Dr. Han Ren is calling for more accessible, culturally-affirming care in mental health—and to decolonize the white-centered, racist, marginalizing expectations of clients in therapeutic settings.
The licensed clinical psychologist, educator, and mental health influencer specializes in liberation-oriented, anti-oppressive, and culturally-informed therapy.
Her advocacy and education on decolonized mental health have sparked an organic, fast-growing social media audience (@dr.han.ren on Instagram, @drhanren on TikTok) with hundreds of thousands of followers, in recent years.
With a growing audience and influential voice, Dr. Ren has made her name by translating science and theory into snack-sized applications for liberated, intentional lives, and striving to make mental health accessible and applicable to one and all.
In this interview with host Dave Ursillo, Dr. Ren shares her personal immigration story and its connection to her journey into a career in mental health, how ideas like perfectionism and overachievement are rooted in historical white supremacy, and how systemic trauma can be passed on inter-generationally.
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We provide full episode transcripts for increased accessibility, especially for those who may be hard of hearing or for whom English is a second language. Please note that transcripts are not fully edited and may contain errors. We apologize for any inconvenience.
Dave Ursillo 00:00
There are invisible rules that you could say govern our world and shape your place identity and lived experiences within it. From laws and policies to shared perceptions and beliefs, social norms and values, cultural expectations, and even behaviors and ideas and genetic traits that we inherit from our parents, our ancestors, and our physical environments.
Dave Ursillo 00:25
Dissecting these interconnected layers of stories that have come to shape some of who you are, and perhaps influence what you desire or reflect your basic needs, or invite your eventual self realization can be a challenging journey. But for today’s guest, psychologist, educator and mental health influencer, Dr. Han Ren, t’s all in a day’s work.
Dave Ursillo 00:48
From The New Story Company. This is The New Story Is a podcast that explores the stories, perceptions and ideas that have come to shape the world today as we know it. Along the way, we speak to talented guests who are championing the new stories that may shape our collective future for the good. I’m Dave Ursillo.
Dave Ursillo 01:08
For so many of us, our histories, upbringings and life events are indistinguishable from who we know ourselves to be. But for those of us whose race ethnicity gender identity, religion, sexual orientation, or disability span one or more historically marginalized or overlooked identities. what shapes the course of our lives is not just how we see the world, but oftentimes how the world sees us, and oftentimes in ways that are unjust, inequitable, or further marginalizing.
Dave Ursillo 01:38
So how do we unpack all of the layers of self identity that comprise who we know ourselves to be? And how do we reckon with self identity when the world around us sees us, labels us or applies its own judgments, norms, expectations, and those invisible rules upon the simple and unabashed truth of who we are?
Dave Ursillo 01:59
Dr. Han Ren is a licensed clinical psychologist and educator, a speaker and a mental health influencer based in Austin, Texas, who specializes in decolonize liberation oriented, anti oppressive and culturally informed therapy. Dr. Ren addresses the pursuit of collective healing through what she calls a justice oriented and systems informed framework, with work centered in historically overlooked communities, translating science and theory into snack sized applications for liberated and intentional lives. Dr. Ren says that she strives to make mental health accessible and applicable to daily life.
Dave Ursillo 02:40
Her words and work had been spread across the internet, from BuzzFeed to Yahoo News HuffPost, Upworthy and beyond. While her thought leadership spans really important ideas, like anti racism and mental health, identity formation, reckoning with culturally oppressive norms, and more, she’s also a big advocate of laughter play in owning her self described social awkwardness.
Dave Ursillo 03:04
She calls herself a recovering perfectionist, she’s a pretty big deal on tick tock, and she just finished rocking a fresh pair of Air Jordans on the TEDx stage. Han Welcome to The New Story Is and thank you so much for being here.
Dr. Han Ren 03:19
Thank you so much for having me. What an intro!
Dave Ursillo 03:23
Well, we had to slide in that Air Jordans reference, because I know you just crushed it on the TEDx stage. I’m so excited to see your presentation soon. And so let’s start with a broad question. If you don’t mind, Han. Something that I’ve heard you talk about are how behaviors like say perfectionism, or identifying as an overachiever when I think a lot of us can can identify as that, or even how an idea that’s very rooted in our society, like objectivity. You know, we live in a very science driven society where objectivity is heralded as almost a gold or platinum standard for for all experiences or methods of thinking or analyzing or processing. So we have these ideas, perfectionism, over achievement, ideas like objectivity. Some of our listeners may be surprised to hear someone like yourself say, actually, these ideas are not just not only not inherently like the gold standard, they’re actually quietly rooted in historical white supremacy. Could you tell us a little bit about how especially with ideas like perfectionism and overachievement these ideas can actually reinforce some really toxic, damaging forms of marginalization like racism?
