While many speak about building the pipeline of future therapists to meet California’s growing need for mental health services, Instituto Familiar de la Raza (IFR) is walking the talk.
The nonprofit based in San Francisco’s Mission District has been providing mental health and social services to San Francisco County residents for 46 years — and since 1985 has maintained an internship for master’s and PhD candidates who learn from its clinical advisors at the same time they provide Spanish bilingual or monolingual mental health care to children, adults, seniors, couples, families, and the LBGTQ community.
Currently serving around 6,000 San Franciscans a year, the organization employs 120 bilingual, bicultural staff members.
Alexandra Capulong, PsyD, is a mental health specialist at IFR’s La Clínica’s de la Raza who first came to the organization as an intern in 2020 — at the worst of the pandemic.
“From the moment I walked through the doors, I felt a strong sense of community and connection,” she said. “I had applied to Instituto because of the population they serve and because I wanted to be able to give back to my community, particularly to assist monolingual Spanish speakers. I came back after I finished my final internship and graduated because of this sense of community and unity.”
Coming to intern; staying for good
IFR recently received a $75,000 grant from a Kaiser Permanente fund at the East Bay Community Foundation to help increase the clinical trainees’ stipends, provide resources for more clinician supervision, and support culturally based trainings in various modalities and venues.
“We’re pleased to provide financial support for Instituto to increase the number of therapists trained to meet the needs of our diverse communities,” said Yvette Radford, Kaiser Permanente Northern California vice president for External and Community Affairs.
“Any type of assistance really goes a long way,” said Julio Gonzales, La Clínica’s program director. “This grant is hugely appreciated for going toward helping us to maintain this important program.”
The interns come from institutions including San Francisco State University, U.C. Berkeley, and The Wright Institute for 2 semesters of classes and supervised on-the-job training. Competition is steep to intern at IFR.
While many go on to work for counties, the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH), and Kaiser Permanente, others have stayed at IFR for their entire careers in order to live the promise of an organization focusing on culturally sensitive health care.
One previous executive director began at IFR as a 19-year-old intern and retired after 38 years at the organization.
“We nourish and learn from our relationships with each other and our clients in order to be able to provide the accurate assistance,” said Gonzales, a former intern. “We have the cultural piece that not many other sites offer.”
Meeting a dire need
According to the Healthforce Center at U.C. San Francisco, if current trends continue, California will have 41% fewer psychiatrists than needed and 11% fewer psychologists, licensed marriage and family therapists, professional clinical counselors, and clinical social workers than needed by as soon as 2028.
With 8 to 11 behavioral health interns a year, IFR has trained and supported hundreds over its history — with many more planned for the future.
The 2020 pandemic drove home the importance of the organization, according to its executive director, Gloria Romero.
She said that the SFDPH looked to IFR’s institutional knowledge during the pandemic, since it served San Franciscans during another, earlier public health crisis — the AIDS epidemic.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw a rise in need among our existing clients, as well as new families and community members we hadn’t served before,” Romero said. “The need was just so great: grief, stress, depression, and isolation. As a result, we diversified some of our offerings, moved some to online, and even pivoted to provide some basic support, including food and diapers.”
For Capulong, serving that need is not just a job — and IFR is not just an employer.
“I have learned and continue to learn about even my own culture and the culture of other Hispanic individuals, as well as the Latine, Chicane, and Indigenous communities,” Capulong said. “I have had the chance to experience rituals and traditions that my family has not practiced, and it has been such a wonderful experience.”