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[00:00:00] Dr. Sharp: Hello, everyone. Welcome to The Testing Psychologist podcast, the podcast where we talk all about the business and practice of psychological and neuropsychological assessment. I’m your host, Dr. Jeremy Sharp, licensed psychologist, group practice owner, and private practice coach.

This episode is brought to you by PAR.

Psychologists need assessment tools for a more diverse population these days. PAR is helping by making many of their Spanish print forms available online through PARiConnect. Learn more at parinc.com\spanish-language-products.

Many of y’all know that I have been using TherapyNotes as our practice EHR for over 10 years now. I’ve looked at others and I keep coming back to TherapyNotes because they do it all. If you’re interested in an EHR for your practice, you can get two free months of TherapyNotes by going to thetestingpsychologist.com/therapynotes and entering the code “testing”.

[00:01:00] Hey everyone, I am back today with my guest, Dr. Paul Rivera.

Paul is a catalyst for positive change through his multifaceted career in academia, diplomacy, international economics, and strategic coaching. As the co-founder of BeActChange, his mission is to spark profound growth and alignment in individuals, teams, and organizations worldwide. With a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Southern California, Dr. Rivera is a professional in strategic planning, visioning, and systemic methodologies. A first-generation American and proud Latino, Dr. Rivera is a polyglot and passionate globetrotter.

I had a great conversation with Paul today. As you can tell from his bio, he has a very unique perspective on Latino mental health that comes from decades of work with communities, governments, and organizations around the world.

We discussed the multilayered experience of Latinos in [00:02:00] the U.S. and elsewhere, starting high level on a macro scale, and then moving down through Latino culture, family environment, and down to the individual mental health implications for Latinos, particularly Latino men. I found this to be an incredible conversation with many moving and meaningful moments. I hope that you do as well.

Now, if you’re a practice owner and you are looking for some support in growing your practice, I would love to help you out. I have two spots for individual consulting opening up on April 1st- So Q2 of 2024. If that sounds interesting, you can go to thetestingpsychologist.com/consulting and book a pre-consult call to see if it might be a good fit.

All right, let’s get to my conversation with Dr. Paul Rivera.

[00:03:15] Paul hey, welcome to the podcast.

Dr. Rivera: Hi, how are you? Good to see you again.

Dr. Sharp: Yes. Likewise. I am good. Although I feel like it’d be a little better if I was in your locale versus cold Colorado here.

Dr. Rivera: To be fair, it’s been extremely rainy here today. It’s nice. It’s the tropics. You know what I mean? But it’s almost unseasonably rainy.

Dr. Sharp: Okay. Well, that makes me feel a little better, maybe.

Dr. Rivera: Well, at the same time, I’m talking to you in shorts. It might be really rainy, but it’s almost 90 degrees outside. Nobody’s feeling too bad for me right now. I know.

Dr. Sharp: Okay. Yeah. Now, I’m fully jealous again. [00:04:00] No, it’s all right. We spent a little bit of time in Mexico two weeks ago, so I got a little taste of more tropical there.

Dr. Rivera: To me, Mexico is all about the taste. I could eat Mexican food every day, every meal for the rest of my life.

Dr. Sharp: Sure. I’m glad we can agree on that. We’re off to a good start here.

Dr. Rivera: Nice.

Dr. Sharp: Well, I’m excited to chat with you here. It was really cool, I don’t talk a lot about backstory on the podcast, but your folks reached out and I was like, Hmm, this is interesting. This guy is not a typical guest for me, but then dug into your bio and looked at what you’re up to, of course, we had our pre-podcast conversation that solidified. I was like, all right, let’s have a real conversation here. So, I’m thrilled to have you.

Dr. Rivera: I think we’re on the same page because I had much the same when my people reached out to me and they said, there’s this show and [00:05:00] it might work for you. I did the same. I dug in. I listened to some of the episodes and I thought I could see a connection, but it’s not obvious from the get go. I’m with you. I think we had a great conversation earlier to pre-plan a little bit. I think this is going to be great. So I’m really glad to be here.

Dr. Sharp: Nice. I’m excited to see where we go.

I’ll start with the question that I always start with, which is, out of all the things you could do with your time, energy, and your life, why are you doing what you do right now?

Dr. Rivera: It’s a great question. I consider myself a very multi-passionate person. I’ve done a lot of things in my life. I’ve had a lot of jobs. My career has gone a lot of different ways. As I’ve looked back on my career, I’m a senior person at this point, you know what I mean? I’ve been around for a little while.

Dr. Sharp: A weird feeling.

Dr. Rivera: I’m not a fan of it, but at the same time, it’s nice. [00:06:00] An accomplishment is that I have a body of work. I have a compendium of work that I can talk about. It’s satisfying in a lot of ways to realize that all of my work, I’m talking since my first jobs in high school, have been around the concept of impacting lives in a positive way. And I’ve done that in so many different ways.

Back then, I was a lifeguard. I became a professor. I became a diplomat. Each time, I kept wanting to expand my capability for having that positive impact on as many lives as I could. And so, the path that I’m on now where I have my own company that I run together with my wife that we help individuals and organizations and NGOs scale up from a purpose-driven perspective and [00:07:00] have the impact that they want to have is, at this point, the culmination, the peak for me of something that I understand now has been a lifelong journey of always wanting to have a little more impact, a little bit more reach, and reaching out to those folks who oftentimes I think get neglected in that concept of lifting all ships a little bit.

So to me, what I do is living out my purpose and trying to do as much good in the world as I can. There’s not enough focus on the good things that happen and the good people that are out there trying to make things happen. And so, I’m trying to bring attention to that and help people move forward in their own ways to bring that inner change that brings them fulfillment [00:08:00] and brings them peace that then has the opportunity to translate to I think, a social movement.

