South Asians tend to view mental health as a sign of weakness or failure. Our community does not realize mental health is part of our overall well-being, much like physical health.
Research has shown that South Asians somatize mental health experiences into physical health conditions. This validates that South Asians excuse mental health concerns to the point that they manifest into physical health disorders.
An added layer of complexity is that South Asians take on the additional responsibility of finding a therapist who understands our culture, values, and the difficulties we might face when trying to process the relationships we have with our parents. Many of us are raised to respect our elders by protecting their izzat (honor). Talking about our elders in therapy can feel uncomfortable, shameful, and disrespectful.
It can also feel scary and disappointing to tell our parents we want to seek professional help, despite them doing the best they could to make us feel secure, protected, and emotionally safe. We elevate ourselves through self-responsibility and bravery by having these difficult conversations and processing them in therapy. We lift others by breaking stigmas and breaking silences around mental well-being. No one can love you into healing, not your parents or your friends, but you can heal yourself into love.
The first step towards securing a healthy dynamic is finding a therapist that fosters a healthy connection with their client. There are many types of therapists with different professional titles such as LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) or LMFT (Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist). Titles tell you what the therapist is licensed to practice or areas of focus.
It is encouraged to schedule a complimentary phone consultation with the prospective therapist to ask about their background, learn about their theoretical approach, and get a sense of the connection. These are the seven questions to ask yourself throughout the consultation:
- Do I feel comfortable and safe in conversation with the therapist?
- Is this someone I think I can talk to?
- Do I trust them, or can I see myself trusting them in the future?
- Does this therapist try to understand me?
- What potential biases are rising up for me?
- Ask: How does multiculturalism inform your practice? *This is especially important for South Asians to feel understood, heard, and accepted.
- Ask: What does therapy look like in the room with you? *This will give you an idea of the therapist’s theoretical approach.
Ultimately, it is essential to listen to the gut, that voice deep inside, that guides us to the best-suited path. Feeling a good connection with a therapist is an important factor that has repeatedly been cited in research as the key to achieving effective and lasting improvements.
As Brené Brown puts it – though we may feel bad, we are NOT BAD. It is crucial to not self-actualize shame and realize it is a behavior. Behaviors can be changed. You are NOT a bad person for feeling guilt as a South Asian. You are not a bad person for needing or wanting therapy; actually, therapy can help you unveil this misconception. As South Asians, it is important we celebrate our resilience and shine light into what we have been conditioned to tuck away into the dark. When we do this, we stop the ancestral cycle of trauma, heal ourselves, and the community.
Ektha Aggarwal is a licensed psychotherapist and CEO of Shakti Therapy and Healing. Ektha’s specialty is in working with South Asians and other people of color to break the stigma around mental health and instill the concept of immigrant resilience. To learn more about Shakti Therapy and Healing services, please visit www.shaktitherapyhealing.com or email Ektha at firstname.lastname@example.org.