Today I had the opportunity to interview Jeanie Y. Chang, a licensed marriage and family therapist, global speaker, and bestselling author. Chang is the founder of her own interdisciplinary practice, Your Change Provider, PLLC®, which promotes healthy emotionality through the intersectionalities of identity, mindfulness, resilience, and mental health.
Can you tell us a bit more about the kind of work you do?
In addition to what you already mentioned, I am also a Certified Clinical Trauma Professional and Certified Mental Health Integrative Medicine Provider. The field of mental health found me after a diverse career path in broadcast journalism, business school and working in the corporate sector in PR, Marketing, and Client Success management.
Much of my work involves providing workshops and webinars to corporations, community organizations, and colleges sharing my Cultural Confidence™ curriculum as well as therapy for adolescents, families, and professionals. Most of my practice serves AAPIs. I didn’t plan that but that’s how it turned out which is, to me, great to see considering the stigma surrounding mental health and mental illness in the AAPI community.
What unique challenges have you experienced as an Asian-American in business?
The nature of my work is a challenge in itself! Being an Asian American clinician trying to dispel the stigma surrounding mental health in my community is still a novel concept. Culturally speaking, there’s such stigma on mental health and mental illness among AAPIs so I am challenged each day to break through cultural nuances and norms for the sake of promoting good mental health and wellbeing in my clients.
I face two factors in my work as an entrepreneur. I am an Asian American (Korean American) female. I have faced both sexism and racism in my work. It’s interesting knowing that I openly share about racism as it is a mental health crisis and must be talked about on the micro-level and macro-level. I bring up uncomfortable topics such as anxiety, depression, suicidality, trauma, intergenerational stressors like conflict and trauma among families and individuals that do affect them in their everyday lives.
Honestly, because I am out there in front of audiences (mainly virtually now), challenges are constantly part of my work. I have to swallow any imposter syndrome thoughts and ground myself in the strength and passion I have in doing what I do which is to normalize mental health, break through unhealthy family patterns among Asian Americans and provide as much psychoeducation as I can everywhere I am called to speak.
Have you experienced a noticeable difference in discrimination since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic?
There’s definitely more discrimination and I hear it directly from my Asian American clients. Due to HIPAA, I won’t be specific except to share there have been increases in microaggressions, kids being bullied, and Asian-owned businesses going through financial struggle because folks aren’t patronizing there due to discrimination surrounding Covid. It’s actually why I was extremely busy the last year and my business has tripled due to the discrimination and stress surrounding Covid. Families struggling and organizations wanting me to help their AAPI employees so I would come and speak on grief and trauma. This year my business has been even more overwhelmed with requests because of anti-Asian hate and racism.
I have faced more discrimination this year than I did last year. Why? In my talks, I speak out against anti-Asian hate and racism directly correlating it to mental health. In all that I share referencing discrimination and racism, I am speaking from a mental health perspective always. I talk about the harm surrounding the model minority myth saying it is a false narrative and the implications to AAPI mental health. It affects the AAPI community and largely why folks won’t get the mental health treatment they need or want or have to admit is a need. The discriminatory remarks I’ll get in the chat box, or the negative tone of statements from attendees that are not Asian are what I have faced this year. I am keenly aware of the energy I get when I speak even if it’s virtual. I can feel the discrimination and being a mental health expert, I know it is not imagined. It’s because I am talking about anti-Asian racism. I also address internalized racism, which is important for us to acknowledge, but that is also stirred up from microaggressions AAPIs have gotten in the past from folks joking about their language, food, their looks, and other characteristics.
So, you do not have to face anyone in person to experience discrimination or racism. It’s just as powerfully negative on a virtual meeting or call. I anticipate more discrimination as I enter the busiest month of my practice – May – which is APAHM (Asian Pacific American Heritage Month) and National Mental Health Awareness Month.
What I have found fascinating since Covid, is that my toughest audience has become non-AAPIS. Pre-Covid, that was not the case. I realize it is due to what’s happening around our country today in reference to Covid and anti-Asian hate. Honestly, I also feel exploited because many folks are asking me to speak on anti-Asian racism, discrimination, and how it affects our mental health when it’s something that has existed all along! I feel like we are the ones being traumatized and yet being called on to educate and share and address this to non-AAPIs for their sake. This in itself is discrimination.
