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Filling the need for mental health therapists

Kaiser Permanente’s partnership with Asian Health Services boosts the number of new mental health professionals who are trained to work with the Asian American Pacific Islander community. Pictured, Asian Health Services President Thu Quach (left) and Mon Wong celebrate at the recent Asian American Mental Health Training Academy graduation.

Mon Wong acknowledges the struggles Asian immigrants might share. She also knows that stigma exists for reaching out for mental health support. She’s committed to helping Asian immigrants who are dealing with the stresses of everyday life and coming to a new country.

Wong is one of 5 trainees who recently graduated from the Asian American Mental Health Training Academy at Asian Health Services in Oakland. A former Hong Kong high school teacher, Wong is fulfilling her dream to become a mental health therapist who serves the Asian American community.

“My journey to the mental health field was heavily influenced by my experiences with teenagers as a teacher in Hong Kong,” said Wong, who will graduate from Western Seminary this summer with a master’s degree in counseling/marriage and family therapy. “I am also an Asian mother and an immigrant. There are many challenges and struggles that come along with that.”

Improving access and health outcomes

Wong was part of the first cohort to the 26-month pilot program, funded by a nearly $500,000 grant from the Kaiser Permanente Fund for Health Education at the East Bay Community Foundation.  Another five graduate students are expected to enroll in the program later this summer.

The mental health academy trains graduate students who are currently enrolled in a Master of Social Work or Marriage and Family Therapy program at accredited colleges and universities. The program aims to better prepare new Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) therapists to serve the community.

“Kaiser Permanente supports the program as part of its work to eliminate health disparities for its members and the diverse communities it serves,” said Tera Eng, Kaiser Permanente Northern California Senior Director of Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity Consulting. “We want to improve access to mental health services for those within the AAPI community who are struggling. Their struggle was exacerbated during the pandemic amidst social isolations combined with anti-Asian hate, violence, and fear. We want to offer them skilled providers who understand their culture and speak their preferred languages. That will lead to better health outcomes.”

Asian Health Services is a major mental health provider in Alameda County and serves the AAPI community, one of the fastest growing populations in the county. The organization focuses on providing culturally and linguistically competent mental health care.

Significant need for AAPI therapists

“The language barrier is a hurdle, especially for immigrants and older adults,” said Asian Health Services President Thu Quach. “While some health care professions reflect the diversity of the communities they serve, certain roles — including those in the mental health field — do not.”

Although 15% of California’s population is made up of Asian Americans, only 8.4% of licensed behavioral health care workers — including social workers, and marriage and family therapists — identify as Asian American, according to data provided by the California Department of Health Care Access and Information.

“Since the pandemic, we’ve seen a 2.5-fold increase in mental health visits at Asian Health Services. It’s really encouraging that more members of the AAPI community are coming in for mental health services,” Quach said. “Given the cultural challenges and nuances, it’s very important for our mental health professionals to be aligned with the communities they serve.”

In September, Wong will begin a new job at the Asian Health Services Specialty Mental Health Clinic.

“It’s very important to advocate for the AAPI community to reach out and seek help,” Wong said. “I want to give back to the AAPI community. I’m looking forward to my new career in mental health services.”

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community healthculturally competent caremental health

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