Tama County’s only Spanish speaking therapist opens private practice

Photo by Darvin Graham Owners of The Strengthening Center Carlos Celis and Lani Maassen are pictured in their newly renovated mental health center office in Toledo. The center offers a full range of mental health services and since first opening in Marshalltown, has filled critical needs within the Latino communities in the area.

In Tama and Marshall County, a new mental health center has opened with an eye toward serving the Latino community.

Dr. Carlos Celis and Dr. Lani Maassen are the husband and wife team behind The Strengthening Center.

The Strengthening Center opened the doors on its first mental health center in Marshalltown on Aug. 2, and Celis said the response was immediate and almost overwhelming.

Now a few months later, a second office has opened up on E High Street in downtown Toledo.

Although Celis and Maassen are still in their 30s, their education and careers have taken them all over the United States.

Celis is a Los Angeles native who completed his Bachelor’s, Master’s and doctorate degrees in California. His education has focused on criminal justice and forensic psychology.

Maassen meanwhile earned her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Troy University in Alabama and went on to earn a doctorate in Clinical Forensic Psychology from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology in Los Angeles.

Prior to moving to Iowa, the couple were living in Hawaii where Celis was completing his doctoral internship.

Celis worked for Center Associates in Marshalltown for two years before making the move to open The Strengthening Center.

A key component to the work Celis and Maassen have engaged in is school based sWervices.

Currently, Celis contracts as a Mental Health Therapist for the South Tama County School District and in Marshalltown at Woodbury Elementary, Lenihan Intermediate, Miller Middle School and Marshalltown High School.

“Dr. Celis has been a much needed resource for our students and families at STC Elementary,” South Tama School Counselor Anita Townsley said. “The students on his caseload like talking with him. I see them smiling and looking forward to their time with him. They like the way he cares for them and the way he listens.”

Celis is not only the only Spanish speaking school therapist in the area, he’s also the only Spanish speaking therapist of any kind outside of Des Moines, Waterloo, Ames or Cedar Rapids.

With both communities home to large Latino populations, Celis’ services have become critical in schools to help bridge the gap in reaching Spanish speaking students and families that are in need of mental health services.

“I don’t need to use an interpreter,” Celis said. “So it allows me to really engage the kids because I can identify with their stressors and find common ground.”

Maassen said in her experience she’s seen a greater occurrence of misdiagnosis of mental health issues in children when an interpreter is used compared to when the child and parent can speak directly to the therapist.

Celis said his work in the schools has led to a lot of referrals for other clients who might hear positive feedback from family members and pass his name along to others who are in need of a Spanish speaking mental health professional.

Celis and Maassen said about 90 percent of their clientele is coming from the Latino community, though services at The Strengthening Center are open to anyone.

Celis said one of the benefits of operating an independent practice is flexibility to approach clients in a way that best suits them.

His personality and approach is relaxed and laid back and he prefers to get to know clients in the early sessions and get conversation going rather than immediately launching into insurance and intake questions.

Although Maassen is not currently seeing clients in a therapist role, her speciality in the business will be geared toward psychological testing and evaluations.

Just as Spanish speaking therapists are in short supply within the Central Iowa region, so are licensed providers offering services like ADHD testing, psychological evaluations, cognitive testing and social security disability evaluations.

Maassen hopes within the year the business will have what it needs to begin those services.

The Strengthening Center does its best to keep their prices affordable. Maassen said they work with most forms of insurance as well as Medicaid and for those without any coverage an income-based sliding scale is also available.

Celis works in Tama-Toledo on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and in Marshalltown on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The office in Toledo can be found at 107 E High St. in Toledo at the former Satuci office. The office in Marshalltown is located at 16 E Main St. Suite 106 and 120.

For more information call 641-351-6500 or visit www.thestrengtheningcenter.com


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