I think that’s a lot, but that’s why I do this work.

Dr. Sharp: Sure. Well, you can tell, just hearing you talk through the process, that it’s incredibly meaningful, and it is what you’re supposed to be doing. I’m going to veer off course right from the beginning because the way you describe this…

Dr. Rivera: Yeah, you’ll regret.

Dr. Sharp: I think you can handle it though. This is a sign of trust. The way you talk about it, I get the sense that you have been, I don’t know if blessed is the right word. There have been choices along the way, I know, to stay in alignment with what you love to do. I think a lot of us would like that, but maybe run into hurdles or aren’t as clear about our areas of passion. So I’m curious for you. Have you had times when you [00:09:00] went astray or you had to go around an obstacle? How did you deal with times if they existed where you maybe weren’t able to stay as close to your passion blueprint as you wanted?

Dr. Rivera: Okay, so here’s the thing. I’ll tell you that whole story with nice cohesive packaging now having gone through so much self-work to get to that point. I can tell you that I’ve spent the majority of my adult life thinking, Holy crap, I have no idea what I’m doing. Is this going to work? Is this something that is going to fulfill me in some way?

As a vignette in that, I’ve always believed that I am a frustrated doctor, that there was a medical doctor in me that [00:10:00] I never let out. There was a point in one of my last jobs where I was contemplating leaving that job and my wife, and this is me in my 40s at that time, my wife telling me to go to med school. Do it. Go to med school. It’s what you’ve always wanted to do and what you’ve always said that you wanted to do. And med school is a whole thing, you know what I mean? It’s not an undertaking that you face lightly. But I carried that weight with me a long time that man, I didn’t do this.

As I started doing some of this inner work, asking myself some of the harder questions, one of the most fascinating things that came out was when I was finally asked, why did you want to become a doctor? What was it about being a doctor? There are a lot of people that you talk to and they became doctors because they liked the money or they became doctors because they liked the science. I realized that the reason I [00:11:00] wanted to become a doctor was because I wanted to help people. I wanted to be there in people’s moment of need kind of a thing.

And then you start to realize, well, you know what, I’ve done that in different ways, but I’ve done that. I didn’t need the medical profession. That was just the vehicle that I thought was the right one, but I chose my own way and I had so much of that very similar impact. So, those hurdles that you talk about are there and it’s up to you to see those hurdles and to see what is it that unifies so much of the work that you do and the approach that you take to things.

So it’s been a tough road all along. I would say that especially among the people with whom I was normally surrounded, I didn’t necessarily always [00:12:00] have a lot of support. I’ve taken the path less traveled in so many ways, we might get into it later, but I mean, in terms of my cultural background and the expectations that were placed on me were not at all what I have done with my life. It’s been an uphill battle a lot and a lot of questioning yourself and a lot of self-doubt and working to overcome that.

It’s one of the reasons why I do this work also because I think that especially as men, there’s not a lot of space given to men who want to talk about their dreams and talk about their feelings and how it is that different situations impact us emotionally and all of that.

So it’s been a tough road. I’ve felt oftentimes like a trailblazer, even though I know I’m not the only one who has [00:13:00] gone through this, but when you’re in your circle and you don’t see anybody else doing the same, you’re a trailblazer. You feel like the first. You feel like no one’s gone through this before. You spend a lot of time questioning and reflecting and frankly, overthinking. It takes a while to get to the point where you feel the confidence that comes with the inner alignment to make the choice that you know is the one for you.

Dr. Sharp: I like the way you phrase that; the confidence to go with the inner alignment.

Dr. Rivera: It’s tough. I love words. The word confidence means faith in yourself, right? That’s what the word confidence literally means. It’s not something that necessarily comes easily. You have to build that faith in yourself.

Dr. Sharp: Sure. I think that’s validating for a lot of folks just to hear that. [00:14:00] It’s easy, especially in hindsight. I think our brains can organize our experiences into a cohesive, generally positive path but to reflect back in here that there were, it almost sounds like from the beginning when you decided to do something different than what your family and maybe community expected, there was a hurdle right off the bat and you had to figure out a way to work through that. And I think that’s validating.

Dr. Rivera: Yeah, there’s so much there. You long everyone. Humans, we long for acceptance. We want to be understood and we want to be accepted. And I would say to this day in my own family, they accept that I am who I am, but they don’t necessarily accept the way that I live my life. They certainly don’t understand it at all. There’s a point where I’ve had to make the conscious choice of this is my life. This is how I’m going to live it. I would love it if you came along for the ride, but it’s up to you.

[00:15:00] Dr. Sharp: Sure. My gosh. I know that there’s a lot that we could talk about and dig into.

Dr. Rivera: For sure.

Dr. Sharp: Well, like I said, I appreciate you going down this path for a little while. I think the personal component is really crucial as we all choose our paths here. I’m excited to get into some of the community and family concerns that come up along this journey.

I would love to give people just a little bit of context for our conversation. I think we’re going to end up drilling down into Latino mental health and what you’ve seen over the years in your work. Your perspective is different than many of us, I think, because you’ve worked at so many levels, from micro to macro. I wonder if you could share a little bit- the different levels you have worked with communities and how you’re coming at this discussion.

[00:16:00] Dr. Rivera: Okay. My PhD is in economics and my specialty in particular is in economic development and international development. I’ve lived and worked overseas for over a decade now. I’ve worked in international context for almost 30 years. It’s been a very interesting career that way because I’ve had the chance, for example, to meet with national presidents and ministries: ministries of planning, ministries of economics and finance, health ministries and education ministries in places all over the world, certainly all over Latin America, but also Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, and all that. It’s been fascinating so many of the commonalities that we see.

