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Everything You Need to Know About Asian American Counseling

With the growing cultural diversity in the United States, mental health providers and counselors meet clients with diverse cultural backgrounds more often. These clients have often faced different problems and mental health issues of mainstream society.

The problem?

Many mental care providers don’t really understand how to handle and help these types of people. These professionals need to improve their levels of cultural knowledge and competency to be able to provide relevant help and guidelines. However, the advancement of cross-cultural mental counseling is a continual process, and it’s safe to say that we’re heading in the right direction.

In some Asian American cultural groups, psychological distress may reflect negatively not only on the individuals who are feeling it but on the entire family in general.

Understanding the mental health issues of Asian Americans is important because of the many Asian American cultural beliefs about mental health and the connection between the mind and the body.

Internal harmony and the focus on family impact the interpretation and the expression of mental health issues. Often, Asian Americans do not admit that they experience any kind of mental health problem because of the shame and embarrassment they might feel.

All these factors affect the willingness of Asian Americans to seek professional mental help. In addition to the cultural values, stigma among family members, English language proficiency, and limited access to culturally competent mental health. These factors all play a huge role in the decision to not seek any professional help in situations people from other cultural groups might seek that help.

Mental health professionals have documented that often Asian Americans who do choose to seek professional mental health are more likely to cancel the treatment prematurely.

There is an increased demand for culturally qualified mental health professionals in the United States with expertise in working with Asian Americans.

Mental health counselors need to recognize the role of cultural values of their Asian American clients.

What is Asian American Counseling?

Asian Americans need to balance the junction of various social identities and cultures. Often Asian Americans need to handle immigration issues, patriarchy issues, and differences in family values, which sometimes can affect the mental state of Asian American individuals.

Asian Americans are lucky to have the opportunity to enjoy all of the benefits that come with living in the United States, while still having the chance to enjoy their colorful Asian culture.

Asian Americans often struggle with their self-image as well. They’re aware of the diversity in culture, communication, and values they hold. That sometimes causes them to feel like they don’t fit in any box. Fighting with mental health problems is hard enough without having to deal with them all alone.

As society becomes more accepting and welcoming to intercultural friendships, and relationships, marriages among Asian Americans are increasing.

American vs Asian American Counseling – cultural differences

For many Asian Americans, mental health is strongly connected to their physical health. Many believe that psychological health is influenced by individuals’ willpower. For example, when feeling sad, distracting the mind and not dwelling on negative thoughts is viewed as an appropriate coping mechanism.

Focusing on family and community and maintaining internal harmony when psychological distress hits are viewed as a demonstration of a strong will and emotional health.

In many cases, Asian Americans hide the symptoms of stress and sadness not to risk being emotionally vulnerable or low-willed.

As a result, even when they seek psychological help, they tend to hide more serious symptoms and share only the milder ones, which are more easily accepted by society.

Many Asian Americans still practice natural healing. Traditional healers as religious leaders, community leaders, or older and wiser family members. Many Asian Americans’ indigenous healing practices are controversial.

Religion, spirituality, and family are important protective factors in the life of an Asian American. Divorce rates are really low in Asian American households, which demonstrates the importance of family for them. It also demonstrates a high degree of loyalty and a willingness to deal with problems when they arise.

Mental health problems are common in people of all ethnic backgrounds, but some cultural groups are much more likely to connect with mental health professionals than others.

Asian Americans are among those who rarely seek mental health help. Studies show that they are poorly represented in mental health treatment. What is the reason for this? Here are some of the factors that lead to this:

Stigma and shame around mental health treatment

Many Asian-American communities care much about professional success. For many of them, asking for professional help when personal problems arise is a sign of weakness. As children, many Asian-American adults learn that expressing emotions is not appropriate. For them, emotions must be swallowed and not expressed to other people.

Cultural Norms in Asian communities

Asian communities usually believe in connecting with an extended family during times of trouble. Problems usually do not come out of the family.

Turning to a third party for mental help contradicts these beliefs. Some Asian-American families teach their children that religious faith and practices, such as prayer, are the best way to deal with life’s challenges. Many of them refuse to seek help for this reason.

Often, Asian-American parents may perceive their children’s mental illness as a result of their parenting skills rather than a medical condition that requires special attention and treatment. When these same children decide to seek professional help, the relationship between them and their parents may be put to the test.

Feeling of guilt

The children and grandchildren of Asian immigrants often realize or are reminded that the lives of their relatives have been and still are extremely difficult.

It is possible that their parents and grandparents fled their homeland in the United States and then went through years of hardship as they learned the language and settled in the new country.