Dr. Han Ren 04:44
Yeah. So this is based on Timo Cohen’s work around white supremacy, cultural values of which one right way, objectivity, perfectionism, those are all tenants of by supremacy culture. And we tend to think of this as like professional realism and what you know, quote unquote success can look like in our society. But it, it really reinforces that there is one right way to do things and success can only look a certain way. And when we are, you know, when we made a judgement about something like that, then we no longer have room for curiosity. We’re no longer interrogating ourselves or our systems or each other about how can we do this in a way that’s more fulfilling or holistic, or takes into account all of our parts. And so when we try to funnel, you know, success, achievement, productivity into a very specific and narrow frame, it’s very capitalistic, and it’s very reductionistic. And there’s a lot of costs to our psyche. As a result of that, a lot of this is rooted in fear. And fear is quite the intense motivator, but also the quite the intense stressor on our bodies and minds and health over time.
Dave Ursillo 06:09
Yeah, I heard so much in there that I want to start to unpack with you, if we could, it sounds like the attachment that we might adopt to certain ideas or ideals, through culture through social norms and values, such as perfectionism and and like overachievement can reflect, would it be accurate to say, reflects maybe the worst or most dogmatic or fundamentalist ideas in the, the normative, or the normative expectations in our culture? So where the dominant, the dominance or domineering culture prevails? striving to achieve those and only those can reinforce more of themselves? In other words, is that was that right?
Dr. Han Ren 07:00
Yeah. Yeah, I mean, it’s just like, if you take into the historical context of like, what are these norms rooted in? It’s a lot of purity culture, a lot of Christianity, a lot of heteronormativity, you know, nuclear family, a lot of ideals that we uphold, thinking that they are some sort of gold standard is rooted in traditional ways of living and thinking that leave a lot of people in the margins and leave a lot of people out and, you know, is very much hinges on. There are more some people on top and some people who are not it counts on the ability to oppress others in order to be that type of ideal.
Dave Ursillo 07:46
Hmm, right. Yeah. So can we talk a little bit about how these ideas show up in your work and in your career, as a clinician and as a as a therapist? Is it common for you to see perfectionism and overachievement manifesting and actually causing your clients different, a different range of mental health issues, whether like anxiety, depression, self doubt, and tell us a little bit about your work? And like how these ideas come out in your clients, as you’re as you’re trying to support them with their overall health and well being?
Dr. Han Ren 08:21
Yeah, absolutely. You know, generally people don’t come in and say, like, I want to work on my over achievement, you know, because they see that as a protective part such a such a, something that they might even be very proud of. But the costs to some of that is a lot of anxiety, a lot of people pleasing, unable to set boundaries, a lot of rigidity, overwork, you know, normalizing like this differential where there’s no balance in their lives, and all they do is prioritize productivity, achievement and work. And that overtime causes things like panic attacks, or they don’t have friends, or they’re not sleeping or eating well, and, you know, they don’t feel good in their bodies. And so when we really weigh in the costs of some of these, you know, behavioral virtues, it, it’s very intense. And, you know, it’s damaging to a lot of people’s health and wellness and especially their relational wellness.
Dave Ursillo 09:25
You mentioned earlier that clients don’t come into the room saying, like, oh, I want to like really work on my overachievement or they we don’t kind of come into a therapeutic setting usually does either disclosing or confessing or wanting to work on these subtle and entrained ways that we’ve learned to like, adapt to certain cultural norms or social expectations? How much of the work for you in this clinical setting comes down to helping a client to like, unpack and process all the complexities and nuances that inform the story of like, what brings them into the room, which may be like, I’m struggling with anxiety, you know, work life balance and the different things that we’re more maybe comfortable with sharing with a therapist or mental health counselor for the first time. What does that process like? Do you often spot like, Oh, we’re gonna I know, eventually, we’re gonna get into overachievement and perfectionism and things like that here, or is it? Is it? Yeah, what is the process, like when you’re in that support role, and seeing some of these, like, routes starting to manifest?
Dr. Han Ren 10:34
I think it depends on the person. But most people, they have the symptoms that are causing a lot of distress. So we start by really like developing some coping skills at the most basic level for addressing those symptoms, and then they get some relief, and they start feeling better. And then we start examining the functions of what those symptoms are, and what the actions that lead to those are the functions of those actions in a person’s life. And that’s where the real unraveling kind of unpacking happens. And people realize, you know, before was a problem, it was a solution. And this is how I learned to adapt in this way. And these are the things that I have found necessary in order to survive.
