Latino/a Interpersonal Connections in Therapy

by Jen L’Insalata

The term Latino/a refers to anyone with ancestry from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and other Spanish speaking countries in Central and South America. Phenotypes of individuals of Latino/a descent show great variation due to historical mixing of European, African, and Asian Ancestry. Individuals often identify with their country of origin, as “Hispanic”, and as “American”. Identifying as American is most common among third generation youth. As a result, Latino/a culture demonstrates multiple dimensions of between-group and within-group variation (Sue, &Sue, 2016).

In general, Latino/a culture places a high degree of emphasis on the development and maintenance of interpersonal relationships. Cultural traditions demonstrate a deep tradition of unity, respect, and affection between communities, families, and extended families from which the term familismo originates.  Latino/a culture embodies a sense of collectivism in which interdependence forms the concept of familismo (Campos & Kim, 2017, & Sue, & Sue, 2016). Interpersonal relationships form the core of societal wellbeing and establish a harmony among community and family members.

Culture is recognized by psychologist as a driving force in all human behavior and relationships, as it influences social life. Recognizing the deep understanding of culture on interpersonal relationships provides a framework for how such relations impact mental health. Expectations of one’s self and their role in relation to other’s is influenced the collectivistic nature of Latino/a culture (Campos & Kim, 2017) and provides a framework for evaluation and treatment of psychological distress.

Research suggests that despite the socioeconomic disadvantages facing Latino/a communities in America, there is a statistically low prevalence of negative health related outcomes compared to white counterparts. This has become known as the Latino Paradox in which close interdependent relationships provides a protective factor. However; when traditional Latino/a values surrounding interpersonal relationships conflict with western individualism, the practice cultural norms break down. This breakdown leads to feelings of loneliness and increased rates of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicide (Gallegos & Segrin, 2019). Individuals loose the cultural protective factor of connection which increases and compounds psychological distress.  

When treating members of the Latino/a community it is important to understand the bond established between family, extended family, and friendships. Often members of this community rely on one another to help in decision making processes surrounding life, finances, and day to day function. It is also important to be aware of a Latino/a reciprocal obligations to their familismo (Sue & Sue, 2017). It may be beneficial to the therapeutic alliance to incorporate extended family and community in the treatment process to encourage the reestablishment of connection to others.


Campos, B., & Kim, H. S. (2017). Incorporating the cultural diversity of family and close relationships into the study of health. American Psychologist, 72(6), 543–554.

Gallegos, M. L., & Segrin, C. (2019). Exploring the mediating role of loneliness in the relationship between spirituality and health: Implications for the Latino health paradox. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 11(3), 308–318.

Sue, D. W., & Sue, D. (2016). Counseling the culturally diverse: Theory and practice (7th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. ISBN: 9781119084303


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