Though psychology has become increasingly diverse in her 23 years as a psychologist, Yu-Wen Ying believes the field could still become more reflective of America's population.
"The population of America is changing," she says. "And psychology should reflect that."
Born in Taiwan, Ying spent four years of her childhood in Germany before moving to New York City. That early migration experience informs Ying's professional work, she says.
In fact, she's made it her mission to help ease immigrants' transitions by studying the effects of immigration, how people acculturate and how they form their ethnic identities.
Specifically, she's explored mental health challenges common to Asian-American immigrants, such as post-traumatic stress disorder in refugees, depression and intergenerational conflict. For example, Ying developed Strengthening Intergenerational/Intercultural Ties in Immigrant Families (SITIF), an intervention that aims to bridge the intergenerational divide in migrant families.
"From a parent's perspectives, their children may seem too Americanized and disrespectful," she says. "And from the child's perspective, their parents are out of touch and too old-fashioned."
To resolve this common tension, Ying offers SITIF classes to immigrant parents to enhance their relationship with their children. The intervention promotes their awareness and knowledge of the intercultural differences between them and their children and arms them with skills that can increase their communication, understanding and intimacy with their children.
"Many immigrant parents are reluctant to use mental health services because of stigma," she says. "But they do value education-so we organize SITIF as a class."
To recruit parents, Ying and her colleagues make presentations in community settings, such as elementary schools with large immigrant parent populations, ethnic language schools or social service agencies. In these presentations, they discuss the existence of intergenerational and intercultural tensions and how SITIF aims to help ameliorate the situation. Ying and her colleagues then invite interested parents to take the class.
The 20-hour community intervention employs exercises that enhance the parents' appreciation of their children's cultural confusion, increase their knowledge of their children's lives and larger American society, and develop parenting skills that foster intergenerational communication. Since its inception, the program has been translated into multiple languages spoken by U.S. immigrants, including Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Spanish.
Ying is currently evaluating SITIF 's effectiveness. Initial results are promising, she says, and support its positive impact on intergenerational communication and intimacy in immigrant families.