Updated: 3 days ago
***Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and does not provide medical, legal, or health advice and is not a substitute for mental health services
Time and time again, a common theme that comes up in client consults is that the client is searching for a South Asian therapist.
One reason that is often shared is that the client feels that a South Asian therapist will have a good understanding of the kinds of issues the client is dealing with, whether that involves family of origin problems, general relationship issues, self-worth, anxiety, emotional regulation, or other types of challenges.
It’s possible that a South Asian therapist may have experienced similar challenges themselves and can use their knowledge as well as their educational background and professional training to guide and support a client through related issues, while ensuring that they are keeping their own personal details private in terms of an ethical therapy practice.
However, it’s also possible that a South Asian therapist may not have had these experiences directly but may have learned about it through their loved ones, local community, or social network. They could have developed an understanding through other people’s experiences and can lean on this general knowledge to assist you.
This article aims to describe some of the mental health issues that a South Asian therapist could help you with if you are searching specifically for a therapist who can provide culturally sensitive therapy. This of course is not an exhaustive list of concerns but are just some examples of problems you may be looking to talk about with a mental health professional.
1. Coping with anxiety
Are you dealing with anxiety regarding your school or work performance? Do you feel like you are an imposter and that you don’t fit in or that you don’t deserve to have the status or position that you do? Are you anxious in social situations and tend to avoid them or overthink afterwards about what you said or did? Do you worry about the future in general? Or do you find yourself feeling anxious about a wide range of issues?
If some of these scenarios stand out to you, then you may be feeling the effects of anxiety across different spheres of your life. A South Asian therapist can support you through these issues and may, for example, have an in-depth understanding of school and work anxiety given the huge emphasis on achieving good grades and having a prestigious career in South Asian culture.
2. Managing stress
School stress, work stress, financial stress, immigration stress, adjusting to a new culture and — in some cases, helping your family adjust to a new culture — may be types of stress that are impacting your daily life.
For example, you may be a first generation Canadian if you moved from your South Asian home country to Canada or perhaps you are a second generation Canadian if your parents immigrated to Canada some time ago before you were born.
You may notice that, even though your parents moved to Canada quite awhile ago, many of the beliefs they hold from their own early life experiences in terms of child-rearing practices, traditional gender roles, mental health stigma and a hesitancy to access or encourage professional help, and unrealistic expectations of their children could lead to a great deal of stress on you as a youth or young adult.
A South Asian therapist can help you to better understand and manage the stress you are under and make a plan for how to deal with it effectively.
3. Dealing with depression
If you are suffering from depression, you may be struggling with pressure from others to push these feelings aside and keep going. This can lead to shame or embarrassment about how your low mood is affecting your behaviour and a feeling of being misunderstood by those around you.
There may also be mental health stigma in your South Asian family and community that may make it hard for you express that you need help or for you to get the help you need. You may also be hesitant to reach out for support from a mental health professional for these same reasons.
Accessing therapy from a South Asian therapist who has a deep understanding of how cultural identity and beliefs impact mental health will do their best to provide non-judgmental support.
4. Working on self-esteem
Self-worth can often be connected with your core beliefs, self-talk, and, in turn, your behaviour. If you have negative core beliefs, engage in critical self-talk, and let others treat you badly because you feel you don’t deserve better, or if you engage in self-sabotaging or self-limiting behaviour that continues to keep you stuck, then low self-esteem could be an issue that you may need support with.
You could also feel that you need to be overly helpful, accommodating, and a “yes” person in order to receive love, affection, praise, social connection, or other ways of feeling valued. This may make it hard for you to put yourself first and recognize what you need.
If you are impacted by perfectionism, you may find yourself hyper-focused on productivity and positive outcomes rather than turning your attention to the process or acknowledging your efforts.
A South Asian therapist can be a good resource, particularly in terms of understanding how your early life experiences may have shaped your self-esteem as well as helping you to see yourself in a different light – a light where you deserve to shine.
5. Understanding family issues
Family of origin challenges is a common issue that brings many South Asian adults to counselling. Enmeshment or an overly close relationship, difficulties with communication and healthy emotional expression, disrespect and dismissal regarding personal boundaries, and unrealistic expectations are just a few of the problems that lead South Asian adults to reach out to a counsellor or therapist for support.
A South Asian therapist would likely be very well-versed in these types of issues as they might have experienced many of these challenges themselves and can use their knowledge to better support you as you begin to process what happened in the past and figure out how you want to handle your family dynamics moving forward.
