Interview With Groundbreaking Author Dr. Jenny T. Wang on Asian Mental Health

Dr. Jenny T. Wang gives us insight into her experiences as an author and an AAPI mental health advocate with this thought-provoking Q&A. Discover how you can be an ally for diverse voices on mental health through Dr. Wang’s valuable advice.

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Jenny Wang and her book cover on a cream and gold background

Mental health has been misunderstood and stigmatized among marginalized communities, especially AAPI cultures, for far too long. Dr. Jenny T. Wang battles the stigmas surrounding Asian mental health in her book, Permission to Come Home. We’re sitting down with Dr. Wang to find out how and why she published a book first in its class.

The Bookstr team strives to shine a light on all voices. For us, no voice is too small for representation. Unfortunately, the rest of society has thought differently for decades. However, Dr. Jenny T. Wang is pushing for change, and we are here to help support it. She has graciously given us insight into her inspirations for her groundbreaking book and allowed us to see how she views Asian mental health in today’s world. We thank her for her thought-provoking responses and hope you gain a new perspective as much as we did.

Who Is Dr. Jenny T. Wang?

Dr. Jenny T. Wang is a licensed psychologist based out of Houston, Texas, who creates a safe space for her patients to navigate their mental health journey. As someone who is a part of the AAPI community, she frames her psychotherapy around the social justice perspective, shedding light on the convergence of mental health with racial trauma and identity.

Amidst a stressed economy and societal turmoil, Dr. Wang emphasizes the importance of fulfillment by balancing daily workload with personal care. She is passionate about helping clients “not only survive, but thrive in their every day.” Thus, if you struggle with discovering your identity while trying to secure a well-maintained life, Dr. Wang would be essential in helping you find new outlets to cope with the instability of the world as it weighs on your mental health.

Dr. Jenny T. Wang outside in the sunshine.
IMAGE VIA DR. JENNY T. WANG

There is no question that Dr. Jenny T. Wang is credible in her field of expertise. She has a Business Administration Bachelors Degree and a minor in finance with a psychology concentration from The University of Texas at Austin, a Philosophy in Clinical Psychology Doctorate Degree from The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, and a postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University Medical Center. That’s not including internships, her work as an assistant professor at Duke, and her career as a clinical psychologist.

Published in 2022, Dr. Wang has now collected her teachings in her book Permission to Come Home, where she examines the livelihoods of marginalized groups, sharing personal stories that aid Asian-Americans, immigrants, and other minorities in understanding and bettering their mental health. It’s relatable for these demographics and is a resource for those vying to accept their heritage and identity in a discriminatory world.

Dr. Wang’s Innovation in Asian Mental Health

As a Taiwanese American, Dr. Jenny T. Wang has had her own fair share of pain and struggle with racial prejudice. Learning how to cope with her racial trauma and explore her identity, she has been able to correlate social issues with mental health. In turn, Dr. Wang has built a space where AAPI individuals could grow by embracing their heritage and finding peace in a multicultural dynamic.

Permission to Come Home by Jenny T. Wang book cover
IMAGE VIA BOOKSHOP.ORG

Oftentimes, mental health is separated from racial issues both on a personal and a societal level. Combining sociology and psychology, Dr. Wang creates a new perspective that challenges the binary measure of mental health by suggesting that racial trauma and racial identity crisis can cause or worsen one’s emotional turmoil.

Not only is this perspective unique, but it is also rarely utilized by people of color in a clinical setting. Asians, particularly, are severely overlooked when we, as a country, assess the social issues that hinder marginalized racial groups. This can produce a sense of “otherness” among AAPI individuals and impede their success in forming a sense of identity. Dr. Wang’s innovation in Asian mental health can reduce this issue and establish a better representation within the realm of mental health for Asian Americans, immigrants, and marginalized groups as a whole.

Q&A With Dr. Jenny T. Wang

Who or what has been your source of inspiration as a writer/creator?

My mother, Hsia-Ming Tina Wang, has been my inspiration through the writing of my book, Permission to Come Home. In truth, she was the singular pivotal person who changed the trajectory of my entire life. It was through her migration with my father, her steadfast belief that she wanted to raise her daughters in a different way from her own upbringing, and her fierce love for us that has allowed me to become the person that I am today.

