Identity

AAPI Month: Melanie Ukosakul

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I met Melanie Ukosakul, a mental health therapist with extensive experience working with trauma, about two years ago. It felt like a gift to meet someone else who also understood what it is like navigating multiple countries of origin and cultural identities.Thank you, Melanie, for taking the time to share some of your wisdom with us in this interview!

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

Melanie Ukosakul (MU): Hello there! My name is Melanie. I'm a therapist, artist, creative, wife, daughter, sister, friend, TCK (third culture kid), traveler, and global soul. I hail from Thailand and for now have made home in the PNW.

NA: What does your work involve?

MU: My therapeutic work is really centered around home/nest-building, meaning helping clients build 'home' within themselves, their bodies, in family, and in their communities. I work with clients to help them tune into the different aspects of their identity and the loyalties that beckon them and help them stay fiercely kind to themselves.

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

MU: I come from a culture that values appearing okay, though it may not mean you are okay. I want you to know that your mental health makes you beautifully human. Honour that. You honouring you, honours your family.

As AAPIs, we often carry grief silently. I want you to know that you are not alone. There are others who rage and grieve and wage war against the culture of stigmatized mental health with you. And if all this feels counter-cultural, it is. So stay fiercely kind to yourself.

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

MU: My self-care go-tos are snacks! :) As well as long hugs, snuggles, feet rubs with essential oils, anything involving food, climbing, traveling, and journaling/ morning pages.

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

MU: I love this question and it’s a hard one. I love that my Thai-Singaporean-Chinese multicultural identity invites no-nonsense warm hospitality and an invitation to the table. I love that the 'how are you?' equivalent is 'have you eaten?'. Its so symbolic of attending to the others' nourishment and needs.

You can find out more about Melanie and her work as a therapist by clicking here. Thanks for reading along - don’t forget to check out the other AAPIs features from this month!


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.

 

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.