6. Healing from trauma
Being a victim of or witnessing violence, abuse, neglect, or growing up with family members who struggled with addiction are all examples of traumatic experiences that could affect you now as an adult.
Recognizing behaviours that used to keep you safe when you were vulnerable – e.g. being overly helpful to reduce conflict, shutting down emotionally to reduce feelings of overwhelm, withdrawing from social contact due to a lack of interest or as a form of self-protection, having difficulty regulating your emotions, or engaging in challenging behaviours because of coping difficulties, and other types of behaviours may have helped you survive and manage in the past but these behaviours may not be serving you now as an adult.
A South Asian therapist may be familiar with some traditional cultural values, such as physical punishment when children misbehave, don’t listen, or don’t do as asked, domestic violence toward women in a society where gender inequality and women’s rights are not as valued, and where mental health stigma and the reluctance to access professional services can lead people to develop negative coping skills to avoid, escape, or numb their pain. Accessing support from a therapist who can be patient with you as you go through your healing journey will be important.
7. Navigating relationship problems
Co-dependency, learning to recognize red (and green) flags in relationships, navigating inter-racial and inter-faith dating, having a safe space to talk about your sexuality and gender identity and receive unconditional support, and figuring out how to communicate respectfully and clearly in your relationships may all be examples of topics that you bring to therapy.
You can feel rest assured knowing that a South Asian therapist will likely have a very good understanding of these issues and can guide you through important conversations you may be considering having with the important people in your life.
Your therapist could also help you reflect on things you might need to do, such as arrange for a safe place to stay and consider the professional and personal resources available to you that you can lean on if you anticipate that having difficult conversations could have a negative or distressing outcome. You can prepare yourself mentally, emotionally, and physically so that you can feel confident before you take that first step forward.
8. Developing assertiveness skills
Learning how to challenge people-pleasing behaviour by creating boundaries and improving your self-advocacy skills is a very tough skill to learn, particularly in South Asian culture where being of service to others and putting other people’s needs before your own is very common.
Your South Asian therapist can offer steady support as you learn, build, and refine your assertiveness and boundary-setting skills. This is particularly relevant regarding relationships such as those with your parents, siblings, partner, in-laws, friends, co-workers, and other people who are involved in your day-to-day life.
9. Building your independence
As a young adult or an older adult, considering the idea of moving out of the family home, building relationships outside of the family unit (e.g. with a partner, friends, etc.), and recognizing the skills and life areas needed to be independent (e.g. finances, housing, transportation, cooking, cleaning, etc.) are all important factors as you spread you wings and leave the nest.
A South Asian therapist is very much aware of the gravity of this huge step along with the anxiety, fear, guilt, and shame that may be associated with this transition. Your therapist can act as a guide and support as you take this leap into living life on your own terms.
10. Adjusting to life transitions
Navigating the transition to university or college, getting your first job, the adjustment to marriage, moving in with your partner, having children, and working on your your relationship with your new in-laws (whether or not you live with them) are all examples of major life transitions you may go through at some point in your life.
Adjustment challenges can be especially common if you grew up in a family where you were encouraged to stay close to the family unit, which may have impacted your sense of comfort and ease with trying new experiences in your life, whether that includes hobbies, travel, volunteering, or connecting with different social groups or networks.
Change and transition may feel very overwhelming to you as you may have stayed in your comfort zone and avoided venturing outside of it.
A South Asian therapist who has a strong understanding of the link between change, anxiety, avoidance, and procrastination can help you figure out the smallest step toward embracing the changes you want to see in your life. They can also help you figure out new coping skills as you deal with unexpected or unwanted changes.
Mental health issues span across all ages, ethnicities, cultures, personalities, and life situations. In this vast array of concerns, people are trying to find a therapist in what might feel like an abyss of options.
This may be why clients sometimes seek a South Asian therapist – the client may want a professional who can in many cases implicitly understand the subtleties and nuances where South Asian culture and mental health intersect.
Of course, South Asian therapists are not the only types of therapists who are able to serve South Asian clients -- and South Asian clients are not necessarily always looking for a South Asian therapist.
Regardless, if both the client and therapist are in agreement that they would like to work together, then there can be some value in the cultural sensitivity and understanding that a South Asian therapist can bring into therapy with a South Asian client that may prove helpful in a client’s therapy process.
Wishing you well on your mental health journey.
Davina Tiwari MSW, RSW, CSFT
Registered Social Worker and Certified Solution Focused Therapist
Read more blog posts about South Asian Mental Health.
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