Dr. Tato Torres, an Early Psychosis Bilingual Therapist for Felton Institute, has a warm demeanor and eyes that twinkle when he smiles. In celebration of Hispanic/Latino Heritage Month, Tato shares his memories of growing up in Puerto Rico, and the values his parents instilled within him. He notes that, in addition to traditional song, meals and dance, he expresses his contribution through pro-bono trauma work and his mentoring of Latino clinicians.
“We cannot forget commemorating groups that traditionally have been marginalized , as is the case with the array of Indigenous people with their rich cultures and traditions throughout the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America and South America,” Tato says.
Tato grew up in the town of Yauco, which is famous for its coffee. His parents and, especially his paternal grandmother, reared him with an early love for music, dancing and storytelling.
“My father and grandmother always told me that we are storytellers (“cuentistas”) and that I would be voicing my own stories, ‘everyone has something to tell’. I learned from my parents very early the value of making relationships work, respecting everyone and working with anyone’s best side. I learned the value of being a generator, appropriate effort and human collaboration. All great things that we generate are expressions of and a statement of human collaboration. Being personally resourceful is great and being a team member is awesome. We can learn from anyone, and we must, as learning and change can come from any direction.”
Tato fondly remembers his first eight years of education in the countryside, with family, community, and church playing a significant role during those formative years. It helped him learn how to relate to others and manage himself in school and later, in work. “I was interested in philosophy and from the very beginning, my main subject was ‘the day of the Other’. This was an exploration of “otherness” through philosophy and political philosophy. I was fascinated by suddenly finding out that living together wasn’t perceived as an intrinsic value or good in itself in most philosophies, and that through history, the attributes we assign to people were not extended to many other human beings. Many people throughout history were excluded and treated as “property” or “pawns.” That was my existential search period, my socio-political period exploring the experience of politics. Now at Felton, I am in the business of exploring with clients the politics of their own personal experience.”
After acknowledging and treating his own depression and some early trauma, Dr. Torres considered therapy as a career. He says a “crazy suggestion” from his therapist led him to visit and then move to the Bay Area. His first stop was at a fair in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park where they invited him to visit a Latino residential program entitled La Amistad (Friendship). He joined the Progress Foundation, where he oversaw 11 programs, four of them crisis programs and one, an urgent care unit. Tato also worked as Director of La Posada Residential Crisis program before coming to Felton in January of this year.
“After getting to know Felton’s core mission through Bruce Adams, (Early Psychosis Associate Director), I found its value congruent with my commitment to work in organizations that have a value-driven mission and treat clients with a sense of respect and dignity.
“I think Felton’s history and commitment are amazing, so I see Felton first as a social action critical project addressing real present and historical social needs and social dysfunction. I also see Felton as a clinical action critical project with a mission and commitment to activate hope in action in the lives of people emerging with psychosis and bipolar conditions. On both projects, Felton consistently sees the human being first in the people we serve.
“Fundamentally people are valuable, and they get challenged with mental health conditions. They can be included in a concerted partnership with a Felton clinical team that addresses the diversity of their needs. Along the way, the client learns to ask for help and consult in an effective manner. They learn core Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) skills to manage their condition and make more informed choices, where they get to a point that they [understand] that they are really valuable and can bring value into their own lives and the lives of others, making a difference.
“So, Felton in many ways, through the therapists, the psychiatric Nurse Practitioner providing informed CBT and trauma-informed medication support, the Peer Counselor, the School and Work Support Specialist, and the Family Support Specialist, provides an array of services to maximize the opportunity for recovery of any of the clients we serve. Definitely, the team makes all the difference. I am proud of being given the chance to be a member of the San Mateo Clinical Team, and I am now also supporting our Marin Felton Program.”
Tato lives a full life, and he enjoys dancing to his music playlists in different languages and genres, including top jazz, African, Flamenco, Indigenous Latin American and United States music. He collects small videos of comedians and enjoys making tried and true Puerto Rican recipes to complement his wife’s Italian cooking. But he also spends his spare time teaching and counseling at San Francisco State University. He provides consultation and coaching with individuals and organizations, but his main effort has been in developing an institute to treat people that have experienced disappearance, captivity and torture in Latin America and supporting the parents of the disappeared throughout Latin America.
“This mission belongs to my commitment dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) induced by the terror of groups or the state/government. This work moved during the last 10 years to dealing with induced polarization, exclusion, and demonization of the Other, be it an indigenous person, a black man, or any person excluded and demonized because of his or her ethnicity, political or religious views, lifestyle, or sexual orientation,“ Dr. Torres shares.
He is also a mentor to blind clinicians. “My mentoring of blind clinicians has been a blessing in disguise, as now I am supporting my own sister, as she is gradually losing her eyesight. [I observe the] paradoxical nature of giving and receiving: one of the clinicians I just finished mentoring is now conversing with my sister about his own experience of losing his vison many years ago. This experience has anchored how he supports clients dealing with both radical acceptance and change. He is an expert in Mindfulness, a John Hopkins graduate, and as much I have supported his professional career, he also has been a great teacher for me in many ways, including in my redefinition of what it is hope. Teamwork always achieves best results.”
Dr. Torres collects sayings from all over the world. Two of his favorite sayings are, one from his paternal grandmother: “The key that opens the door is the same key that opens the door, choose carefully and you will be opening many doors.”
And a second is a composite: “Learn from all, learning will come to you from anyone and in any direction …not knowing is ok, as then you can keep listening and learning and above all, keep dancing… there is no path walker… you make your path as you walk; your hope is activated in this small step you are taking right now, one step at a time, here and now, all in the dance.”
For more information about Felton’s Early Psychosis Program,
please visit feltonearlypsychosis.org or call 415-474-7310.
About Felton Institute: Founded in 1889, Felton Institute responds to human needs by providing cutting edge, evidence-based mental health and social services that transform lives. Felton Institute is a tax-exempt organization registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit under EIN 94-1156530.
Offering more than 50 acclaimed and honored programs that address homelessness, mental health, prenatal, adolescent, adult and senior needs, Felton Institute provides services in San Francisco, Alameda, San Mateo, Marin, and Monterey counties.
Felton is named for its social services pioneer and executive director Dr. Katharine “Kitty” Felton who was called the ”conscience of San Francisco” and was committed to ensuring that children and families in crisis have access to social services and resources in order to help them build upon their inherent strengths and develop self-sufficiency. www.felton.org