Local mental heath expert talks upcoming Camino al Exito, shares her story of move from Nicaragua

Published 12:28 am Sunday, September 25, 2022

Sharon Portillo has come a long way since she was a young child migrating to the United States.

Her journey wasn’t just a physical road but an educational road, which led her to become assistant director of behavioral health at The Medical Center of Southeast Texas.

She will share that journey with the audience at Camino al Exicto, which is a free event sponsored by the Hispanic Business Council next week.

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Camino al Exicto is set for 5:30 p.m. Sept. 27 at the Robert A. “Bob” Bowers Civic Center.

The event is delivered in Spanish and the speakers tell of their own path to success.

Portillo was born in Nicaragua and came to the United States with her family when she was 3. Her family settled in Port Arthur. She attended Lee Elementary then Woodrow Wilson and Memorial High School. And before she received her master’s degree, she worked as a substitute teacher at Memorial High School, where she fielded questions from her students who asked where she was from. Some, she said, seemed shocked to learn she was from the city.

She used that time to tell them they too can be successful.

She started her upper academic studies at Howard Payne University with a major in family studies and minor in psychology. After that she attended the University of Texas at Arlington with a major in social work with concentration on marriage and family.

From there she spent two years in clinical studies and received her license to work as a clinical social worker, thus allowing her to enter into private practice.

She has now been with the Medical Center for five years, climbing the career ladder.

Portillo explained the Medical Center has inpatient and outpatient behavioral health services.

Individuals in the inpatient portion are in crisis and come through the emergency department. The inpatient area is a locked down facility with 24-hour supervision for those at high risk for suicide, depression, anxiety, psychosis and delusions.

A large portion of the patients are indigent.

There is also a high population of those with substance abuse concerns.

“Patients that go through life crisis events,” Portillo said of the individuals in behavioral health services, “and we stabilize them through medication and through group and individual therapy. We do a lot of case management on the unit.”

The programs at the hospital take a variety of approaches to behavioral health. There is Partial Hospitalization Program, Intensive Outpatient Program as well as individual and family sessions.

Portillo had a simple answer when asked why she chose to enter the field of mental health.

“I have always found it interesting to study people and why they do what they do, being able to help people and being able to get them stabilized,” she said. “I think mental health has a negative stigma and a lot don’t want to get mental health help. But it’s another organ that needs care.”

Processing grief and trauma is important, she said.

For more information about the event, call 409-293-6839.