Marilyn RukajWhy I Became A Therapist

Why I Became A Therapist

Marilyn Rukaj, Why I Became A TherapistIt’s a question that many people think about, but not many ask when meeting a therapist. I believe that people who are not therapists have a subconscious belief that when an individual enters this field, it is generally related to their own journey with mental health. For me, it has been significantly tied to my cultural background. 

My Culture

I am a first-generation American (first-gen) and share some common experiences with many other people who identify as first-gen. My parents migrated to the United States from Albania, bringing very little with them. Like many first-gens, I helped my parents and extended family learn on the go. Being born and raised in the USA has been a gift, in which I have had the opportunity to witness all the beauty and lapses of each culture (American and Albanian). 

Observing Cultural  Differences 

Growing up practicing many Albanian traditions, and being surrounded by mostly Albanian family members, I adopted the value of cherishing the family unit. However, while growing up in America, I also adopted values of strong independence. You can see how these two values might clash. As I continue to understand the many differences between the cultures, I notice that the culture in the USA emphasizes independence in a way that highlights self-care. Ultimately, self-care leads to mental healthcare. 

Mental health is still a growing concept that many do not understand in Eastern European cultures. Albanian culture is a clear example, in which the language itself lacks more than half the terminology that helps describe/express mental health compared to the English language. 

Honoring the History

As I matured, I had the privilege of learning more about the history of Albanian culture from my parents and family traditions, while also earning a wonderful education through the public education system in NY. During my studies, I was exposed to in-depth psychology classes, which helped break down how we understand human behavior, the vast growing changes some cultures adapt, and the slow progress some cultures track. While trying to introduce my family to the concept of psychology and mental health, it was no surprise that many were reluctant to listen and comprehend. However, I noticed that over time, through continued exploration and processing, my family began to grow more accepting of its significance, and in small ways began to practice better mental health care. 

In many ways, this progress over time became an eye-opening experience for me, as I began to see individuals from my generation beginning to prioritize the mental health well-being of the next generation. However, there was a significant takeaway from observing this change over time. In trying to force my family to learn about mental health care, I received a lot of pushback. This led me to see that my family first conceptualized my fascination with psychology as an insult to Albanian culture, believing that their culture was not “ good enough.” With this insight, I realized that comprehending mental health was a marathon and not a sprint.

Over time, I learned to introduce the concept of mental health while honoring Albanian culture. I highlighted the different ways that cultural values could improve mental healthcare. I noted how common it was for many cultures to have a lot to learn about mental healthcare. This led to more open and less defensive discussions about mental health. 

Where to go From Here

Not only did my experiences shape my interests in mental health, but also enhanced my skills of multicultural competency. Having been able to practice, learn, and experience multiple cultures growing up, helped foster in me a greater understanding and sensitivity for all cultures, and their ability to adapt to new environments. My history also gives me a strong understanding of other individuals who are also first-gens, or come from diverse backgrounds. This includes individuals from various cultures, religions, genders, sexualities, races, and more.  Here in the “melting pot” culture of the U.S., that’s a real advantage.

I had the privilege to learn about mental health, in addition to observing a culture that can greatly benefit from continued growth in conceptualizing it. This fueled me to pursue a career in mental health counseling. I now have the ability to help many individuals to better understand themselves and have a better quality of life. That’s why I became a therapist.

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