In recognition of South Asian Heritage Month, we are excited to be working with the South Asian community to spread awareness around the topic of South Asian Mental Health and feature South Asian mental health professionals doing important work & helping others on their healing journey.

Meet Akshita Vaidyanathan.

Akshita (they/them, she/her) is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker – Associate working as a mental health therapist in Washington. They are queer, South Indian, polyamorous and a immigrant to the US. Akshita works from an anti-oppression, harm reduction lens and primarily works with people of colour – specializing in working with folks that are queer/trans and navigating intersecting marginalized identities. We had the pleasure and honour of interviewing Akshita and getting to know about their personal and professional journey! 

What inspired you to enter the field of mental health? 

This is such a hard question to answer, because the reasons have changed so much over the years. I think I’ve always been interested in psychology and the human condition, which was the initial draw. I’ve been doing mental health related work since about 2015, during that time I was involved in activism/advocacy for survivors of sexual violence and that led me to explore the pathway to becoming a professional counselor because I wanted to continue supporting survivors. 

Although that is something that I still focus on, it’s also changed and broadened since then. There are so few therapists that hold the same intersecting marginalized identities that I do, and I know how frustrating it can be working with clinicians who do not understand your lived experience. So a huge reason I am a therapist today is so that I can use my skills to support and hold space for the other queer and trans individuals in my community. It feels like an honor & privilege to support other QT-BIPOC folks, many of whom are South Asian on their healing journey. 

Are there any interesting theories or studies on culture or gender & sexuality that have helped you in your personal or professional journey?  

Hmm, that’s such an interesting question and I definitely want to seek out more information on the topic. One thing that comes to mind is a training I attended last year called “Gender as Trauma”, it was led by Alex Iantaffi (they/them) who themselves is a counselor and Somatic Experiencing practitioner. They talk about how the concept and social constructions of gender are traumatizing for EVERYONE in different ways, not just trans and gender-nonconforming folks. They’ve written a book on it that is still on my to-read list called “Gender Trauma”. 

Rather than engaging in theories or studies around gender/sexuality, I love engaging in media (books, movies, tv-shows) that highlight lived experience (fiction/non-fiction) of queer and trans folks. Some of my favorites from this year: 

– All This Could Be Different by Sarah Thankam Mathews

– Light From Uncommon Stars Ryka Aoki

– A few essays from Good Girls Marry Doctors collected by Piyali Bhattacharya 

– A Marriage of A Thousand Lies by SJ Sindu 

– Joyland (movie) 


Pride in Chennai, India in 2018. The Tamil quote reads "Can love be shackled?" and it's a quote from a 2nd Century Tamil Poet named Thiruvalluvar, and was the slogan for Chennai Rainbow Pride for many years.

What’s something you want other queer/trans South Asian people to know, who might be struggling with their mental health? 

The biggest thing I want y’all to know is that you are not alone, and that your gender & sexual identity don’t have to be at odds with your culture. It is such a common experience for South Asian folks to feel like their queerness is irreconcilable with their ethnic and cultural identity. This does not have to be true! Queer and trans people have existed forever — we exist today, and we have always existed. Colonization did a great job at erasing these histories, but if you look for these stories, you will find them. 

Also — you’re not alone. Queer and trans South Asians exist everywhere and you can find your community if you look for them. I find that community has been so important in my own journey of reconciling my queerness with my Tamilian identity. If you’re having a hard time knowing where to look – Desi Rainbow Parents hosts monthly support groups for QT South Asian folks, and even offers groups for parents.

Is there anything you want others to know about South Asian mental health, specifically around the queer experience? 

Although queer and trans visibility is on the rise these days, we still live in an extremely homophobic and transphobic society. We internalize the messages we learn about queerness and transness being “wrong” and “sinful” and can be really hard on ourselves because of these messages that we’ve internalized.  I want folks who are struggling with their mental health because of their gender/sexual identity to know that regardless of what people say to you, how you think and feel about yourself is what matters at the end of the day. How can you figure out how to be kinder to yourself? How can you find communities of people that will accept you the way that you are? Remember, you don’t owe anyone “coming out” if it’s not going to be safe for you to do so. Your relationship with yourself matters most. 

Do you have any tips for those in the South Asian community who are unable to access professional help right now?

