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: Amy
Amy is a 21-year-old South Asian female who was born and raised in Canada. She is the middle child and youngest daughter in her family. She attends university and lives on campus for the majority of the year. She believes that her family, including herself, are “somewhat religious,” following Sikh religious and cultural practices but not to extremes.
Amy was raised in a culturally mixed home which, she stated, typically led to confusion. She indicated:
Well as an Indian culture and as a girl you had to learn housework, didn’t really get to do a lot of sports … didn’t really get to join anything because my brother had to go … and well westernized family, I could wear what I wanted when I wanted to … most of the time … I got to go to school. <Laughed>
She noticed increased confusion and challenges when she moved from an area where the general culture was similar to hers to a more culturally diverse neighbourhood. She felt it was “life changing” in terms of altering her personal beliefs, but felt that her parents’ beliefs had not altered. Amy reported that although mental health was “not really” discussed at home, “not personal things,” it was acceptably discussed in a general sense.
Amy first learned of mental health through a “psychology class in highschool,” but indicated that counselling was not discussed in detail. She reported knowing that mental health concerns were important, yet felt they had to be serious, “like if you’re being abused and need help … or you’re feeling anxious and have social issues,” in order to see a counsellor. During high school, she had wanted to seek counselling but was unsure of the process. However, she reported her greatest barrier was wondering whether her reasons were “important enough” to seek counselling. Upon further questioning, she indicated that “a death in the family … feeling suicidal maybe … being constantly unhappy … being abused … or being the aggressive person and hurting others” were “serious” reasons, because “whenever you look at mental health things around you or in the movies, or even people who share their stories … they are always something around that.” She also stated, “I didn’t know if they could do or give me any advice that would actually help me feel better.” She indicated that counselling would be considered only after other options had not worked, such as praying, going to the temple, “focusing on something else,” and/or speaking with her parents.
Amy actively sought counselling in her third year of university, when a family member became extremely ill. Prior to making the appointment, Amy asked her best friend and sister if they “thought it was a good idea.” She felt, “I just kind of needed that extra push … like okay she thinks it’s a good idea … so maybe I should.”Amy stated that she would have been more apprehensive about actively seeking the help she wanted if she was living at home and not on campus. She stated that external barriers, such as finances, or having a way of getting to therapy, would have deterred her from her decision.
Upon making her decision, she went to her university health center and asked to speak with someone. She was screened on spot and provided an appointment with a psychologist.
With regards to her thoughts about her therapist, she stated:
Umm… She was really nice. She made it a safe environment for me … she was understanding … and she listened … just like she didn’t talk too much … she just wanted me to explain myself … and I was comfortable there … she made me feel comfortable.
Amy felt her counsellor was empathetic and comforting, yet she noticed some cultural differences. She stated, “Certain things I said … she didn’t really get it … but when I explained … she was okay.” Amy also indicated that some advice provided by her therapist was not helpful in her family and cultural setting. She stated, “I feel like she just didn’t understand the family … like what our situation was … financially … or yea possibly even culturally … she just didn’t get that you … like can’t just uproot and leave the house whenever I wanted.” However, Amy reported that her experience with counselling was “helpful,” as it provided her some tools to manage her symptoms.
Amy reported that she was worried about her parents’ reaction to her seeking counselling, and therefore she attended a few sessions prior to telling them. She “wanted to make sure it would help … and it did.” She indicated that her parents were supportive and open to the counselling “because they can understand it,” but “something that is just about me … like if it was just about me and my friends … they would be like okay get over it … because they don’t know the feeling.” She felt that having a “real reason,” such as the illness in the family, made it easier for her to confide in them.
When discussing her support system, Amy felt that her friends and family have been very supportive. However, she has been careful not to share this information with extended members of her family, such as grandparents and cousins, as “my parents wouldn’t want me to … it’s more of a personal thing.” Yet, she indicated, “If I was to tell someone I was in counselling, they would be like ‘Oh well your [family member] has [illness], so its reasonable’.” She did not feel this would be the case if she were in counselling for “something that is within” as “other people can’t feel it or see it … then I feel like that is like … ‘Maybe your parents did something wrong’ … and then that’s when people would feel ashamed to tell people.” She felt that this stigma might stop someone from getting help.
Overall, Amy was happy with her decision to seek and continue with counselling. She continues to see her counsellor on a bimonthly basis.