WOODBURY, Minn. -- Vanguard Mental Health and Wellness Clinic is normally the place people go to talk, but it is now a place where you'll find something to listen to.
Inside a conference room, an episode of "The Hmong Mental Health Podcast" is being recorded. The hosts are some of the people who understand the Hmong community as well as anyone.
"We are not only utilizing our training as western-trained mental health providers," said the clinic's clinical director, Alyssa Kaying Vang. "But we are also utilizing our lived experiences as a Hmong person so that we are connecting the two."
Vang created the podcast as a way to push back against misinformation on social media and as a chance to reach the younger Hmong generation.
In Hmong culture, mental health can often be stigmatized. Vang says traditional Hmong practices focus on the spiritual and the physical, but any mention of mental struggles can be taken as a weakness.
"Many of them grew up with mental health conditions that they themselves thought 'Oh, I am struggling with anxiety, I am struggling with depression,'" Vang said. "But then when they talk to their parents, their parents would say 'That doesn't exist or don't talk about that.'"
The therapists at Vanguard, however, want to do just that: They want to talk about it.
"Generations after generations it has been that is all that matters: Work, provide food on a table, have a house over your head," said therapist and podcaster, Mosi Thao. "We haven't had much of that opportunity to have that conversation of 'Do we get to focus on our feelings? Do we get to focus on ourselves or do we get to focus on what do we want to do outside of just providing.'"
The format of the podcast is simple: Four therapists gathered around a table, having conversations that anyone might have with their own friends.
But the topics are a bit more complicated.
This episode's focus is knowing your worth.
"How do you build your self-worth so that when you are in the community, you know how to say no," said therapist and podcaster, Chue Her. "You know how to build boundaries and you also know where and why you want to invest your energy in places."
The therapists draw from their own experiences as Hmong Americans to relate to listeners. They recognize the power of sharing stories, especially when it comes from someone just like you.
"When we get to sit across from someone who looks like us, who sounds like us, who has some similar experiences with us and can understand what we are talking about, I think that goes a long way in helping us feel validated and acknowledged," Thao said.
The stories are mostly shared in English, but sometimes, Hmong words can express something other languages just can't.
"There are a lot of proverbs that are done and said that have deeper meanings. If we were to translate into English, it would get lost in translation," Her said.
"It is also an opportunity for us to teach this younger generation language. It is easy for us to say certain words like depression in English," Thao added. "But at the same time, when we talk about depression in Hmong, now we are also using the podcast to also teach this newer and younger generation Hmong words."
It's not just the listeners getting educated in something new, but also the therapists.
The team at Vanguard admits the transition to podcasters didn't come easy. Aside from having to learn the new technology, it also took some time to find the right voice.
"From a therapist to a podcaster, I still want to hold that clinical lens," said therapist and podcaster, Houa Vang. "However, as a podcaster, I still want to be myself too, because I am my own person. I have my emotions and experiences too."
And this is a format where that can happen. The therapists can open up more than they might in their normal practice in this space.
While the podcast cannot take the place of traditional therapy, it's still a way to help. It's there for those without access to therapy, who may feel shame about seeking help, or who just don't yet know what they're missing.
"When someone picks up this podcast and says 'That made me really think about this or I got into therapy because of the podcast,' I think it is one step forward in terms of a person taking a journey to really being the very best version of themselves and finding who they are," Thao said.
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