When I think of home, it has always started and ended with her. As you read in my book, she came in her early twenties with a young child unable to drive or speak English. She is a symbol of resilience and strength that I draw from even now as I am a parent. In one generation, she rewrote the story of how a parent can relate to a child, and my own children are the beneficiaries of her courage. She broke the intergenerational cycle without even realizing it.

How did your own AAPI background or experiences influence your writing and research approach?

In many ways, writing a book or exploring a research question is driven by the question asker. My own experiences as a 1.5-generation Taiwanese American who grew up in the suburbs of New Jersey shaped how I approached topics of racial trauma, racial identity, ethnic pride, and mental health. My book, Permission to Come Home, is written from my vantage point and reflects ONE perspective in the Asian American story, but cannot encompass all stories that exist for us as a community. As an Asian American female, I did not grow up surrounded by the language and knowledge of race, racism, privilege, power, and hierarchy. It was through understanding my own trauma and pain and giving voice to it that allowed me to realize how many others also felt silenced or lost in the erasure of their Asian American experience.

When the COVID-19 pandemic occurred, and we started to witness the rise of anti-Asian hate and violence, my personal story and the current world events started to synthesize these experiences into words that I shared with my community, and it resonated with so many. As with many expressions of art, authentic experience is the only way to express nuances and complexities that exist within human experience, and it has been my privilege to give voice to what many people struggle with.

How can non-AAPI allies best support AAPI authors and books?

I have been most encouraged when non-AAPI allies think of my work when they share resources or invite me to join as a speaker. The very act of inclusion and inviting AAPI authors into spaces they would not otherwise have access to can be extremely powerful and affirming. When non-AAPI allies truly witness and see AAPI authors as having important stories to tell, we feel much less of the “invisibilization” that we can sometimes experience, especially in the publishing industry, which is still predominantly white.

I also believe that AAPI authors and books are subjected to many gatekeeping mechanisms that make it almost impossible to secure book deals or traditional publishing success. Having been told by the first potential publisher of Permission to Come Home that there was not “big enough of a market” to write a book dedicated to Asian American audiences, I know firsthand what it means to be seen as “not important enough” or “not worthy of space” to tell our stories.

My advice for non-AAPI allies is to first get to know AAPI authors and form real relationships with them. Often, our stories have so much overlap and shared themes that allow us to understand each other better. It is with this more intimate knowledge that we can best advocate for and fight for each other in a world that, unfortunately, still remains quite unjust.

Although strides toward inclusion and uplifting underrepresented voices are being made, diverse stories are still not mainstream. What unique criticisms, setbacks, or struggles, if any, did you receive in creating and publishing your books?

My first experience with a publisher was being told that my book would not sell well because there was not a large enough market that would be interested in a book on Asian American mental health. As a first-time author, this was quite devastating to hear. This was before amplifying “Asian American-ness” was a trend, especially in the month of May. However, we pressed on and fought to bring this book to our community, which was still traumatized and heartbroken by the violence that erupted over the pandemic.

I remember one particular radio host during my book radio tour who engaged with the most racist questions and remarks. It wasn’t until halfway through the interview that I realized that she had invited me on the show to essentially roast my ideas surrounding immigration, diversity, and the importance of mental health that is tailored to the unique experiences of marginalized individuals. During the live radio interview, I emailed my publicist and said, “I am engaged in the most racist radio interview right now. This needs to stop.” This experience had me rattled for days, but it also showed how important my work was because there were still people who believed that immigrants should not be allowed basic services or rights and that “if people plan to do business in the United States, they better speak to me in English.”

All of these experiences pale in comparison to the utmost gratitude I have towards my community, who showed up, packed my book events, and shared overwhelming support for my book. Our community now realizes its strength and power; through our collective healing, we will move forward into a much more empowered place.

We’re invested in unearthing lesser-known POC authors, whether they’re still writing or from the past. Who are your favorite authors you wish had more of a spotlight, and why?

