Here’s how some therapists are tackling structural racism in their practiceHere’s how some therapists are tackling structural racism in their practiceGiphy GIFGiphy GIF

Here’s how some therapists are tackling structural racism in their practice

Cambodian American Eden Teng was was born in a refugee camp on the border of Thailand and Cambodia just a few years after the Cambodian genocide.
It was this realization that compelled Teng to become a therapist; in 2018 she began her graduate studies in Seattle.
But when COVID-19 hit and the Black Lives Matter movement came into full force, with communities of color having a more public conversation ...
...about their struggles in the U.S., Teng says she started feeling differently about her training and the profession she’d be entering.
“I didn’t feel represented, and I felt that so much of my family’s history just didn’t feel like it was considered,” she says, adding that she was studying under teachers who were predominantly white.
“I just felt silenced in my own history [and] my own experience in the work that I was doing.”
Embracing a practice of ‘decolonizing therapy’
“I think the best way to describe decolonized therapy is that it is really making space to examine the external pressures, stressors, and layers of oppression that my clients have endured and survived,” Teng says.
But for people of color, that framework of just being “more positive” doesn’t always work.
“The challenge,” Teng explains, “is to recognize that how you’re feeling about yourself can also be internalized oppression.”
“In first-generation or second-generation Cambodian Americans, there’s this experience that your parents have sacrificed or have gone through so much,” she says.
“They’ve experienced tremendous loss. And having that sense of their sacrifices, we feel we need to hold that harm and that grief and that pain.”
“We also feel that we have to transcend it by being perfect or striving to be so successful that we are becoming millionaires ...
...… versus really being with the gentleness of the grief, and the emotions that are being held and passed down.”
Using culturally responsive techniques
“This may mean that we involve parents in sessions so that we can hear from their point of view,” she says.
“When we’re in that space, there are a lot of opportunities to shed light on the impacts of being a child of immigrants. And through that lens — of ...
...being someone like a first generation immigrant — we can discuss the harm that is very much connected to the harm that parents have navigated.”
“And so, when you have the experience of suppressing those [painful] emotions, you’re also suppressing joy and connection, belonging.”
“[They] can allow for positive attachments and relationships that feel meaningful.”
“When we can really be with what’s hurting, we know we’re together in this,” she says.
“I’m a part of this collective healing journey with my clients.”
Growing acceptance of the role of historical trauma
“I remember this one [presentation] where they forwarded me the feedback, and several people were like, ‘This is political. It’s ideological. It doesn’t count as research. There’s nothing empirical about this. ...
...This isn’t like real academic work. Now, Beltran says things have changed, “I teach a whole class on historical trauma and healing, and it’s always one of the classes that gets filled up right away,” she says.
Now when she teaches, Beltran emphasizes that decolonizing can take different forms, depending on the experience of the therapist and the shared experiences of the community the therapist is trying to reach.
A growing need for culturally responsive therapy
“I’m only licensed to see folks in my area, and there are so many that are interested. And it breaks my heart every time, where I’m not able to provide support.”
“I had one from Kansas most recently, who was like, ‘We don’t have any Khmer therapists anywhere in the state.’ But, unfortunately, I’m not able to provide that service.”
“I myself haven’t had a therapist of my own who practiced the way that I do until most recently,” she says.
The Asian Mental Health Collective also created the Lotus Therapy Fund to provide financial support to Asian therapy seekers for eight sessions.
“There’s no way that we can just say that we’re going to look at this from a cultural lens without actually looking through the historical, intergenerational lens,” she says.
“And so, it has to be comprehensive and interconnected for it to truly honor the human being that is in front of you.”