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Clinical Considerations When Working with Asian Immigrants, Refugees, and Dreamers: An Interview with Soo Jin Lee

Curt and Katie interview Soo Jin Lee, LMFT on the clinical implications of working with Asian American immigrants, refugees, and dreamers. We explore how best to assess these clients, specific clinical considerations related to the immigration experience (and legal status in the country), and ideas for working with these clients clinically. We also talk about the impact of societal views, media portrayals, and representation on AAPI clients.


Click here to scroll to the podcast transcript.

An Interview with Soo Jin Lee, LMFT


Soo Jin Lee is a co-director of Yellow Chair Collective and co-founder of Entwine Community. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist in CA and has a special focus on training and consulting on Asian mental health related issues. She is passionate about assisting individuals find a sense of belonging and identity through reckoning of intersectional identity work and those that are navigating through difficult life changes.

In this podcast episode, we talk about what therapists should know about Asian American immigrants, refugees, and dreamers

In preparation for Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage month, we wanted to dig more deeply into specific issues relevant to the AAPI community that are often not discussed in grad school or therapist training programs.

What assessment questions should be included for AAPI immigrant clients?

  • How to assess and ask about the immigration story (including about whether someone is documented or undocumented)
  • The assumption of citizenship status during the assessment
  • Exploration of cultural values and family dynamics
  • The definitions for refugee, asylum seekers, immigrant, undocumented immigrant, dreamer
  • Looking at reasons behind coming to the United States as well as legal status in the country

What is the impact of societal views and media portrayals of Asians on AAPI clients?

  • The common stereotypes and the gap in the representation in the Asian diaspora
  • The typical portrayal of undocumented immigrants from Latin America, Mexico, etc.
  • Lack of representation in the media of the broad experience of being an undocumented immigrant or refugee
  • The misrepresentation of families being all documented or undocumented (it’s actually a mix of statuses)
  • Language, cultural and values differences between the generations

What are the unique clinical issues for refugees and undocumented immigrants?

“We call ourselves dreamers, but at the same time the dreams tend to be a lot smaller or not attainable because there are also educational barriers and there are financial barriers as well.” – Soo Jin Lee, LMFT

  • The uncertainty of staying in the country
  • The hidden traumas and the fear of being kicked out
  • The lack of planning for the future
  • Education and financial barriers to pursuing the future
  • Trauma and PTSD are key elements, but sharing the story means that their survival is at risk

How do therapists more effectively work with refugees and undocumented immigrants in therapy?

“Provide a safe enough space and perhaps a more creative space, so that the story, the entirety of their journey, does not have to be nitpicked and talked about in a verbal manner. Are there modalities that you can adapt as a therapist, that they can go through in their mind, in a story book, in an art format, or any other way… that they can tell their story without being asked and interrogated about their story?” – Soo Jin Lee, LMFT

  • The fear and risk involved in disclosure and the challenge of talking about identity
  • Exploring their story creatively, without nitpicking or having to interrogate or make them verbalize their story
  • The importance of building trust and building a safe space within therapy
  • Bringing the mainstream media into the session
  • Addressing fear and decision-making
  • Soo Jin Lee’s healing journey to become a therapist and advice for other dreamers

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OOTify. “OOT” or “uth” (उठ) means “lift up” in the Hindi language. OOTify is a digital health solution that acts as an evidence-based hub to unify relevant mental health resources. Community, Connection, and Collaboration are critical to OOTIFY.  As they lift the mental healthcare system, they ensure providers are part of the process. OOTIFY is a platform for providers, built by providers, and owned by providers. OOTIFY is the process of lifting up mental healthcare, while lifting each other up.

We need to talk about our mental health. We need to make our mental health stronger so we can withstand the things that happen in our life. We’re going to go through trials and tribulations. But if we can work on our mental health, proactively, our wellness, we can handle all that as a community and come together. People are more open to talk about these stories and say, “Hey, listen, I’m going through this too.” Do be you want to be a part of the solution by joining a new web three community focused on mental health and wellness? Join the OOTify community as an investor or mental health provider by visiting You can also give us a follow on social media to stay tuned on exciting updates.