One of the things that’s really come up for me in my work has been this concept of the American dream. Everywhere [00:17:00] that I go, and the American dream almost more as a theoretical construct than something that applies necessarily just to the United States. You see a lot of people that want to move to wherever is that they see as the favorable destination. They want to move to Australia or they want to move to France or whatever, but they still actually call it the American dream in a lot of ways.

And so it’s this idea that in places where there are development challenges, where resources are constrained, where democracy is still struggling and there’s a lot of corruption sometimes and nepotism that you see, all that translates down to how it is that people end up living their lives. Those things all have a consequence. Corruption has a consequence and lack of resources has a consequence and all these things, right?

What people dream about is a better place. [00:18:00] This greener pasture that they see. And when you think about the American dream, it’s this very beautiful ideology, right? It’s this ideal. The American dream is an ideal in a land where opportunity is equal, that you with your own human capital, with your own effort, have the capacity to live out and realize your highest aspirations. That’s the textbook definition of the American dream, that all you need is the will, the desire, and the energy and that with that you can create your highest aspiration.

It’s something that that I’ve seen all over the world. I’ve talked to everyone from dairy farmers in Paraguay to fishermen in Gabon to [00:19:00] rice farmers in the Dominican Republic and then go up from there. You see so many people who are struggling not even necessarily as rural laborers, but as urban dwellers trying to get to a higher place on the middle class.

They see all those struggles and they see the United States, they see France, they see Australia or something like that as the place where that opportunity is going to be. And it’s clear that that vision is something that really impacts people. The migration that we see into a lot of these more developed countries is a massive amount. It’s people seeking some form of greater opportunity, but here’s the other thing I see.

I’ve worked also with lots of immigrant communities in the United States, particularly Latinos, but lots of immigrant communities in the United States. The problem is that that ideal of the American dream [00:20:00] gets translated into something much more rigid when we go about measuring it. So the American dream becomes checkmarks of success in a lot of ways. It’s, have you bought the house? Have you gotten married? Have you had kids yet? And it’s by a certain age, right?

The American dream gets translated, especially for a lot of these immigrant communities into checkmarks of success that are associated with a fairly fixed timeline. And that’s where things get really tough because remember the ideal was about you, equal opportunity, hard work and your highest aspiration, right?

And I think that that highest aspiration piece really gets forgotten when the rubber hits the road. It’s something that gets left behind. Instead, we’re told that this is what the American dream is. It’s this level that you’re [00:21:00] supposed to reach. And if you get there, you’ve achieved the American dream and therefore you’re supposed to be happy. But the truth is, what if that wasn’t your dream? What if that wasn’t the path that you wanted to follow? What if that was not your highest aspiration?

If that wasn’t your highest aspiration, then the American dream is a limiting factor to you in a lot of ways. If your path doesn’t align with the check marks in the way that we’ve gone about measuring the American dream, then suddenly your aspirations, the path that you’re taking doesn’t gel anymore. And then there’s a lot of social resistance that comes with that.

So, it’s been really interesting seeing it from this larger analytical macro lens that… I travel a lot. I’ve traveled to over 115 countries in the world. My favorite thing to do is to talk to taxi drivers. You’re traveling. You’re always going to be [00:22:00] in a taxi at some point. I love to talk to the taxi drivers because they’re super honest. Taxi drivers are super honest. They tell it to you like it is. They know things that not everybody knows. They’re always really interesting.

In many countries, the taxi drivers are often not people from that country. Taxi drivers are very often immigrants to whatever country they happen to be in. And you ask so many of them. I asked them basically the same questions. I asked them, how long have you been in whatever country you’ve been in and are you happy that you came?

Almost all of them say something very similar. They say, I’ve been here for however many years. Some of them it’s two years and some of them it’s 30 years. But then they say, I’ve been able to provide for my family, but all I do here is work, work, work, work, work, work. And so they talk about how their quality [00:23:00] of life is good in some ways because they’re achieving the check marks, right? They’re supporting their families. Sometimes they’re supporting their families back in the home country, too, which is a whole other issue and remittances and all of that.

But they talk about how they feel disconnected. They feel like they’re not necessarily integrated into the society. They feel like they’ve lost connection with their home country. They feel like all that they do is struggle to keep achieving those check marks of the American dream. And so, there’s definitely a cost that comes with having taken that path. Almost all of them, if you talk to them, they dream about being able to go back home to feel that connection and trying to do that. And the reality is that very few of them ever do.

It’s fascinating to see how that has played out from [00:24:00] these larger economic, political, social movements down to how it impacts the individual at that level. 

Dr. Sharp: Yeah. Well, maybe it shouldn’t be surprising, but I guess it’s new information for me to hear that. It’s almost like you’re saying that the immigrant experience is relatively universal. That’s not an experience unique to the U.S.

Dr. Rivera: That’s right.

Dr. Sharp: That makes sense to me that it happens in the U.S. but it’s happening all over the world as far as you can tell.

Dr. Rivera: You see per capita countries like Australia have a much higher percentage of immigrants than the United States does. So, it’s really fascinating.

Dr. Sharp: Yeah. So this whole concept, what I’m taking from this is, when this dream, the American dream that happens across the world becomes more of a prescription versus a true aspiration, we run [00:25:00] into some trouble, right? You’ve seen that in different communities.

Dr. Rivera: Definitely. When you look at the United States, just to give a microcosm in some sense, when you look at the Latino community in the United States, there’s an income gap for sure. There’s about a 23% income gap, which means that the average Latino makes about 77 cents for every dollar that the average white American make. So there’s an income gap there. So what’s coming in every month is less.

