A couple of years ago I was at a conference where several people whose work greatly interests me were scheduled to attend. There was a mixer afterwards, and I saw that one of those people was just standing around, not talking with anyone. I didn’t want to rush over and drool on him with my fan-idolatry, but after a while it became clear that nobody was really talking to him. So I tucked in my eagerness and went on over.
Among the many interesting things he told me that evening was that in his work with Asian American students, he found that they were grossly overrepresented in crisis situations. At one university, the Asian American student population was 20 percent of the total. However, these same students represented more than half of the serious crisis calls at the counseling center. They were also grossly overrepresented in hospitalizations. He mentioned that there was also a great amount of diversity within that specific population–that is, there were immigrants, first-generation, second-generation and third-generation American-born represented.
This led me to wonder if there is some reason why these Asian American students were not being referred to counseling before they reached a crisis state. It is too easy to say, “Asians consider psychological help shameful.” While I believe that may sometimes be true, such generalization makes it too easy to ignore that culturally specific, culturally sensitive counseling is not, for the most part, available.
Clearly, if people of Asian descent who are of broadly different generational backgrounds are overrepresented, something is going on other than just a “cultural inability to accept psychological help.” I think that viewpoint tends to write off the client before he or she has even been seen and evaluated. And it makes me understand more why clients of a particular cultural or ethnic background often seek out therapists with similar backgrounds. “Cultural competence” training in psychology and other fields still tends to use the paradigm of “one group, one chapter”–where there is a chapter for dealing with a specific group and all the attendant warnings and cultural tidbits that are supposed to help the psychologist in his or her understanding.
And as I was speaking with this psychologist, a part of me was also thinking about how unusual it was that he had not amassed a following and that he was available to speak with me. Wasn’t there a single white person at that conference who felt he or she was interested in this psychologist’s work? Or was he just seen as less important? What does that say about his work?