How do you cope with discrimination, and what might you suggest to other Asian-American professionals who might be facing the same discrimination?
I am a solution-focused therapist and therefore, work hard to practice what I preach to my clients. Folks want a clear-cut answer and things in a linear way, but nothing in mental health is linear – it’s circular. As a 2nd generation Korean American, I cope with discrimination by focusing on my identity, who I am, the self-stigmas I may hold, internalized racism I am struggling with. Here’s my life quote that is the foundation of my memoir, “A is for Authentic: Not for Anxieties or for Straight A’s” that I share with folks to help them understand the discrimination they’re facing: “Learning to endure the imperfections of our cultural heritage, emboldens us to cultural confidence, which forges a path to impactful change for transformation.”
Being solution-focused is about looking at those times when things are going well and you’re not experiencing racism. Focus on those times to get you through those discriminatory times. What are you doing to cope each day? What is part of your mental health hygiene? This is what I ask folks and allow them to answer because I guarantee they’re doing something already to help them deal with anti-Asian hate. My hope is to help others know they have the strength already and that resilience is something that can be learned and developed.
Meaning, we can face discrimination, racism grounded on the strength of understanding who we are. The more we know what is going on within us, we can face external stressors and racial trauma. However, we need to put on our oxygen masks first in order to do so. I focus on my own resilience, strengths, skills, resources that I have and what I bring to the table and do not necessarily get defensive (sometimes talking back just doesn’t work), but I show confidence in who I am despite any struggles I have or have had in my culture and race. In essence, knowing your story, your narrative will help make sense of your own reality, and therefore you can show that to the world in your own words!
What are some of the key factors in overcoming acts of discrimination?
Key factors are always having a strong and consistent support system in place – on a micro level and macro level! Isolation is the worst thing for your mental health. The very thing I point out about our Asian culture that can be a stressor – a collectivist culture that can be conforming and restricting – is the very thing that I am finding can save us in the face of racism! Meaning claiming a sense of belonging among our fellow AAPIs because we are facing racism together can be so beneficial for our mental health and sustain us through periods of difficulty.
I never use the word “overcoming.” Mental health isn’t linear so we can’t necessarily “overcome” anything. Emotions are real and valid, our experiences good and bad are real and valid, and grief and trauma and racism can be experienced all at once and we are constantly having to learn how to manage and build our resilience to it all. But overcoming makes it sounds like there’s an end or finality to our experiences or emotions. Even as our society addresses structural, systemic racism and changes are made on the macro level – that doesn’t mean it’ll change our emotions with it. AAPIs may still experience discrimination for the rest of their lives because you cannot control what folks will say and do despite policies in place.
What can non-Asian Americans do to support their Asian American friends and colleagues who are facing discrimination in the workplace or on the street?
Take the Bystander Intervention training program by Hollaback!, which is a great training series to help folks feel more confident in doing something about racists attacks or comments in front of them. However, understand that there is no predicting how you’re able to intervene or help because it is traumatizing when you see racism happening in front of you. This is very important for non-Asians to understand. Not only is it traumatizing for AAPIs facing racist attacks, but it is also causing non-Asians trauma when they’re seeing it happening live or on the media. Therefore, it’s not accurate for one to believe they can do something about this. This honestly can be an irritating question from an AAPI perspective. And coming from a mental health clinician, it puts pressure on AAPIs to share what non-Asians should or can do. Instead of asking the question this way, it may be helpful to share what you are doing. As non-AAPIs educate themselves more, they’ll also grow in confidence in what to do and how to help, but it’s not necessarily about helping Asian friends or colleagues. It is about addressing racism.
Lastly, communicate. Silence is also a form of communication and in this case, the worst kind. Even if you do not know what to say, it’s always best to show empathy and compassion and share that you’re here despite not knowing what to say. Please refrain from the “White Savior” mentality which perpetuates racism and understand that you do not need to have or know the answers. AAPIs don’t expect that. They just want to feel validated and accepted and appreciated in the time of racial trauma. Please do not be silent and I am calling you forward to break the silence. Just because it’s only uncomfortable for you, it is very hurtful to your Asian friends. Silence is impactful in a way that can create hurt and harm in the midst of this trauma. For instance, do not shy away from using the word racism. When something happens to you, do you want to be met with silence?