Monday, 20 May 2024

MCHC welcomes bilingual behavioral health provider Jani Benitez

Jani Benitez. Courtesy photo.

NORTH COAST, Calif. — MCHC Health Centers is pleased to expand access to care with the arrival of its newest telehealth therapist: Jani Benitez, a bilingual licensed clinical social worker.

Benitez will provide telehealth to patients in both Lake and Mendocino counties while continuing to reside in her home state of Maryland.

Having grown up as part of an immigrant family from El Salvador, Benitez understands the cultural barriers people face when seeking treatment for mental health challenges.

Not only does social stigma prevent people from reaching out for support, but the idea of trying to explain complicated, emotional issues in a second language can be daunting for many.

About a quarter of Lake and Mendocino County residents identify as Hispanic or Latino, and many of them speak Spanish as their primary language.

Benitez explained how challenging it is to have a limited vocabulary when trying to explain thoughts and feelings that would be difficult enough to discuss in one’s primary language.

“When patients know they can express complex feelings in their own language, it is so powerful,” she said.

Benitez has provided case management and advocacy as well as direct counseling and therapy.

She worked for an emergency shelter helping victims of domestic violence and in a primary care setting helping patients learn to manage their depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, insomnia, and other behavioral health challenges.

When the pandemic hit, she was working as a behavioral health advocate rather than a therapist. She noted an enormous increase in the need for therapy and a significant lack of services in Spanish, so she began looking for an opportunity to get back into direct care. This is when she discovered the opportunity at MCHC Health Centers.

Working in a setting where she can work as part of a care team appeals to Benitez. She explained that working with a clinical team can provide a more complete picture of what is affecting a patient’s health and more tools to help the patient improve.

“If someone is having trouble sleeping because of their anxiety, this can make their diabetes symptoms worse, for example. So, the medical team can monitor a patient’s physical health and educate them on nutritional needs, while I focus on helping the patient with healthy sleep habits. There is definitely a mind-body connection. Medical and behavioral health go hand-in-hand,” she explained. She also noted the importance of working in partnership with a staff psychiatrist for patients who need psychiatric medication.

When she read about the job opportunity at MCHC, MCHC’s approach to care sounded familiar and welcome. Once she met the Behavioral Health team, and Department Director Ben Anderson, she knew she had found a good match.

She said she likes the fact that many of the providers have worked together for years, and that she will be part of a team committed to providing excellent care. She also wants to continually grow her own skills and believes she can learn from Anderson and others.

Benitez encourages anyone struggling with mental health issues to reach out for help if the issues are interfering with daily life.

“I’ve had plenty of calls where a patient says, ‘I’ve been sad. I’m not myself.’ or ‘I’m so irritable.’ or ‘I’m not well. This isn’t who I am.’ Those are all good reasons to consider therapy,” she said.

As a telehealth provider, Benitez will be able to provide care remotely. Appointments can occur via video chat or phone, which can lower barriers to care for those who cannot travel to a health center.

“This is your time to say whatever you want to say. I am here to support you, never to judge,” Benitez said. “I remind people, ‘You have survived. You are capable.’ I show them they can do this. They have been able to overcome adversities. We focus on strengths, and build good coping skills. I tell them, ‘You are more than your trauma. You deserve to live a healthy, happy life.”

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