Experiences with Counselling for Individuals Within the South Asian Community II: Methodology, Stories and Analysis
by Alisha Mann, MPsy
This series was originally completed as a Major Research Project in partial fulfillment of Adler Graduate Professional School’s Master of Psychology degree.
The Stories and Analytical Findings: Sara
Sara is a 29-year-old South Asian female. She was born in India and raised in Canada. She is the eldest child and only daughter in her family. She is in graduate school, is married, and lives with her husband. She follows Sikh religious practices and considers herself to be “fairly religious,” but describes her family as “strictly” religious.
Sara first learned of mental health and counselling in high school. She indicated it was never spoken of at home, as “my family ignores mental health … doesn’t even think about it.” Although she learned of it in high school and had wanted to seek counselling, she was unsure of the process. She did report speaking with the school guidance counsellor and found it to be helpful, but only short term, as she had difficulty acting on the advice she was provided.
Sara actively sought counselling for the first time in university and found it helpful. Therefore she mentioned it to her immediate family. She stated,
They were shocked and surprised that there was even a problem … but they didn’t stop me from going … they just said do what you have to do … whatever helps … but they didn’t agree that it would help … It’s kind of like … they wanted to show me it wouldn’t work and that I would be wasting my time … that this isn’t really a problem … that I would regret it after … and they could say I told you.
Although she was not blatantly stopped from going to counselling, she felt the support she received was superficial, and she eventually stopped seeing her counsellor at that time.
Sara reconsidered seeking counselling after getting married and moving out of her family home. This time she sought advice from her brother, husband, and cousin and avoided the subject with other family members. She indicated they were all supportive in their own ways, but “I just have to make sure no one else finds out,” such as other family and friends, as she feels “they wouldn’t understand.” She stated her husband was initially sceptical, but after some research, he was and continues to be highly supportive. When she finally decided, “it only took 24 hours to set up an appointment. I just had to make sure I had insurance coverage.”
In terms of her experience with counselling, she indicated, “It was uncomfortable at first to share everything with a stranger. But it felt better once you realize they understand what you are saying.” Although her therapist was not of the same religious background, she was from a similar culture and was able to understand the challenges to which Sara alluded. Sara reported that she prefers not seeing a counsellor who is of her religious background, “because for them it would just be normal. Nothing problematic.” Also, it might increase the chances of running into the counsellor in public settings, such as at “the Gurudwara” (Sikh temple), because “our area only has one … and everyone goes there.”
With further questioning, Sara indicated that having a therapist who understood “the struggle between incorporating Eastern and Western cultures” so they “would know how hard it is to adapt with family bonds and different environments” was important, no matter the actual religious background.
Upon discussing culture-based gender roles, she indicated that mental health concerns are seen as weaknesses for both men and women. She felt that for men, these concerns are typically covered up with drugs and alcohol, and women simply endure them as “women service the men … and the men support the women … and that sums up the cultural view on gender.” Sara also alluded to the notion that marriage prospects would be hindered if someone, either male or female, were given a mental health diagnosis. She wants to alter this dynamic within her general community and at home, but feels “there is only so much I can say.” She indicated that a change has to be shown to her family and her community before counselling is openly accepted.
All together, Sara felt positive about her decision to seek counselling and felt she would go regularly if insurance allowed it. However, she has currently stopped attending counselling as a result of financial restrictions.