Resources for Modern Therapists mentioned in this Podcast Episode:

We’ve pulled together resources mentioned in this episode and put together some handy-dandy links. Please note that some of the links below may be affiliate links, so if you purchase after clicking below, we may get a little bit of cash in our pockets. We thank you in advance!
Yellow Chair Collective

Yellow Chair Collective on Instagram

Asian American Experience Support Group

Relevant Episodes of MTSG Podcast:

Asian American Mental Health: An interview with Linda Yoon, LCSW

Let’s Talk About Race Again: An interview with Yin Li, LMFT

Therapy with an Accent: An interview with Nam Rindani, LMFT

Invisible and Scrutinized: An interview with Dr. Sheila Modir

Therapy for Intercountry Transracial Adoptees: An interview with Moses Farrow, LMFT

Who we are:

Picture of Curt Widhalm, LMFT, co-host of the Modern Therapist's Survival Guide podcast; a nice young man with a glorious beard.Curt Widhalm, LMFT

Curt Widhalm is in private practice in the Los Angeles area. He is the cofounder of the Therapy Reimagined conference, an Adjunct Professor at Pepperdine University and CSUN, a former Subject Matter Expert for the California Board of Behavioral Sciences, former CFO of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, and a loving husband and father. He is 1/2 great person, 1/2 provocateur, and 1/2 geek, in that order. He dabbles in the dark art of making “dad jokes” and usually has a half-empty cup of coffee somewhere nearby. Learn more at:

Picture of Katie Vernoy, LMFT, co-host of the Modern Therapist's Survival Guide podcastKatie Vernoy, LMFT

Katie Vernoy is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, coach, and consultant supporting leaders, visionaries, executives, and helping professionals to create sustainable careers. Katie, with Curt, has developed workshops and a conference, Therapy Reimagined, to support therapists navigating through the modern challenges of this profession. Katie is also a former President of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. In her spare time, Katie is secretly siphoning off Curt’s youthful energy, so that she can take over the world. Learn more at:

A Quick Note:

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Our guests are also only speaking for themselves and have their own opinions. We aren’t trying to take their voice, and no one speaks for us either. Mostly because they don’t want to, but hey.

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Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide Creative Credits:

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Transcript for this episode of the Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide podcast (Autogenerated):

Curt Widhalm  00:00

This episode of Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide is brought to you by Turning Point.

Katie Vernoy  00:04

Turning Point Financial Life Planning helps therapists stop worrying about money. Confidently navigate every aspect of your financial life from practice financials and personal budgeting to investing taxes and student loans.

Curt Widhalm  00:17

Visit to learn more and enter the promo code “moderntherapist” for $200 off any service.

Katie Vernoy  00:25

This episode is also brought to you by OOTify.

Curt Widhalm  00:28

OOTify is an immersive digital mental health ecosystem. It’s designed to help minimize the fragmentation, trial and error, and overwhelmed felt by both patients and providers in the process of giving and receiving care. OOTify is the process of lifting up mental health care while lifting each other up.

Katie Vernoy  00:45

Listen at the end of the episode for more information.

Announcer  00:48

You’re listening to The Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide, where therapists live, breathe, and practice as human beings. To support you as a whole person and a therapist, here are your hosts, Curt Widhalm, and Katie Vernoy.

Curt Widhalm  01:04

Welcome back modern therapists, this is The Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide. I’m Curt Widhalm with Katie Vernoy and this is the podcast for therapists about the things that we do, the things that we should be aware of in helping our clients and making the therapy a better place. And we are joined today by Soo Jin Lee, LMFT, and director of the Yellow Chair Collective, and wanting to have a really good conversation today about working with immigrants and refugees. Particularly, we’re going to focus this episode around working with Asian clients, Asian immigrants and refugees, some of the considerations that we should have and how this fits within kind of the broader discussions around immigrants. And we’re working with these kinds of clients that we’ve either ignored or not really had a great conversation about. So welcome to the podcasts. Thanks for joining us.

Soo Jin Lee  02:05

Thank you for having me.

Katie Vernoy  02:06

We are so excited to have you here and have this conversation. You and I met like almost probably a year ago and talked about this. And so I’m so glad we were able to make this happen. The first question we ask everyone is who are you? And what are you putting out into the world?

