The Highs and Lows of Being a Latina Therapist


Dr. Lisette Sanchez

Photo courtesy of Dr. Lisette Sanchez

Dr. Lisette Sanchez is a bilingual licensed psychologist and founder of Calathea Wellness, a virtual practice providing individual therapy in California. She has a passion for working with BIPOC folxs and first-generation professionals.


The earliest memory I have of wanting to be a mental health therapist goes back to my teenage years. My 7th grade teacher asked me about my goals and aspirations, and I confidently told her I would be a psychologist. When people asked me why, honestly, I felt compelled to help people; specifically, I wanted to help my comunidad. Here I am, many years and several degrees later, a licensed psychologist, getting to do exactly what I set out to do.

The 13-year-old me who confidently declared my future career had no idea what becoming a psychologist entailed. The journey to fulfilling this dream was filled with many highs and lows, all of which are all too familiar to many Latinx First-Gen college students and professionals. Of note, as a licensed psychologist, I refer to myself as a therapist in my clinical work. Therapist is an umbrella term used to refer to someone who provides psychotherapy. This term can be used by both master and doctoral-level providers. 

The Highs


One of the reasons therapy can feel so inaccessible is that we do not see ourselves represented in the work. In college at UC San Diego, I was encouraged to go to therapy. It was a confusing process to schedule an appointment and I was assigned a white woman as a therapist. She was kind, but I continuously felt misunderstood and spent much of my session explaining and feeling that I had to defend my cultural values.  Ultimately, I stopped seeing her because it added to my stress instead of helping me. Over time,  I have witnessed growth in the number of Latinx therapists, filling me with hope and excitement for what is to come. 

Representation is a source of immense joy for me. It is an honor to become the representation I sought when I was younger. This increase in representation plays a pivotal role in fostering trust, making therapy more approachable, and reducing the stigma for individuals who can now see themselves in their therapists. A primary predictor of success in therapy is the therapeutic alliance aka the relationship between a client and therapist. When you can work with a therapist who has a shared background, it can make it easier to connect and receive the support you are seeking. As a Latina therapist, my lived experiences enrich my clinical expertise. This cultural understanding enables me to connect more deeply with first-generation Latinx individuals.


I launched my private practice part-time in April 2021, and I transitioned to being a full-time jefa in August 2022. I have been my own jefa for a year now, and it has been the most challenging, yet empowering and liberating experience I have ever had. As first-gen professionals, we are often engaging in a lot of “firsts.”This has been one of the most eye-opening “firsts” I have ever had. In launching my own business, I have gained confidence and a newfound sense of belonging. This experience meant releasing many limiting beliefs about myself and leaning into discomfort for growth.  Launching my business has empowered me to push myself out of my comfort zone and work to empower others to reclaim their narrative of what it means to be first-gen.  


As a Latina therapist, I have found profound fulfillment in serving my community but also in being in the community.  Amid my journey, I’ve discovered a sense of community that counters the isolation I once felt while studying to become a therapist. Despite being one of the few Latina therapists, connecting with others through social media platforms has brought me into a network of like-minded professionals who understand and uplift each other. We are all together en la lucha to destigmatize mental health and increase representation and services in our communities. There have been several organizations that have held amazing space for Latinx therapists including Latinx Therapy, Empieza Aqui’s Counseling “Networking Con Corazon” events, along with larger professional associations such as the California Latinx Psychological Association and the National Latinx Psychological Association. 

The Lows

The Impostor Phenomenon

The impostor phenomenon refers to experiencing feelings of self-doubt, inadequacy,  and worrying that you are a fraud. A common thought for those who experience the impostor phenomenon is: “I want to do it all and I will feel like a failure if I can’t do it all alone.” This is an area I specialize in and the weight of being perceived as “enough” and battling feeling like an impostor is a constant struggle. Despite overcoming much of this doubt, moments of self-doubt still surface, a reminder of the necessity of community and support. Just last week I received an email that triggered my self-doubt, an invitation to be on a live radio program; I felt the self-doubt creeping in. “Am I qualified to talk about this?” aka “Am I enough?” I recognized what was happening and understood what I needed to do. I messaged my fiance and expressed what I was feeling. I was met with support and encouragement. Then I was on the radio the next day, feeling nervous but knowing I was enough. 

Systemic Barriers 

Before becoming a business owner, I worked in different institutions and systems. Many of the systems I was in were understaffed and underresourced. Systems failing to adequately serve communities and clinicians experiencing burnout is disheartening. Similar to most therapists, I was working in these systems because I was passionate about the work. However, my personal burnout was one of the reasons that I transitioned into private practice. Although I have a better work-life balance, there are still many systemic barriers that limit who I can work with and in what capacity. For example, many individuals may not have health insurance, or if they do, it does not include mental health care coverage. There are resources available to help but those are also limited and require additional work.  Finding a therapist is already so much work, these added barriers further limit the accessibility of it all. 

Cultural Stigma

I often support individuals manage distress triggered by a family member or loved one. In those moments, I am reminded how much the stigma can stop someone from seeking help.  The person who triggered the distress can benefit from therapy but is likely not open to the idea because of the stigma. Although advocating for mental health is vital, changing attitudes requires persistent effort and time. I have close family members who agree with me that therapy is important and helpful but are still reluctant and hesitant to seek out services themselves. As a reminder, therapy is for everyone, whether you want to delve into past experiences or if you want support during a life transition. If you feel inspired to go to therapy, I highly recommend, an amazing directory to help you find a therapist. 

Initially, this journey felt like a constant battle between my desires and the perceived obligations I believed I needed to fulfill. However, my current path is now centered more on pursuing my genuine aspirations and the opportunities I have the privilege to explore.  I am focused on how I can contribute positively, how I can be of assistance, and the changes I wish to bring about. I am moving past  my  “people pleasing era” as I immerse myself more deeply into my “Jefa era,” my “La Mera Mera era,” and dare I say it, my “Fully embracing my Chingona- self era.”  My choices are anchored in my values rather than my perceived expectations of what others want for me. I am living my 13-year-old self’s dream, and it is better than anything she could have imagined. 

That said, even as I write this, I can still hear the faint,  “Y que va a decir la gente?” and self-doubt try to creep into my thoughts. But you know what? There is also a louder voice, the voice of my ancestors and community, with a resounding “tu puedes.” 

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Dr. Lisette Sanchez Featured first gen mental health first generation Latina mental health latina therapist POC and mental health
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