I’ve mentioned this already, but I’ll say it again. Seek out other queer/trans South Asian folks, whether it’s online or in-person. Find your community. If folks are seeking professional support, obviously the Asian Mental Health Collective is a great resource, so is South Asian Therapists as well as the National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network. Desi Rainbow Parents is also a great resource for groups & for friends/family members of QT-South Asians. 

In celebration of Pride Month and to celebrate our Asian queer, trans, non-binary and genderqueer friends and allies – we reached out to our Asian Mental Health Professionals community to give them a space to spread light on the important work they do.

Meet Christophe Ngo, M.A. LMFT.

Christophe was born in America. His parents came here during the Vietnam War and settled in Orange County and lived there most his life. The struggle with his identity in regard to culture, values, morals, spirituality, sexuality, and ethics seemed to always clash with one another.

Navigating through that was stressful and complicated, many times he was lost in the process or was tempted by the emotional and intellectual “comfort” of things. This lead me to become a therapist, as he had questions and inner conflicts that nobody seemed to understand.

​Read more about Christophe’s experience as a South East Asian bisexual therapist and the expertise and experiences he brings to his work. 

1. What inspired you to enter the field of mental health? Are there any experiences from your personal journey that help guide you in your professional work? 

Interesting story actually! In community college, I fell asleep in one of my communication classes one day and after class I went up to apologize to her and said I was tired that’s why I fell asleep.  She said “no you’re not, you’re depressed”. That was the first time I felt someone noticed me and validated my feelings without even realizing it, and to this day I still attribute her to saving my life. I have had many experiences growing up with immigrant parents and being the first generation born in America, and I fully understand the confusion of not feeling like I belong anywhere.  It has helped me grow as an individual through my accomplishes and mistakes.

 2. Do you work with LGBTQ+ Asian folks? Tell us about your practice. 

LGTBQ+ Asian clients take up around half of my caseload, there are not many bisexual South Easts Asian male therapists surprisingly. 

My practice specializes in trauma in which I use ART (Accelerated Resolution Therapy) as my main trauma modality and Identity in regard to personal, cultural, and sexual. I also work with Bipolar, neurodivergent, and ADHD. I try to be the therapist that I needed when I was going through tough times; the kind of therapist I would want to see. I understand the yearning to feel heard and more importantly to be seen as a person who is more than just their personal struggles. You can learn more about my practice, BeachCAT Counselling, on my website

3. Do you have any tips for those who are unable to access identity-affirming therapy? 

There are a lot of resources you can find through Facebook, Instagram, and Tiktok, but I must caution about who is giving out this information and where they are getting this information from, just because of someone’s personal experience or their interpretation does not mean it will resonate with you. It can be a great start in the right direction.

4. What’s something you want young queer, trans, NB/GNC Asian youth reading to know about queer relationships and queerness?

When you change others will change around you, whether their change is good or bad is not up to you. Understand, and take ownership of what are your expectations and the expectation of others, we easily get confused and believe we are at fault for not meeting up to people’s expectations, and we tend to internalize them as our own. 

5. Are there any readings, resources, activists or organizations that you want to recommend?

“The Body Keeps Score” by Bessel Van Der Kolk, “The  Courage to be Disliked” and “The Courage to be Happy” by Ichiro Kishimi, Fumitake Koga are 3 books I highly recommend in general and is website that provides affordable therapy.

6. Would you like to share anything else that these questions may have missed? 

 Just like courage cannot exist without fear, growth cannot exist without discomfort. Therapy is like a road trip. Sometimes you go forward, backward, or sideways, but how fast you wanna go is up to you.

Click the link below to learn more
about Christophe’s practice as a therapist!

Click here

In celebration of Pride Month and to celebrate our Asian queer, trans, non-binary and genderqueer friends and allies – we reached out to our Asian Mental Health Professionals community to give them a space to spread light on the important work they do.

Meet Sharlene Justo. 

Sharlene Justo is a queer Khmer-Filipinx gender fluid Associate therapist at Alvarado Family Therapy (San Diego, CA) and Lecturer at San Diego State University. She has a spectrum of experiences working with K-12 schools, community mental health, and transitional age youth. As a first generation student and child of refugees/immigrants, she holds a kaleidoscope perspective for clients to feel radically seen and empowered to trailblaze pathways that honor their authentic selves.

