Psychology isn’t homegrown to South Asians. It’s not dal-chaaval, but foreign, like tofu or seaweed snacks. So being skeptical and thinking psychotherapy is only for crazy people or Westerners is completely understandable.
I used to think that way, too, until I realized that the Indian culture I dearly loved had an emotional blind spot — the lack of space for me to talk about and process my feelings when I had an ectopic pregnancy.
I was living in Bangalore at the time and I needed to cry, vent, and mourn. I had well-intentioned family and doctors around me but they were more invested in me getting back on my feet than tending to the hole in my heart. Though I searched for resources, there were none to be found. I felt so alone.
Online I found forums with Western women, a community, and connection. With them, I could share my grief, open my heart, and bare my soul. Sharing my story and feelings was the healing balm my insides needed, much more than how my stitches were healing.
That’s when I realized our culture has a hole — we have a blind spot about people’s emotional workings. We are giants in spirituality, but spirituality alone isn’t enough for our emotional healing. Both are essential to our success and happiness at work and in our relationships.
[Read Related: Suicidal Ideation in the South Asian Community – How You Can Benefit from Using Crisis Hotlines]
My painful experience propelled me on a quest to find this missing puzzle piece. Fast forward, I am now a holistic psychotherapist in San Francisco.
Here are four judgments I’ve seen many South Asians have about psychotherapy:
Judgment #1: Feeling pressure to present yourself and your life as perfect.
So many South Asians focus on performance and success, that they often tend to ignore their feelings. The pressure you feel and the fear you have of how others will see you can make you anxious, depressed, or physically sick.
You have a rich life — with feelings, thoughts, drives, dreams, beliefs, intuition, and potential. Your internal world needs to be felt, processed, and expressed. Otherwise, stress and pent-up emotions stagnate and form into mental or physical illnesses.
Judgment #2: Our culture is spiritual, so we know everything there is to know about our inner world.
As a spiritual seeker my entire adult life, I can attest to the fact that the East has an incredibly rich heritage. However, yoga and meditation alone don’t address the realm of emotions — which is the West’s contribution to the world. Your unconscious beliefs drive your motivations and determine your success in the world and happiness in relationships.
Psychology is about becoming whole, healing, and personal growth, so that you can achieve your highest potential. Spirituality is about your spiritual life, the realm of your soul. You need both wings to truly fly.
Judgment #3: It’s shameful to disclose our personal lives, secrets, and sexuality to a stranger.
Going to psychotherapy doesn’t mean you’re crazy, bad, or betraying your culture. Most high-functioning, high-performing people seek counseling and coaching for their personal growth and excellence. Life is challenging and often traumatic. Having a professional guide you through life’s waves and storms can help you navigate them with more comfort and ease. In fact, many feel a huge sense of relief to talk openly about personal issues to someone trained to be non-judgmental and understanding, who isn’t family or a friend.
Judgment #4: Our ability to be logical and rational is more important and superior to our emotional intelligence.
South Asians typically emphasize logic, rationality, and practicality, and undervalue emotions. Neuroscience shows you have a triune (three-part) brain. Your rational brain deals with logic and reasoning, your emotional brain with emotions and somatosensory responses, and your primal brain with instincts and body sensations.
Though these are all connected, your primal and emotional brain drive your motivations, desires, behaviors, and actions. You can have wholeness, joy, well-being, and success when you address all aspects of your self: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.