Dr. Han Ren 11:19
And we really hold that with curiosity. And we really contextualize it in, you know, the lifespan of a person and not just, you know, their own life, sometimes even generational work of like, well, if you’re a child of an immigrant, what did your upbringing look like? And what did your parents have to overcome and, and so really just like, kind of zooming out from that perspective, and being able to contextualize all of these different features, and behaviors and functions of all of those things, gives people a way to understand their story from a strengths based survival perspective, and then, you know, being able to rewrite or have some agency around, or what are the elements of my life that I want to change, and what’s no longer serving me. And, you know, along that process, we usually get to a point where, like, people can say,
Dr. Han Ren 12:09
Okay, I know, these were the things that are good for me. And I can, like develop those, like, ideas of what I should be doing, but they don’t do it. And that’s really where I think the, you know, interesting work, really, because like, why don’t you do what’s keeping you from doing the things that you know, are good for you? And that’s, you know, all the layers come out there of like, is it a neural divergence that you’re dealing with that you need to better understand yourself? Is it a self sabotage? It is, is it shame? Is it fear, you know, and there’s all of these things that, like, maintain these behaviors and patterns that aren’t good for people? And just developing that awareness allows them to sort of unpack and address it?
Dave Ursillo 12:51
Yeah. So one of the interesting things that I just heard in your answer, Han, is that the answer is not necessarily the individual getting in their own way that it’s their fault. I feel like part of the social norms that we’re trying to break right now, like the royal we are trying to break right now, is this over Alliance, or over dependence on an oversimplification of like, you are the one who’s getting in your own way. And there’s a lot of like American ideas and ideals and an overly individualistic, like, hyper individualistic ideas and ideals in there that it’s your fault. Basically, if you’re not achieving or you’re not happy. Is this what we’re talking about? What you tend to mean by saying, are referring to like the internalization of white supremacy, especially for people from marginalized or overlooked identities?
Dave Ursillo 13:44
And could you talk to me a little bit about the ways that play out because I feel like, I don’t know it perfectly well, coming from a very, you know, a very privileged identity as a white man and cisgendered, man, and so forth. Could you talk to us a little bit about that experience, as it shows up in your clients? And in your,
Dr. Han Ren 14:02
I mean, I think, you know, part of fighting against hyper individuality, just in general through mental health advocacy work is broadening. Like, what are the factors that keep people stuck, and recognizing that there’s a lot of systemic factors that contribute to people’s experience of illness and distress, and being able to like place responsibility and energy where, you know, belongs rather than just internalizing that and say, it was my fault, there must be something that I’m doing wrong or like, I shouldn’t have to function in this way. And I think that, you know, historically, we really think of punishment as like, well, if you don’t like what you’re doing and change it if you can’t change it, like punish yourself for not changing it, but like punishments actually not very effective for behavior change for anybody. It’s not motivating. Free. Fear. And so, you know, really deviating from that as like, the avenue to any sort of behavior change or wellness, like it doesn’t persist if punishment is what mobilizes change tends to be more temporary. And then also punishment really reinforces the idea that there are parts of ourselves or our actions or our lives that really are worthy and deserving of punishing, that there are like, bad parts and shameful things and things that we just, you know, exercise or cut off from ourselves.
Dr. Han Ren 15:35
And if we don’t understand the functions of how these behaviors protect us, or serve us, you know, we can cut that part out, but it’ll come back in a different way. And, you know, some examples I can think of are like, a person who is an alcoholic, and is decides to quit drinking, but then, like, becomes an ultra marathon runner, and are spending just as much energy and time into that and like, and, you know, it’s all relative, right? So for in some ways, you can say we’re sublimating this and it’s getting less and less damaging, but ultimately, it’s still distressing and time consuming. And still, you know, maybe fear motivated. And so really understanding like the functions of how people get to where they are, and what are the values and ideas that they have internalized from, like broader society. That really helps people to, like, understand themselves and like, unpack what, you know, their goals are in a more contextualized way, I think he also asked me about, like internalized oppression, then what that looks like. And I think, you know, another example of that is, like, we are told, from the day we’re born, that we have certain expectations placed on us certain norms, values, you know, our station in life, per se. And then, you know, even if no one’s telling this to us overtly, if we have internalized these messages, that we are going to continue to fall back on that during times of stress and fear.
