by Sally Chung

Being Generation 1.5, I always wrestled with my cultural identity. Raised in America, I am not “Asian” enough. Raised in Hawaii and being Chinese, I am also not “American” enough. I always felt a little behind, a little out of place. Even after making cultural identity the focus of my dissertation, it is still a process that moves at its own pace. Sometimes in sudden, hammering surges. Other times, the barest whispers barely caught on the edge of my consciousness.

Fast forward to a few years ago, I started a private practice after completing my residency. I learned I needed a niche to make me more marketable. Being trained as a general practitioner, I had no niche and couldn’t think of one. I didn’t have anything that would make me stand out in the sea of therapists in the Seattle area.

Except I did.

In 2018, 2/3 of my intakes identified as people of color, couples of color, or mixed race couples. For many of them, my ethnicity was a factor in them choosing me. They wanted someone who could understand their experiences, cultural values, and family dynamics. They wanted to be seen. They wanted someone who would get it. Some shared feelings of relief at finding a practitioner of color and their relief struck me hard. It was poignant, weighty, and bittersweet.

They were relieved to find someone who looked like them and could relate to them. They were relieved because Asian American therapists are kind of like unicorns, especially at the doctoral level. According to APA in 2016, AAPI-identified psychologists comprised about 4% of all psychologists (n = 3,576) and that is a 92% increase from 2007. That does not even factor in age, acculturation/generational status, or specific ethnicity. As a whole, people of color do not have as many options for non-white practitioners; that same APA report found that only 16% of psychologists identify as an ethnic/racial minority. (source)

It turns out my niche found me.

And it turns out that working with people of color, particularly young professionals working hard to adult effectively and figure out who they are, is something that is deeply fulfilling to me. I resonate intimately with their struggle. We have so much to offer as API psychologists by embracing our cultural identity as a core part of our professional identity. I love that I am using my research to guide people as they navigate the intricate and never-ending process of becoming. My experiences give me just enough wisdom to retrace my steps to walk with them on their road. I love sitting with them in a space that is filled with questions, connections, and compassion. My heart soars with each insight made and each relationship repaired. My heart breaks with their grief when interventions go wrong- or right. I love feeling that each session heals a bit more of the little girl part of me that needed to know that the struggle will get easier and that I’m all the more whole because of it. I needed her to know that we made it. Because we made it.

Sally Chung, Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist who has a private practice in Seattle, WA. Her way-too-long dissertation was a cultural identity exploration workshop for Asian Americans.

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