Reaching Out to Spanish Speakers with Therapy
"For some reason I had the mistaken idea that life would be less busy after graduating from Fuller," confesses Elissa Ruiz (MSMFT '08). "But sometimes to my dismay and other times to my delight, I find it is just as busy." However, "It's almost always a 'good busy,'" she observes. It's no wonder, since Ruiz entered Fuller with a passion for many areas of service, including reaching out to the urban poor and Latino/a youth, as well as a long-term dream of serving on the international mission field. She saw Fuller as the perfect place for her, recalling, "I was drawn to the school's commitment to academia and Christian faith, and I loved the idea of integrating faith with psychology." Now, she does just that as she pours herself into her passions and fills her time volunteering her skills in diverse ways and ministries.
Ruiz works full time at a Department of Mental Health-contracted site in East Los Angeles, which offers a comprehensive range of community-based services for those with special needs. The agency, founded by and primarily for Latino/as, is a good fit for Ruiz, who spent many years ministering to Latino/a youth before coming to Fuller. In her current role, Ruiz offers therapy services in schools, homes, and on-site to students and others who display a variety of mental health disorders and behavioral or emotional problems. "My all-time favorite moments in my job are when I see an 'Aha!' moment for my families," Ruiz declares. "They grasp the changes they need to make and have a breakthrough in their lives and families."
Not content to leave her counseling skills at work, Ruiz volunteers many hours at the Hispanic church she attends in Altadena. Over the past year she provided pro-bono therapy for a child in the congregation and plans to continue offering free services as needed, particularly to Spanish speakers at churches in the area. Expansion of counseling services for her congregation is in the works. "My pastor's wife and I are developing a weekly therapy group for married women," Ruiz reports. "And I have been asked to provide parenting classes for parents in the surrounding community."
For Ruiz, volunteering her time goes beyond the arena of therapy and counseling. She and her husband participate in a new grant-funded program at her church offering tutoring to students in the Altadena area. Additionally, the couple started an English ministry focusing on second- and third-generation Latino/as, many of whom, Ruiz explains, "are leaving the church because of the chasm that exists between them as English speakers and the older, Spanish-speaking generation."
In spite of her full plate, Ruiz also serves on a fundraising committee at her church, raising support for missionaries in her denomination. This cause is close to her heart because of her own dream to be a long-term missionary. "Since elementary school, my heart has always been to work in a Latin American country," Ruiz reveals, "and to focus on remote indigenous groups who are yet unreached with the gospel." While attending Fuller, Ruiz audited a class on women in missions and was inspired. "I was continually amazed by the stories of women in missions over the last centuries," she says. The impact of that class continues today, as Ruiz sees her many ministries as only the start of something bigger: "What I have begun to do in God's Kingdom," she states, "is just the tip of the iceberg."