Dr. Han Ren 17:14
So, for example, you know, as an Asian American woman, like model minority myth, like all of that stuff very much feeds into how I view myself and my position in the world. And so when I get really stressed, I do tend to overwork I, I have been taught, and I have learned that I can overwork and outwork most people. And so I can get my way out of binds by just putting my nose down, and, you know, working harder, and that is actually very toxic, because it means that I have to sacrifice other needs and relationships and other parts of my identity in order to like reach this thing. And it shows up for different people, depending on the intersectionalities of other identities, and the message is that they internalize over the years.
Dave Ursillo 18:05
Yeah, I love how you mentioned specifically Han that, like, it’s not necessarily that this internalized oppression. I mean, I’m sure in ways that may persist, you know, like, if it has gaslighted you into believing that you deserve less than, but I love how you also qualify and specify that when you get dysregulated, or when one gets dysregulated.
Dave Ursillo 18:30
When one gets like really stressed or you know, that the that it comes out, right, almost like a cold sore. It’s kind of what I’m imagining, like, the stress response is like, here, here, it comes all over again. And it’s a way to try to, to cope and, and react and adapt. But But just because we’re trying to adapt, maybe it’s not necessarily healthy. Like you mentioned the implications on relationships and things. So I have that, right.
Dr. Han Ren 18:53
Yeah, yeah. Like we can learn a lot of different ways to function. And you know, when things are generally smooth, be pretty good at finding that balance and maintaining that balance. But really, when we kind of get into these more regressive parts of ourselves during times of high stress or life upheaval, you know, is when we can sort of see these more internalized depressive ideas come out and how we relate to the world and others.
Dave Ursillo 19:19
Yeah, I never thought that I would be calling attention to something and equating it to like a cold sore, but that’s a great opportunity for new sponsorship. So like cold sore medication companies out there, you know, we’re available, but anyway, Han to, to to divert from that conversation. I wouldn’t actually really love to ask you about your own story and how you came to be as you are today, but we call a helping professional as a psychologist, and one who on top of it all has a growing reputation, a growing platform as a thought leader as an advocate as an educator in the mental health space. So Tell us a little bit if you wouldn’t mind, please about your story and how you came to find yourself as a as a helping professional today doing what you’re doing.
Dr. Han Ren 20:10
Yeah, so I, I’m, I’m a, I’m a first generation immigrant, but like I like like 1.5 generation and that I emigrated to the US when I was five, and from China. And my parents had emigrated before that, because my dad had come for grad school and like, the laws at that time allowed people to bring their partners but not their whole families. So I had a lot of pretty significant attachment disruptions in my early childhood when my parents left China when I left me in the care of my grandparents, and then when I left China and my grandparents who were the only caregivers that I remembered to join them in the US. And so you know, all of that like kind of early childhood set to the world was not ideal. And left me feeling really unmoored in my childhood. And then my parents were also struggling with a lot of, you know, new immigrant stuff of trying to survive in this country and, you know, provide physically but maybe not able to provide emotionally and relationally. So, I always felt like something’s really off about my childhood.
Dr. Han Ren 21:21
And as I got older, I became more and more interested in psychology, because I could see, like the impacts of this on myself and on my family. And, you know, therapy really is a field that brings a lot of people to it, because we want to understand ourselves and our families and our life a bit better. And so I would say that that was a big driving force for me. But I think along the way, I also realize how rare it is for Asian Americans to be focused on mental health, it is not a common thing, it is still highly stigmatized in our communities. And, like, for no reason, I mean, for yes, for lots of reasons, but like, no, like, they’re all like culturally entrenched reasons and stigma and, and, you know, the, just, our community deserves more.
Dr. Han Ren 22:14
So really feeling the pull there of being able to speak out and advocate for what good mental health care looks like, for Asian Americans and normalizing it for people. That’s been a big part of my, my journey and my my passion for like having any sort of visibility or public platform. There’s just a lot of whiteness, in healing modalities to and being able to bring some different voices and perspectives to that that is more culturally grounded and respectful of, you know, immigration experiences and the unique identities that we carry.
