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.
Awareness of Support
As all participants were raised in culturally diverse environments, part of a “new culture” (Vik), they worried that their choice to seek counselling might not be supported. However, they all sought out and felt fully supported by at least one person while engaging in the counselling process. Vik reported that he received support from his mother, and “my brother was probably the biggest support for me … he was kind of a mediator … helped my parents understand where I was coming from.” While Amy reported that prior to seeking counselling, she “had been thinking about it for a while … but when they [sister and friend] said it was a good idea … it was like that extra push I needed.” Sara indicated that her husband supports her and “my family doesn’t need to know.”
Some hegemonic processes of gender and autonomy seemed to affect this awareness. Although they were all provided the choice to “do what makes you happy” (Vik, Sara, and Amy), underlying notions of gender norms emerged. Both Vik and Sara felt some resistance initially, but while Vik was able to openly stick to his decision and feel fully supported, Sara felt the support was initially superficial. She had attempted counselling several years previously and had told her immediate family. She stated, “They never stopped me from going … but they didn’t agree that it would help.” Sara also noted that, while living at home, she did not feel supported in utilizing the advice provided to her. She indicated, “I couldn’t even use the advice, since I was living with my parents … so it [counselling] didn’t last long.” Amy also indicated a similar experience in that “as an Indian girl … there are some things that we just don’t do … [so] some of the advice she [therapist] gave me I couldn’t use.” However, when they (Amy and Sara) moved out, they were more able to make those decisions autonomously. On the other hand, Vik stated, “My dad kind of doesn’t get involved with the mental health stuff, [and he] was a little more hesitant I think … I made [him] understand.” The female participants felt they received greater autonomy, and were able to be more selective in their support, after moving away from home, while Vik continued to feel supported and autonomous in his decision making while living with his parents.
The unceasing perception of feeling supported allowed the participants to continue on their journey. Vik stated, “Once they [family] understood that it was a beneficial thing … they became very supportive … and they were like ‘Stay on top of it, because we don’t want you sliding back’.” Amy was initially hesitant about discussing the idea of counselling with her parents’ as she was unsure of how they would react.
However, she noted they were supportive, as “they understand this feeling.” Yet, she stated, “If I had gone for something else … like problems with my friends or something personal … they might not have been that supportive.” The awareness of support appeared to be highly subjective relative to the individual experiences and to hegemonic gender processes.
The idea of stigmatization was also noted here. Amy and Sara were afraid of the stigma and shame they may face if someone outside of the family, or even within the extended family, were to find out they were in counselling. Amy stated, “My parents wouldn’t want me to [tell others],” and Sara indicated, “I don’t want others to look at me different.” Even though Amy felt that her extended family members would understand, she feared her parents would not feel the same and her decision might reflect poorly on them. Thus, the notion of stigma appeared to be greater for the female participants and not so much for Vik, who stated, “I told everyone … I would just talk about it.” Vik was more able to discuss his experience with, and decision to participate in, counselling with his immediate and extended family members as well as friends.
Although some barriers arose, all participants eventually felt supported in their journey and chose to seek and continue counselling. How supported an individual feels appears to affect her/his willingness and motivation to engage in seeking and participating in counselling. This support was influenced by gender norms and autonomy as well as stigmatization. However, overcoming these occurred when at least one person was supportive of the participant’s decision.