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Navigating Cultural Complexities

As a South-Asian therapist, I grew up in a culture where mental health was not discussed in the home nor openly shared with others. Struggling in silence was often seen as better than admitting there was chaos or distress brewing in your body. I was often told to “move on” when I was upset, “grow up” when I felt scared, and rarely given a sense of validation that my feelings mattered. As a first-generation American, those emotional barriers were very difficult to navigate on my own. Many people reading this may say to themselves that our culture seems abusive, dismissive, or harsh; however, that is not the case. I grew up in a stable, consistent, and loving home despite the emotional dialogue being minimal. As a therapist, I believe that the absence of these emotional discussions greatly compounds the impact of the emotional experiences themselves. In reality, these social stigmas and rigidities are just as pivotal to our culture as our spices and silks.

Did you know that Asian clients have a higher drop-out rate in counseling than other minority clients? Why do you think that is? Not only is there a stigma and a level of guilt and fear, but there is also a vast sea of misunderstanding. Non-Asian therapists can be quick to make assumptions or offer culturally inappropriate support. I remember, as a brown therapist, talking about cultural norms to my non-Asian colleagues for the first time. Many of them looked at me with a dismayed expression as they asked, “well, why don’t you just say something?”, as if it was that easy. As I previously mentioned, Asian homes are not as open to discussing and processing emotional experiences. The Asian community is riddled with unaddressed traumas and deep-rooted histories of oppression and struggle. I vividly remember the first time I sat across from a South-Asian client. She shared that she had picked me as her provider because she was hopeful that I would be the therapist that finally “just gets it”. She was hopeful that she could speak freely, without the need for excessive explanation of who she was, and share her story. As a South-Asian therapist, that moment was incredibly validating in my professional journey. That simple phrase justified my years of schooling, perseverance, and standing up against the machine that is our cultural normativity. We, as a whole, are less likely to reach out for help compared to our non-Asian counterparts, and now here we were in a room together getting ready to put in the therapeutic work.

As AAPI month comes to an end, I hope that reading our stories and sharing our experiences broadens your understanding and widens your lens about who we are and where we come from. Our cultural histories, our families experiences, and our “norms” may be different to most; however, they are still valid and real. Seeking mental health services is difficult for anyone regardless of age, gender, or cultural background. Knowing what I know, I commend all of my clients for taking that first step and seeking support. I hope that if you are reading this and contemplating opening the door to therapy, please feel safe and welcome to reach out. Worrywell has a diverse team of providers waiting to answer your call. 

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