Dave Ursillo 22:58
Yeah, what was your education experience? Like? Because you when you talk about your story now, and you mentioned, like your attachment issues like with with your parents and being left with your grandparents for a number of years, I think you said it was? Did you? Was this always a part of your self knowledge was it talked about, about how you experienced these pretty dramatic changes in your young life as a 1.5 generation immigrant, like you say? Or was it something that you gradually became aware of and began to unpack as you, you know, as you developed as you grew, and started to seek out mental health as a career, which came first, I wonder,
Dr. Han Ren 23:41
I mean, I think I always had the implicit visceral knowledge of like, this is weird. This is not a common experience. This is not the type of relationship that my friends had with their parents, and feeling, you know, kind of lonely in that. But then it wasn’t until I really began to understand it from you know, theory based, like learning about it in school, and through my education that it like made a lot more sense. It made a lot more contextual sense. But then, like, even through that, it was, it was really, you know, jarring at first because it’s really easy to like, kind of villainize people for like, why did you put me in that position, like, you know, but then, you know, over the years, really understanding that from this like, cultural frame of like, everyone does the best they can with what they know and what they have. And this is what they was the best they could do. And this is what they knew.
Dr. Han Ren 24:37
And so, you know, I don’t have, like, resentment in that way around the experiences that I’ve I’ve lived with. It’s more just being able to ground that that in the context of, you know, survival and culture and immigration was normalized and the amount of education that was there and just the things that we talked about. out. And like, more recently, as I’m connecting with other, you know, Asian American therapists and other, you know, people who are children of immigrants and understanding our collective stories, like, really recognizing the impact of systemic trauma on just that whole generation, like, if you think about the Asian diaspora, like, there was so much systemic trauma across, you know, Asian countries and cultures in, you know, in the second half of the 1900s, and all of that have this ripple effect on relationships, attachment, and on the next generation.
Dave Ursillo 25:37
Yeah, I’d love to talk to you about systemic trauma, because I think, as you mentioned in your previous answer, so much of mental health is centered in whiteness, and presumes whiteness, and a certain like white, hetero, cisgender, nuclear family, Christian, you know, in honor goes all the all the privileged identities. And when we, you know, again, the royal we talk about trauma, I feel like a lot of times we talk about it commonly.
Dave Ursillo 26:08
And I love the fact that trauma, like the language of trauma is in our lexicon, now we’re sharing or talking about what it means what it is what it isn’t. I feel like oftentimes we refer to trauma, we think of the really clear cases of trauma like like violence, and
Dr. Han Ren 26:29
Dave Ursillo 26:29
The big T trauma, right, but and like the individual trauma, like trauma that affects a single person in a singular way. What is systemic trauma? And could you differentiate a little bit about why this is so important to understand beyond the lens of like, hyper individualism?
Dr. Han Ren 26:49
Yeah, I mean, I think of, you know, systemic trauma as being a huge factor to complex trauma, or a huge contributor to it. You know, complex trauma is when bad things happen over and over again. And it’s not like shock trauma, like one singular event. They’re relational events, they are, you know, attachment based or emotional neglect based. And a lot of those things, you know, comes through in like the child parent relationship. But why is there such like, tension there a lot of the times is because the parent is going through and living through their own systemic traumas.
Dr. Han Ren 27:31
So when I think about my own story, and my parents, traumas like, they were going through the Cultural Revolution, before, they had me, like they were pulled out of their schools in middle school, and send to work in the countryside, and for the Great Leap Forward with, you know, Mao’s agenda of the great re education. And so they weren’t allowed to attend any school and how to do this taxing physical labor, and in my own parents, like, studied on the side, and like, really tried to, you know, catch up academically without any instruction. So they could take the tests and make it into the opportunity for higher education. And that takes a degree of like resolve and perseverance and grit that like I can’t even begin to wrap my mind around. And like, I’m so grateful for the fact that they did that, because that’s what allowed them the opportunity to emigrate and provide this better life for us.
Dr. Han Ren 28:28
But at the same time, like, what is the cost of that, to their relational functioning, their emotional awareness, their ability to show up with, you know, attunement, and presence to other people in their lives, they were very singularly focused on survival, and that’s what allowed them to survive. And so if you think about, like, just a generation of people who immigrated with similar backgrounds and stories, or you know, with refugee status, it’s a different flavor, but still survival at the forefront, what gets lost there and what is transmitted implicitly generationally that we are all kind of figuring out and picking up the pieces around.
Dave Ursillo 29:10
Yeah, well, thank you for that answer. And where my mind is going, as I’m hearing you answer, Han is the idea of systemic trauma and traumas that are passed on intergenerationally intergenerationally, just by nature of like you mentioned, your grandparents being affected in a certain way during cultural upheaval, historic upheaval, that affecting your parents, your parents being affected in a certain way. You mentioned you yourself, not being able to come with your parents because of a policy right and immigration policy. When we talk about systemic trauma, and not differentiate it from like in a false dichotomy, like systemic versus like shock, trauma and big capital T trauma, like those singular event violence, acts of violence and things and so forth.
