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How Therapist Michael Espinoza Has Become a More Culturally Competent Counselor

Michael is opening doors for people who’ve had difficulty finding a Spanish speaking therapist, and hopes to reduce mental health stigma by example.

Written by
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Dr. Amy Cirbus, LMHC, LPC
Head of Clinical Content, Spring Health
Clinically reviewed by
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Spring Health therapist Michael Espinoza

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    Michael Espinoza lives and works in New York City, where he’s seen a diverse set of clients from all over the world during the past five years. 

    In addition to working with people from all over the U.S., he’s worked with clients from Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Ecuador, Jamaica, Russia, the UK, and India, just to name a few. 

    He takes pride in his cultural competence and ability to connect with the historically underserved Latino community. 

    I sat down with Michael to talk about his specialties, what he finds most challenging about his career, and how he takes care of his own mental health.

    You work right here in NYC. What does a typical day look like for you?

    Since most people are working or at school during the day, I see most of my clients in the afternoons and evenings. This gives me time in the morning to run errands, go to appointments, or work out. 

    Occasionally, I do see some clients in the morning, but I usually try to take this time for myself. 

    Not every week is exactly the same, but there is a general routine. Even though I don’t work traditional hours, I have a nice work-life balance that allows for a flexible lifestyle.

    Tell us about your areas of specialty.

    My specialty at the moment is working with the Latino population. Being Latino myself, I can relate to many of my clients through shared experiences. It creates an easy working relationship. 

    I am also fluent in Spanish, which has helped build my caseload and opened doors for people who’ve had difficulty finding a Spanish speaking therapist. 

    Despite the growing awareness of the importance of mental health, it can still be taboo for Latinos to seek therapy. I hope to inspire others by example and I feel very lucky to be in a position where I can do that as a mental health counselor.

    What are the unique aspects of working in NYC?

    New York City is just one big melting pot! I currently live in Brooklyn, but was born and raised in Corona, Queens. Queens in particular is one of those places where you'll find people from so many different backgrounds and cultures in a single block radius. 

    Working in NYC has given me the pleasure of working with clients from all over the world, and from all different backgrounds. I’ve learned so much from everyone I’ve interacted with, and it helps me be a more culturally competent counselor.

    How are you seeing most of your clients—virtually or in person?

    I see most of my clients in person, and I actually prefer that. 

    As a newer therapist, I like being able to see body language, make a human connection in person, and avoid any connectivity or audio issues. There’s a more natural flow that works best for me right now.  

    I do think virtual therapy is a great option to access mental health care for those who may not be able to go in person.

    What do you find most challenging about your mental health career?

    After graduating, a professor told me, "now, you'll know how much you really don't know". 

    Even with over three years of experience as a therapist, I find myself in moments where I am unsure of the best way to address certain issues with my clients. At times, I even feel a little impostor syndrome. 

    I move past that by being mindful that learning is a lifelong process. I may not always have the right answers, but I work diligently to figure it out with my clients. 

    At the end of the day, I feel grateful to be in a position that pushes me to want to learn and grow so I can help others more effectively.

    What do you love most about your work?

    Being able to learn and understand human behavior, and get to know what makes people  who they are. It's very rewarding to help others make connections about their patterns and understand their unique identities. 

    So many experiences and cultural factors play into the reasons behind why we do what we do. It’s fascinating.  

    What brought you to Spring Health?

    I was actually recruited to Spring Health. What attracted me the most was the flexibility and independence that Spring Health offers. 

    Though the work is independent, there’s no shortage of assistance and resources to help you find what you're looking for. The platform for scheduling clients and documenting notes is also very straightforward, which makes work much easier for me, and for all of the providers.

    If you weren't a therapist, what would you be doing?

    I went to Aviation High School in Queens. The school prepares students to work right out of high school through obtaining an Aircraft Maintenance Technician license. By my senior year, I realized that it might not be for me, but I do wonder how different my life might've been had I gone through with it.

    After graduating college, I worked in the service industry as a waiter for a while. At one point, I thought I could turn it into a career. 

    I grew so much and am very appreciative of my time as a waiter. I have so much respect for the people who work in the service industry. It’s what got me through graduate school, but I always knew that I had to do something that felt more meaningful to me.

    How do you take care of your own mental health? 

    For the past three and a half years, I've been training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I am currently at the blue belt level. Apart from all the physical benefits of working out, practicing Jiu-Jitsu has been extremely beneficial to my mental health. 

    It has vastly improved my confidence, clarity, and patience. I have learned so many lessons, and when I’m on the mat rolling with someone, it's like nothing else matters other than what is happening in that moment.

    I also feel like I’ve created a very strong support system of family and friends around me. Having people who understand me and who I can talk to is something very important to me. I never feel as though I am going through anything alone. For that, I am very grateful.

    Interested in becoming a Spring Health provider?

    About the Author
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    Dr. Amy Cirbus, LMHC, LPC
    Head of Clinical Content, Spring Health

    Amy is a Counseling Psychologist with over 20 years of experience in direct clinical care, organizational consultation, and telemental health. She is passionate about providing equitable access and raising awareness on the importance of investing in our mental health and wellbeing. For the past four years, Amy has focused on supporting the evolution of telehealth— previously at Talkspace and currently as the Head of Clinical Content at Spring Health. She is a contributor to national podcasts and publications, most notably the New York Times, Wall Street journal, Forbes, Thrive Global, and Business Insider.

    About the clinical reviewer
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