Digame: Dr. Lisette Sanchez is Destigmatizing First Gen Mental Health Struggles

Digame is a monthly series featuring prominent Latinx leaders, activists, entrepreneurs, and public figures uplifting the community and making a difference

Digame Lisette Sanchez

Photo courtesy of Dr. Lisette Sanchez

Digame is a monthly series featuring prominent Latinx leaders, activists, entrepreneurs, and public figures uplifting the community and making a difference.

Dr. Lisette Sanchez is a bilingual/bicultural licensed psychologist and the founder of Calathea Wellness, a virtual practice providing individual therapy. She has a passion for working with BIPOC folxs and first-generation professionals. She grew up in San Fernando Valley, a neighborhood in Los Angeles, with immigrant parents from El Salvador and Mexico. She is the first in her family to finish high school and pursue higher education and through her own personal struggles she was inspired to help her community by destigmatizing mental health issues and providing education and resources through her social platforms and services.

Which Latina(s) have had the greatest impact on your life and why?

The women in my family have helped shape who I am today: my mother, my aunts, and my cousins. However, my abuelitas have had the most impact. My abuelita Eugenia sought asylum in the U.S. as a single mother after my grandfather was murdered in El Salvador. She had limited literacy skills and learned only to sign her name. She did so much with such limited resources, and I was always in awe of her. She passed away in 2016, and I miss her dearly. My abuelita Licha uprooted her family from her hometown of Tepezala in Aguascalientes, Mexico to move to the border town of Tecate as my grandfather was working en el otro lado. She raised 11 children, also with limited resources. She is learning to rest now, and I cherish every moment I have with her. I went to see her this past weekend to celebrate her 79th birthday. These mujeres taught me the value of being resourceful and not limiting yourself. Their love and blessings help me through difficult moments.

Dr. Lisette Sanchez abuela

Photo courtesy of Dr. Lisette Sanchez

If you could meet a Latina icon who is no longer alive, who would it be and why?

Anything for Selena! Her music has helped me celebrate my wins, nurse heartaches, and feel optimistic about what’s to come. I was about 7 years old when they announced that they would be making a film about her, and there was a casting call. I remember begging my mother to take me. I wanted to be her! Although she was not first-gen, she represented the common first-gen experience of “Ni de aquí, ni de allá.” As a child, I didn’t understand it, but she helped me feel seen. Thank you Selena!

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

It has been challenging to come to terms with but to remember what is not in my control, and to focus on what is. I wish it were something I had accepted sooner, but I am grateful that it is something that I am working on now. It means self-compassion when encountering a new obstacle or making a mistake. I also want to add another piece of advice, identify the barriers to your goals and tackle them one at a time. Remember, you may be your barrier. I would always hear this, but I did not understand what it meant to “get in your own way.” I realized that I would get in my way by constantly rationalizing and making excuses when I felt that I could not do something, “I don’t have time or I can’t afford it.”

Now I identify the barrier and find ways to move forward. For example, when I felt I did not have time, I sat down to analyze how I was spending my time. To be honest, I love watching TV. Binge-watching shows is still one of my favorite pastimes. However, I realized that I needed to have more discipline to get time back to dedicate to my goals. Now, I will binge-watch a show here and there and have no-socks-stay-in-bed days, but it is no longer something that consumes as much of my days as it did before.

If you could pursue a career in an industry other than your own, what would it be and why?

I love to think about what else I would do with my life. I feel fulfilled and have a sense of purpose in the mental health/wellness industry. There are several industries that I think I would enjoy, but I want to have fun with this answer. I think I would enjoy working with animals. I am an animal lover, and I developed a love for cats in my adulthood. I have a cat named Louie, and he is nine years old. I had never had a cat before, so when Louie came into my life when he was four years old, I decided to train him to walk on a leash. Going on walks with my cat is an integral part of my daily routine. I loved the process of training him and have since learned that there are people who are Certified Feline behavior consultants. Before you say it, I am well aware that this is like therapy for cats.

Who was the first person to believe in your dreams/goals?

I am going to say myself but with a caveat. I believed in myself, but I did not always understand my potential. That led to self-doubt and caused me to limit myself at times. However, an incredible support system has helped me manage that self-doubt. You have to believe in yourself to achieve your dreams, and honestly, sometimes that does mean “fake it ‘til you make it.” So, if you are reading this and you have doubts, I urge you to take that first step towards making that dream a reality. Start with doing your research, and do not be afraid to ask for help!

What do you wish more people understood about what you do?

I want to focus on my role as a therapist since I do wear a few different hats. I say this often, but therapy is for everyone. Although I am a strong advocate for destigmatizing mental health, I will still encounter folks who believe that it is only for “crazy” people. I want people to truly understand that seeing a therapist does not make you a “weak person.” In fact, it takes a lot of courage to ask for help.

What motivates you?

