There's Still A Huge Stigma Against Therapy for Asian Americans. This Needs To Change.

'Studies have shown that Asian Americans are the least likely racial group in the U.S. to seek mental health services.'

5/7/2021 4:00:00 AM

'Studies have shown that Asian Americans are the least likely racial group in the U.S. to seek mental health services.'

'Studies have shown that Asian Americans are the least likely racial group in the U.S. to seek mental health services.'

Guest WriterFiordaliso via Getty ImagesIt’s no wonder that suicide is the leading cause of death for Asian American and Pacific Islander youth aged 12-19. What’s even more tragic is that there is still a huge stigma against the one thing that may have been able to save them — asking for help.

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My friends used to tell me all the time, ”maybe you should talk to someone.”While I appreciated their concerns, I could never actually fathom the idea of going to therapy and sharing my deepest, darkest secrets with a complete stranger.In my family, our unspoken family rule was that no one and nothing else were allowed in, and we weren’t allowed out. So much so that the thought of sharing such personal details of the most intimate and precious part of myself felt violating and wrong.

I thought I was doing what all Asians were supposed to do — bottle up your feelings and pretend like nothing’s wrong, avoid the problem anddon’t rock the boat. I eventually hit my rock bottom and ended up seated on a couch in Santa Monica in front of the woman who was about to change my life forever. headtopics.com

When I was searching for a therapist, I knew that she had to be Korean. There was just no way that a white therapist could understand me and my co-dependent family dynamics. But when I first started my search, all I saw were Christian Korean therapists who reminded me of my parents.

I scouredPsychology Today,opening tabs and tabs of Korean American therapists in LA and closing out everyone who included triggering terms in their bios such asChristian CounselingandFaith Based Counseling.Finally, I landed upon my therapist’s page. There was no mention of religion, and she looked young and relatable. Her fee was high, out of pocket, and her office was on the other side of town, but given what little choice I felt I had, I decided to make the leap and invest in my mental health for the first time.

As I griped about my struggles of growing up in the church, she disclosed that she identified as a Christian herself. My immediate thought was: ”Ugh, she’s going to try and make me go to church.” My grimace must have been noticeable because she followed with: “I don’t include it in my bio because I don’t want to get that kind of reaction from clients.”

Turns out, my therapist isn’t like any of the Korean Christians I grew up with. She is an artist, surfs, practices yoga and taekwondo, and travels. She was also a single mom who put together the broken pieces of her life in a beautiful way that made me admire and look up to her, which was something that I desperately needed at the time. She gave me hope. headtopics.com

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She became my role model and my mentor. She taught me the language that I needed to communicate with my parents instead of just talking at each other. She broke down many of my misgivings and assumptions about Christians and Koreans. She is one of the reasons I myself became a therapist.

For that one hour, I was allowed to be selfish and unapologetic. I was allowed to complain, vent and cry. I was allowed to feel hopeless and anxious. I was allowed to just be.I quickly came to realize that therapy is a non-judgment zone. It was the one safe space that I had where every week for just one hour, I was allowed to be myself and let down all the walls I built around me out of survival. I didn’t have to wear the many various masks I wore for my different identities — as the daughter, friend, sister, employee and more. I didn’t have to be so hypervigilant about others’ feelings and about potentially offending or disagreeing with them. For that one hour, I was allowed to be selfish and unapologetic. I was allowed to complain, vent and cry. I was allowed to feel hopeless and anxious. I was allowed to just be.

In my family, love felt like it had to be earned. It was never just handed to me on a silver platter. I had to work for my parents’ praise and affection, and even as I met their standards, their expectations only increased, and I had to work even harder. These unrelenting requirements for validation and acceptance are what make me the people-pleaser that I am today. I am a workaholic and often feel worthless when I’m not being productive because I am used to having to prove my worth.

These toxic relationship dynamics are so normalized in immigrant families that I thought this was just how life is for non-Western cultures — which exacerbated myinternalized racism— and that I should just suck it up and be grateful that at least I didn’t have it as bad as my parents. My parents’ primary advice in life was to “pray to God” and that “God will solve all problems.” And if things didn’t get better, according to them, it was because I wasn’t praying hard enough. headtopics.com

It’s no wonder thatsuicide is the leading cause of death for Asian American and Pacific Islander youth aged 12-19. What’s even more tragic is that there is still a huge stigma against the one thing that may have been able to save them — asking for help.

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