Vietnamese therapists and coaches are far and few between. And so you may wonder if you should try to find a Vietnamese therapist or coach, or should you just see “anyone.”
The short answer is: it’s up to you. I always say, if the counselor or coach is good, it’s better than nothing. However, if you identify with the Vietnamese culture, and you can find someone, I do feel it is beneficial. Here are some reasons why it can be beneficial to use a Vietnamese therapist or coach
1. A Vietnamese Therapist or Coach Understands Vietnamese Culture.
There are so many things that only Vietnamese people understand. And if someone does not understand our culture, there can be consequences. For example, my Vietnamese friend was having issues with her mother who was living with her. Of course, in our culture, living with and taking care of your parents is an honor and privilege, despite the disadvantages. However, when she went to a therapist who wasn’t Vietnamese, he looked down on her, saying that she “had a lack of boundaries.”
My friend felt confused. She thought that she was doing the right thing with her mom. Yes it was hard. Yes, her mom nagged her. But her mom had escaped Vietnam with my friend in her arms, amidst pirates, poverty in the US, and working two jobs so my friend could be educated and finally afford to give her mom a better life. And now this therapist was telling her to kick her mom out?
Now, not every therapist is going to do this. There are some very culturally competent non-Vietnamese counselors and coaches out there. And if you find one, that is great! However, having someone who does not understand your culture can end up make you feeling even more confused and judged. A Vietnamese counselor or coach will still have to get to know you (we are not all alike!), but they are more likely to “get you” without you having to educate them or running into major misunderstandings.
2. You Will Be Able to Express Yourself in Vietnamese.
When you are talking about deeper issues like relationships, it is important that you are able to express yourself in your native tongue. You’re not just ordering food off a menu or talking about sports. You are talking to your counselor or coach about the things that are the most important to you. Your heart and soul. Being able to convey that in your mother tongue can be very meaningful.
Many words just don’t have the same translation in English. For example, “thương” like “anh thương em nhiều lắm!” You could use “love” or “caring” but somehow it just doesn’t capture the essence. Being able to speak to someone who just knows what “thương” means feels more natural, and easier to express what you really mean. Sometimes you can get by with a good counselor or coach just communicating in English. However, being able to fully express yourself can often make a big difference.
3. You May Feel More Comfortable with a Vietnamese Therapist or Coach.
Psychology tells us that we naturally feel more comfortable with those that we are familiar with. Here’s why: familiarity means relative predictability. And when we feel things are predictable, we feel more in control. And when we feel in control, we feel safe and comfortable.
If you grew up in a Vietnamese family, seeing a Vietnamese therapist or coach can give you the sense of “I am familiar with this person.” Even though you may not know your counselor or coach, the fact that he or she looks like you (or your favorite Uncle #7) can give you a sense of ease and safety. You don’t have to “figure out” what this person is about or use energy to predict how this person will treat you. You may feel more trusting and willing to open up.
Now, there are cons to this, too. If you grew up feeling ashamed of your culture, either due to racism or internalized shame, you may naturally gravitate towards another ethnicity. Also, if you grew up resenting Vietnamese people due to them either hurting or abusing you, you may feel uncomfortable working with someone from the Vietnamese culture.
However, if you do find a Vietnamese therapist or coach who is secure in their ethnic identity, and is healthy emotionally, this can be healing for you. This person can model healthy ethnic identity for you.
We oftentimes project roles from our families onto our counselors and coaches. For example, if you are seeing a male counselor or coach, you may subconsciously project feelings about your spouse or father onto this person. This Vietnamese counselor or coach can oftentimes help heal the resentful feelings towards your family, or your spouse as they model healthy relationships and safety.
David Huynh is a Vietnamese Relationship Coach. If you’d like to learn more about him, or get coaching for your relationship, you can go here.