AAPI Month: Christine Park

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Our next featured mental health practitioner is Christine Park, a multi-talented clinician and artist. Christine’s honesty and advocacy on behalf of the AAPI community inspires me. Thank you, Christine, for taking time to share with all of us!

Neshia Alaovae (NA): How do you like to introduce yourself to new friends?

Christine Park (CP): I'm a second generation Korean-American art therapist, born and raised in the greater Seattle area. 

NA: What does your work involve?

CP: I work at a community mental heath agency with kids and families. 

NA: What is something that you want people to know about mental health? About AAPI mental health?

CP: My family of origin hadn't initially acknowledged the existence of mental health as a concept. Several have changed over time. The ones who haven't to this day prioritize values that don't align smoothly with the idea of giving attention to one's own mental health. I've seen many AAPI's suffer from emotional pain and mental fatigue, and I've seen many attempt therapy. But will a white therapist really get the nuanced experiences of generationally transmitted war-inflicted (emotional) poverty, rapidly shifting tides of younger generations' Westernized lifestyles clashing with millennia-long Confucian ways of being, the unremarkable fact that graphing dad's weekly moods looks exactly like the Dow Jones performance chart, etc., etc . . . Probably not.

There are articles out there that attempt to explain the typical AAPI's fear and shame of the label "crazy," as well as ideas of it being a burden to share emotions or "show signs of weakness" . . . Yeah sure, it can show up that way. But it's something else to grasp the deeply rooted value systems and ideologies and core beliefs and all the other inexplicable stuff when they're consistent with yours.

It's hard for me to see AAPI's suffer. But cultural competency work is like all the work we do as therapists. We refuse to be rigid, we hold our frames with open hands, we keep pushing ourselves to learn, we ask good questions to ourselves and the people we interact with, and we love. 

NA: What are your go-to's for taking care of your own mental health?

CP:  I get into my body. I'm definitely a minority at the Crossfit gym, and sometimes even more when I go lift weights, but the process of getting strong sharpens my mind, and the feeling of being strong harnesses all my power.

NA: What about your cultural or ethnic identity do you appreciate the most?

CP: Too many things! But one thing I keep going back to is 정. It's not quite possible to define in English, but in a simplistic way, it's love, spoken or unspoken, and loyalty, community, compassion, affection . . . a connection that builds over time. It's 정 that kept our family together when I'm a hundred percent sure the typical American family would have divorced. Really though. I'm learning more about the flavor of 정 every time I interact with my family, my community, and my clients.