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How to support minority clients seeking help

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Source: Kristin Meekhof

One of the longest walks I have ever taken was from my car to the door of my therapist’s office. This incident happened just a few weeks after my husband died. A misdiagnosis of bronchitis has become tragic. He actually had advanced adrenal cancer. At the time, I was 33 years old, stunned, horrified and in a state of deep sadness.

I remember sitting in the waiting room with a handful of other people, and no one was like me. In other words, I was the only Asian American there. What I didn’t know then, even as a licensed mental health professional, was how unusual it is for Asian Americans to seek mental health treatment. In fact, a national Latin American and Asian study, cited in the American Psychological Association article, found that “While 18% of the general US population have sought mental health services and resources, only 8.6% of Asian Americans have done so. A related study found that white American citizens benefited from mental health services three times more than Asian Americans.

The study lists various reasons for the lack of engagement in mental health, from cultural considerations to fears about “model minority” myths to lack of access to services. As an adopted Korean, I grew up in a Caucasian household, but I lacked friends from minorities. I rarely felt out of place, and being a “minority” in your own family is a complex experience.

However, I know I am not alone when I share that being an Asian American today, going through this pandemic is painful. Last June, as I walked masked into my local post office, I heard a woman behind me say “Stupid Chinese”. No one else was there. I knew she was talking to me.

When I share this story, I am often misunderstood and later rejected in trying to voice my concerns. And not having someone who thinks your story matters is painful. It impacts both your mental and physical health.

I believe that a person’s experiences are linked to their emotional and physical well-being. And understanding that connection has an impact on how we relate to others as well as to ourselves. Certainly, a family member or colleague can influence how we feel about a situation and our perception can even change.

How Mental Health Professionals Can Help

When a person is struggling with thoughts of suicide, it may be because they feel like nothing will change. They fear that the desperation will persist or worsen. Depression creates a blind spot, which makes it difficult to understand and know that help is available. And as mental health professionals, it’s important to ask how racial and cultural comments and experiences impact a person’s overall well-being. Being sensitive and empathetic to these types of experiences helps build confidence in the therapeutic relationship.

Remember to listen deeply to your client’s pain. Their pain will tell you why their experiences are so traumatic. While you may not see their story as traumatic, remember that their brain and body can treat it as trauma.

And seek to understand how these experiences impact every aspect of their well-being, from their pounding heart to not being able to concentrate to feeling insecure. Your customer does not need you to be a “neutral” voice. When the client shares a sensitive story, they seek comfort and empathy. Sharing the story also has an impact on their emotional well-being.

Healing is possible and receiving supportive and compassionate mental health treatment can make all the difference.


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