Then there is an 80% wealth gap. If you add up the assets of the household, basically, the amount of assets that a typical Latino has is 20% of the amount of assets that a typical average [00:26:00] white type family has in the United States. And so it’s a 5 bold difference there. And that makes a huge difference in terms of the amount of money that they have available to invest. The amount of resources that they have available to generate more resources is significantly decreased. The amount of resources that they have available for other types of investments like health care, mental health care, schooling and things like that. That wealth gap is something that is tremendously, I think not talked about enough.

There’s actually a report that came out a few months ago called the Latino GDP report. And it’s something like 3.2 trillion dollars in the United States. If you took just the Latinos in the United States, their GDP would be something like 3.2 trillion dollars, which comes out to something like the 4th or 5th [00:27:00] largest economy in the world. But when you factor in that there are like 60 million Latinos in the United States and you start figuring out that the average Latino is still not doing that great necessarily. There’s a difference between the big macro perspective and how that boils down to the household.

At the same time, despite all of that, Latinos are some of the most optimistic, the ones who believe the most in this American dream. They’ve done all sorts of survey research and Latinos are consistently optimistic that the American dream is possible, that they can get there and all these things, right? At the same time, though, we see that the economic statistics aren’t really playing out. And while there has been movement in those economic statistics, that gap is still really big.

Okay, [00:28:00] then that translates over then. The American dream says, if you hit the check marks, then you’re going to be happy. Latinos culturally, we don’t talk about happiness a lot in our households. That’s not something that necessarily is a conversation that we have. If anything, there’s a lot of conversation about you should be grateful for what you have and that sort of thing, but not so much about happiness and fulfillment. That’s not really a conversation that’s culturally part of our lexicon.

But as you translate that, when they ask about Latino mental health and that’s where this whole thing is going, 4Million Latinos every year suffer episodes of severe depression. I know your listeners know better than I do what that means. It’s not just that they feel bad or that they feel sad. It’s to the point where it is affecting their functioning. People see it. [00:29:00] People notice that. People are worried about them.

When they ask Latinos basically about the causes, about what they see as the roots of those feelings, they tie it directly to what they feel is insufficient achievement of these American dream check marks. So it’s really fascinating to see how these check marks are what we’ve incorporated as the signs of having achieved the American dream. Latinos believe in them and then they’re feeling incredibly stressed because they’re not reaching them. And it’s to the point where, as I said, it’s deep depression. Latino, especially young Latino men have a higher rate of suicidal ideation than their comparables. So it’s not just to the point of they feel bad about it. They’re to the point where they are not even sure if they can take it anymore.

You see this circle going on. [00:30:00] This is what baffles my mind is that Latinos still believe so deeply in it. It’s a really interesting contradiction to me that you’re struggling for it, you know that you’re giving up in so many ways, your individuality, oftentimes your culture, you’re in a place that doesn’t always want you there, you feel that struggle and still the belief in it hangs on. I find it such an interesting conundrum from an intellectual point of view.

Dr. Sharp: I know. I’m thinking about that as you’re describing it. I almost feel like that’s the curse of a meritocracy in a sense. It’s like to not believe in it is like not believing in yourself in a way. You’re admitting, I’m not working hard enough. I’m not good enough. I don’t have [00:31:00] the skills to make this happen like people say that it should be happening, right? Like if you work, I don’t know, would you get on board with that?

Dr. Rivera: I think there’s a lot of that. That’s an interesting way to describe it. One of the critiques that I place upon this whole American dream concept is that it is very individualistic, but individualistic in the way of like there’s one pie and we’re going to divvy it up. So it’s like whatever I get is something that you’re not getting. It’s a zero-sum game in a lot of ways. And so, it’s individualistic in that it pushes you in the direction of your own achievement and your own accolades and your own wealth.

If there’s anything that the Latino culture has, and I think that this is something that extends well beyond Latinos, [00:32:00] but something that I’m very familiar with is that concept of community and that concept of family. It’s really interesting because my whole thing is that I want everyone to be able to tap into what they see as their purpose. Everyone to be able to tap into what they see is the direction that they want their own lives to take and to be able to have the resources to align their actions with what they feel inside. Part of those resources is the community, is the support that I would hope people should have.

It’s an interesting thing because it’s also individualistic in a way because you are pursuing your own purpose, but it is also something that from my model that if you are able to do that [00:33:00] successfully, the result of it is going to be a much stronger community because you are contributing to the community, not what you’ve been told you should, or not that what you’ve been told Latinos should, or what you’ve been told is the way that you stay in your lane, but rather what really comes from you, what really has the impact that you want to have on your society, on your community, and that that’s how you are going to best build a strong community. So, it’s an individualism in the sense that it’s the route that gives you as an individual, the best possible contribution to society. Does that make sense?

Dr. Sharp: Yeah. I was going to ask, I’m always interested in exceptions to the rule, things that fall outside the mainstream. Maybe we’re getting into this, but I’m curious about either families, individuals, particular locales who [00:34:00] have been able to maybe shake this dynamic a little bit, breakthrough, and go whatever alternate direction there is. Maybe you could talk through what the alternative is if you decide to cast away this American dream idea, if it’s true as prescriptive, what does that even look like to take a different path?

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All right, let’s get back to the podcast.

Dr. Rivera: One is the self-questioning. We talked about that a little bit in my case at the beginning of the conversation. And I think that that is crucial. It’s not something that happens often enough, but that self-questioning of what is it that moves me? And I don’t mean just your passions, but what is it that you want to leave as your legacy? How do you want to be remembered?

And then the combination of things of okay, well, what skills do I have? What problems have I overcome? What challenges have I overcome in my life? What tools have I used to overcome them? My phone rings and somebody on the other end says, “Paul, I need your help.” What do I want them to be asking me for? What kind of help do I want them to be reaching out to me? [00:37:00] How do I want to be sought after in the world?

