We often hear about the physical scars left by domestic violence and sexual assault. But the mental and emotional scars can be just as damaging. We sat down with Dr. Cynthia Telles, director of the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute Spanish-speaking Psychosocial Clinic, to learn more about her commitment to these issues.
Do you have a personal connection to domestic violence? What was the impetus for your passion and commitment to this issue?
As far back as the late 1980s, I was involved in research into spousal violence in Mexican American communities. Through my work the Director of the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute Spanish-speaking Psychosocial Clinic, I have seen first-hand the psychological damage that domestic violence can cause. In my role, I help train the psychologists, and other mental health professionals, who work directly in the community, caring for those in need.
All too often, abuse by family members and friends, as well as sexual assault generally, are the immediate or underlying causes of the crises that mental health professionals are called upon to treat.
What do you view as the biggest obstacle to preventing and ultimately ending DV?
Stigma. Until we can talk about the problem openly, we continue to give it too much power over us, over those we care about, over our communities. We need to end the stigma, and create an environment where victims of domestic violence can talk about what happened, and through that openness begin to heal. It should not require victims to exercise great courage to speak out.
Stigma is also an issue in mental health care, for many of the same reasons. And in mental health, as in cases of domestic violence, the stigma can lead to shame, and fear of asking for help. It’s heartbreaking to think of the damage done twice in these cases – the first caused by the abuse, the second caused by the inability to seek help. We have to break this cycle.
How would you like other advocates, corporations and foundations to respond to this issue? How can others get involved in being part of the solution?
Create the space where more people can have a conversation about domestic violence. Educate your employees, stakeholders and communities about domestic violence. Be visible in your engagement and activism. We all have a role in making it okay and safe to talk about, and then we can all more easily have a role in solving it.
Dr. Cynthia Telles has served as a member of the Kaiser Permanente Foundation Hospitals and Health Plan Board of Directors for more than a decade, offering her wealth of experience and leadership to a prominent and forward-thinking organization. Since 1986, Cynthia has been an associate clinical professor within the School of Medicine at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA).