WOODBURN, Ore — Edgar Hernenio Garcia says that beginning counseling at OYEN Emotional Wellness Center helped save his life.
Garcia, who lives in Portland, only speaks Spanish, and the language and cultural barriers he faced when moving from Guatemala to Oregon made adjusting to his new life difficult.
After encountering an array of hardships, Garcia said he became suicidal.
“I was at the point where I wanted to take my own life,” Garcia said, through a translator. “I really needed psychological help.”
Finding OYEN a little more than a year ago “motivated me to be more positive in life, to start over,” said Garcia.
OYEN, located on North Arney Road in Woodburn, is the only fully bilingual and bicultural mental health clinic in the state of Oregon. All therapists at the center are members of the Latino community who are trained to provide culturally responsive care.
Because of the language barrier he faced, Garcia said he did not know how to get help until he found OYEN.
“That’s why sometimes we stay quiet,” said Garcia.
It began in 2020 as a mobile mental health crisis team to support diverse community members impacted by wildfires. OYEN Emotional Wellness Center was co-founded shortly after by Anthony Veliz and Melinda Avila.
“[We] were motivated due to the high need and demand in our community for culturally and linguistically appropriate therapy,” said Veliz.
OYEN employs therapists who have shared lived experiences with many of the clients. They partner with other community-based organizations that serve the target communities they work with. They also work to reduce stigma around mental health care by changing the language they use, calling it emotional wellness, not mental health.
OYEN provides therapeutic services, including teletherapy, children’s therapy, and couples sessions. They schedule appointments in the evenings and on the weekends and serve clients of all ages statewide. Report:Kids in Oregon, nationwide ‘definitely are more stressed’
“OYEN understands our community needs flexibility, so we serve our clients when they need it,” said Veliz.
OYEN accepts most insurance plans, including Oregon Health Plan. If a client is in a mental health crisis, there have been cases where they have made exceptions and offered care despite insurance status by using external funding.
Individuals seeking mental health services can reach OYEN at (503) 395-4224 or email [email protected]
OYEN therapist Jose Arredondo Araujo moved to the United States from Mexico when he was 12. Not yet knowing how to speak English, he said it was hard to feel welcomed while adjusting to a different culture and trying to learn a new language.
“I always wanted to connect to someone, just to feel welcomed in the community,” said Araujo.
His experience made him realize there were not a lot of mental health resources for the Latino community, and that inspired him to pursue a career in social work and clinical counseling.
Mental health care can be difficult to come by for individuals who do not speak English and finding a therapist that understands your cultural needs and experiences can be ever harder. Araujo said that having culturally competent therapists is what makes OYEN so special.
“We can relate to them. We speak the same language,” Araujo said.
OYEN does not believe in a one size fits all model of care, explained Veliz.
“OYEN is committed to meeting our clients where they are at, both emotionally and physically,” Veliz said.
OYEN therapists make sure clients are aware of what to expect during their sessions and assure them that it is OK if they do not know where to start.
Araujo says he likes to have clients identify what helps them the most, or if they don’t know, they work together to find it.
“It’s a collaborative approach,” said Araujo.
Therapists can help clients with issues such as anxiety, depression, adjustment, anger management, as well as things that can help them transition into the community, like getting a library card or a bus pass.
OYEN therapists try to normalize the experience for clients and make them feel comfortable in having a conversation. Araujo said he tells his clients during early sessions: “What you’re going through, it’s a normal reaction.”
Araujo believes that OYEN is truly making an impact in the community and said he has seen the results with his clients.
“It’s just been an amazing journey,” said Araujo.
One such client is Garcia, who said he feels he is doing a lot better than he was a year ago.
“They helped save my life,” said Garcia. “I’m so grateful.”
Sydney Wyatt covers healthcare inequities in the Mid-Willamette Valley for the Statesman Journal. You can contact her at [email protected], by phone (503) 399-6613, or on Twitter @sydney_elise44 The Statesman Journal’s coverage of healthcare inequities is funded in part by the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, which seeks to strengthen the cultural, social, educational, and spiritual base of the Pacific Northwest through capacity-building investments in the nonprofit sector.
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