Soo Jin Lee  02:23

Yeah. So as Curt introduced, my name is Soo Jin Lee, I’m a licensed marriage and family therapist and the director here at Yellow Chair Collective. I guess a little bit about me outside of that is I myself am also an immigrant. So I am what’s considered a 1.5 generation immigrant. And that just means that I came here at a very young age. I will also talk about this a little bit, I’m sure within this podcast, but I also grew up as an undocumented immigrant. And so those are aspects that I would love to introduce everyone to today.

Curt Widhalm  03:02

So we usually start with questions to help people in the learning process. This is not a shaming sort of question. This is a if we can prevent people from making the same mistakes that other people have made in the past. But what do therapists typically get wrong in working with immigrants and refugees?

Soo Jin Lee  03:22

Yeah, so one of the biggest things that come to mind for me is not having a proper assessment questions, or maybe even just having a lot of fear, general fear around asking clients about their immigration story. Right? When I say immigration story, I imagine that when people see me when I went to go see a therapist, my therapist also never bothered to ask me about my immigration story. So she’d never, in the span of two years, found out that I was an immigrant, and that even I was an undocumented immigrant, which speaks to a big chunk of my life, right. And so those are missing pieces, I think, in the therapy room, oftentimes, because those are not asked. So the therapists don’t really get a full picture of a lot of immigrant and refugee experiences or the family of origin backgrounds. And I think this comes often for the case for a lot of mono lingual clinicians that are speaking English. And they find themselves sitting with a client that also speaks English very fluently. So then the assumption is that we’re both American citizens sitting in the room together, right?

Curt Widhalm  04:46

There seems to be a lot of space for assumption in here and wondering if you could maybe give a little bit more guidance as far as like, on one hand, I don’t want to assume that you’re American by birth, but also don’t want to assume that you’re in immigrant just because you would appear different than a monolingual like clinician. I can see this potentially going both ways here and you have maybe a recommendation for people working with communities outside of their own backgrounds to maybe navigate that line a little bit.

Soo Jin Lee  05:20

Yeah, for sure. And I think one of the things that we’ll go into detail about a little bit later is about how to frame and ask these questions. But I think the first thing is to quick get into the mindset of when you’re assessing a client, just as much as you’re asking them about their trauma history, that you get into the habit of asking about their cultural values and backgrounds and belief systems, which not only includes their immigration story, but it also includes their spiritual backgrounds as well.

Katie Vernoy  05:51

I would imagine that even just broadly asking about family and about cultural values, that that would be something that would organically come up. Is that your experience?

Soo Jin Lee  06:01


Katie Vernoy  06:01

Your immagration story?

Soo Jin Lee  06:02

Yeah, exactly. Right. And so when the therapist was asking me and I often are asking about family dynamic issues, or things that are impacting barriers that your parent and you are having, oftentimes, the immigration story is part of that if they are immigrants or refugees.

Katie Vernoy  06:23

It seems like there’s a knowledge here that we need to have that we don’t quite have yet. And so I want to ask more of a basic question, which is we’re kind of using immigrant, refugee and undocumented immigrant, can you help us kind of make sure that we’re all on the same page on those definitions?

Soo Jin Lee  06:40

Yes. So let’s start by definitions, the fun stuff, right. All right. So I’m going to add another term to this conversation as well. Another definition as well. But first things, let’s define refugees, right? This is a term that is being thrown around a lot on the news right now. So refugees are people who have fled their own country, because they are at the risk of serious human rights violation and persecution, from where they’re residing, right. They’re fleeing their country, they’re fleeing their home. Okay, so those are widely known as refugees and can be defined as being refugees. Now, another term that I want to define that you didn’t ask, is asylum seekers. And the reason why I want to do that is because on the news, they’re also used, you know, interchangeably.

