How To Talk About Therapy With Chinese Immigrant Parents

May 25, 2020

Girl reacting with frustration to parents

Illustration by Sumayya Ansari

Congratulations, you’ve survived the daunting process of finding a therapist! 
Now you’re considering telling your parents (thoughts & prayers). We've created a handy guide of talking points to help you navigate this potential minefield.
Parents: It costs how much?!
Do: I'm really grateful to have a job with health insurance, which helps with some of the cost. 
Don’t: It’s more expensive in the long-run if I just self-medicated with baked goods, boba, and an unlimited subscription to Rent the Runway. My friend Jessalyn says that having a therapist is the best investment she’s ever made, next to getting a personal reiki consultant.
Parents: I don’t understand why you want to share our private problems with a stranger. It’s embarrassing.
Do: Sometimes talking about this kind of thing with an objective outsider can be really helpful. Plus it’s all confidential.
Don’t: Oh I talk about this stuff with pretty much everyone except you two — my therapist Rhonda, friends, complete strangers that I met in a comment thread on Oprah’s Instagram. People of color tell me it’s very relatable content and white people love reading about immigrants overcoming adversity or whatever. Carving out this niche has really helped me grow my Personal Brand.
Parents: People only go to the doctor for mental issues if they’re unstable or crazy. And don’t say you’re depressed, depression is not a real thing.
Do: You don’t have to be mentally ill or depressed to see a therapist. Lots of people go just for emotional support. And depression is a serious medical condition that affects millions of people
Don’t: You never told me enough that you loved me, you only showed me in 57 other ways, like going to Walmart at six in the morning to buy the first limited edition Blu-ray release of Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked. We wouldn’t be having this conversation right now if you had been more like my white friends’ parents and lied to me about how special I am even though I gave up playing the recorder after two months. All I’m trying to say is that kids who don’t feel secure in their parents’ love really struggle as adults when they’re trying to develop the confidence to become an astrology Influencer. 
Parents: Therapy is a bogus profession, they’re just trying to keep you around longer so you pay more money.
Do: The industry is pretty regulated and you need a master’s degree at a minimum to practice. Rhonda even has a Ph.D. 
Don’t: Actually, Rhonda has accumulated more badges of elite academic success than any of us — she did her undergrad at Stanford, her master’s at Yale, her Ph.D. at Oxford, and her shopping at West Elm. She is not bogus, she is God.
Parents: We should keep this stuff inside the family. If you have a problem, let’s talk. 
Do: We can find a time to talk, but I'd like to agree on some ground rules for the conversation first. 
Don’t: Talking hasn’t really gone so well in the past. Maybe you haven’t noticed but our neighbors won’t make eye contact with us anymore, Taro still barks every time someone says T-R-A-U-M-A, and we can never watch another Alvin and the Chipmunks marathon ever since mom threw Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked at my head. 
Parents: I don’t care what your therapist says about boundaries, we’re family. 
Do: We can be family and set healthy boundaries at the same time, they’re not mutually exclusive.  
Don’t: Rhonda says that when I’m feeling flooded I should visualize myself standing in one of those giant bubble soccer balls wearing noise cancelling headphones and an eye mask. So that’s what I’m going to do right now if you can just give me, like, ten minutes. 
Parents: I feel like a failure when you tell me you’re going to therapy.
Do: I understand that me going to therapy makes you feel sad and frustrated. I'm open to talking more about that if you want, but I need to do what’s best for me. 
Don’t: This sounds like self-victimization, which usually happens when someone tries to justify their own bad behavior or get sympathy likes on Twitter. Instead of blaming others, you should ask how you can take ownership of your feelings as a 64-year-old parent who’s pinned all their hopes on theoretical grandchildren who’ll actually stick with the recorder.
Parents: So are you just going to keep going to therapy forever? 
Do: I still get a lot out of it and I plan to keep going as long as that’s true.
Don’t: If I’ve found a great therapist, why would I want to break up with them? And because there’s really no such thing as too much support, I’m going to live my best life in 2020 by getting a reiki consultant. I also plan to supplement my Journey with equine therapy since it came up in last week’s horoscope reading. It’s ok if you don’t understand any of these things, I’m going to do an explainer on the next episode of my podcast, Self-Care Isn’t Just a Thing for Upper Middle-Class White People Who Own a Second Home in Lake Tahoe. I love you!


Lulu Cheng and Irving Ruan

Lulu Cheng and Irving Ruan

Lulu Cheng is a 1.5 generation 'American Chinese.' She was born in Beijing, grew up in Texas, and like many children of immigrants, is fluent in navigating the space between worlds. She leads the search team at Pinterest and has spent the better part of a decade scaling some of the most beloved consumer software products in the world. As a writer, illustrator, and performer, her creative work explores identity, often through a humorous lens. Her work has been published in Quartz and Slant'd, and by Nomadic Press.