Min Jin Lee, Qian Julie Lee, Viet Thanh Nguyen, and Charles Yu are all masterful in sharing nuanced experiences and stories for the Asian diaspora. Instead of making light or trying to minimize the true stories of our people, they hit hard into the pain and struggle while also preserving the beauty of the human condition. They also provide stories of resilience and hope in the midst of great suffering. I want to read stories that actually challenge my frameworks and inspire hope for real change in this world, and I believe this begins with the stories that we allow ourselves to read and write.

What advice do you have for aspiring AAPI writers?

Never allow someone else to define what is worth writing. Every individual has a story to tell, and no one gets to tell you that your story isn’t worth telling. That being said, be prepared to put in the work to refine and hone your story. Rely on trusted people to give you feedback and humble yourself enough to receive that feedback as a gift.

I wrote the first six chapters of my book and then received feedback from my publisher that the tone and voice of the chapters were not humanized and intimate enough. It was a blow (on my birthday week) that was really hard to swallow. I grieved. I raged. I wallowed. And then I got back on the computer and rewrote all 6 of those chapters.

Without that process of breaking down what did not work and making something even better, my book would not be what it is today. Writing a book is also one of the most exhausting and humbling experiences, especially if you are writing from a place of deep vulnerability. I remember after the book was written, I experienced major vulnerability fatigue and intense fear about all that I had shared about my life and family. But once I was able to reground, I had to recognize that a book on mental health had to be deeply vulnerable, especially within my community, because we had to address stigma and shame head-on.

So find your people for support. Find the practices that will keep you healthy while you write the book and just get writing.

What are the key messages or lessons you would like people to take away from your work?

You are never alone. The pain and suffering that you experienced are not your fault and does not mean that there is anything wrong with you. But in order to feel differently about your mental health or overall relationship with life, you need to put in the work to build practices, habits, and a deeper understanding into what is and is not working for you. My book is all about providing people with those beginner tools to change their lives for the better.

I weave personal and clinical experiences to help people understand that who you think you are has been shaped by so many different factors, such as intergenerational trauma, cultural expectations, implicit family rules, and frameworks that no longer work for you. The rest stops and practices that I share are ones in which I invite my clients to do between sessions in order to build upon the work of awareness and insight.

Most of us do not truly know ourselves because sometimes the truth is terrifying. But if you are able to access the truth about your life then you give yourself a choice. You need to ask yourself, “Do I just keep everything the same and tolerate this life until it ends, or do I decide that I have the power to build the life I actually want?” We all get a choice, but the choice must be made by you. So what will you choose?

Why is Permission to Come Home important in destroying the stigma of mental health conversations in Asians?

Permission to Come Home recounts the personal experiences of one person, which is essential to Dr. Wang’s message about Asian mental health. There may be similar experiences that people in the AAPI community face, but it is important to remember that Asians, along with other racial groups, cannot be held to one binary measure of mental health.

Of course, everybody is different; thus, everybody experiences their role in society differently. Not all racial traumas are the same, and not all racial identities can be categorized into groups. Often enough, society creates stereotypes based on culture and race. By doing so, it creates a stigma that everyone of the same race rationalizes the world the same way.

Dr. Wang breaks this stigma by asserting that mental health is much more complex than it seems. It correlates to personal experiences, racial experiences, cultural experiences, and societal experiences among chemical factors. By allowing the idea that all Asians fit into one mental standard, we ignore the traits and experiences that build individual identities.

In addition, Dr. Wang’s book provides a sense of comfort among the unrepresented. Others can discover similarities and differences between their lives and how they understand their identities, building a community that can strive to improve their mental health as individuals rather than a stigmatized group.

Dr. Jenny T. Wang’s book is groundbreaking for the AAPI community concerning mental health. Not only has she given the world access to her tools for mental health betterment, but she has displayed a vulnerability that will resonate with every age and demographic of readers alike. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly suggest you buy it now to open your mind to a new world of mental health advocacy that could change your life.


Learn more about Dr. Wang and other AAPI mental health authors here.

Find this book and more with our Amazing Inclusive Representation of BIPOC Mental Health bookshelf on Bookshop.org.

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