Licensed Therapist Josie Rosario on Rethinking Mental Health in Latinx Communities

Licensed Therapist Josie Rosario on Rethinking Mental Health in Latinx Communities

By Johanna Ferreira 

Photo Credit: Josie Rosario

Our new Bomba Profile series aims to empower our shoppers, supporters, and followers by featuring inspirational women of color who are doing great work in their respective fields, and servicing their communities. 

Licensed therapist, healer, and entrepreneur Josie Rosario is a true believer in that our thoughts, beliefs and emotions have a huge impact on our overall health. Her therapy approach is centered in the belief that while POC’s health and wellness is very much rooted in systemic racism and inherent oppression, there are ways we can have more control over our health and lives. 

The Dominican-American who was raised in NYC’s Washington Heights and is currently based in the South Bronx, always knew she wanted to help people. From a very young age she knew that her purpose in life was in service. 

“I come from a lineage of women that were very grounded in community care and community work,” Rosario tells Bomba Curls. “Community care has always been a part of my strong value system.”

Rosario went to boarding school on a scholarship and then did her undergraduate studies at Columbia University, where she majored in Latin American Studies and studied abroad in Brazil. She then went into education policy work and from there went on to join Teach For America. She taught for five years until she realized her calling was actually therapy. After taking a year off and spending some time in Dominican Republic, Rosario re-enrolled at Columbia but this time to complete a Masters Degree in social work. A lot of the work she does as a licensed therapist in private practice is centered around cycle breaking, racial therapy, and trauma healer -- three things that are especially relevant for communities of color living in the states. 

“We live in an inherently traumatic society — hello COVID19! And when I talk about trauma the simplest way that I explain it is too much too fast. If you think about the world we live in, it’s just too much too fast. Our systems are like what is happening? Racial trauma is a great example of too much too fast just that the context is race,” Rosario says.”When I think about anti-racism work/anti-oppression work, I make it very clear that we’re not going to have a client-therapist relationship if we’re not going to talk about race because we can’t. We can’t do that. It’s how our society here in the U.S. is organized fundamentally.”

Rosario who considers herself spiritually intuitive has recently been finding ways to integrate a lot of spiritual wellness into her therapy work. She believes that acknowledging and embracing our spiritual side is crucial when it comes to healing. 

“I have metaphysical gifts that I know come from my lineage — my maternal line. I started to notice that I would work with certain folks and just know things or I would start asking questions and then ask myself how I even came to this question. That’s when I realized I really needed to dedicate some time to figuring out how to integrate the two,” she says. “The thing is you can’t separate the two. I think this is actually where the anti-racism and anti-white supremacy work comes in because you know the very white, very Euro-centric, very Western way of doing this work is that it’s just you — we’re not going to look at anyone else. We’re just going to look at your mind and that’s highly problematic. As a social worker, I am inherently trained to think about the systems. It’s not just you. You may be experiencing anxiety right now but that doesn’t just exist with you. You’re constantly relating with other people and other systems and that’s impacting what you’re experiencing. I’m trained to look outside of what it is that someone is telling me and the more I started to work, the more I started to realize the further and further away people are to their core, the further away they are to being connected spiritually — whatever that looks like for you — the more emotional and even physical ailments you experience.” 

Rosario plans on offering energy readings to her sessions in the near future, in addition to the talk therapy she already does with clients. 

“We would start with energy reading. Let’s get a base on and let’s just see where you are. Whenever you get an energy reading, it’s like a snapshot of you today. Because it’s these blocks that are really preventing you from filling your soul’s purpose and that’s what you want,” Rosario says. “This is significant because that’s literally what you came on this earth to do. Our souls have a contract and so you’re here to fulfill that. We are souls living in a human body. We are living a very human experience and so we experience things like trauma and suffering along with great things as well, but it’s these things that sometimes rear us off that path. I talk a lot about how a lot of us are asleep. We’re living in a trance literally and it’s on purpose. It’s by design. We’re living in a capitalistic society that’s constantly telling us that we’re not enough. We don’t talk about our emotions. Meditation is big now but then again, we’re not taught to have an embodied experience. It’s all in our heads all the time when it really needs to be in our bodies. There’s just so much disconnection happening and that manifests in so many different ways. But at the core of it is the more misaligned you are with why you’re here and what you’re here to do, the more suffering you’re going to experience.”

Q&A with Josie Rosario

When did you realize it was important to incorporate racial healing into your work?

It’s been there since forever. When I was in graduate school, that’s really when my own awakening both racially and spiritually started to happen and it was mostly because I could finally put language to what I always experienced in my life. I also went to boarding school. At 13-years-old I was a little black girl among not just white folks but white folks with incredible amounts of affluence, which added another layer of the culture shock. In graduate school I started to read a lot of James Baldwin and just a lot of information that legitimized my experience. And I was like there’s words to this. I always knew going into graduate school that I wanted to be a therapist. I knew I wanted to do therapeutic work and work in private practice and I can’t possibly do this work without acknowledging the racial issues that exist in our world.

Would you say more of your clients are POC or not necessarily?

100 percent people of color. And in case you’re wondering it wasn’t like a white person reached out to me and I was like sorry, you’re white! I think a lot has to do with my marketing. A lot of it has to do with how I show up. This is exactly how I show up to my sessions. What you see is what you get. And I think sometimes my transparency and my directness works for some people and it doesn’t work for other people.

Would it be fair to say that you’re also a healer on top of being a therapist?

Absolutely! In fact, I think that all therapists are healers. I think that most people that do this type of one-on-one work that’s just so personal and so vulnerable, are healers. Because there’s a lot of healing that happens just by talking through what you’re going through. Without me even having to do anything other than be present and create a container where you can actually let it all out without thinking that I’m here judging. That within itself is extremely healing. The relationship you have with your therapist is really special and a lot of healing happens through just that. I think I’ll be able to add another layer of healing in my work now by actually offering energy healing for folks who want that. The spiritual is so integral to the work and at this point I can’t even see how you can do one without the other. It’s limited. 

Why do you feel it’s important especially now that we have more of these dialogues around mental health and spirituality in our communities?

So a couple of things. One I think that we've been needed to have the conversation around mental health in our communities. As a therapist, I still represent the medical community and there’s an inherent distrust in our communities of doctors and anyone that represents the Western medical model. Some people think that therapy would brainwash them and that comes from somewhere. That distrust is real. If you think about how women in PR were sterilized without them knowing. You think about what mental health services look like in communities of color. It’s usually something that’s mandated. It’s usually something that you know is an exchange. If you have an HCS case for example and you’re a person of color, you have to go to therapy, you have to do this, you have to do that, in order for you to have access to your kid. We just don’t have these conversations. It’s the association that one, you’re crazy. But this other idea especially as an immigrant community, is the idea of vulnerability and strength. If I’m coming to talk to you then I’m saying that I need help and if I’m saying I need help that means there’s something wrong with me. And if I say there’s something wrong with me then that invalidates the shit that I went through to make it in this country and ain’t nobody going to take that shit away from me because I worked hard — my mom worked hard. It’s like this spiral but it’s all connected. That’s why I think it’s so important that a lot of people who look like me are here to tell people that’s not true. And I think that’s why my practice has been so successful and is mostly people of color because I sound like you, I look like you, and I can help you with some shit. 

When it comes to spirituality, I think that there's’ just an awakening happening in the past year. When you think about the history of the Caribbean, when you think about the history of Black Americans, when you think about the history of marginalized communities, spirituality is so central. Our spirituality is so central not only to our resistance but also our history. So I think it’s very important not just that we talk about it but that we remember. Because this is living inside of us, we’ve just forgotten. Again, just thinking about how this inner generation stuff happens and how much it impacts everything from your self-esteem to self-worth. That’s why I think it’s so important because we need to be the cycle breakers. We need to make sure that the folks that are coming after us and even the ones that came before us, see that actually there’s another way.

How do you incorporate cycle breaking into your therapy sessions?

