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Sang Lintakoon, Child and Family Therapist, March 3 2023

When Your Therapist Looks Like You: The Healing Power of Racial Reflection

In a field where nearly 80% of psychotherapists are White, finding a therapist of color (and specifically of one’s same race or ethnicity) can be a challenge for clients of color, which can contribute to the feeling of grief that many people of color experience in a society where the “default” setting is White. There is an unspoken understanding that occurs when the person across from you intimately understands what it looks, sounds, and feels like to move about the world in a body and skin color that more closely reflects your own. A familiar sense of ease and disarming happens when you don’t have to expend extra energy explaining or educating your therapist about your cultural norms, traditions, or nuances.

It is because of this innate sense of knowing and understanding that I have found great joy in working with clients who are also Asian American like me. I have had the privilege of working with clients of all ages and backgrounds, including immigrants, transracial adoptees, and second-generation Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) adult children of immigrants. There is something about the unique experience of living life between multiple cultures that I am drawn to. You’re not fully Asian but you’re also not fully American.

I recently had the honor of leading a six-week support group specific to AAPI adults interested in processing through issues of their Asian American racial identity. The word that best describes what transpired over those six weeks is sacred. The intimate group of self-identified AAPI adults spent time discussing topics like belonging, identity, grief, intersectionality, advocacy, and hope, and it was incredible to witness how quickly connections were forged between group members that had never crossed paths prior to the group.

A sense of shared relief occurred between group members as they reflected how they didn’t have to be “on” or alert when they were in the group with others who looked like them. There was a permission to be fully and authentically themselves in a way that many of them did not experience with their non-Asian friends, partners, family members, or coworkers. One group member shared that unlike White people, whose lived experiences are reflected back to them on a daily basis, they were so used to never being reflected back by others that they couldn’t help but be taken aback when it happened in the group.

Victoria Alexander once said, “There are three needs of the griever: To find the words for the loss, to say the words aloud and to know that the words have been heard.”

Being a person of color in the U.S. is an experience that can, unfortunately, carry a lot of grief. Finding the words for this grief, saying them aloud to a safe person or group, and experiencing the felt sense of being heard can be more healing than you might expect.

If you are interested in attending a future AAPI support group, please email Sang to be added to the email list. For a list of Asian American providers, visit the Asian Mental Health Collective therapist directory or Asians for Mental Health therapist directory.

Written by

Sang Lintakoon, Child and Family Therapist

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