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Why do you need a South Asian Therapist?

Speaking with my friends and family, and of course being a huge advocate of having a trusted, space holding, non-biased therapist, I have encountered the same repeated rhetoric particularly from my female loved ones.

Essentially some one from the South Asian community, who has survived, suffered and enjoyed the ups and downs of being a daughter, mother & participant of the under current of misogyny even if well disguised. Inevitably taught to sacrifice her own needs to placate that of family members, take the role of make shift mum for her siblings and bare responsibilities they should not have to, but inevitably are expected to without even a blink of an eye. I am not portraying a picture of slum like living in rural India. No - I am talking about the thousands of westernised south Asian families, living in the U.K, USA and Canada, as well as other westernised countries away from the hubbub of Asia itself. We as South Asian women may share common ground, playing the traditional female role of house maker, whilst striving in our masculine role as a bread winner. Top of our game, educated, highly functioning, multi tasking & working day in and day out, both in our careers and at home. God forbid, you don't sacrifice yourself for your family, in-laws, career and all visitors who enter your home, you are labelled as 'lazy'.

Indian women supporting each other
Indian girls leaning on each other

At first I thought the need for a therapist of South Asian decent is unnecessary, as my mentor/therapist/life coach, who has been a part of my life for the best part of a decade, is not from South Asian or Punjabi heritage. And I wouldn't replace her for the world. She has set the example of all examples, trauma informed, non-judgemental, somatic therapist and spiritual warrior. Setting the path for many to follow in her footsteps, and teaching these rare skills with a watchful eye to her students (including me). I have felt blessed to have her hold space for me. However I recall when we first met, she was wearing a Turban, playing Kirtan (hymns) that I knew to be of Sikh descent, and taught Kundalini Yoga. As a woman raised in a Sikh faith family, all of this resonated. I felt like she got it, and she got me. Yes I was raised in the Sikh philosophy, but it took till my early 30's to have any real interest in seeking and learning about the philosophies which now govern a large part of my moral compass (including that of Buddhism and the Vedas). My ever present rebellious side, was not about to take the teachings of my parents at face value. So I needed to learn from a fresh perspective, clean slate and all that. Without any guilt trips attached, or lectures insinuated (which I often found from those I have encountered in my upbringing, using religion to chastise when behaving 'badly' or to prove some kind of hypocritical point). And I suppose seeing this British white woman, of the same age who had done the same, shed away from her organic upbringing, and learning about Kundalini and Sikhi from a fresh poetic perspective, to really learn about the philosophy, not the lectures or preaching what couldn't and wouldn't always be practiced by the preachers; we connected. Maybe this was my way of having a slice of the eastern pie as my mentor without even realising it.

  • Why we can't just tell our parents 'how it is' and set them straight.

  • Why communicating about our mental health is such a taboo, even to the point of letting our loved ones know we may consider a finding a therapist. I know many in my community would ask why I want therapy, after all 'my parents gave me everything'.

  • The shame surrounded by not being completely grateful for the superficially perfect life, as we have learnt to cleverly disguise any flaws to the larger community. Afterall, what would 'they say' if they found out, what ever the latest thing is to potentially be embarrassed about.

  • That often when guests come round, the inherently sexist roles are ever magnified, by us women serving the men. Even down to the youngest boys of the family, as they learn misogyny from the top.

  • That we have a role to play when interacting with our in laws, and with our own families. And figuring out how to teach our children and the next generation a way out of these roles is incredibly difficult.

  • We can't just leave 'him' when we want, as it will bring shame to the family.

  • We cannot just take the person we love home, and introduce them as our partner, in case the family doesn't approve.

  • We may live a complete double life from our parents, as they will never be able to accept the true version of us.

To the western mind this may sound backwards & old fashioned, I remember when I would speak of my home life with some of my British colleagues, and they would raise their eyebrows, giving me unhelpful, unsolicited advice (all with good intentions of course).

This is a reality for many Asian women. My apologies to the men this may also highly affect and trigger, as today I have spoken of this point of view from a personal point of view, that of a British-Indian, female born, raised and flourishing in England.

Having a therapist or any one for that matter, tell you that you should be able to speak to your family and tell them they have traumatised you, and that their narcissistic, co-dependent, unhealthy, poor boundary setting tendencies may have something to do with the constant feeling of anxiety / burnout / fatigue / depression / confusion / suicidal ideation / sadness etc etc is just a very unrealistic and unhelpful task to be set.

So I get it, I understand that you may wish to have a therapist who has grown up in the same culture and community as you. Some may not hold this prerequisite when searching, and that is fine too. The truth is we will connect with who ever we connect with, and we will be drawn to the person who will hopefully truly help guide us to healing. Wishing you a journey of true, soul searching. Meeting your shadow and working through it to the point of true emotional freedom. We all deserve to be heard, held and nurtured along our path, and in this way the healing already begins.


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