I, a Chinese descent, an immigrant to Canada:
As a Taiwanese immigrant to Canada, living in Vancouver for more than two decades, I still retain some of the Chinese traditional cultural beliefs and values. Both of my grandparents were in the military when the war occurred between the two political parties in Mainland China, Kuomintang and the Communist Party in 1945 and they fled to Taiwan with Kuomintang to build a democratic government there.
Throughout my life, I carried the Chinese traditions such as celebrating Chinese festivals and learning to read and write ancient Chinese poems and articles. I moved to Canada at the age of nineteen, and sometimes I have identity confusion. I am Canadian who completed most of my advanced education and who have been working in Canada, but I still cannot abandon the Chinese traditions I have been carrying. I believe that most of you, Chinese immigrants, feel the same way. No matter how advanced the education you received or how many local Canadian friends you have, part of you, you identify yourself Chinese.
As an art therapist and a registered clinical counsellor, I can say that art therapy is a helpful way to assist Chinese immigrants to express themselves and to achieve a therapeutic self-actualization level.
Counselling is NOT Common in East Asia
Psychology is a western product because many theories and approaches were used on westerners even though mental illness is considered a global issue (Kapitan, 2015; Potash et al., 2017). There are some characteristics of the Chinese immigrants that need to be included in the research when we apply psychotherapies to non-westerners.
As an art therapist and a registered clinical counsellor, I can say that art therapy is a helpful way to assist Chinese immigrants in expressing themselves and to achieve a therapeutic self-actualization level.
Three Characteristics of the Chinese Immigrants
First of all, Chinese tend to be shy and timid (Fowler et al., 2011; Wong & Piran, 1995). Art therapy can help them initiate conversations and take the resistance away. Making art does not require verbal communications. Drawing, painting, or most of creative forms of arts are quite universal without the need of understanding English/French.
Many Chinese immigrants have language barriers or carry a sense of fear to speak a new language when they arrive in Canada. Art therapy provides this opportunity to only use their kinaesthetic or sensory experiences rather than oral communication to release their feelings (Holmes & Mathews, 2010).
Secondly, Chinese, or most of Asians, in their countries where counselling is not common, may think that talking about their mental health issues is difficult, too personal, and sometimes even shameful. Chinese people carry the value of self-reliance (Wong & Piran, 1995). They tend to work hard and do not easily share their problems. They may also think that they do not want to bother others so that they should solve their own issues.
It is important to educate new arrivals in Canada to know that there is this service to increase their sense of awareness toward their mental health issues. If talking is difficult, how about making some arts together?
Thirdly, the status such as “immigrants” and “minority” may have increased the fear to Chinese new comers. Being new in this country has brought them challenges such as language, social status, financial burden, and loss and grief by relocation.
What I have seen is that children immigrants tend to be shy and scared of showing their artworks because they are afraid of being judged or criticized. Chinese children follow a step-by-step education system, and obeying is the key in the education system, so they are fearful of expressing themselves.
If making art is universal, and the most common way for children to express their thoughts, then I believe that this creative way is also beneficial for adult Chinese immigrants to experience and to find the balance between western individualism and asian interdependence.
Fowler, D. M., Glenwright, B. J., Bhatia, M., & Drapeau, M. (2011). Counselling expectations of a sample of East Asian and Caucasian Canadian undergraduates in Canada. Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy, 45(2), 151–167.
Holmes, E. A., & Mathews, A. (2010). Mental imagery in emotion and emotional disorders. Clinical Psychology Review, 30(3), 349–362.
Kapitan, L. (2015). Social action in practice: Shifting the ethnocentric lens in cross-cultural art therapy encounters. Art Therapy, 32(3), 104–111.
Potash, J. S., Bardot, H., Moon, C. H., Napoli, M., Lyonsmith, A., & Hamilton, M. (2017). Ethical implications of cross-cultural international art therapy. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 56, 74–82.
Wong, O.-N. C., & Piran, N. (1995). Western biases and assumptions as impediments in counselling traditional Chinese clients. Canadian Journal of Counselling, 29(2), 107–119.