By Na-Yeun Choi, M.A.
2015 APA Division 17 Older Adult Special Interest Group (OASIG) Student Award Winner
My experiences of living in the U.S. have shaped who I am as a first-generation, Korean immigrant woman. Since moving here, I have explored and negotiated identities from two countries with different cultural values. My experiences living and working in a second language and culture have also influenced me. My unique identity in-between cultures provided me with a unique lens to empathize with people who feel voiceless, especially the Korean immigrant older adult population.
My experience as an ethnic minority led to my strong interest in raising awareness around health and mental health disparities among different racial/ethnic and age groups. This interest guided my clinical practice in outreach seminars for Korean elders at the Korean Senior Center of Ellicott City, MD. I developed three-day workshops to normalize experiences of cultural and social difficulties facing Korean elders (e.g., family conflict, isolation, loneliness, loss and grief, difficulty speaking in English, and discrimination) and provided culturally appropriate, CBT-based coping strategies. This project was meaningful, but heartbreaking at the same time. I saw the elders’ nodding heads and tearful eyes while we talked about how they didn’t want to burden their children due to concern that their immigrant lives were already challenging enough. Also, I recognized my privilege that I don’t have to worry about getting a ride from one place to the other, finding cultural entertainment that I can enjoy, and communicating with doctors about my symptoms.
My research has involved understanding racial and ethnic minority elders’ experience and providing them with culturally sensitive/adaptive treatment. At the University of Maryland, I am conducting a qualitative research project investigating: 1) Korean elders’ adjustment process to the U.S., and 2) Korean elders’ physical and mental health care utilization, conducted in a community-based adult day care center in Columbia, MD. I was struck by their need for mental health care in the face of the limited resources available to them. Interviewing Korean grandmothers and grandfathers was a humbling experience. The elders were thankful to our research team just for providing them a space to talk about their immigrant life stories and health-related concerns. At the end of the interviews, it was difficult to face our failure to address ongoing needs related to their cultural and aging experiences and not having adequate mental health referrals when requested.
Based on identified community needs, our research team believed that developing video interventions in Korean might be the best way to reach Korean elders in the U.S. I am currently working with colleagues at the Culture, Race and Health Lab at the University of Maryland, led by Dr. Matthew J. Miller, in developing a culturally and ecologically valid intervention for Korean elders. I played the role of mental health expert by providing information about depression in Korean, normalizing culturally specific experiences in the video recording. Also, I interviewed community leaders and Koran elders in Korean, so their voice can be heard by the larger U.S. community. As a future counseling psychologist, I feel personal responsibility to increase access to health and mental health care for Korean elders. In the future, I plan to continue developing interventions that address their needs in a culturally and ecologically valid way, and hope to examine the efficacy of these interventions.
About the Author
Na-Yeun Choi is a doctoral candidate in counseling psychology at the University of Maryland and a pre-doctoral intern at the University of Maryland Counseling Center. Her research includes the investigation of three key areas: (a) exploring the impact of cultural racial factors on individuals’ mental health and their decision to utilize mental health services; (b) examining understanding multicultural counseling and measuring multicultural supervision; and (c) developing and providing culturally adaptive and sensitive treatment to racial and ethnic minorities in underserved communities. Currently, she is interested in understanding the Korean Elders’ acculturation experiences and their attitudes about seeking medical and mental health services.