On May 31st, I had the pleasure of discussing the mental health of immigrant children with an expert, Safi Lynch on Instagram Live. A Therapist and Certified Licensed Social Worker who specializes in treating immigrants, she piqued my interest because I was not aware that this type of therapist existed. Delving into her website, I could see that she understands how cultural, social, and familial factors can influence our self-esteem, racial identity, and depression. She has over nineteen years of clinical experience, with an extensive background from working in both public and private sectors. I wish that I had been referred to someone like her when I was struggling. Her culturally and identity sensitive approach to therapy is lacking and needed in ethnic communities.
Originally from Liberia, West Africa, Mrs. Lynch immigrated to the United States as a young child. She herself went through common growing pains but with the added struggles of assimilation, and identity issues; the same struggles that I have been reflecting on in my writing. These struggles shaped her career, working with immigrant mothers to avoid pitfalls and helping them proactively support their children’s mental health. These unique issues are overarching to the issues that immigrant children have in common with nonimmigrant peers.
My experience has been with cookie-cutter therapy, where the professional is well-intentioned, but culturally incompetent. It was missing a culturally sensitive and identity-oriented approach. The therapy was impersonal and the advice I was given often did not work for me. Regardless of the issue we tackled, inevitably, we would reach a dead-end. The therapists’ reasonings and suggested solutions to problems I faced, did not take into account my immigrant identity, how Brazilian cultural norms that were enforced in my household affected me, and my legal status. That is not to say that the professionals I worked with were not generally competent or knowledgeable in the field of mental health. However, I left their office feeling more hopeless, even more burdened and quite honestly, misunderstood.
In her blog, Mrs. Lynch addresses the most common issue that she has observed after working with adult children of immigrants — overwhelming guilt. “As an adult, you recognize the sacrifices your parents made in order to provide better opportunities for you. You may feel obligated to fulfill your parent’s dreams.” This echoes what I have heard from other undocumented and documented immigrant adult children, and even adult children of immigrants who were born in the United States. It weighs heavily on my mind, as well as in the minds of DREAMers anxiously awaiting the Supreme Court Decision on DACA. Will they be able to continue that mission of making their parents proud? “Of course,[we] don’t want [our] parent’s’ sacrifices to be in vain.” My hope is that they will be allowed to continue in their careers.
In our live session, she explained that culturally sensitive therapy is personalized to the patient, so that the conversation feels relevant and helpful to the person’s own situation and circumstances. Mrs. Lynch encourages DREAMers to seek support now, so that someone is there to help them through the anxiety they currently feel, perhaps helping them put together a back-up plan. They may book a free 15 minute consultation with her, provided they live in Maryland, California, or Florida. To learn more about Safi Lynch, visit her website safilynchtherapy.com. She recommends these additional culturally-sensitive resources: