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Unheard voices: Toward a therapy of liberation. Six low income Puerto Rican migrant women tell their stories

Heyda M Martinez, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Women are at a higher risk for depression due to a number of social, economic, biological and emotional factors (Goldman and Ravid, 1980; nolen-Horksema, 1987; Strickland, 1989; Weissman, Leaf, Holzer, Meyers and Tischler, 1984). But even when the incidence is high among women in general, for Hispanic and Black women the incidence is higher (Russo, Amaro, and Winter, 1987). Factors such as, poverty and violence seems to be among the factors that predispose the high incidence of depression in this group of women. When we consider poor Puerto Rican migrant women in the continental United States who are exposed to multiple stressful situations, such as poverty, disintegration of family values, violence and discrimination, the incidence in the diagnosis of depression is higher yet (Comas-Diaz, 1981; Torres-Matrullo, 1976, and Caste, Blodgett, and Rubinow, 1978). But at the same time, research that addresses issues of oppression and mental health, particularly as it applies to low-income Puerto Rican women is scarce. Little or no attention has been paid to the effect that social stressors, such as poverty, single parenthood, and violence interact with issues of oppression in the context of migration, might have in the mental health of the migrant. Is a diagnosis of clinical depression the right diagnosis or are we as mental health providers using traditional practices that affect not only the way clients are diagnosed, but most important, the treatment they receive? This study explored the perception that six poor Puerto Rican migrant women who had been diagnosed with clinical depression, have of their condition of depression and the social factors interacting and influencing their condition. Using a qualitative research approach, data was gathered through a semi-structured open-ended interview, in which narratives were used to elicit stories of these six women lives. Six women who had been diagnosed with depression and were undergoing treatment in a community mental health were referred by their therapist and volunteered for the interviews. A set of two interviews was used. As a result of the first interview a story was produced using narrative form, and in a second interview, the participant was able to listen to her own story, reflect on it and look at themes and patterns that emerged from her own story and from the five other participants' stories. Narrative and feminist theories as well as theories of oppression and liberation were used to guide the data analysis in the pursuit of themes and patterns in the stories that emerged from each participant, as well as, similarities and differences among the six participants stories. All six participants reported that awareness of their social conditions made a difference in the way they perceived their condition of depression, the way they perceived themselves and made recommendations for their treatment. The results of this study show the importance of giving voice to the usually unheard, sharing power in a therapeutic relationship, and designing trainings and educational curriculums that take into consideration social stressors when interacting with multiple oppressions. This study is also a contribution to the growing body of literature on women and issues of mental health as well as to the field of social justice as it relates in particular to Puerto Rican women and issues of oppression.

Subject Area

Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology|Mental health

Recommended Citation

Martinez, Heyda M, "Unheard voices: Toward a therapy of liberation. Six low income Puerto Rican migrant women tell their stories" (2002). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3056257.