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Cultural Challenges

How ready are you to make changes to your story?

“Mom, can I change my last name when I turn 18?” My son asked me this unusual(?) question when he was in 7th grade. “Sure,” I replied. “What will be your new last name?” “Undefined,” he answered. I laughed…

To reflect on this episode, I regret that I didn’t understand the seriousness of my son’s struggle as an Asian mixed-race adolescent with stronger Asian physical features — slanted eyes and dark straight hair. I should have listened more carefully rather than dismissing him with my uncertain laughter.

In counseling, a clinician’s questions are critical interventions to help individuals be aware of their fixed stories and motivated to alter their perceptions of private experiences. Well thought out questions are powerful tools to prompt people to shift focal points, heightening their own strengths without minimizing internalized pain.

In the past, many psychologists have developed theories based on assumptions that racial minority individuals — mixed race adolescents or transracial adoptees — have psychological issues with social adaptation. This has led mental health clinicians to use problem-focused approaches to identify sources of disturbance. Instead, my approach is to empower individuals to recognize their own resilience and develop internal resources to change their life stories.

Working with these individuals who question their identities and strive for a sense of belonging, I would like to encourage them to appreciate their uniqueness and discover their untold stories of success, even if it is very small and appears to be insignificant.

Back to my son, now 21, he hasn’t changed his last name. I am proud to say that he continues to make impressive moves as a subject of his own life story rather than remaining psychologically stuck as an outsider.

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