Dave Ursillo 29:56
But talking about systemic trauma, what I hear is We’re hitting on the story of interdependence, and an appreciation for our respect for the interconnections that we don’t just get born a perfect blank slate and try to in like, and then that’s it right. And then there’s bad things that happened to us that we have talked about therapy for the rest of our lives, that can happen, it does happen far too much. But there’s still this inherent interdependence where we are the product of our lineage and our family histories and what affects our families and our upbringings and our communities and our cultures. Do I have that? Right?
Dr. Han Ren 30:34
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. It’s all interconnected. And like, you know, understanding the hardships that our parents and ancestors went through doesn’t negate or excuse the, you know, ways that we were mistreated. But it does explain a lot of that, you know, so you’re able to gain some context and still have the feelings that you have about it. But, you know, grounding that in the context makes it a little bit easier to digest and process. It’s not, you know, a historical a political someone was a bad person, it was, you know, all of this ripple effects and interconnectedness that, like generationally lead us to where we are, and we, you know, have some of our those impacts, and we will also transmit some of that, that impact to our offspring. And, you know, the people that we come in contact with, it’s all it’s all interconnected.
Dave Ursillo 31:25
Yeah. And is the the work that you’re doing and to help to advocate for, like, inform educate around systemic traumas. And as well, culture based healing? Are these forms, as you see it of decolonizing mental health of breaking the white supremacist holes on mental health? And can you tell us a little bit about that?
Dr. Han Ren 31:49
Yeah, yeah, I mean, So traditionally, like, Psych, the field of psychology, and psychiatry is very individualistic, Eurocentric, medical based model of, you know, psycho pathologies. And that really tends to center the root of the problem within the individual, like, this person is sick in the brain, and they need to take medicine or go to therapy, or have these individual things happen to them to alter the way that they perceive the world. And so that a historical a political approach, really is reductionistic. And, you know, insufficient for a lot of people, and also really excuses the inactions of the systems that have failed that person.
Dr. Han Ren 32:33
Nobody is just like, you know, even people with like, very genetically based, like, you know, serious mental illness, you have, like triggers that are catalysts for the development of this for the manifestation of this. And there’s certainly societal, more, you know, contextual factors that make their illnesses easier or more difficult to deal with. And, you know, by stripping a person of that context, it makes it cleaner to like treat that person, but it also makes whatever gains like less likely to be generalizable, less likely to be lasting. And it doesn’t give that person the ability to, like maintain a system of care, a community that will allow them to have reciprocal wellness, you know, over time.
Dave Ursillo 33:24
Yeah, what, and so I’d love to ask you about that idea of a system of care, because obviously, in our again, in our hyper individualistic society, we do focus very explicitly on the individual and individual care, which is, I think, intends to be a good thing, right? Like, we don’t want to just generalize, we don’t want to make sweeping statements about what’s good for all. But in your work, I know, I know that you talk about culture based healing, and ideas of, especially for people who have who have suffered some sort of trauma around their, their, their historical culture, their their cultural, in which they were under which they were brought up and referring to, especially for like children of immigrants like yourself, and an immigrant like it’s such as yourself, that there can be like a lot of like shame and trauma, small t traumas or big T traumas around like culture of origin.
Dave Ursillo 34:20
So I understand there’s this idea that there are elements we have culture that somebody can maybe explicitly seek out or cultivate in their lives, especially if they’ve experienced shame or disconnect or trauma around their culture of origin. What is culture based healing and how does that contribute to like a broader scope of personal healing through connection to community and to to culture at large?
Dr. Han Ren 34:46
Yeah, I mean, I think of this as like, you know, what the small becomes a large right like if you are able to make connections with people in your life who can support and love you and have, you know, genuine reciprocity around them. You generally fare better. And so what does growing that circle look like? And how do you build that community? And how do you build that, you know, that is interconnected around like your people where you have things in common with them, but also like, around your lineage, where you understand like how your community is forming and taking off in the context of your own lifespan and where you have traveled and your own diaspora story.
Dr. Han Ren 35:27
And I really think of, you know, the the iterative, like, no lot nonlinear, like Adrian Marie brown emergent strategy, ways of like, healing, to be so hopeful in that way. You know, she talks about fractals, like you build these smaller communities and what you do there, like, even if you’re not able to replicate on this grand scale, like there are these ripple effects, and you’re able to, like, you know, replicate, like, what happens in small communities happens in big communities as well. And communities become culture over time, and especially with like digital spaces, like there’s such a culture around what happens online that doesn’t even have any physical form. But there’s still very real communities and very real culture that are attached to it.
