In my work with Asian American clients, I have noticed 2 myths about the taboo of counseling that do not apply with them as a rule of thumb.
1. Asian Americans do not seek help. It may be a true general cultural trend to keep troubles or “dirty laundry” to themselves, but I find that when given the nudge by a person in their lives, be they family members, close friends, or colleagues, Asian Americans do cross over the bridge and embrace counseling. There is often a sense of relief when they can finally open their hearts held tightly for so long. This relief is also mixed with confusion around what counseling is all about. If counseling can be explained not only in a way that makes sense for the Asian American, but also adapted to the worldview, including language and cultural values, that the person is living with, then counseling is even further welcomed by the Asian American.
2. Asian Americans don’t focus on relational insight-oriented therapy but more on brief task-oriented counseling. This can be a general assumption, which does have some basis of truth, but I find that relationship is actually a very important component of working with Asian Americans. Given that Asian cultures are collectivistic as a whole, it is not surprising at all that an Asian American client would have relationships in mind, including the therapeutic relationship, when participating in counseling. Often, building trust and finding common grounds show up during the establishment of a therapeutic relationship early on in the work. In addition, the family unit is understood as a significant force in the Asian American life, and insight-oriented work that makes connections between family background and current problems make sense for the Asian American. The values of saving face and respecting parents and elders do get in the way of this exploration, thus gearing the direction of therapy more often than not to more pragmatic, task-oriented surface issues. However, given the right therapeutic relationship, the doors to deeper work with underlying causes can open up.
With both myths, I find that it is more about how therapy is done that is crucial. The right kind of language use (not just ethnic language, but the linguistic nuances of each person’s communication style) and the right kind of relationship is the how that is needed.