I am motivated by the pursuit of my happiness and the happiness of my community. I am motivated by feeling rooted in my purpose and getting to do what I love. I love destigmatizing mental health and empowering fellow first-gen folks. I do it via therapy, speaking engagements, mentorship, coaching, social media etc. Overall, I love helping others reconnect with their joy. I love showing up for myself and my loved ones.

How did you end up on the professional path you’re on now?

My earliest memory of wanting to be a psychologist was when I was in 7th grade. I was a curious kid and wanted to learn more about culture and mental health. Fast forward to 2018, I completed my doctorate degree and was one step closer to becoming a licensed psychologist. Then in December 2019 I officially completed all requirements to be a licensed psychologist. For context, I graduated high school in 2006. I dedicated 13 years of training and education to achieving this dream. I was working at a university counseling center, doing the work that I loved but I realized that I wanted more. I loved the work but longed for more freedom and flexibility in my schedule. That is what led to me putting in the work to launch my business.

A journey that started late in 2020 and led to me transitioning to working for myself full-time as of this month, August 2022. This Jefa identity is so important to me and I am learning so much. It is a skillset to be able to navigate uncertainty, a skillset that I developed because I am first-gen. The number of unknowns that I have navigated in my life is what helped me in navigating the unknowns and uncertainties of entrepreneurship. If you are first gen, remember that. You are uniquely qualified to navigate the unknown. Embracing that is so empowering.

What is your greatest professional achievement so far? Personal achievement?

Currently, my greatest professional achievement has been launching my own business and entering my Jefa era. I started working on setting the foundation for my business while I was working full-time and transitioned to working for myself this month. This moment has taken me two years, and I am ecstatic to see what is to come.

Regarding my greatest personal achievement, I have been doing a lot of work to enhance my confidence in owning my voice. For much of my life, I focused on making sure I said or did what others wanted from me. I wanted to make sure that I got it “right.” There are still moments when I experience that, but l I have been much more comfortable with being myself and existing as I am. I am proud of who I am and the experiences that have shaped me. I have worked hard to be more comfortable with making mistakes and greeting these lessons with self-compassion. I am still growing and learning and that is ok; in fact, it is human.

What is a goal you have that you haven’t accomplished yet and what are you doing to get closer to accomplishing it?

I want to write a book! The vision for my book is still evolving, but I plan for it to be on First-Gen mental health. However, given that I just launched my business, I am first working on learning how to navigate my Jefa responsibilities and find my rhythm. Since working with first-gen folks is one of my specialties, my day-to-day work helps me accomplish this goal. I want to add that a personal goal of mine is to be ok with taking things slow, or at least what feels slow to me. I am honoring that goal by taking my time with the book.

What pop culture moment made you feel seen?

Mirabel from Encanto. I received many messages from loved ones when they watched that film and saw me in that character. So I see myself in her but also in several other characters. I truly love that film.

How do you practice self care?

I recently started to integrate a new workout routine and am loving it. However, my main go-to for self-care are bubble baths, lying on the beach, and spending time with loved ones, whether it is watching a show together or going on an adventure. Lastly, cuddling, as physical touch is my primary love language. I love to cuddle, especially with my cat.

Quick Fire:

Shoutout an Instagram account that could use more love and tell us why you’re a fan:
I have so many accounts that I want to shout out, but I will restrain myself to three. These are accounts of inspiring Latina therapists and coaches:
@nuevoscaminostherapy Carla is an incredible human and therapist. She specializes in working with BIPOC and Latinx individuals and couples. I love all of the reels that she creates.
@drchristinecoleman – Her work is focused on high-achieving WOC and she also runs a non-profit
@solsistersorg focused on helping women overcome societal barriers.
@drhortenciajimenez Her goal is to dismantle diet culture. She is a health coach and sociology professor.

Shoutout your favorite Latina owned business and why:
I grew up in the San Fernando Valley and have so much pride in businesses run by Latinas from the Valley.
@latinxtherapy – This is just such a wonderful mental health resource for the Latinx community; directory, a podcast and so much more. Fun fact: Adriana, the founder, and I went to high school together. We met in our AP Environmental Science class.
@chilosogummybear– Honestly, these are my absolute favorite chile gummy candy. I have been following them for a while, and the founder’s story is absolutely inspiring.
@rizoscurls- I never thought I would feel pride about a product I don’t have any direct connection to, but I do with their leave-in conditioner. It is incredible, and I will not use anything else.

I also want to highlight two other Latina-owned businesses that I love that are not connected to the SFV:
@asksnowball: Snowball wealth is a community with tools to help you pay debt and build generational wealth. They have a free app and a premium service with access to financial experts. I know that there are a lot of resources out there for building wealth, but this one is one of my favorites.
@vivecosmetics: My favorite liquid lipstick ever is in the Maria shade. The items are cruelty-free and full of cultura!

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