Dr. Han Ren 36:15
And so the ability to find a sense of belonging, and a culture that you identify with, and like people and connections that will support and amplify what it is that you’re working towards, that is really hopeful and can be really healing and also can be really terrible on the other side, you know, when it’s like, based around hate, right, like there’s, you know, the good and the bad and the ugly that comes with it. But in a lot of ways, it can be super nourishing.
Dave Ursillo 36:46
Yeah, well, speaking of finding the good and the bad, those those polar opposites in the online sphere, especially, I’m wondering if we can talk a little bit about your tic tock experience, and what it means to be to be big on social media as you are. I know you got started on social media. I don’t know if it was like a bear or a debt or some shit. A debt. A dare, or a bet or some shade that was thrown at you to like, see how many followers you could get on Tik Tok? Yeah,
Dr. Han Ren 37:15
it was like it was my daughter. Yeah, she, she definitely was like, she’s trying to motivate me. She’s like, you can get 1000 followers. By the end of your first month, I’ll buy you a cake. That was her. That was her motivation. And then like, I was like, oh, yeah, you’re on because I know, before that I was talking for months, like as she was watching TikToks at night. I’m like, I could do that. She said, Well, why don’t? Well, and so I did it, like blew past her goal. And then she was like, she got salty. Yeah, it really took off. You know, from there, I was quite astonished to get the reception that I did. But it really shared to me that there’s a hunger for this, there’s a need for, you know, mental health messages that is more contextualized and, you know, more identity based and takes into account the very different experiences that people have based on their identities and lived experiences.
Dave Ursillo 38:13
Yeah, and you mentioned specifically the hunger for the information that’s contextualized and identity based. For those who may be listening who do have a platform or aspire to have a platform and fear saying the wrong things. And I know baked in to that comment, right, saying the wrong things is a a lot of whiteness, and be a lot of privilege and like intersectional privileged identities. Can you talk to us about how you govern your self expression in a in literally like the, the World Wide Web, you know, like the entire world of the internet, tick tock, which is a very big place and growing place.
Dave Ursillo 38:59
How does it feel for you to engage on like very delicate subjects where there’s like a lot of ethical considerations when you’re talking about mental health, like this is a big deal and super sensitive for so many people. How do you govern or try to govern your self expression in a way that honors who you are? And also does your best to honor other people by contextualizing and centering these identity based explorations of like, what mental health is in means online?
Dr. Han Ren 39:27
Yeah, I mean, first and foremost, like tick tock, and Instagram is not therapy. It’s not personalized, individualized. I you know, like the things I share, just like general tips or my experiences does not apply to everyone your mileage may vary.
Dave Ursillo 39:43
To all the time we should add to right like that’s an important thing to say like this is not therapy. This is just information based therapy. Yeah,
Dr. Han Ren 39:51
yeah. Um, and what I’ve noticed over you know, I’ve been doing this for almost two years now, and what I’ve noticed over time is F The single thing I say will be so right to some people and so wrong to other people, the most like mundane things that like I don’t even think twice about become like huge arguing points and people pile on about, like things. I’m like, I had no idea that that would even be a thing. And then other things that I’m like, Well, this is definitely like a given, you know, it, people celebrate and like, Wow, it’s so novel, right? So it’s like, I don’t really know, like how things will land. The reception always surprises me even now.
Dr. Han Ren 40:34
But I think that’s liberating in that, like, allows me to say what is true to me, because as long as I have some connection, or you know, attachment or foundation to whatever it is, I’m saying, then that that’s all that matters, because it will definitely land for some people No, definitely not land for others. And if it doesn’t, then it becomes a conversation and we can talk about it. And you know, that’s fear has another, you know, more content or more discussion around it, or we could, you know, dive into it a bit more. And that’s always exciting to to see like, where things kind of go organically based on people’s reception and interest?
Dave Ursillo 41:10
Is there anything that you’ve shared on social media that you wish you could take back? I feel like at we all have, but or do you feel pretty comfortable, confident, like, secure when you win? Like you say, you have a connection and an attachment to what you’re sharing? But are there are there things that you said you’re like, like, maybe that one back?