I’m currently in a four year training program to be certified as a couple’s therapist so again, it’s about thinking about systems and thinking about where you come from. We do a genogram  for example, that’s like a therapeutic mini family tree to see generational patterns one or two generations up from you. It’s typically the case that people will come to me and that’s really what they want. They want to have a different experience and part of that is talking about the patterns in your family. Part of that is talking about the impact of those patterns. How long has that pattern been happening and how is that affecting you today? How are the beliefs that are anchoring those patterns preventing you from moving to where you want to go? Sometimes it can be really hard because again, especially as people of color, our families have very special roles in our lives. So sometimes it’s really hard to look at our families because we feel like we’re selling out and we’re being ungrateful for their sacrifices. But I really hold my clients through that in having them feel like you can do both. You can be like mommy, I love you and everything you did for me but also you did some messed up stuff I’m still made at.

What was your natural hair journey like?

I grew up hearing stories that my hair was so bad that my mom had to cut it all off. Hair was always a thing. Pelo malo, pelo bueno, la nariz — it was all a thing. My mom talked about how when she was younger she would sleep with a clothespin on her nose. My mom never necessarily sat me down like let me talk to you about race, right? But it was the messages that I was getting. There was clearly something inherently deficient in me because I’m darker, because I have this hair, and because I have a wider nose. I grew up in the Heights but I was in Dominican Republic every single summer and was constantly told to stay out of the sun. I was told if you get too dark you’re going to look Haitian. I was just a kid who wanted to go to the beach. 

I studied abroad in Brazil in Bahia, which is the Afro-Brazilian part of the country and I remember being like wow, there’s a lot of Black people here and they are Black and proud. This was the beginning of my self-awareness. Then in 2008, I got the Rihanna asymmetrical bob and was still relaxing my hair but when my hair started growing out, I was like oh my god I have curly hair!  When I tell you I was twenty-something and first realizing ever in my life that I had curly hair and I was like what is this? I went natural and never went back. That was another layer of saying F you anti-blackness and embracing my African roots. I actually don’t identify as Afro-Latina. I say I’m a Black Dominican woman because let’s call it for what it is. I’m Black but I’m also Dominican-American. 

Why do you think it’s important that Afro-Latinx communities embrace this part of their identity?

Because if they don’t, they are rejecting a crucial part of who they are. We have all these parts. I’m a daughter. I’m Black. I’m educated. We have all of these parts especially when it comes to people who are bicultural. Our identity is entangled with who we are phenotypically. Our face says a story and the story that it says is that you got a lot in you and the reason for that is because there was colonization, and there was rape, and there was colorism. We all tell a story. It’s just as fundamental as me talking about nutrition but not talking to you about water-intake. 

How do you take care of yourself?

I have a therapist. I’ve had to get really strict with my boundaries because I have my practice but I also have a coaching business for therapists. I’m still training. I also have a personal life so my day is literally buffered with an hour and a half to myself. I make sure to start winding down by 8:30 pm. My Do Not Disturb goes off and it kind of sucks because sometimes after a full day of clients I just want to be on Instagram, but I can’t because this work requires me to take radically good care of myself. That’s something I didn’t realize until last year. It’s because we are literally carrying a legacy of struggle. In my DNA I am predisposed to withstand some heavy shit but that doesn’t make it okay. I had some blood work done recently. My cortisol levels were high and I realized I needed to slow down and rest. So I see my therapist, I take sea salt baths, I eat good foods, and invest in myself. These are the practices keeping me whole. 


What are you working on these days?

I'm launching a community called Whole + Well NYC that sits at the intersection of therapy, training for therapists, and community care. This will be a place for POC to get therapy from people who look like them, therapists to get training from trainers who aren't only white (this is where I'll be doing training around the intersection of therapy and spirituality along with other healing modalities), and for our community, therapy-seekers, and therapists alike to come together to affirm, validate and pour into each other. 

This is part of my responsibility as a healer - to not only educate others, but to also create spaces of the healing to happen.


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