Since I arrived in Ocotepeque people have wanted to know what I studied and after telling them I studied psychology, have proceeded to become quite excited about meeting a psychologist. Now you may be wondering how you missed me going to grad school and getting a master’s or a doctorate, but to this there is a simple answer: you didn’t. In no city or town at home would I be considered qualified to counsel or work in any psychology-related profession but no matter how many times I explain this to people here they continue to ask me to help with whatever problem they or someone they know may have.
It started the first week in site with each of the people I work with coming to me with some personal problem and has now progressed to the outlying communities. I was taken aback when my coworkers started coming to me because we had just met yet they were opening up and sharing some of their deepest insecurities with me. Another health worker is convinced that I am continually analyzing him and the rest of the staff and always wants to know what I have decided about each of them*. Needless to say, I think it enabled us to have much more ‘confianza’ from the start, which has made for great relationships both in and outside of the health center.
The rumor that a psychologist has come to the health center in Antigua Ocotepeque has also now arrived in the aldeas. Several weeks ago when I was visiting a friend another member in her community asked if I would come back to see her mother who has been depressed lately, which I now find myself doing this Saturday. In another aldea over the weekend, as soon as people realized that I was the other Peace Corps Volunteer in town, they knew that I was the gringita Sarita, the psychologist at the health center and immediately a woman asked me if she could bring her daughter into the clinic to see me.
Although not prepared for this part of the job description, I am doing what I can. Real psychologists are uncommon and extremely expensive, so aside from me these people have no hope of ever getting help with their mental health. I figure once I talk to people I will have a better idea of what can be done to improve their situations at home to alleviate whatever problems they may be having. As a result of talking to a fourteen year old girl this week I am going to be heading up to her aldea hopefully sometime soon to give a charla on reproductive health, adolescence, and self-esteem. The woman who I am going to see this Saturday just seems really lonely so I’m hoping that it will help her to just have someone to talk to. Hopefully this psychologist title won’t get out of hand and in the meantime I’m just enjoying meeting and talking to new people to try and help them be happier in their everyday lives.
*I think an extra note would be quite appropriate here. As I am learning to pick my battles, I decided to just let these comments go rather than explain to him that it is human tendency to make snap judgments of people and situations right away, not just something done by ‘psychologists.’ If we did not make quick judgments daily we would continually be hampered by decision-making. This is the same mechanism we use to assess the safety of a situation. Rather than consciously thinking about each aspect of a scene to decide whether it is safe or not, which would take way too long if we needed to get out quickly, we make a snap judgment which usually comes across as an uncomfortable feeling that tells us to leave. This judgment is made from cues we pick up, consciously or unconsciously, the moment we enter into a new situation. Sidetrack aside, judging is something everyone does, even though there are many who like to say they do not, and is necessary to make it through life.