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What Disney’s “Encanto” Shows About Cultural Competence in Therapy

Movies like Disney’s “Encanto” are drawing attention to the unique challenges Latino and Latina immigrants face. Therapists who spoke with CNN said many first-generation children of immigrants see themselves reflected in “Encanto,” hear their experiences in the soundtrack, and are using the film to speak out about things that otherwise might go unsaid.

We asked One Hope United therapists about the film, and the steps they take to provide culturally informed therapeutic treatment to their clients. Below, Aidee Mireles-Manna, Multi-Systemic Therapy Supervisor with One Hope United, shares her insights.

“The new Disney movie Encanto explores themes and topics that are present in many of our clients’ lives. Clients also see some of their own personality traits in the Encanto characters. For example, Mirabel is striving to keep her family whole; Isabela represents the perfectionist who feels she cannot fail; Luisa feels she must carry the weight of the family on her shoulders; Bruno is the family secret that must go unspoken; and Abuela is the matriarch who unknowingly passes down her trauma.  

The experiences these characters represent, from first-generation immigrants trying to keep their culture alive in a new country, to siblings and parents contending with a family member’s mental health problems or addiction, impact the lives of so many. As therapists, we feel we can help by serving as a bridge between Latino immigrant parents and their children. 

To help families identify triggers related to trauma, we start by helping parents learn how to use self-regulation and coping skills. We shift parents’ thoughts about what topics are “taboo.” Some adults do not want to talk about trauma, sexual abuse, or domestic violence; they may even believe they have to stay in a dangerous relationship to keep their family together. In cases like this, we educate adults about healthy relationships and self-esteem. We prepare them with safety planning and life skills, as well as the best way to approach conversations with their extended family to avoid blaming. Identifying past trauma is key to preventing future trauma. 

Another source of conflict for families is assimilating to a new country. Sometimes, parents are concerned their children will lose their identity or connection with their culture. I have also seen cases where children are embarrassed of parents’ traditions, and this is painful for parents. We want to bring peace to families, along with balance. We strive to help them build a future where parents feel comfortable adjusting to a new culture while preserving their own, and even creating new traditions unique to their own family. We also work to help family members understand what it is like in their loved one’s shoes. Children grow to understand the fears and stress their parents deal with every day, and we highlight the importance of open communication in a safe, healthy environment. 

We also help clients explore the role they play, and the emotional weight they carry, in their family. Children may believe they have to silence their needs, dreams, or goals so they will not be a burden. Immigrant parents often carry the need to “prove” it was worth it to leave their family in their home country by finding financial success in the U.S. We help each family member to identify a healthy and realistic balance. We also try to help parents understand that they do not need to be the “perfect” family or pretend everything is fine when times are tough – it is not weak to need help parenting or building a support system. 

Latino families are proud of being close to each other as one, big, happy group that celebrates birthdays and holidays together, so when families immigrate to the United States, they might feel incomplete without their extended family. Children also miss their extended family and may feel their parents “forced” them to leave their home country. In these cases, therapists focus on identifying the strengths of that specific family, and how they can use those strengths to thrive together in their new environment. 

Our efforts center around helping multi-generational families come to terms with the obstacles they face, so they can build a strong foundation for future generations.” 

Learn more about One Hope United’s Behavioral Health services.

 

 

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