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Generational Cycle Starters

Being a first-generation, Filipino-American therapist, I have only just begun to see a slow increase in the AAPI (Asian-American Pacific Islander) community delving into the world of mental health, whether that be seeking treatment themselves, or exploring the prospects of working in the mental health field. Over a decade ago when I was applying to colleges, I recall my parents raising an eyebrow at me when I told them I wanted to study social work. While they trusted and supported my decision, it did not come without a slew of follow up questions. “What is social work? Aren’t they the people who take kids away from their homes? You don’t want to study nursing?” While nursing always crossed my mind because I felt like it was my manifest destiny as a Filipino, I quickly realized that I, to this day, still have to give myself a 15 minute pep talk before getting my blood drawn for my annual checkups. Nursing was out of the question, but I knew my heart was always meant to be in the helping profession.

Throughout my undergraduate and postgraduate years, I was often the only AAPI individual in the room. My culture was always a part of me, but it was nothing that I was actively thinking about in my day-to-day life. However, I quickly started to become more cognizant of my cultural identity and what it meant to others as well. One of the biggest jobs in social work is social justice and advocacy. However, society has historically deemed asian people to be timid and submissive. With that thought in mind, how could an asian social worker possibly advocate for others? There have been many times that I would sit in rooms and often be spoken over or interrupted while I was speaking. In the early years of my career, I let it happen. There was always a part of me that believed in the “collectivism” that I grew up in. I thought that me being spoken over was simply better for the collective whole and that perhaps my interrupter had a better idea than what I could offer. But with years of guidance, encouragement, and unconditional support from my supervisors and mentors, I started leaning into the comfort of my own voice and taking a stance not just for my clients, but myself as well.

To this day, I can probably count on just two hands how many AAPI clients I have worked with in therapy. But for each person that I have worked with, there has always been a monumental moment of understanding that they may not have had before. There is something beautiful about sitting in a room with someone who can understand a deep rooted history without you having to explain it. The phrase “representation matters” holds deeply in all regards, but especially in the therapeutic space. There is a sense of trust and genuine understanding when an AAPI client sees an AAPI therapist, because mental health is only JUST starting to be talked about in the asian community. People may call this breaking generational cycles, but I see it as starting generational cycles. Younger generations of AAPI individuals are having these tough conversations with their parents and practicing their own self-advocacy. They are seeking therapy and asking questions. Within the past few years, I have had a number of younger AAPI individuals ask me what it’s like to be a clinical social worker and how they can get started on the journey of working in the mental health field. It’s been such a beautiful cycle to witness and be a part of.

This AAPI month, I hold so much pride and gratitude for my community. It’s an honor to hold closely the culture that raised us, instilled in us our values, guided our moral compasses, and shaped our identity. I commend the generations that came before me, who made significant sacrifices to pave the way for my generation. Most importantly, I will continue to advocate for and cheer on the generations that come after me who continue to be the generational cycle starters.

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