Katie Vernoy  07:34


Soo Jin Lee  07:34

Yeah. So asylum seekers are exactly the same, like a person that is leaving their country and seeking protection from persecution and serious human rights violations from their own country, but who haven’t yet been legally recognized as a refugee, and they’re waiting to receive the decisions for the claim of their asylum. Right? So there’s kind of this legal status, that is the difference. So on the news, they’re kind of thrown around, you know, interchangeably. But if a client is defining themselves to be either asylum seeker or refugee, that really speaks into kind of this political legal status of standing that they’re in, in this country. So now we go into immigrants then. And immigrants, like I identified myself as an immigrant, right, are people that have made a conscious decision to leave their country, their home and to move to a foreign country and their intention of moving is to resettle there, right, to not go back home and relive there but to resettle into this new country. So we have a lot of immigrants in this country, right. A lot of people come from other places around the world and their intention and they make that decision very consciously. They plan for this immigration journey. And they intend on resettling here making this into their home, right. A lot of the reasons for resettling, a lot of people ask me this too like, what why do people want to live here? Why the United States? Some of them with a little bit of a snarky attitude, right, like why would anybody want to live here? Right. And there’s a bunch of reasons. So I can’t tell you exactly what those reasons are. And that’s for you to find out with your client.

Katie Vernoy  09:37

Sure sure.

Soo Jin Lee  09:38

There are that immigrants if they’re the refugees, and you know that these are two different kind of journey that they have gone through, if they’re refugee, they’ve really left out of a need, while for immigrants to they do leave out of a need oftentimes, too. But for refugees, really they had no choice but to leave. But for most of the times, a lot of immigrants did would have the choice to leave. Now I’m gonna add to that just a little bit. Because for me, as I’ve introduced myself, it was kind of a unique, where I didn’t really get a choice to leave, but I am still an immigrant too, right. And so an undocumented immigrant are people who are born in another country, but have no legal status in the United States. You know, it’s funny, because as I was kind of preparing this, and I was trying to think about how to define these kinds of terms, I read an article that was defining undocumented immigrants as foreign born person who does not have legal rights to remain in the United States. Right. And so when I saw this definition, I felt like, wow, this is perfect portrayal of how many Americans think about undocumented immigrants, right, that they don’t have any rights to be here.

Katie Vernoy  11:03

Hmm, interesting. Yeah.

Soo Jin Lee  11:07

So my definition is that I just don’t have or had in the past, a legal status here, a document that tells me my identity as anything here in the United States.

Curt Widhalm  11:20

You’re talking about dreamers. Right.

Soo Jin Lee  11:22

So dreamers? Well, I do identify as dreamers, but undocumented immigrants or anyone that does not have any legal status in the United States.

Curt Widhalm  11:32


Soo Jin Lee  11:33

Yeah, dreamers, I identify as dreamers. And that’s another term where they came so with their parents, as young children in the United States, and became undocumented through that journey, right.

Curt Widhalm  11:49


Soo Jin Lee  11:49

So an example of that is, and you can add this too. So the reason why I was undocumented is because my parents came here with a ToR visa, a visitor’s visa. So a visitor’s visa in the United States from where I’m from, allows you to stay in the United States for up to six months. Their intention was to overstay the visa and resettle here. But they could not find any other way of staying in the United States. Without having found a job in the six months of visiting the country, right, which they really couldn’t, they couldn’t find a right sponsor and the job. So then, during the time that my parents were looking for a job that would sponsor them to become residents, we all became undocumented. And then, during the time, where that sponsorship, was gained and lost, and this whole process of becoming a resident, I ended up becoming 21 years of age and older, which meant that my parents were able to gain their residency status, where I had to now be an adult here by myself, applying to become a resident. So that defined me to be a dreamer. Dreamers are under this umbrella of undocumented immigrants.

Curt Widhalm  13:22

So depending on the mainstream news source that people watch, there’s some different portrayals of people. And I think that that has created an overarching narrative around some of these terms, and especially around you know, as you’re describing undocumented, and refugees, and I don’t know that the media necessarily separates them as well as you do here. Katie, and I is born and bred, people from America, we have a different perspective on how the media portrays immigrants. How are from your side of things, how are Asian immigrants portrayed? And what does that impact like?

Soo Jin Lee  14:04

Yeah, that’s a really good question. So Asian Americans in general, right, whether they are immigrants, whether they’re refugees, whether they’re undocumented, or and all of these terms, whether they were born here, or whether even they might be fourth or fifth, sixth generation Americans, they’re all portrayed into this box. And often this box is painted as Asians with lighter skin color, often East Asians, and often a lot more recently, too, as wealthy or quote unquote, Crazy Rich, right? They’re often portrayed to be smart, law abiding, but not yet citizens. They’re still foreigners, but they are law abiding right? So there’s this huge gap of representation in the Asian diaspora. So geographically, Middle East, Southeast Asians are still part of Asia too. Right. But in the United States, it really seems that how Asian and Asian Americans are displayed is really just one way in one picture. And I fall under that category to as Korean American as East Asian, often I find myself seeing people that look like me have my colored skin being displayed on the media. But yeah, they don’t really have the full scale of experience that I carry, right. They’re usually very wealthy, I have no idea what they, how those people got their wealth. But often, right, that those are the stories that are being told. And none of the other stories get to be represented in the media.

Katie Vernoy  16:02

Or it seems like if they’re represented in the media, there is this kind of sinister tone to it. And there’s kind of a negative portrayal. And so I guess the question I have we’ve, we’ve had some of this conversation before, we’ve talked a few times about the model minority myth, we’ve talked about kind of some of the representations in the media, but but like, holding this conversation into immigrants, refugees, and undocumented immigrants, it seems like that experience is a bit different than the folks that are fourth, fifth generation, those types of things. Because I think there’s, there’s something that we’re missing, when we don’t have that full perspective. So maybe speaking into that would be helpful for our audience today. And we’ll link to the other episodes in the show notes so people can dig deeper into kind of the broader topic of AAPI mental health.

Soo Jin Lee  16:52

Yeah, for sure. And so going off of that a little bit. So then when you think of undocumented immigrants, right, oftentimes, there is absolutely no portrayal or representation of Asian immigrants in that picture in that light at all. Right? Oftentimes, you are seeing on the news of people from Mexico or Latin America, Central America that are crossing the border, or they’re criminals, or they are portrayed to be drug dealers, and undocumented immigrants, for a lot of them, although around half of them are from either Mexico or Latin America. A lot of the other half are from all other parts of the world, and a big chunk of that are Asians. And yet, we’re not being displayed in that way. Right? We don’t We are not represented in that manner.

Curt Widhalm  17:50

What’s the impact on people growing up without that representation?

Soo Jin Lee  17:55

A lot of the things the, I guess, the commonly shared concerns that undocumented immigrants and refugees have, first of all, most of the immigrants and refugee families when we also think about them, it’s that family unit that we think are all immigrants, or refugees, right? Because that’s also portrayed in the media, like all the families are coming together to have this survival. But in the United States, most immigrants and refugee families are what we like to call a mix immigration status. Right. So one of the examples of that is, of course, what I’ve mentioned, right, where my parents became president, and then now citizens were I wasn’t able to I was undocumented. Right. So there’s this mix immigration status within one family unit. So I read that about two thirds of children of undocumented parents, right. Have US foreign citizen, kids. So then they also have a lot of this, you know, mixed status within families. Right. And then there’s also children, like me, who move to the country at a young age and then stay undocumented. And then their parents got status. So there’s a lot, right. Commonly shared concern that this family unit can have is this gap, right? between parents and children. There’s a huge gap of sometimes language barrier, but cultural barrier and value barriers to an understanding each other. And so these are things that a lot of our clients, my own clients are bringing to the table of being able to kind of discuss, hey, here’s my identity as this one person And my parents do not share that identity in a similar manner, or their struggles are looks so different from me. And yet I’m trying to figure out how to connect with them, and connect with myself and connect with the community. And so these are very, very common struggles that I hear.

Katie Vernoy  20:20

I’m thinking that you have two clients, similar age, potentially similar heritage, you know, let’s say both are Korean American, and one is a refugee and one or, or an undocumented intergroup immigrant. And you can decide which one is more relevant here. And one is fourth or fifth generation. I may make assumptions if I don’t understand the different stories, but But what might be the nuance there of what I need to be aware of for this client that has either refugee undocumented immigrant status, like what what what are the things that are important for me to be aware of separate from kind of the experience as an Asian American, or Korean American in the United States?

Soo Jin Lee  21:02

Yeah. So as undocumented or refugee immigrant, that daily struggles of unhidden trauma that they endure, can look really different. If you can imagine, if you’re an undocumented immigrant in the United States, you always can be thrown out of your home at any time of the day, they literally come to your door, say pack up your things, and then you’re headed to the jail, where then you will wait to be sent to the airport, and then out of here. For a lot of undocumented immigrants like me, who consider themselves to be dreamers, this is our home. This is where we grew up, we have no other home, we have, oftentimes, the dreamers may not even speak the language of their parents origin or where they come from themselves, right? So then there’s this continual fear of is this going to be it. So a lot of times, you’ll find that we call them dreamers, we call ourselves dreamers. But at the same time, the dreams tend to be a lot smaller or not attainable, because there’s also educational barriers. And there’s financial barriers to right. Undocumented immigrants also suffer from the fact that after you graduate from high school, you may not be able to go to college, because oftentimes, undocumented immigrants need to go through this whole other other paperwork in order for them to be admitted, and pay for the tuition. And out of college, if they do get through college, then how to find a job, right. Without documentation, oftentimes, they are unable to find employment, or when they do, it’s what’s called, you know, under the table, pay, right? So then this whole question of what is my future going to look like? I want to become this or that I want to be an engineer, just like everyone else. And I’m told that in America, that we can fulfill this dream, right? I’m told I can be anything. Except I’m not an American. So that dream is not really applicable to me. Right? What I have to think about is, what I’m, what am I going to do to survive here? What am I going to do to obtain status here so that that dream can come true? Right, so this extra barrier, extra concern, extra fear, that is always in the back of their minds.

Curt Widhalm  23:48

What do you recommend for therapists to do to work with this? I mean, there seems to be such great existential exploration here. But a lot of existential stuff can kind of come with the, at least the traditional ways that it seems to be taught comes with the security of at least you have this time in this space that is going to be yours. But what do you recommend therapists do in working with clients presenting with kind of this fear that’s kind of constantly always sitting there?

Soo Jin Lee  24:20

Yeah, so I think for a lot of therapists, you’re pretty familiar with being able to work with trauma, and being familiar with working with PTSD. And so the first thing that I do want to note is for a lot of undocumented immigrants and for refugees, sharing the story oftentimes meant that they their survival was at risk. And it speaks true still for undocumented immigrants that are living here, right. For refugees, that might mean that back home that that was the case, if they identify themselves in a certain way or if they find And if people find out or the government finds out about their their identity, their status, then they might be murdered, right? For undocumented immigrants here, if their undocumented status becomes known to the public known to the government, anybody reports them, or anything like that, there’s always the fear that now my home is going to be taken away, my everything will be taken away, right. So there’s always that fear. So being able to come to therapy, and to be asked to speak on your identity, to speak on your journey is quite a huge gap of what’s being told for you to do on a survival basis. Right. And to get to that story, I think, takes a long time of building rapport. And, of course, that is the basic of all therapy. But really, though, to treat it, treat it very carefully, and being able to provide a safe enough space, and perhaps a more creative space. So that perhaps the story, the entirety of their journey, does not have to be nitpicked and talked about in a verbal manner, right? Are there modalities that you can adapt as a therapist, that they can go through in their mind, in a storybook, in an art format, or any other way in a motion format, right? That they can tell their story, without having to be asked and interrogated about their story.

Katie Vernoy  26:39

I feel like I want to know more about what you’re describing here. Because this I think I’m understanding but I don’t want to make, I want to make sure I’m not making assumptions. So you’re talking about putting creative methods forward.

Soo Jin Lee  26:53


Katie Vernoy  26:54

Tell me more. I’m still kind of trying to sort this out.

Soo Jin Lee  26:56

Okay. I don’t know. So, I really love utilizing EMDR as part of my practice. And I know brainspotting can be another another one that goes off of EMDR. Because it utilizes the body, and it goes through the journey of people’s trauma without having to verbalize it. I think that’s a perfect example of how people can go through processing their fear and trauma responses, without having to tell me about it.

Katie Vernoy  27:29

That makes sense. Thank you.

Soo Jin Lee  27:32

Yeah. Another thing EMDR is definitely not for everyone. And it may not be very acceptable for some of my clients too, especially some of the older older folks. They really don’t like having to move their eyes or, you know, they they really don’t understand, like, Why Why am I keep tapping myself. So, so then I introduce just another format of like, being able to draw out their story. So literally trying it out, like is there a color that represents how you’re feeling is there, or a rock or any item on your on your table that you want to tell me about? Right, that speaks to your culture, that speaks to your value. So then we’re talking about this headband, that’s sitting on their table, we’re talking about sensory oriented things, too. We talk about the weather a lot, actually, as a way to imagine and use imagery of going back into their place of origin. Because weather exists everywhere, it’s a common thing that we are experiencing. And we are using our sensories to connect with it all the time, connect with ourselves, and our sense of belonging in the world is oftentimes through temperature through weather through the humidity in the air. So then we talk about that, and we talk about in comparison to how it was back in your country as well, right. And so then that brings about a little bit of healing in a way I get to explore, I get to talk about my other self, or my other parts that I was told that I have to be hiding. And I get to bring that in here without being interrogated.

Curt Widhalm  29:25

And like you said earlier, this for clinicians who are coming from different backgrounds takes a lot of time to develop that trust and that ability to create and honor the space and the stories of people being able to tell them in their own ways. You know, one of the things and this is totally not on our list of questions, but one of the things that I’ve seen a lot of excitement about is even just kind of the positive representations of like the movie Turning Red coming out that has really opened up a lot of these stories and opportunities to talk about things in ways that haven’t necessarily been so mainstream that clients, clinicians are really resonating with as an opportunity to say, oh, yeah, this is this is now something that allows for me to connect to this in a way that you might not have understood before.

Soo Jin Lee  30:22

Yes. What is the question in that?

Curt Widhalm  30:25

There is not a question.

Soo Jin Lee  30:30

Okay, yes, for sure. I think if I were to kind of just add to that, yeah. For a lot of clinicians, you can do a lot of research now, on looking at these shows, and being able to bring that into the therapy room, I think being able to talk about some of the mainstream media, that is how they are portraying certain cultures, and how clients they resonate with that or not resonate with that, what the differences are, what were you drawn to, what emotions came out of you from that watching that? Those are really good conversations to have about their family immigration journey, or they’re just their own understanding of their, their own cultural backgrounds.

Katie Vernoy  31:14

I want to address a couple of things. I know, we don’t have a lot of time, but I want to address a couple of things that you’ve talked about, because I think they’re just so visceral to me. And I think that that element of fear, and dreams are small, and some of these ideas around when you have either an undocumented status, or if your refugee status maybe is at risk, depending on I know, there’s a lot of different ways that folks are able to seek refugee status. And I know that there’s some folks that have to keep reupping it every, you know, whatever, few years, those types of things. And I think it can be extremely hard to build a life when you don’t know if the future is what the future holds. And so maybe a little bit more into that topic, because there’s the trauma, of course, and I love how you talked about kind of assessing that and being able to heal that. But I’m a practical person, I’m like, Okay, well, part of our mental health is being able to set a course for our lives and be able to do some of these things. And I know that just doesn’t sound like it’s completely possible. So maybe if you can talk a little bit about how you walk in that space of finding mental health and wellness, while also knowing that these fears are completely justified. And this temporary status is something that that really does impact folks on a day to day basis.

Soo Jin Lee  32:41

Yeah. So when we talk about how fear interrupts their day to day basis, then we’re getting into more of the behavior and the cognition of what what it looks like on their day to day and how it impacts their day to day, right. So if the client is interested in working through their decision making, because the fear is getting in the way of making certain decisions of, for example, let’s say should I even accept this college? Because I’m not even sure if I’m going to continue into graduation? Why bother? Right? Now, that’s a mindset and a cognition, and that belief system that we can work through, within whatever, you know, therapists modality of choice in order for them to achieve the whatever it is that the client wants to achieve. Is it that they really want to go into college, but the fear is getting getting in the way, right. Another thing, I think, on a very practical level, is just the level of anxiety and the threshold that they’re living with on a day to day basis. So then the fear response, and the trauma response comes out in a way where it’s oftentimes is insomnia, within their relationships. Right. So those are things that I think, as mental wellness practitioners can really provide the tools for, right on a day to day basis of like, okay, what are you eating? What, how are you sleeping? And are these things that we really should be concerned about? Right.

