Erika Riobo-Gomez comes to work every day at The Healing Center knowing she is truly making a difference in her community. The Healing Center is a Well Community program of Aurora Health Care. She’s a Licensed Professional Counselor helping survivors of abuse deal with their trauma and learn new coping skills. But she is also there to serve those individuals who face another obstacle that has likely gotten in the way of them seeking help; her clients don’t speak English.
“There’s abuse, sexual trauma, immigration issues; usually many layers of trauma. Many of my clients have lived with this issue a very long time. It’s very difficult to find a Spanish speaking counselor,” Erika says.
She started at The Healing Center in 2011 with an internship, and then worked there part time, as an extern, while she was getting her Master’s Degree at UW-Milwaukee. Erika was recently hired full-time as The Healing Center’s first Spanish speaking staff counselor. She now helps counsel individuals, leads group therapy sessions and makes phone calls to individuals who may want services.
Erika speaks English, but works exclusively with Spanish speaking clients. She grew up in Bogota, Colombia and says it helps, not just that she speaks the same language, but is also Hispanic herself. “It helps to establish that trust and for individuals to feel comfortable because they know I also understand the culture. Americans are more willing to talk about these issues. In our culture it’s like, what happens in our house stays in our house,” she explains.
Not only do many of Erika’s clients not have health insurance, many of them also don’t have legal documents, creating another barrier to them coming forward and getting help.
“Because they lack documentation, many of them are afraid to report the abuse. And abusers often use that to manipulate them, they use it against them. So once they come in here, they open up right away because they are so desperate to talk about it,” she says.
Erika sat down recently with a reporter from El Conquistador Latino Newspaper, as most of their readers are also Spanish speaking and could benefit from this resource. Erika says she already has enough clients to add a group counseling session, and she expects the need will continue to grow as more people learn about these services.
Hope Shining Blue is a Denim Day celebration benefiting Aurora Health Care’s Abuse Response Programs like The Healing Center, Safe Mom Safe Baby and the Sexual Assault Treatment Center. Go to give.aurora.org/hopeshiningblue to learn more about the event and see the beautiful denim-inspired art pieces that are up for auction.