Reducing mental health disparities among youth & bridging the gap in service provision for immigrant and ethnically-diverse families
Silvia Acosta, AM ’14, came to the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration with the goal of learning to offer mental health and substance use services to immigrant and multicultural urban populations.
“I chose SSA because of its reputation as one of the top programs in the nation,” she says. “I was attracted to the idea of being intellectually challenged by renowned faculty and classmates in discussion-based lectures. Additionally, I saw that the comprehensive curriculum offered a balanced approach, encompassing both macro and micro training in social work.”
Born in Havana, Cuba, Silvia lived there until she was five years old when her family moved to Caracas, Venezuela. The family remained there until she was 12 when they moved to Miami. “Being an immigrant, I feel attuned to the challenges faced by recent arrivals. These problems can be heightened by the stress of adjusting to a new culture. “My goal is to work for the public health system, providing culturally competent integrated treatment for Co-Occurring Substance Use and Mental Health Disorders,” she says of her goal.
Silvia majored in Psychology with a minor in Anthropology/Sociology at Florida International University. At FIU she worked with its Community-Based Intervention Research Group that focuses on developing and testing community-based interventions to address pressing prevention and treatment problems facing multicultural populations. “I began to see the effectiveness of using a systems- and strengths-based approach to helping individuals, versus traditional pathology-focused approaches,” she said.
At SSA, Silvia was working on a clinical concentration with a specific emphasis on the treatment of children and adolescents. “I am interested in providing supportive and non-judgmental clinical services in both Spanish and English to youth of diverse ages and their families to empower them to take control of their own lives, in order to promote personal growth and well-being.”
For her second-year field placement, she was an outpatient psychiatric social work trainee at the Stone Mental Health Center at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. A typical day involved individual therapy sessions with adolescent and adult patients, participation in interdisciplinary trainings and grand rounds, and the opportunity to learn the intricacies of outpatient care. She also co-facilitated an advanced cognitive behavioral therapy group focused on managing anxiety and depression and a psychoeducational group for dually-diagnosed adults. She spent an hour each week in the Triage office providing evaluation, crisis intervention, and referrals for community members calling the hospital’s crisis line. In addition, each week she conducted intake interviews that include in-depth biopsychosocial assessments with the opportunity to formulate differential diagnoses and treatment plans under the supervision of a licensed clinical social worker and attending psychiatrist.
“I hope to find a position in a multidisciplinary setting where I can obtain rigorous training in working with individuals and families in crisis, in order to gain enough experience to become licensed as a clinical social worker. Then, after gaining enough experience in a collaborative setting, I hope to move on to a clinical administrative role in a community-based mental health center where I can directly supervise fellow social workers, helping them provide effective services for some of the most vulnerable members of our society.”
At SSA, Acosta says that Assistant Professor Alida Bouris served as an excellent mentor since she began her graduate education. “I had been able to work alongside professor Bouris as one of her research assistants and was fortunate enough to have her as my direct practice professor during my first year. She inspired me with her wealth of knowledge and thoughtfulness towards her students; she truly was an incredible source of support and motivation.”
To make her SSA education a reality, Silvia was awarded the David and Mary Winton Green Scholarship. “My family and I were humbled by this generous award,” she said. “It has made it possible for me to benefit academically from such an exemplary institution. It has also made it possible for my parents to see the fulfillment of the long journey they embarked on to see that I had an excellent education.”
Silvia hopes that her work will reduce mental health disparities among youth, as well as help bridge the gap in service provision for immigrant and ethnically diverse families to empower them to achieve their dreams.