Read more about Sharlene’s background, experiences, and philiosophies they bring to their work as an Associate Therapist.  

Image of Sharlene Justo (she/they/he), APCC.

1. What inspired you to enter the field of mental health? 

The lack of culturally responsive mental health care for my family along with my innate existential introspection directed me to create pathways for my loved ones and community. I witnessed my Yeay (grandmother in Khmer), who raised me and survived the Khmer Rouge genocide, be pathologized through Western medicine and discouraged by cultural stigma. I questioned what quality of life my grandmother would have if she was resourced with service providers who looked like her and bridged psychoeducation to my family. I dreamed of what collective healing can look like and what liberation is waiting to be experienced when we have someone who can actually mirror their reality.

2. Are there any interesting queer theories or practices that have helped you in your personal or professional journey?

While queer folx are constantly defining their blueprint, the Cass Identity Model of Identity Development can be a reference to the discovery and fluidity of one’s definition and embodiment of queerness. Our identity formation can feel like a never ending metamorphosis towards our authentic selves.


Each day we gather many messages on what parts of us are safe to exist or express. This model can provide verbiage to different stages we ebb and flow through with hopes to reach self-acceptance and wholeness. It has resourced me to support my clients and myself in extending self-compassion and embracing the process of becoming our truest selves.

Cass Identity Model of Identity Development

3. What’s something you want young queer, trans, NB/GNC Asian youth reading to know about queer relationships and queerness?

Queerness is magical. The ability to connect and express ourselves is an ultra superpower. It invites us to hold oneself and others in curiosity towards truth. It allows us to experience and offer transformative love. It is a liberation from constructs we all desire to break free from. It can feel like a double edged sword when we live in a world that demonizes and alienates us. Our ancestors and deities were queer and celebrated queerness. Living your truth is a connection to your own and ancestors’ divinity.

Queer relationships in all capacities of friendship, romance, familial, and mentorship are portals to seeing ourselves and experiencing love. Our inherent queer beings are not meant to fit the binary of heteropatriarchal structures and constructs of love; specifically, the intimacy and devotion shared in queer friendships. Our friends become family in the queer experience. They are the ones who witness us in each season of life, comfort us in dark times, and celebrate each growth. Society tells us the ultimate love is found in the “one” through romantic pursuits but I would highlight that friendships hold the love we seek to find in romance and life long partners. Friends are lovers, lovers are friends. We cross and blur the lines of intimacy across many love languages: platonic cuddles during a movie, love letters of admiration, wiping your tears after a cry, and thoughtful gifts that embrace details of who you are. What would life look like if we accepted ourselves to be in love with our friends? to cherish platonic intimacy? to pour into our friendships that pour into ourselves?

4.  Do you have any tips for those who are unable to access identity-affirming therapy? 

Community care is the collective’s greatest access identity-affirming healing and life line as it reminds us that safety and belonging exists. It is cultivated in many spaces like: discord group chats, peer support services, art shows, your local pride center, queer neighborhoods, and LGBTQ+ owned businesses. We express community care when we give empowerment to dance like nobody’s watching, share resources and support for basic needs, and give space for our narratives of truth. Community and chosen loved ones have the ability to offer corrective healing experiences that we may never be able to receive from oppressive systems and our biological loved ones. Seek out spaces that align with who you are (values, interests, inspirations/admirations); there lies the potential for you to be seen and free.

5.  Are there any readings, resources, activists or organizations that you want to shout out?

  • Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good by adrienne marie brown
  • The Care We Dream Of: Liberatory & Transformative Approaches to LGBTQ+ Health by Zena Sharman
  • Polysecure: Attachment, Trauma, and Consensual Nonmonamy by Jessica Fern
  • Daring to Love: Move Beyond Fear of Intimacy, Embrace Vulnerability, and Create Lasting Connection by Tamsen Firestone & Robert Firestone
  • Activists: bellhooks, Audre Lorde, Alok V Menon, & Bretman Rock

Click the link below to learn more about Sharlene's work as a therapist at Alvarado Family Therapy!

Follow Sharlene's journey on Instagram using the link below!

Asian Mental Health Collective