Passionate and compassionate—these are some of the most crucial traits a mental health counselor can have, according to Lea Rojas Otero. “You have to be passionate about your job and compassionate with your clients,” she says. “And you have to find a way to motivate them. You have to be patient.”
Lea has been providing exceptional mental health and substance use counseling out of Gándara Center’s Outpatient Clinic in Brockton (pictured above) since 2016—that’s when she was hired by our agency during one of our recruiting trips in Puerto Rico. She was interviewed there by none other than Gándara’s Executive Director Henry Julio East-Trou, who was impressed with her for good reason: fully bilingual, she had just completed her master’s degree in Counseling in Substance Abuse at Central University of the Caribbean, where she had experience working with teenagers during two internships. In her second internship, she served youths involved in the juvenile court system through Puerto Rico’s Service Administration in Health and Addiction in Bayamón.
Although she says it took time and effort to gain the teenagers’ trust—after all, working with teens has its own unique set of challenges—she was able to build a good rapport with them. “Those kids were awesome,” she says. “It took time to get to good place in our relationships,” but eventually they felt comfortable with her. “The key to connecting with them was to help them feel safe—and, although many of them have been neglected most of their lives—to let them know that somebody believes in them,” she says.
The internship was a vital component of her education. It left a lasting impression on her and she was able to take away key strategies in counseling that she still uses with clients that range in age from four-year-olds to elderly people. In fact, one of her clients recently wrote to the Gándara administrative office in West Springfield and described Lea as “motivated” and “helpful” (below).
Lea has always enjoyed helping people, and after graduating with a bachelor’s in psychology from Sacred Heart University in Santurse, PR, it was only natural for her to pursue a master’s in counseling.
She “jumped at the chance” to work for Gándara Center in Brockton, even though it meant leaving family and friends behind. Lea is originally from Andover, MA, but her family moved to Puerto Rico when she was two. She was used to tropical weather and going to the beach year-round, so “it took some time to adjust,” she says with a laugh.
“It’s fulfilling to be a part of my clients’ journey to recovery—or at least progress,” she says. Lea lets them know up front that she doesn’t have all the answers, but she can help them find their own answers. “I try to be transparent and give them a safe, open environment to learn, grow, and improve,” she says.