relation to diagnosis of mental distress, connection to nature and place, and the role of community and ancestors to the process of healing and recovery. Recommendations for practitioners to be a bridge between traditional and modern approaches to mental health are offered.


Immigrants, Mental Health, Cultural Competence, Colonialism, Participatory Action Research

Author Bio(s)

Sonia Lucana is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Registered Play Therapist Supervisor and Sandplay Practitioner. She holds a doctorate in transpersonal psychology from Sofia University. Sonia is experienced in Jungian sandplay therapy in addition to Gestalt and Filial play therapy. Since 2004 she has worked as a psychiatric social worker who specializes in serving victims of sexual abuse and severe neglect from multicultural backgrounds. She has presented at national conferences and mental health agencies on various topics including play therapy, creative arts, sandplay therapy, and trauma. Please direct correspondence to sonylizan@yahoo.com.

John Elfers is a licensed Marriage Family Therapist and a credentialed teacher and school administrator in California. He holds a doctorate in transpersonal psychology from the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology. For the past 25 years he has worked for county offices of education conducting professional development in the areas of mental health, adolescent reproductive health, drug prevention, group facilitation, and conflict mediation. His research interests include gratitude, reproductive health, and transformative experiences. Please direct correspondence to johnelfers52@gmail.com.

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