Dr. Han Ren 41:31
On don’t know, if I would take back but you know, like, there was one time I made some videos around, like, instead of this word, say that word, and people were like, you’re just trying to police language, like, that’s not how language works. And you know, it’s like, sometimes I do some things that are more like kind of tongue in cheek, or it’s a trend or whatever. And then it really does not land and people get upset about it and like, okay, and like there have been times where like, I’ll post something and get some feedback. And I’ll like actually post an apology video around it.
Dr. Han Ren 42:00
Like, here’s some more context around what i My intentions were, I recognize that the impact was different. And, you know, I’ll do better next time. I think for the most part, though, everything I have shared has been a learning curve. You know, before I would feel really like shameful or going to this, like, shame spiral of like, Oh, I didn’t get it right. Or like this was hurtful to somebody. And now I think I’ve been able to give myself a little more compassion and grace, if you like, you know, what, like, things are just gonna be projections and internalized differently by different people, and I can own it and move on.
Dave Ursillo 42:36
It also sounds and I appreciate that, and thank you for sharing that. But it also sounds like the the shift that, that you experience, to me at least sounds like shifting from a mindset or an intention of like, I want to be right, almost like a self, you know, online, we can be kind of like self righteous sometimes or sound self righteous or unintentionally project to self righteousness about the right way to do something. And this is how I feel about it. In the the response of a curiosity mindset, being willing to like learn from it, even adapt or apologize or change your opinion, sounds like a pretty helpful way to engage with, you know, just your opinions in general, but thought leadership and the thought leadership platform more broadly.
Dr. Han Ren 43:19
It makes it more sustainable. Like, you know, who am I to say that I know everything about everything? I definitely don’t. And so that degree of humility that I tried to lead with on social media, like that’s also how I tried to exist in my real life relationships. That’s how I approach therapy and my friendships and other relationships. It’s like, I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know what I don’t know. And I will own it. If I don’t know. And if I got it wrong, I’ll find out find some ways to prepare.
Dave Ursillo 43:55
So Han, you’ve been so generous with your time and I just want to ask you one last question. That’s more like aspirational, imaginative, creative, in a sense, and I just love to ask you about how you envision imagine a world in which there is more accessible, and more prevalent, culturally affirming care in mental health. We talked a lot today about big ideas, like the white supremacy embedded in our cultural values and social norms. The idea of decolonizing mental health as a field and like what that means. So I kind of want to leave the conversation on an aspirational note around what culturally affirming care means to you. And like what that could mean, if we all listening can like take up the mantle, start to advocate for it and call for it and be practitioners of it. If there are practitioners listening. What does that bring up for you?
Dr. Han Ren 44:46
Yeah, I mean, I think this touches upon every single level of care and access like, just from the funding perspective, if we can actually make mental health care more affordable by having Insurance reimburse livable wages or having out of network benefits that actually pay for therapy. And this should not be on the individual providers because we have, you know, loans and very educated background that is worth the amount that we charge. But you know, people don’t have access to be able to pay for it. And that is absolutely a systemic failing. And then if you think about this from like, a gatekeeping, academia, academia perspective, like who are the people going to grad school to become clinicians? How can we recruit and retain more people of color with diverse lived experiences and backgrounds?
Dr. Han Ren 45:42
How can we have more educators and professors who, you know, resonate to these types of clinicians and what is the messaging and the type of education that we are teaching them to make them feel like this is, you know, relevant to their own communities and resonant for for healing that they want to practice. And then from there like D stigmatizing it within communities of color by having more practitioners of color to go in and, and you know, share the ways that they can be implemented and adapted. So it can be culturally affirming and not stripping of a person’s culture and experiences. I think there’s so much that we can do as a society at every single level to make this more accessible.
Dave Ursillo 46:28
Dr. Han Ren thank you so much for joining us on The New Story Is you can follow Han across social media, especially on Tik Tok and Instagram where we’re like we said, she’s a big deal. And you can see what those Air Jordans look like on the TEDx stage. Thank you so much for joining us for sharing your wisdom and all your work and your story. Really appreciate it.
Dr. Han Ren 46:46
Thank you so much for having me, Dave.
Dave Ursillo 46:48
And thank you for listening to this episode of The New Story Is we’ll be back soon with a new episode. But in the meantime, can I ask you for a small favor, that would really mean the world to me, please rate our show give us that five star rating or whatever star rating you think we deserve. Especially if you’re listening on Apple podcasts, and Spotify. It helps us to build our audience. It lends some credentials to our show, which is still small, but growing, it’s free. We’re happy to produce it for you, we so appreciate you listening.
Dave Ursillo 47:22
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Dave Ursillo 47:40
Until next time, this has been The New Story Is my name is Dave Ursillo. Bye for now.