How Can Asians and Asian Americans Benefit from Therapy?
By: Apollonia Wenting Kang, LMHC, Ed.M
Data show that although the Asian community demonstrates strong needs for mental health services, going to therapy is often not considered as an option. As a therapist who grew up in China and now lives in the U.S., I would like to share some insights about the myths contributing to the underutilized mental health services among Asians, and why Asians could benefit from therapy.
The stigma about mental health is still prevalent today. A commonly held belief I grew up with is that you are crazy or there must be something wrong with you to seek therapy. Being in therapy definitely doesn’t mean there’s something “wrong” with you. In addition to seeking therapy for the treatment of specific disorders, many people who do not necessarily meet any diagnostic criteria are also entering therapy nowadays for personal growth. They take the initiative to explore their identities, strive to gain insights about their relational patterns, and develop the tools to be their best selves.
The avoidance of discussing one’s emotional life is prominent in Asian culture. Most Asian parents praise values such as “perseverance”, “sacrifice”, and “hardworking”, and associate the expression of emotions and vulnerabilities as weakness. Moreover, because Asians are often subject to the stereotype of “model minority”, many of us feel the immense pressure to prove ourselves and live up to that reputation. For Asian men in particular, verbalizing one’s vulnerability stirs up feelings of shame, and they end up suppressing their feelings and stay silent on what bothers them. However, when emotions are not accepted, validated, and addressed in healthy ways, people may develop destructive habits to relieve the pain from bottling up, such as addiction, stonewalling, and hurtful communication, further deteriorating our mental health. Even if our families and friends are trustworthy, we may not feel entirely comfortable revealing everything, fearing that the information might spread through gossip, or that we may be judged and criticized. That’s where therapy comes in, as therapy is private and confidential. Therapists aim to provide a safe space for the exploration of difficult and overwhelming feelings, so we nip psychological disorders in the bud, so to speak.
Cultural values are also at play when it comes to seeking therapy. Many Asians consider talking to a stranger about emotional issues as airing their dirty laundry. “Saving face” is an imperative driving force behind the avoidance of therapy. However, the efforts to hide one’s emotional and relational issues may worsen the situation, causing more maladaptive behaviors to manifest. Therapy helps us accept that setbacks, failings, conflicts, frustrations, losses, etc., are integral parts of life, and do not imply defeat or flaws. I’ve seen couples who arrive in therapy too late, as a last-ditch effort to save their relationships. If we can address the tensions and conflicts in their early stages, we have a better chance of rekindling the partnership. Don’t wait till things get out of control to ask for help.
Looking for a therapist who can understand your cultural values, and preferably speak your native language could ease the discomfort of being in therapy for the first time. I empathize with the hesitation and struggles when it comes to seeking support. That’s why I am passionate about reducing the stigma about mental health and providing therapy in both English and Chinese to empower diverse populations.
Please call me for an Initial Consultation at 312.880.9656.