“Psychologists are doctors for your soul”

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“Psychologists are doctors for your soul”

Psychologists are doctors for your soul,” Andrea tells us. Working as a psychologist in Sucre, Bolivia, she specializes in counseling women and youth on topics like domestic violence and self-esteem.

She strives to break down stigmas regarding mental health counseling and improve the holistic health of the community. Andrea’s passion for psychology stems from her ability to support entire families, from children and youth to parents, on their health and work towards strengthening family relationships, “...since everything begins in the family,” she explains.


ADDRESSING VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN

Taking a multidisciplinary approach, Andrea tackles pervasive issues in the Sucre community, including the high incidence rates of sexual and gender-based violence, as well as poor self-esteem among children and youth. The roots of sexism run deep in the community, and Andrea’s psychology team approaches these attitudes within individuals with tact and care.

Bolivia has one of the highest rates of sexual and gender-based violence against women in South America, and the highest rate of femicide in the continent. According to data published by the Bolivian Public Prosecutor’s Office in 2022, the number of women experiencing violence is rising exponentially. It’s estimated that more than half of women report having experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner, but only 1% of all gender-based violence cases are prosecuted and convicted. Indigenous and rural women, in particular, face significant barriers to full participation in decision-making spaces and endure persistently high levels of violence.

A woman stands holding a text book in front of a projector in front of a group

Andrea's workshops aim to tackle sexist gender ideals, and improve women's self-esteem.

Andrea’s work helps to directly challenge harmful attitudes through counseling sessions that emphasize the importance of gender equality - important work that is run through our local partner IPTK. She also supports women through alternative therapies such as art therapy and dance therapy. Furthermore, she counsels men on the dangers of misogyny, educates them on the harsh realities of femicide, and emphasizes the importance of gender equality in the hopes of changing attitudes, one household at a time.

Through her work, she’s seen great improvements with the girls and women she counsels including rising self-esteem and reported instances of men in the family who are changing their attitudes towards women. Women and girls having an outlet to discuss sensitive issues, especially with other women, is invaluable in realizing their full potential.

Addressing the root causes of gender-based violence and promoting positive attitudes towards women and girls ensures equal access to resources, education, and opportunities for all community members. This empowerment enables women and girls to actively participate in decision-making processes and contribute to strengthening their community's food security while creating safer and more supportive environments for children to grow and thrive.


FOCUSING ON CHILDREN AND YOUTH MENTAL HEALTH

a women smiles for the camera with the city behind her

Through the counseling services, Rosemary has gained valuable knowledge to better help her students and support their wellbeing.

When asked about one of her greatest successes as a psychologist, Andrea told us the story of a male youth who sought out her services.

One day, he knocked on my door and said to me, ‘Are you the psychologist? Could I talk with you?’. This young man suffered from grief and feelings of loneliness, low self-esteem, and he did not feel comfortable at school because he could not relate to his classmates. He was embarrassed to raise his hand to be able to participate in classes, which is why his grades and academic performance were low.

As the sessions went by, we worked individually on the issue of self-esteem, in addition to family relationships. On one occasion, I managed to meet this boy's mother. Through counseling, he discovered on his own that the external world was not really a world that he should be afraid of, but it was a world that could be friendly as he also showed himself to others. After 4 or 5 months of work that we had, you could already see him smile.”

This example demonstrates the importance of nurturing a child’s mental health, highlighting how a strong foundation in mental health equips children with resilience, emotional intelligence, and coping skills essential for navigating life's challenges. It promotes positive self-esteem, healthy relationships, and the ability to manage stress effectively.

Having Andrea’s counseling office available has helped improve childhood development for children in the community. Given the prevalence of domestic violence, its effects are felt by children through low self-esteem, poor social skills, learning delays, inadequate emotional management, and toxic family relationships. Andrea tells us that the children she works with gain a better understanding of their emotions, learn that it’s okay to feel angry or sad, and recognize that we all have fears. Having a person they trust to help them work through and process these difficult feelings is rewarding for the children.

Rosemary, a teacher at a local early childhood education centre, explains how Andrea’s office has made great strides in improving the overall health and development of children and youth at the school.

The psychology office is a fundamental part of our community because it gave a look into the heart and soul of the child and their families and gave them security to go for help. Talking about mental health was difficult before, but now you can talk about it knowing that there are strategies to solve everything.

Andrea’s psychology services have also benefited Rosemary as an educator. She feels confident as the two work hand-in-hand to give children a safe space to discuss their feelings and receive the support they need to feel seen, heard, and valued.


HEALTH FOR YOUR MIND, BODY, AND SOUL

I used to say to my patients that when they get sick or when they break a bone, they go to the doctor, and maybe that's easy because it is something you can see and feel. But on the other hand, when they feel lonely or sad or when they think the things in their life are not going well and they don’t know who to trust, they can come here where they can talk about anything,” Andrea says on the importance for families to access her counseling.

By changing community attitudes towards mental health, gender equality, and violence, these crucial psychological services provided by Andrea and her colleagues are transforming the overall health and development of all community members. It’s satisfying on a personal and professional level for Andrea to bring a little joy, peace, well-being, and positive support for children and families. Investing in mental health and gender equality is an investment in the future and the collective well-being of communities.


To help us promote mental health and gender equality in more communities like Andrea’s, consider making a donation today. Your contribution helps provide support services to children and families affected by violence, harmful gender norms, and low self-esteem. Together, we can break down barriers and stigmas and create safer, more nurturing environments for children to grow and thrive. Join us in building a brighter future for all community members.


WANT TO LEARN MORE?
Here are some additional articles on the importance of gender equality and mental health: