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Deja View : An updated look at some of the people, places and programs featured in Valley View during the year : ASIAN IMMIGRANTS : Counselor Fills Void by Helping in Native Languages

When a 34-year-old Chinese immigrant from Sepulveda drowned herself and her four young children in Los Angeles Harbor in January, the lack of counseling services for those who don’t speak English became sadly apparent.

There were no mental health or family service programs for non-English-speaking Asians in the San Fernando Valley, although psychologists and therapists say immigrants are typically at great risk for a wide range of problems and stress.

But in October, a new program for Asians opened under the auspices of Furthermore Foundation, a nonprofit mental health center in Tarzana. Mai Elliott, 52, who fled Vietnam more than 20 years ago, directs a one-person counseling service for Vietnamese, Cambodian and Chinese immigrants. She says she has worked with 12 clients since the center opened, plus about 10 others who call her to seek reassurance or advice but don’t feel ready for counseling.

“Some clients pay nothing, some $1, some $10 a session,” she says. Those who are able are asked to pay $25 to $95 for a 50-minute session, based on a sliding scale.

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The people Elliott counsels typically suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder because of their experiences in the war-ravaged countries they fled, generation-gap problems between parents and children, and marital troubles caused by the need for both partners to work to make ends meet. There are also senior citizens who feel lonely, stuck in their family’s homes without transportation or the capability to communicate with others even at the local grocery store.

The toughest problem Elliott has, she says, is getting Vietnamese people and other Asians to accept their need for counseling and not see their problems as a sign of complete failure. Some don’t understand the concept of counseling.

“Many have no idea of how therapy works,” she says. “They treat me like an M.D.; after a couple of sessions, they feel better, so they don’t come back.”


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