“We’re very pleased that Marilyn is here,” said Biller, a licensed clinical/counseling psychologist and the clinical director at HMS. “It’s almost in a way a miracle. Because we had been talking at that very time about adding one more clinician — especially someone who could work with ladies, children and could speak Spanish. Marilyn just walked in off the street, introduced herself and said, ‘I’m a psychologist and I’m new to town. I would like to work with you. Do you think you could use my services?’ We looked up (to heaven) and said we think so! So we consider Marilyn our miraculous gift!”
Mercado, who has her doctorate degree from the accredited Ponce School of Medicine in Puerto Rico, smiled and said, “I’m very blessed. They opened the door for me and it was kind of a miracle.”
In a recent article on “Attracting more diverse students to the field of psychology,” Dr. Donald N. Bersoff, president of the American Psychological Association, stated, “Because of the dearth of cultural minorities in our training programs, I became concerned that psychology may be ill-prepared to serve clients from South and Central American, Middle Eastern, Asian, African, and Caribbean cultures.”
He added, “We need to attract more Hispanic students and students from other cultural minorities so we can better serve a burgeoning ethnic American population.”
What has been called a breakthrough moment in psychological assessment is the realization that one size does not fit all when it comes to psychology. Many mental health service providers are not familiar with the unique cultural characteristics of minorities. Hispanics, for example, reflect a wide spectrum of cultural and social factors. When psychologists are unfamiliar with the culture, mannerisms and language, yet involved in making evaluations and diagnosis, they may misinterpret symptoms, which can lead to inappropriate or ineffective treatment.
As a culturally competent therapist who can identify with her own gender, race and nationality, as well as a younger generation of technically advanced youths, Mercado brings a unique perspective and advantage to the field of psychology in Cleveland.
“Having someone who can understand your background — you can express yourself better because it’s in your own language,” Mercado explained. “It’s going to be more helpful. That’s why I’m here. I’m a good listener. I always try to do my best and I work very hard. I give 100 percent to everybody. I care about the people who come here and sit in front of me. I want them to feel better.
“At first I started studying to become a social worker. I have my license in Puerto Rico for that too. But when I finished studying (to become a social worker) I felt like something was missing. So I started studying psychology and I fell in love with it. This way I can do something else to help people in different ways. Because in psychology they give you the strategies to help others.
“So many people have problems but don’t know how to resolve them. They turn to the bottle or they self-medicate. But having someone who can speak their language and can understand a little bit of what they are going through is going to be helpful in resolving the problem.”
While Biller said HMS has a few Spanish-speaking clients, he added, “We hope this will bring an increase. We want to reach out to the Spanish community, but we wanted to bring someone in who was skilled and understood the culture.”
Experts say critical to any useful mental health service is the availability of effective communication. An initial step is the need to make linguistic accommodations. Mercado admits it is difficult for many Hispanics to get acclimated into American culture, but for them to communicate with a psychologist who can truly understand them will be a great asset.
“Talking with a professional gives you another view of whatever is happening to you,” she said. “The best way to solve a problem is to try and look for the help you need with a professional that has the experience, knowledge and strategies to guide you through the problem.”
Regarding her own age and experience in life, Mercado, 28, said, “Age gives you experience in life but the problem is going to be exactly the same no matter what age we are. It’s not about life experience. This is about knowledge, skills and about the way you see the problem. My education gives me the skills to help people. When you are in trouble or have a problem, you can’t see anything else. Bringing a psychologist in can give you another view that you will need to solve your problems.”
As a cross-cultural psychologist with an experienced group of colleagues, Mercado also has the advantage of being able to consult with seasoned professionals for additional experience and wisdom in handling cases.
“We consult about cases together,” Biller said. “If problems come up we talk among ourselves and we’re very supportive.”
While Mercado is able to address the mental health needs of individuals who have a Latina/Latino background, she is not limited in providing psychological assistance to one race, culture or age group, but is trained to help a wide variety of patients. Her arrival in Bradley County, while raising awareness of the need to become culturally competent in mental health practice, is considered essential to the psychological well-being of a growing Spanish-speaking community, including women and children in Cleveland and across the nation. Dr. Marilyn Mercado is married with an eight month old daughter.
For further information, contact Dr. Mercado at 479-5672 or visit Health Management Services at 2292 Chambliss Ave. in Cleveland.