As a result, Asian Americans who suffer from mental health problems may feel that their pain has no place to compare with that of their parents, and they should be able to deal with these “minor” problems on their own.

Conceptualizations of mental illness

Southeast Asia, Japanese, and other Asian cultures see mental imbalances differently than Western Europeans and Americans. This cultural mismatch can lead to a breakdown in communication between therapist and their client if these factors are not taken into account.

Western medicine is built on the idea that the mind and body of humans can be easily separated from each other. As a result, when it comes to depression, doctors focus on subjective conditions such as feelings of anxiety and sadness.

In contrast, Asian cultures are more likely to perceive body and soul as a whole. They do not perceive mental and physical illnesses as separate states. When an Asian client with an anxiety disorder begins to see a therapist, they first begin to address the physical symptoms at the expense of their emotional state. This makes more sense to them in terms of their cultural background.

Language barriers

Many Asian Americans are actually born outside the United States or their parents were born outside the country. This can lead to a lack of language skills in the family or poor language skills. Poor English language skills make navigation in the healthcare system a great challenge.

Lack of helpful resources

One of the many myths about Asian Americans is that they are often considered rich and successful, but the reality is that about 1 in 6 Asian Americans lives in poverty.

The cost of treating mental illness is quite high and still unaffordable for many people, including Asian Americans. Even if they have the financial opportunity, many of them do not see the point in investing in this direction, because they are raised differently. Even if they want to turn to a professional for help, some of them do not know how to turn to a professional for help, where to look for it, what they need to know in advance, etc.

Often mental health therapists come from a different background than that of their Asian American clients. Many therapists mean well and strive to understand what it’s like to grow up in an Asian community, but they still can’t fully fit into the shoes of Asian Americans and understand how their culture relates to their mental health.

In reality, there are not many Asian American psychotherapists, so finding a culturally enriched professional is still a big challenge.

The mental health industry is beginning to accept the fact that professionals need to learn to work with clients from different cultural backgrounds so that more people can feel comfortable seeking professional help when they experience anxiety or depression.

Myths and misconceptions concerning Asian Americans and their culture

Asian Americans are similar to European Americans

A major misunderstanding about Asian Americans is that they, like European Americans, are consistently seen as role models, better than the remaining smaller ethnic groups. The fact is that such thinking is wrong for any ethnic group, but it still creates a lot of problems for Asian Americans.

The result of this belief is a lack of attention to the mental problems of Asian Americans. Lack of research and clinical trials specifically focused on the mental health of Asian Americans.

This can also lead to conflicts with other minority groups due to interference in the development and building of coalitions against racial minority groups.

Asian Americans are overachievers

Another misconception for Asian Americans is that they all achieve academic and professional success. It is true that quality education is highly valued in Asian cultures has a difference in the academic success of Asian Americans. They depend on the ethnicity, the status of the generation as well as the economic status of the family.

From an economic point of view, some Asian American families are better off financially than other ethnic minority groups. On the other hand, they also tend to live in poverty compared to society as a whole.

Also, in many households of Asian-Americans, all people of working age work in one or more places outside the home, which can lead to a higher average income for the whole family.

Asian Americans only work specific jobs

Another common misconception is that Asian Americans only do specific jobs. The type of employment is actually quite diverse among them. Many immigrants of Asian-American descent are often trained in specific occupations such as medicine, business, and engineering, and they often work additional jobs to their main occupancy.

Even among highly educated Asian American families, the effect of the glass ceiling can be seen. In other words, many Asian Americans cannot be elevated beyond a certain position because of discrimination, institutionalized racism, or sexism.

Outcomes of culturally competent care toward Asian Americans

Professionals working in the field of mental illness treatment need to be aware of the inaccurate stereotypes and myths associated with Asian Americans and how this can affect their mental health.

Professionals need to be aware of their own stereotypes about Asian Americans and work to eliminate them. Mental health specialists need to be aware of their culture, the diversity of their educational and professional achievement, and public perception. Only in this way will they be able to offer adequate professional help.

Professionals should also be aware of the social and economic status of Asian Americans and avoid making suggestions about clients’ experiences and adherence to traditional cultural values.

Many mental disorders are manifested because of cultural, generational, and racial levels. Mental health specialists need to be able to assess these specific factors when working with Asian Americans clients across the United States.

Lia Huynh San Jose and Milpitas

About

My life’s work is helping individuals and couples get better. I help couples restore their sense of togetherness by rediscovering their strengths as individuals, and their collective strength as a duo. And I help my individual clients to negotiate the sources of depression and anxiety, while moving them gently toward feeling a deeper sense of connection with their world. This is all done through our counseling and therapy together. 

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