So there’s a lot of questioning that goes along that route that boils down to understanding your core, your values, and your purpose in a lot of ways. What it is that you want to leave as an impact on this world. I think that that is a huge thing that people are notoriously afraid to do especially once they get more like my age, but I’ve seen it much younger folks too, because you’re afraid to see that… you’re afraid that you might find that your life has gone completely the wrong way- that you’re that you have not followed your path and I think people are terrified of that.

Dr. Sharp: It’s scary.

Dr. Rivera: It’s really scary. My experience has been that with the exception of some very deleterious kind of examples, that’s not the case. Almost everyone emulates my case where I was afraid that I had gone [00:38:00] off the rails. I should have become a doctor. I wasted my life or whatever. And then to realize that you know what? Everything that I’ve done has had some kind of alignment to me. Possibly not optimal. Could I have done it better? For sure, I could have done a lot of things better. But does that mean that I’ve wasted my life? Absolutely not. I have yet to work with anyone who’s come away feeling that way. So that part is really important.

The second part though, is going from the individual, you as an individual, and then starting to create around you that support that you need because you can’t do this alone. You don’t exist in a vacuum. Reality is everywhere. Life is going to buffet you around. It’s not about being invulnerable. It’s about making yourself resilient. And part of your resilience tools are those around you. This is [00:39:00] where it’s tough.

In my case, as I mentioned before, I didn’t have a lot of what I would call champions. I had a lot of passive supporters who were not necessarily actively holding me back but passively questioning all of this. After early adolescence, I didn’t have anyone in my life who would say to me, you are limitless. Whatever you set your mind to, whatever you set your energy to, wherever you focus yourself, you can get there. You can achieve it.

The only person that I had in my life who would say to me something like that was my grandma and she passed when I was a teen still. When I [00:40:00] look back, when I think about who were my real champions, other than her, not a lot. And I think that even the fact that I had her in my life is a lot.

I’ve met with so many Latinos and young Latinos, we have a book that came out a few months ago, we’ve been on a book tour and we’ve been speaking at universities and all sorts of things, I’ve had the chance to talk to a lot of young Latino college students over the last few months. And it’s been on one hand, really inspiring because I love connecting with them. I was a professor in a past life. I love that interaction with the students. At the same time, it’s been really heavy in a lot of ways to see that more than a generation after my own youth that’s so many of those problems, situations, and challenges are still there. We haven’t moved [00:41:00] past a lot of these things.

When I’ve said this same thing about you have to find your champions to a lot of these young folks, after I would talk to them, they would come up to me and every time at least two of them would say, I don’t think I have any champions in my life.

Dr. Sharp: It’s heartbreaking.

Dr. Rivera: It’s heartbreaking because these are kids who are, they’re me. They’re my profile. Sorry, I get a little choked up when I talk about these things. Sorry.

Dr. Sharp: Of course.

Dr. Rivera: They’re me. They’re my profile. I see the brilliance in them. I see the limitless in them. I see at the same time how they’re burdened. They’re shackled in so many ways to the point where they can’t even see their own greatness. It’s something that I’ve [00:42:00] seen throughout my whole professional career. 

I taught at a university that was in a heavily Latino area, we did a lot of outreach to local high schools and that sort of thing, and the hardest thing was not talking to the students. It was talking to the parents or the grandparents, as the case may be who would say to me in Spanish, I would go, they would send me because I was them, I could speak to them in Spanish and they would say to me, they would say, teacher, this is all nice, but this isn’t for people like us.

It would just blow my mind to hear that because when I think about them, I see my own family or I see my wife’s family. If this isn’t for you, if this isn’t for people who had the strength to leave everything behind, who had the strength to come to a new place where they didn’t speak the language, start over and get to the point where you’ve raised these kids that are ready to go to [00:43:00] college. You’ve done a tremendous amount of work. Who’s it for then? If it’s not for you, who’s it for?  

Dr. Sharp: Right. Oh, my gosh. It makes me think about the work that we’re doing. We, in some ways, have the ability to influence people’s lives, I think, because mental health practitioners and the role that we play have a lot of insight into folks’ strengths and challenges. I’m trying to tie it back to how could we play a role in this whole process. I wonder if affirming young Latinos’ abilities or strengths or intellectual skills or anything, or any of those things could be [00:44:00] helpful in this process assuming that we can get in front of them 

Dr. Rivera: I think there’s a lot they know.

Dr. Sharp:  or they come to us.

Dr. Rivera: Exactly. I’m a huge advocate for therapeutic intervention and people seeing it honestly, as hygiene. Do you know what I mean? Do you brush your teeth? Yes. Do you take a shower? Yes. Do you exercise? Yes. Do you take care of your mental state too? And people go, eh? I think it should all be the same. I think that it’s something that we need to do. We need to get into that habit of talking about how we feel, the things that bother us, and what we see holding us back. So, I’m a huge advocate for it, especially Latino men, to reach out that way.

You mentioned what it is that as a profession you can do. I [00:45:00] think that it’s more than just affirming their capabilities. I think a lot of it is really about showing possibilities that they have never been able to dream about. I think that’s a huge piece of it.

I know that I followed a very different path, and a big part of it was because I had a very good friend whose parents were professors and they traveled. Had it not been for them, had it not been for the possibility of seeing something radically different from what I lived, my mom to this day, not only does she hate to travel, she says, the only reason that I leave my house is to suffer so she does not. So she’s not a traveler. Contrast that with me. I’ve been everywhere.

