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Conversations with Allison Ly

Today we’d like to introduce you to Allison Ly.

Hi Allison, it’s an honor to have you on the platform. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us – to start maybe you can share some of your backstory with our readers?
Currently, I have my own private practice as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), providing mental health therapy to high-achieving adults residing in California. I work with first and second generation folks struggling with anxiety in their relationships. I help them feel more confident in themselves and more secure in their relationships with others.

I became interested in social work and providing therapy because of my own experiences as a first gen. I am a part of the first generation in my family to be born and raised in Los Angeles, California. I identify as Chinese ethnically and Vietnamese culturally. My family experiences and interactions have and continue to influence how I am in a great way. But being a first gen, I also had (and still have) to learn how to navigate two different cultures and expectations.

The experiences and support I got through school helped me discover opportunities I didn’t know were available (e.g., having an enjoyable career, traveling, etc.). I saw adults in careers which they were passionate about, and able to make an impact by helping others pursue their dreams. That made me realize I wanted a career that would allow me to make an impact and help people as well.

In undergrad, I majored in Sociology with an Asian American minor. Then I worked as a Case Manager with Vietnamese adults before obtaining my Master in Social Welfare (MSW) at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and eventually became a mental health therapist.

Professionally, I’ve been very fortunate in my career. I loved the education and experience I got while at UCLA. I’ve learned so much professionally and personally working at mental health agencies and school districts in the San Gabriel Valley. I had great supervisors and colleagues who helped me learn how to support my clients and my community well.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
Educationally and professionally, my path to becoming a mental health therapist was smooth. I really enjoyed and learned a lot from my internships and jobs leading up to me running my own private practice.

The most difficult struggles I encountered were actually more internal. They were around my own identity and self-worth being a first generation Asian American female.

I had (and continue to hold) many privileges and opportunities that were not available to my parents and their families who were immigrants to the US. I spoke English fluently, got to obtain higher education (undergraduate and graduate), and was able to do things like sports and hobbies for “fun”. My parents and their families didn’t have access to these things when they were growing up. They had to work hard in demanding jobs every day to support themselves and their families without much time for rest and fun.

I’m fortunate to have the opportunities, resources, and space to think beyond how to make ends meet day by day. Because of these privileges I had (and still have) access to, I struggled to ask for more -whether it was more pay, more recognition or something else. I felt I should be grateful for what I have, not complain, and not ask for more because I already had so much more than the generations before me. And as a female, I constantly thought that I needed to take care of others and put my own needs last.

But that is not true.

I can take care of myself and ask for more. I had to overcome those self-sacrificing ideas and “staying small” thoughts. Because the reality is I can be grateful and still strive for more -they are not mutually exclusive.

When I show up with full awareness of what my needs are, with confidence in myself, and ask for the things I need and deserve, I allow others to also show up in that same way. When I am taken care of, I can take care of others from a much better headspace.

I had to learn (and am still learning) that as a minority Asian American female, I don’t need to settle and I don’t need to stay small. No one does.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about what you do?
I provide mental health therapy to first and second-generation folks struggling with anxiety in their relationships and help them move forward.

My specialty is helping individuals who identify as first and second gen explore and sort through who they want to be and how they want to show up while straddling two worlds. First and second gen folks often feel stuck, worried, and unsure about how to proceed with their own individual goals, ideas, and needs while balancing the cultural expectations and ideologies they grew up with within their families.

This often leads to high-stress levels and anxiety to perform well. They may be very successful in school and their careers but may feel very anxious, overwhelmed, isolated, and burnt out thinking about how to balance their needs, figure out their own identity while keeping in mind their family’s needs and expectations.

The great news is that you don’t have to only choose one or the other. You can do both. You can take care of yourself while also taking care of others.

You can find ways to respect your family, your family values, and culture while also being more authentic with your needs and feelings. And you can achieve this with less anxiety. You can feel less irritable, less worried, and less consumed by others’ perceptions of you.

This is difficult but really important work. I enjoy seeing my clients discover new ways they can balance all the important aspects of themselves (family, culture, career, relationships, etc.) without losing or sacrificing themselves and their needs.

Before we let you go, we’ve got to ask if you have any advice for those who are just starting out?
I hope all therapists who are just starting out, remember that we are lifelong learners. We are all humans with different lived experiences, challenges, values and ideas. There is so much in this world that we have personally experienced and so much more in this world that we have yet to learn. Each client will help us learn something new -whether it be new clinical skills or something new about the human experience. Therapists are lifelong learners because we are also always evolving. We have to learn, evolve and challenge ourselves in order to also help our clients move forward and improve their lives.

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