Sinead McLaughlin, LICSW
Bilingual Therapist and Social Worker in Boston, Massachusetts
BIO: Sinead is a licensed social worker and psychotherapist with over 10 years of clinical experience. She has worked for major Boston hospital for the past 6 years, serving as a bilingual therapist (Spanish-English). Prior to this, she was the Dean of Counseling at Universidad San Francisco de Quito in Ecuador. She received her Masters in Social Work (MSW) from Smith College in 2000 and has advanced training in Internal Family Systems and Sensorimotor Processing. In addition to her professional work, Sinead is an accomplished long distance runner who has completed (and finished!) several marathons, including the prestigious Boston Marathon.
This interview consists of the following sections:
1.) Can you briefly describe the populations you have worked with as a social worker and therapist in Boston?
2.) What are some of the common clinical issues facing immigrants?
3.) You do a lot of trauma work. Can you talk about the types of modalities you use when treating trauma?
4.) Can you briefly describe how you use Internal Family Systems (IFS) theory in your work?
5.) What are the challenges you face being a bilingual therapist? How do issues of race impact your work, being Caucasian and offering therapy in Spanish?
6.) You have done some really interesting international work, serving as the Dean of Counseling at a university in Ecuador. Can you talk about that experience?
7.) What kind of advice would you give to recent social work grads as they embark on their career?
1.) Kim Pratt (KP): Can you briefly describe the populations you have worked with in Boston?
Sinead: I’m primarily working with a Latino population, from the Dominican Republic and Puerto. I also have some clients form El Salvador and other parts of Central America as well. I work with both adolescents and adults.
Some my clients are documented and some are undocumented, in terms of legal immigration status. Some of the adolescents I see were born here in the United States, and there are others who have arrived more recently. Most of my clients live in inner city Boston, attend Boston public schools or work in unskilled labor positions, like housekeeping. I’m mostly doing individual work, but at times I’ll do work with both my adolescents and their parents. Most of my families are single parent families and unfortunately, there isn’t a whole lot of involvement from the biological fathers. And even if they are involved, it’s usually the mother who is coming to the therapy session, for a variety of reasons.
KP: How do your clients get referred to mental health services? I guess I’m partly curious to learn about this because I know that psychotherapy isn’t as commonly practiced in many other cultures, in comparison to the United States. While you can’t generalize to all Latino people, it’s not uncommon for people from Catholic cultures to think more about turning to religion or their family for help, rather than seeing a “professional.” Although, on the flip side, I recently read something interesting, that Argentina – a Latin American country – has more practicing psychologists per capita than the United States!
So much for assumptions!
Sinead: The people who are referred for mental health services are usually identified by their medical providers, like their primary care physician (PCP). It’s standard practice for the PCP or Nurse Practitioner (NP) to screen for emotional health status with all patients.
With adolescents, they would inquire about how they’re doing in school and socially. For adolescents, there are particular screening tools that are helpful. As you know, young people aren’t likely to say “I’m depressed,” but may say things like they’re irritable, or they can’t stand their parents, or they hate school, or they just want to sleep all the time. Those can be signs of depression in adolescents and children. If their medical providers think they are having some emotional or social difficulties, they will then refer them to people like me for counseling.
KP: Are there many community health centers in Boston that offer services in Spanish? You would think so with the large Spanish speaking population, but I don’t know.
Sinead: Yes, fortunately, there are several health centers throughout Boston that offer services in Spanish. For example, there’s the Southern Jamaica Plain Health Center. There’s also Martha Elliott Health Center that is connected to Boston Children’s Hospital – it’s located near the Jackson T/subway stop in Jamaica Plain. Now, Martha Elliott is transitioning to only offering services to youth, no longer to adults as well, so there will be quite a need in the system once this takes place. The South End Community Health Center also offers bilingual services.