[00:46:00] How would I have done that? How would I have reached that if I hadn’t had some role model, some example to show me, you know what? There’s a different way to lead your life. You can have a job where you do well, make an impact on people, and still live out what you saw was possible. I think that’s a big piece in terms of what the mental health community can do is show those possibilities.

And then the other thing is, we talk a lot about, I heard your recent show with Dr. Gabriela Hurtado, she works with a lot of the Latino communities in Austin and that sort of thing, I think one of the things that doesn’t get talked about so often in terms of cultural differences, in terms of therapeutic application.

So I spent a lot of time in Latin America. My therapist is Latin American. [00:47:00] It’s a very different approach, I would say, than what I’ve seen when I’ve been in therapeutic contexts in the U.S. in that I find her and the general flavor of how therapy happens here to be much less gentle, I think, a bit more blunt. And for me as a man, as a Latino, I appreciate it. I appreciate being told, when she says, Paul, you really messed that up. Let’s talk through it and let’s talk through the why, but not necessarily sugarcoating things.

The Latino community, for example, is how do I say it? The way that we use language is different. We [00:48:00] use, for example, sarcasm in a very different way than white America uses sarcasm. We use a different way of talking to each other that oftentimes seems mean, I suppose, or overly direct or too blunt when in reality so much of it is about trying to be truthful and honest in the way that that communication takes place.

And so, in the therapeutic context, I found that directness to be extremely helpful. If I messed up, just tell me I messed up, and then let me reflect on it and talk it through. I don’t necessarily need to feel good about the bad choice that I made. I need to feel good that I’m not going to repeat that choice. Small differences like that.

It’s not just about reaching the Latinos or the young Latinos. And [00:49:00] it’s not just about the community interventions. There’s a slightly deeper level in terms of how it is that you could connect on a basis that feels more authentic to them.

Dr. Sharp: Yeah. I’m picking out little phrases that you’re using. “I don’t need to feel good about bad choices that I’ve made” is one that’s going to stick with me. I’m thinking about that. I think you’re right though. I mean, there are tons of different therapeutic styles, right? But we do certainly gravitate toward this validation, person-centered work, empathic.

To me, it’s how you build a relationship with someone to build trust where you can do real work for, and for you and maybe broader among the Latino community, it’s around let’s be direct and talk about what’s happening versus dancing around or falsely supporting or whatever it may be or the trust. 

[00:50:00] Dr. Rivera: Exactly. It’s true that relationship building is an important piece of it because that’s where the trust comes in and for you to be willing to be vulnerable and authentic. It may take a few tries. It may take changing therapists a couple of times, but it’s worth finding the person with whom you can have that space.

Dr. Sharp: Yeah.

Dr. Rivera: I appreciate, as somebody who does a lot of coaching, the person who does the therapy because I feel like the person that comes to me for coaching after having done therapy, understands why things have happened, why they’ve done things and then I can sit with them in a much more effective way and say, okay, well, let’s talk about what the actions are going to be and how are we going to align your steps from here on out, knowing the context that you’ve been in therapeutically and all of these things and how can we align all of that to get you to [00:51:00] the outcome that you desire. So I think that a lot of those things go hand in hand.

Dr. Sharp: Sure. I always joke with folks that, as someone who’s moved more from therapy into coaching, I was never a good therapist, I think by traditional standards here in the US because I didn’t have a high capacity for that strongly empathetic, supportive approach. I always wanted to jump to it and be more direct with folks. And it was hard to find that through grad school and other places.

Dr. Rivera:  I know that feeling. I’ve always felt that I was never a great economist because I wanted to talk about people and their impact on people. Economics thinks of itself as a hard science oftentimes. There’s so much about modeling and all of these things, which are important and great, but I want to talk about people.

[00:52:00]Dr. Sharp: That’s funny how that works.

Well, we’ve talked about Latino men a couple of times. I wonder if we could spend a little bit more time on that here as we move along, just to keep bringing it down to more of this micro level of… I did men’s work for a long time. That was my first love in grad school research-wise and therapy-wise. And so, I’m interested in how masculinity is showing up in Latino men these days and how that plays into, again, our approach as mental health practitioners and neuropsychologists.

Dr. Rivera: I appreciate that. It’s one of those things that as I’ve gotten older, as I’ve become a parent, that I see how important it is to start talking to Latino men and Latino young men and starting to have a mindset shift on [00:53:00] a lot of these things.

I’ll give you an example. Several months ago, I was mindlessly scrolling on Instagram and I came across a video that somebody had put up. It was a Latino guy. You never see him, but he’s a latino guy and he’s filming his Latina wife. He comes to her and he says “Babe, make me a sandwich”. And she’s like, “Oh man, it’s Sunday. I don’t feel like cooking”. She says, “Order something from Uber Eats”. And he’s like, “No, make me a sandwich”. He started pushing, pushing, pushing, and she held her ground. She’s offering him solutions- order something from Uber Eats. She’s giving him solutions. 

And then he pulls out his phone and he calls her mom. And then you see her on the phone with her mom speaking in Spanish to her mom [00:54:00] saying, she’s like, “It’s Sunday. I don’t feel like cooking. I’ve cooked all week. I told him to order and blah, blah, blah”. She’s having an argument with her mom.

As you’re looking through all the comments, so many of the comments were about, oh, she’s a broken woman. You need to get yourself a new Latina. This one’s become too white, or this one’s become too American.

All that I saw was the behavior that I saw growing up in my community where there was a man’s role and there was a woman’s role, and there was what was seen as right and wrong. When we talk about machismo or machista culture, I saw so much of that encapsulated in that interaction.

I commented back, actually. I put a little comment that said, what I see is him bullying her. We can do better. What’s wrong with if you’re [00:55:00] hungry, make your own sandwich. And then the ultimate thing he called her mama, which I’m sure is a big trigger point for her, that this is the person that holds so much sway and so much power in her life. And to try to use that against her is weaponizing that kind of relationship. I got thousands of hate comments back from other Latinos and Latinas about my defending her.

For me, it encapsulated this whole thing that I want to see a different kind of masculinity because the machista culture that we see so much in the Latin culture is heavily focused on the appearance of strength, stoicism, that nothing is [00:56:00] supposed to bother you. You’re supposed to be invulnerable. And as I said earlier, it’s not about being invulnerable because life happens, and things are going to throw you about. The real strength is having resilience. And the real strength is…

I want to create this space where the concept of vulnerability is turned around for men to see vulnerability as strength. I feel so strong. I feel so safe that I’m willing to say when I’m not 100%. Be that physically or emotionally or whatever else. That is where I want to see these conversations go.

I don’t know. There’s so much there. I was interviewed recently on something and they asked me, “Paul, what’s [00:57:00] something that you would want everyone to know about you that a lot of people don’t?”And I said, “I love babies. I think babies are amazing.” You know what I mean? Whenever a family has a new baby, I just want to grab the baby and spend time with the baby. To me, there’s something magical about the promise of this new life and all of that. I think it’s amazing.

Is that a very masculine thing to say and a very macho thing to say? It’s not. But that makes it that much more important for me to say it. I want people to know that for one, I don’t believe in traditional household gender roles. I’m the primary cook in our family. I’m pretty much the exclusive cook, not the primary. I’m the exclusive cook in our family. Everybody likes it better that way. 

[00:58:00] For me, it’s taking that traditional gender role and throwing it out. Part of the whole movement is being strong enough, being vulnerable to say, you know what, I love to cook. I love babies. Whatever it is. You can laugh. You can get in my face and say, Oh, man, that’s girly of you, and I don’t care. A big part of it is I don’t care because that’s me. That’s authentic to me.

I have a black belt in jiu-jitsu, I’ve jumped out of helicopters, and whatever. None of those things are incongruous with each other. It’s what’s authentic to you. I think that’s a big part of where I want to see this whole concept of masculinity go.

For me, it comes down to my childhood too. I remember when I was doing this whole inner work, [00:59:00] one of the questions that was asked to me was about who I admired and who I looked up to when I was a kid, who was my childhood hero? I don’t know the average age of your listener. So it dates me a little bit, but my hero growing up was Jacques Cousteau. Are you familiar with Jacques Cousteau?

Dr. Sharp: Sure. The deep sea diver, explorer.

Dr. Rivera: Exactly. Jacques Cousteau was pretty much the inventor of modern scuba. From the mid-70s to the early 80s, he had this TV show that was on, I think it was on every Saturday, every Friday or Saturday and my family would all, we would gather to watch the show. It was called The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. He had his boat, the Calypso, and it was him and his brother and the crew. They would sail everywhere in the world.

If you’ve seen him, he was a scrawny French guy who wore a red bean all the time. From a Latino point of view, he is not somebody that you would look at and say that’s the man, that man in my […] [01:00:00] But as you saw, for example, they were trailblazers. They were going down to the depths for the first time, and stuff goes wrong; the equipment fails or the weather doesn’t cooperate there, and sometimes their lives are at risk. And so to see how he would approach these life-changing options that he had to make and approach them with calm and with reason and with science and effectiveness, you’re like, damn, that’s incredibly macho, incredibly masculine. It’s not about the person. It’s about the way they behave.

My favorite thing was when he would go on to shore and he would go out into the villages and the communities. He was someone who was so sure of himself and so accepting of others that people would open up [01:01:00] to him. He would share their food and share their stories and all of that.

I’m like, that is extremely masculine to me. That’s somebody who’s so confident in themselves that they have the ability to accept and relate to people with whom he shares no culture, no language in common. I’m like, that is masculine. That’s the picture of masculinity that I want to see become so much bigger. One that’s based on your authenticity, one that’s based on you expressing vulnerability if you need to, and one that’s based on you living your purpose. And that’s what you saw in him too, right? This is what he loved. He did what he loved and he made such an impact because of it.

Dr. Sharp: Yeah. I always wonder, how do we foster more of that in anyone, but particularly, in this community? Is that something that comes from family, from parents, from [01:02:00] that champion that you talked about a little bit ago? I think about all the folks out there, men in particular, who are operating according to a sense of maybe duty or obligation or fulfilling a role they think they have to play. I’m just thinking out loud, how do we break that? Where does that start?

Dr. Rivera: I think there are a lot of conversations that need to shift. If you spend enough time on social media, you will see stereotypes of Latino culture. The thing is that stereotypes at the end of the day have some basis in reality. You see the ones where it’s the mom who’s the expert flip flop gunslinger, the chanclas in Spanish, that she can hit you with the chancla from whatever distance, or the aunt or the [01:03:00] grandmother who’s always criticizing, who’s always asking you, Oh, you haven’t gotten married yet. Where are the babies? Or man, you look a little fat or your hair looks terrible like that. Those are jokes, but those conversations happen. Those are the conversations that happen around the table.

So for me, a big piece of it is one, there’s the individual, right? We talked about that. You have to take the initiative. You have to start questioning yourself and your reason for being, and then you have to take that into your community too and start having different kinds of conversations with your family, with your friends, with your people.

Part of it is how different would Easter dinner or Christmas dinner be if the question was, hey, what is your highest aspiration? Go back to the American dream. What is your highest aspiration and how can I help you get there? [01:04:00] Wouldn’t that be an amazing question to be asked at dinnertime?

Why are people so depressed at Christmas? Why are there so many Hallmark movies about people who won’t go back to their hometown? It’s because those are the questions that they’re going to be asked, about their defects and their faults, and why they’re not reaching the American dream in some sense. So why don’t we start having a different kind of conversation?

There’s the mindset shift of the individual. There’s carrying that into the community. And then there is the part of actively creating that community of champions. You’re going to be a trailblazer. You’re going to be the one who does something different and talks about something different. And that’s okay. It’s hard. Change is hard. It’s why things like… Even in the workplace, organizational development is tough. [01:05:00] Organizational change is tough.

Now, bring it back to your community and your whole culture. There’s a lot of momentum that’s there that you have to fight against. But I believe not only is it possible, but it’s essential. When we start looking at things like drug dependence and chemical dependence, and you start looking at things like…

I spent a lot of time working in Haiti. Haiti is a country that’s practically a failed state at this point. It’s overrun by gangs. Almost half the country is food insecure. At this point, 5.5 million people are unsure of where their meal for the day might come. As you start tracing that back, so much of that could be linked, not exclusively, but can be linked to basically young men who haven’t had a productive outlet and haven’t had that space [01:06:00] to feel vulnerable or to live out their lives in a purpose-driven way.

So I think that this is not just about the individual, not just about Latino communities, but about the society in which we function. It’s not easy, but I definitely believe that that change is something that we can begin to create.

Dr. Sharp: I love that. This is such a multilayered conversation. There’s so much to dig into. I appreciate your willingness to come at it from different perspectives and touch on big picture, family, community, individual. I hope that this conversation resonates with some folks and will help us be better practitioners and have a better understanding of some of the folks that we work with.

I did want to ask you, you mentioned just in passing your book tour a little bit ago. I’m curious. What’s this book that you’ve written?

[01:07:00] Dr. Rivera: My company is called BeActChange, which is, be your authentic self, act to align to it, and change the world. That’s why we have this.

Our book is called CREATING YOUR LIMITLESS LIFE. My wife, Dr. Esther Zeledón is the primary author on it, but it’s work that we did together. Our stance is that if you are able to tap into your purpose, align your actions to it and create the resilience mechanisms that keep you in that direction of your path. We were trying to think about what’s the feeling that you have when you understand that you’re living your purpose and that even when things go wrong, you can still move that way. And that’s the word we came up with that, that you feel limitless. And that’s how we want everyone to feel.

And so the book is called CREATING YOUR LIMITLESS LIFE. It’s on Kindle hardback softback. There’s actually a really nice workbook that accompanies it that we use [01:08:00] with clients, but a lot of people have found it really useful. It’s been great.

You put a lot of heart and soul into a book. It’s a very vulnerable thing to do. There’s a lot of stories. About half the book is stories really; and a lot of it is stories that our families didn’t even know about. Talk about worrying about what they’re going to say and things like that.

That was a big piece for us to overcome that and say, you know what, this is important enough. People need to hear it. People need to see it and people need to have access to it. And so we’re really glad that we did it. It’s been a tremendous response. We’ve been able to hit the best seller on Amazon.

Interestingly, we thought that we were targeting Latinos and immigrant communities. It turns out that everything that we’ve talked about in the last hour is something that resonates with people all over the world of all kinds of different backgrounds and languages, [01:09:00] faiths and culture. It’s been extremely gratifying for us.

Dr. Sharp: That’s so good to hear. Congratulations on that experience. I have so much admiration for writing a book at all. And then you add in writing a book with your wife. That’s another layer. And then you add in telling stories about your family. It’s an undertaking. My gosh. But not surprising. I mean, if our conversation here is any indication of the quality and depth of the book that you put together, then I’m not surprised at all that it’s doing well.

This has been great. I really appreciate you coming by and chatting with me about some important topics. Thank you. 

Dr. Rivera: No, this has been fantastic. I really appreciate it. I’m glad to have these kinds of venues to be able to… Being here, as I said, it’s part of my own purpose too to be able to get these messages out to the people that I know can help [01:10:00] make a difference. So I’m really thankful for that.

I’m always really available and really open. So, if anybody wants to reach out, I am on LinkedIn as Dr. Paul Rivera. We have a nice pretty active Instagram, which is be.act.change. We also have a website, beactchange.com. So anytime, please do reach out. I’m really happy to connect with people.

Dr. Sharp: I love that. Thank you. Thanks again for being here. Happy to be a part of this journey.

Dr. Rivera: My pleasure. Thank you.

Dr. Sharp: Take care.

All right, y’all. Thank you so much for tuning into this episode. Always grateful to have you here. I hope that you take away some information that you can implement in your practice and in your life. Any resources that we mentioned during the episode will be listed in the show notes. So make sure to check those out.

If you like what you hear on the podcast, I would be so grateful if you left a review on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your podcasts.

If you’re a [01:11:00] practice owner or aspiring practice owner, I’d invite you to check out The Testing Psychologists mastermind groups. I have mastermind groups at every stage of practice development, beginner, intermediate, and advanced. We have homework, we have accountability, we have support, we have resources. These groups are amazing. We do a lot of work and a lot of connecting.

If that sounds interesting to you, you can check out the details at thetestingpsychologist.com/consulting. You can sign up for a pre group phone call and we will chat and figure out if a group could be a good fit for you. Thanks so much.

The information contained in this podcast and on The Testing Psychologists website is [01:12:00] intended for informational and educational purposes only. Nothing in this podcast or on the website is intended to be a substitute for professional, psychological, psychiatric, or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Please note that no doctor-patient relationship is formed here, and similarly, no [01:07:00] supervisory or consultative relationship is formed between the host or guests of this podcast and listeners of this podcast. If you need qualified advice of any mental health practitioner or medical provider, please seek one in your area. Similarly, if you need supervision on clinical matters, please find a supervisor with expertise that fits your needs.

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