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Counseling: A stigma for South Asians

By Sarah Ansari, LPC

            Whenever we hear that so and so went to see a therapist/counselor/psychologist, the first thought that comes into our minds is “Oh my God! He went psycho!” or “Wonder what made her go see a psychologist, has to be her crazy husband” etc. Such comments and thoughts are quite common in all cultures and societies regardless of the region or continent. In the West, seeking the help of an outsider is more common and is promoted a lot whenever close friends or relatives find themselves unable to provide the “right” kind of advice or help. However, such is not the case in South Asian communities that are a part of the Western population.

With a Pakistani background I noticed that there aren’t that many South Asian counselors in the field or even if there are, they cater to the Western population or they don’t have the means to reach out to their own communities and people. During my Masters program I read research articles and papers that were specific to the South Asian people (countries like Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka). Majority of them stated that South Asian people tend to avoid seeking the help of a psychologist/counselor and tend to solve their own problems. They tend to seek help from their elders (nothing wrong there) or their friends (again nothing wrong) but tend to avoid going to seek professional help. One research article even stated that South Asians see counseling as “airing their dirty laundry in public,” which of course is a big no-no in the community. If word got out that your friend or your sister/brother or even one of your parents was going to see a “shrink” it’ll be headline news in the community. Everyone would look at you differently and be talking behind your back. And of course not to mention the therapist would be spreading gossip and rumors about your family’s issues and how they’re all so messed up! These and many other similar thoughts must have come into your head once in a while if you encountered such news.

However, getting trained and educated in this field and now interning has shown and taught me a lot. There are laws that protect the clients and safeguard their information. There are organizations and agencies (American Psychological Association, American Counselors’ Association etc.) that promote these laws and rules. There are ethics codes that every counselor/therapist/psychologist/psychiatrist has to abide by. The counselor/therapist cannot discuss any information disclosed during a session even with the parents of an 18 year old without his/her written consent; let alone spread gossip about their clients in their community. South Asian people need to realize that these services are there to be availed especially in this region of the world. Western countries for example, emphasize so much more on the importance of maintaining mental health as much as physical health. People need to realize that it’s better to seek help from an outsider rather than keeping things inside. Because we all know that if feelings and emotions are kept inside they are bound to boil over and the situation could go from bad to worse.

Other misconceptions are that therapists/psychologists won’t understand where the South Asian client is coming from; or that they won’t be able to relate to the culture which is almost an exact opposite to the Western culture. This is an absolute myth. With the Western population becoming diverse day by day, therapist/psychologists and even doctors are being trained to deal with issues relating to multiculturalism. Undergraduate and graduate programs have specific courses that are required for students to take and even to get a license to practice in any US state one has to complete multi-cultural training and coursework. So it is absurd to think and believe that these professionals won’t be able to help you with your issues/problems. An obvious obstacle for many South Asians is also how to pay for the services because it is costly and majority of them don’t have health insurance coverage for mental health. There are counselors/therapists who use the sliding scale. This means that the payment per session will be decided based on the client’s annual income and this makes it easier for the client to pay out of pocket even. One can google the term “sliding scale” and get more information. There should be no shame attached to seeking outside help.

South Asians need to realize that there are opportunities in the Western countries that can be availed to promote and enhance their mental health just as they spend time and money on their physical health.  A sound and healthy mind means a healthy body and a long life.


 

Self-Care for Everyone

By Sarah Ansari, LPC

When we are stressed out, it is a natural and usual response to try and figure out what we can do to manage the stress effectively and to not spend bucket full of money either. I am all about saving money for a rainy day. People usually go online or use their smartphones as we want immediate relief! Throughout graduate school I heard the term ‘self-care’ and did not really understand the meaning or value of this term till I was burned out!

Since I am all about saving money, I have come up with different techniques to help myself ground, center and be less stressed. Granted, these techniques work on some days and then some days I just lose focus. After all, I am a human being and not perfect in any way. One of the main techniques I use is called being mindful. Mindfulness is an Eastern practice used by Buddhist monks to keep them grounded in the present moment. There are many books written on this topic and not until recently has it really become a center of discussion and debate.

Mindfulness is often compared to meditation when both are different in some ways. The line between them is very thin and people often become confused. Meditation is usually about visualizing along with breathing, which often times leads to calmness. According to Wikipedia, “The term meditation refers to a broad variety of practices (much like the term sports) that includes techniques designed to promote relaxation, build internal energy or life force and develop compassion, love, patience, generosity and forgiveness.”(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meditation). According to one definition, (http://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/mindfulness)”Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.”

Mindfulness is similar to meditation but it is not meditation. Mindfulness helps me (personally) to check in with my own feelings and the way I am processing stress in that very moment. It also helps me to not judge myself or the way I am feeling. This is perfectly described by Thich Nhat Hanh, “Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”

― Thích Nhất HạnhStepping into Freedom: Rules of Monastic Practice for Novices

This is exactly what I experience!

So the next time you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed, practice being mindful in the moment and see what that enables you to see and feel. You might be pleasantly surprised.


Being a Parent is tough!

I never realized that becoming a step-parent would be tough and overwhelming. I am blessed with the step children who are mature, smart, intelligent however there are times when I have to be the nurturer and an empathetic listener. I want to badly “fix their problems” or provide solutions but I have constantly remind myself that they have to go through this process of change by themselves and that I cannot make it easy for them. It’s a juggling act that I have to do on a daily basis.

I also keep reminding them that I am not ever wanting to take their biological mother’s place but I am in some ways an authority figure and their “friend.” I am mostly a mediator between them and their father (my husband) and I am usually the one trying to diffuse the tension in the air.

My mother had a saying that I will know what it’s like to be a parent when I have children of my own. I don’t think this is any different situation as I am responsible for my step children the same way as I would be towards my biological children. I do find myself worrying at night when my older stepdaughter is not home from spending time with her friends or working. I do think about their health (physical and mental) and try my best to provide a safe, comforting space. I don’t know if I’m doing anything right or wrong because there’s no way to gauge the progress. But there’s laughter, corny jokes, weird snap stories being shared in our house, therefore it all must be working out (thank God!). Now I understand when people say being a parent is an unpaid, unappreciative job. Because it is! I wouldn’t ask it any other way. (This last statement might be different in the near future lol! Who knows). So far I’m enjoying the experience and learning from it as well.

So to all parents, step parents and parents of any kind out there… hang in there. You’re doing the best you know. There is no right or wrong way to parenting. Everyone has their own way of handling their children. As long as no one is getting physically or emotionally hurt, you’re all fine!

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