top of page

Mental Health and Confidence with Dr. Chu Hui Cha | Mental Health Awareness Month

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and we're celebrating real-life superheroes like Chu Hui Cha who are making a difference one life at a time. Dr. Cha is a Sacramento-based psychologist who helps people build lives full of meaning, joy, and connection. Before starting her private practice, Dr. Cha worked in a large hospital system in the Department of Psychiatry and treated many different kinds of mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety and phobias, and PTSD/trauma. When she's not busy helping patients, Dr. Cha can be found teaching, sharing her expertise as a graduate school professor.

Dr. Chu Hui Cha Korean Psychologist

Did you always know this was the field you wanted to work in?

No, I didn’t always know this field was for me or that it even existed. Being the child of immigrants from Korea, my family members were not aware of all the career possibilities that existed for me. Because of their anxiety about financial stability, they tried to steer me towards more conventional paths, such as medicine or law. Their priority was that I find security in a job that would be lucrative and respected anywhere that I went. I nearly applied to law school but something stopped me. I didn’t know my strengths for a really long time so I took a meandering path toward psychology, going back to graduate school later in life for a Master’s program in counseling, and then later pursuing the PhD.

How did you get started?

After I had already graduated from college, I got started by taking some psychology courses while I worked an administrative job at a university. I also had a very good friend who was going through Master’s level training to become a therapist at the time and felt so intrigued and inspired by her learning. After taking a few psychology courses, I realized this was an engaging discipline and that I wanted to know more. At that point, I still didn’t really know much about therapy as a profession though I was in therapy at the time.

What are some of the most common mental health issues plaguing professional women of color?

Women of color face so many unique psychosocial pressures from society, community, family, and intimate relationships. Those pressures can be overwhelming and cause stress or chronic stress. Women of Color are also vulnerable to anxiety and depression. Stress plays a major role in both of those conditions but we also know from research that for many people, living with oppression as a person of color comes with health consequences, such as anxiety and depression. Another common mental health issue for women of color that is not discussed enough is body image. Particularly if we have grown up with the white body as the standard of beauty or the norm, it can be really challenging to process our own bodies and images as worthy.

We need mental health specialists of color to reduce the stigma of mental health concerns and create safety for people. It’s so important because people of color are historically the least likely to seek help for mental health concerns. This is shifting in small ways now but the level of help-seeking among people of color is still low compared to other groups. By inviting and encouraging more people of color to be part of these professions, we’re widening access to people who may not trust someone who doesn’t look like them, which is understandable because of racism and the fact that authority figures have often represented the priorities and values of whiteness, rather than the communities we come from.

Dr. Chu Hui Cha Professor in Paris

In your opinion, what is the relationship between mental health and confidence?

In my opinion, sound mental health comes before confidence. We can’t have a strong sense of self when there is no awareness about who we are. In my experience working with hundreds of clients over the years, self-awareness leads to self-understanding and ultimately, self-acceptance. Self-acceptance helps us to carry our heads high even when we make mistakes.

Do you think there is a link between representation and confidence?

There is absolutely a relationship there. We need models, however remote they may be. I’ve heard from so many Asian American actors who rarely saw anyone who looked like them growing up, but when they did, it meant everything. It meant possibility and it fed a dream for them. Representation creates opportunities for people too, which can definitely enhance confidence.

What can we do on a daily basis to cultivate a sense of self-care and mental health?

This is a beautiful question but I’ve learned that there’s no “one size fits all” with this. I’ve tried to give people a readymade self-care formula based on my research and training. But that’s not how it works. Each of us has to experiment and see what is going to perform the following functions: ground us, boost our mood, soothe us, and release the pressure valve.

How can we do a better job of supporting the health and well-being of Black and Brown women?

First and foremost, at the same time we acknowledge the resilience of Black and Brown women, let’s lay off the pressure for them to be strong all the time. Normalize needing help, and asking for help. Normalize our humanity, which means we don’t expect ourselves to be perfect and that we understand the cyclical nature of things such as productivity, achievement, and growth. The other thing of course is to encourage women of color to not put themselves last on the list of people who receive care and support. If a person can vocalize their needs to maintain their mental health, that’s ideal though I recognize that is a journey we are all on because our needs change throughout life.

Mental Health Therapists of Color