AAPI Month: Jennifer Yeh

 

Our next featured mental health clinician is Jennifer Yeh, a brilliant Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) specialist and a makeup aficionado. Spending time with Jennifer always leaves me feeling both impressed by her expertise and also deeply grateful for her kindness and laughter. Read on to learn more about Jennifer’s unique perspective on mental health.

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

Jennifer Yeh (JY): I tend to introduce myself first as a Bay Area native, a wife to a UW professor (which is how I came to call Seattle home), a mother of a young child, and as a therapist.

NA: What does your work involve?

JY: I am a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, and provide psychotherapy to adults at Seattle Anxiety Specialists (a group practice in downtown Seattle).  People often seek out our services for anxiety-related issues, and along with that comes all the complexities of navigating being human, and being in relationship to other humans.  In my work specifically with anxiety disorders, I often incorporate an exposure-based approach (in which I support individuals to face their fears in session).

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

JY: Regarding mental health in general, I want people to know that the struggle is truly very real!  My experience interacting with people personally and professionally - including individuals of great privilege, education, and worldliness - is that there continues to be a lack of knowledge and understanding about the validity of mental illness and mental health treatments.  I don't believe people intend to be judgmental - it's more that I believe that:

  1. We naturally fear what we don't understand and/or don't know well, and

  2. Fear then drives us (because we are tribal in nature) to hide ANYTHING that we believe will get us cast from the tribe

  3. That 'ANYTHING' definitely includes mental health struggles (given the lack of frank and open dialogue about mental health issues)

  4. And so goes the cycle of fear, shame, and mental health concerns . . .

Regarding AAPI mental health, I first would like to help in spreading the word that AAPI culturally-informed therapy is out there, including in Seattle, and continues to grow.  I belong to therapist Facebook groups (i.e., Seattle Asian Therapists, Washington Counselors of Color) that are dedicated to connecting clients to AAPI culturally-aware support services.  If you or someone you know is specifically seeking a therapist who is rooted in the AAPI community, don't hesitate to reach out to me and I can help connect you to a provider.

Secondly regarding AAPI mental health, I think it is helpful to recognize that the AAPI community is a diverse group in and of itself.  I was struck for example by research psychologist Dr. Kristin Neff's work on self-compassion (a concept strongly tied to emotional well-being).  In a study of the US and two different Asian countries, she and her fellow researchers found that self-compassion practices were highest in Thailand, lowest in Taiwan, and in-between in the US (Neff, Pisitsungkagarn, & Hsieh, 2008).  I imagine these disparities translate to meaningful differences in the lived experiences and emotional presentation of various members of the AAPI community.

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

JY: I love dancing, because it helps me get out of my head and into my body.  When I was younger, I took ballet lessons and was very focused on precision, timing and alignment. (Not that I had a ton of any, but oh boy, did I try really hard!) Something clicked later on - I bet it was when I was watching "So You Thank You Can Dance" - where I viscerally experienced how beautifully the body could hold, convey, and inspire emotion - and actually that's what I cared about more than technique.

When I feel particularly drained or have gotten lost in rumination, I have found it healing to look into my child's eyes (especially when she is babbling away about preschool life).  I notice how this intentional shift in my focus supports me in melting away impatience about getting to the next thing on my to-do list, and helps me transition to experiencing peace, amusement, and gratitude.

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

JY: My first instinct is to say "the food"!  There are certain inimitable flavors that are associated with my first memories (apple milk, anyone?)  I think these flavors are connected to a sense of community, 'home', and part of my development of self.

Thank you, Jennifer, for all you do for the AAPI community! To learn more about Jennifer’s work, please contact her at jennifer@seattleanxiety.com, (206) 309-5990 x300 or seattleanxiety.com.