Katie Vernoy  34:15

And just the the final question that I have is, is about, you’re walking this journey yourself. And so I’m thinking about our audience members, who are also undocumented immigrants or folks who are in this space and you’ve accomplished becoming a therapist and doing those things, but it seems like it’s something where there would be some additional things for our health, mental health providers who are in these spaces to be able to take care of themselves and to think about their journey as a therapist. And so kind of the survivor guide element for our our therapists who are, are grappling with being undocumented or being a dreamer.

Soo Jin Lee  34:56

For me, I think I and everyone has their story of why they became a therapist. For me, I became a therapist because of my immigration journey. And that practice of finding myself, my story, my voice, and how to even understand that was the healing journey for me. And I found that through working with others that were telling about their story and was willing to open up their lives, their emotions, their family dynamic issues with me, I think. So oftentimes people find understanding, through relating their stories with others. The theme of what we’re talking about today is how we’re not being represented enough, that we’re not being seen enough, we’re not being heard enough, right? In all these different aspects of layers, in the media, in the government, through this whole legal journey. So I think what I want to say is, finding myself was the most healing thing that I could have done for my community at the end.

Katie Vernoy  36:28

I love that.

Curt Widhalm  36:30

Where can people find out more about you and the work that you’re doing?

Soo Jin Lee  36:34

So you can find us at and on Instagram at YellowTreeCollective. We provide individual, family, couples therapy services. But the unique thing that I think we’re providing is the cultural specific identity issues. And the support groups that built around those issues. Right, we have a support group, just called the Asian American Experience support group. And although we wanted to make it a little bit of a therapy group, where people can be doing doing a lot of processing, which we do, but we call that a support group, because we realized that a lot of people outside of California were in need of mental health support and community spaces that they couldn’t find it within their own states. So that we expanded it to be a support group. That way anyone in the United States can find us and sit in this online space, and hear other people’s stories like and connect and relate and find healing and that

Curt Widhalm  37:48

We will include links to all of that in our show notes. You can find those over at And follow us on our social media, join our Facebook group, The Modern Therapist group. And let us know your reactions to this episode as well as, especially if you are a therapist with a similar story around being a refugee, immigrant. we would love to continue to elevate voices in our community around that. And until next time, I’m Curt Widhalm with Katie Vernoy and Soo Jin Lee.

Katie Vernoy  38:26

Thanks again to our sponsor, Turning Point.

Curt Widhalm  38:29

Wanted to tell you a little bit more about our sponsor Turning Point. Turning Point is a financial planning and coaching firm that helps therapists stop worrying about money. Dave at Turning Point will help you navigate every aspect of your financial life from practice financials and personal budgeting to investing taxes and student loans. He will help you move through that feeling of being stuck, frustrated and overwhelmed and arrive at a place where you feel relief, validation, motivation and hope.

Katie Vernoy  38:58

And for listeners of The Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide. You’ll receive $200 off the price of any service. Just enter promo code ‘moderntherapist’ and be sure and visit and download the free white paper Seven Money Mindset Shifts to Reduce Financial Anxiety. Thanks again to Turning Point.

Curt Widhalm  39:18

This episode is also brought to you by OOTify.

Katie Vernoy  39:22

“OOT” or “uth” (उठ) means “lift up” in the Hindi language. OOTify is a digital health solution that acts as an evidence based hub to unify relevant mental health resources. Community connection and collaboration are critical to OOTify as they lift the mental health care system. They ensure providers are part of the process. OOTify is a platform for providers built by providers and owned by providers. OOTify is a process of lifting up mental health care while lifting each other up.

OOTify  39:54

We need to talk about our mental health. We need to make our mental health stronger so we can withstand the things that happen in our life. We’re gonna go through trials and tribulations. But if we can work on our mental health, proactively our wellness, we can handle all that as a community and come together. People are more open to talk about these stories and say, Hey, listen, I’m going through this too. Do be you want to be a part of the solution by joining a new web three community focused on mental health and wellness? Join the OOTify community as an investor or mental health provider by visiting You can also give us a follow on social media to stay tuned on exciting updates.

Announcer  40:35

Thank you for listening to The Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide. Learn more about who we are and what we do at You can also join us on Facebook and Twitter. And please don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss any of our episodes.

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