American Psychological Foundation

New York City is home to more than 870,000 Asian-Americans, many of whom have limited English proficiency. Over the years, mental health clinics that cater to this population have seen a rise in referrals due to growing immigrant populations and an increased willingness to get treatment. However, their ability to hire bilingual Asian clinicians has not kept pace.

Psychologists Pei-Chen Hsu, PhD, and Pei-Wen Winnie Ma, PhD, hope to expand the number of mental health professionals who are qualified to help the city’s growing Asian-American community through a $20,000 grant from the Asian American Psychological Association/APF Okura Mental Health Leadership Fellowship. The grant, written with the help of psychology interns, Daniel Kaplin and Hsin-hua Cynthia Lin, will fund four interns to work and train with Hsu, Ma and others at Hamilton-Madison House, one of the few organizations with the expertise to provide mental health services to the Asian-American and Pacific Islander communities in the New York tri-state area. The center serves more than 1,000 patients each year at five clinics around the city. Its interdisciplinary team of psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and counselors collectively speaks more than 15 languages.

The APF-Okura-funded internship program will provide trainees with a depth of training about cultural barriers to treatment and culturally appropriate therapy that they don’t receive in graduate school, says Hsu.

“In graduate school, students typically get maybe one course in multicultural issues,” she says. “But the course has so many different populations to address it can’t focus on any one culture more than superficially.”

The grant will also fund a monthly sensitivity training seminar focused on such topics as understanding the complexities of a bicultural identity, obtaining a multigenerational perspective on acculturation, and understanding cultural differences in parenting style. The money will also allow Hamilton-Madison House to provide culturally appropriate therapy tools and assessment materials for four interns.

Three of the four interns are of Chinese heritage, and they each speak two dialects of Chinese, including Mandarin, Cantonese and Taiwanese, says Hsu.

The Okura Mental Health Leadership Foundation created the Okura fellowship with a gift of $75,000 to APF. Patrick and Lily Okura, lifelong advocates of civil rights and improved mental health services, established the foundation in 1988. They both died in 2005.

The grant to Hamilton-Madison House is the second of three $20,000 awards that rotate among proposals that emphasize training, service and research. The last round will focus on providing services to the Asian and Pacific Islander community; applications are due Oct. 1.

Beth Azar is a writer in Portland, Ore.