Professor Wei-Chin Hwang: Focused on mental health in the Asian American community

Wei-Chin Hwang.

Photo by Anibal Ortiz

Destigmatizing mental health treatment in the Asian American community, as well as understanding the importance of cultural adapted treatment, is at the heart of Professor Wei-Chin Hwang’s scholarly mission.

Today, Hwang believes improving mental health services among Asian Americans is more vital than ever because rates of mental illness have increased, and race-based stress and hate crimes toward Asian Americans continue to escalate. 

“Culture influences every aspect of mental health,” said Hwang, who is professor and chair of CMC’s Department of Psychological Science and a clinical psychologist serving the local community. 

“Although there is a lot of focus on diagnosis and treatment modalities, we can't leave people out of the equation,” he said. “We need to develop a more culture-universal psychology that also addresses culture-specific issues.” 

Through his work, Hwang has helped estimate the prevalence of mental illness, identify risk and protective factors to mental illness, address barriers to care, develop culturally adapted and tailored treatments, and train clinicians to be more culturally competent and effective when working with diverse populations.

His work is being recognized on a national scale.

Hwang was awarded the first National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to develop and test a culturally adapted form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which was found to be more effective than non-adapted CBT for Chinese Americans. He was also awarded a NIH center grant housed at UC Davis that focused on Asian American Health Disparities, where he served as program leader of one of the center’s primary projects to better understand and improve therapist cultural competency. 

Hwang was recently inducted as a Fellow for APA’s division 12 (Society for Clinical Psychology) and division 45 (Society for the Psychological Study of Culture, Ethnicity and Race) for his longstanding contributions and continued commitment to this important work.  

Stacey N. Doan, CMC Psychology professor and Director of the Berger Institute for Individual and Social Development, said Hwang uses his scholarship and clinical experiences to make a difference on campus, as well as in the community.

“As a scientist-practitioner and a licensed clinical psychologist, he is one of the few Asian American scholars who has helped bridge the gap between basic research and intervention science,” Doan said. “His work has far-reaching impacts by transforming ideas of cultural competency and mental health treatment of individuals from Asian heritage populations. Dr. Hwang is also a fearless researcher who dives into controversial and cutting-edge topics.”

At CMC, Hwang established the Cultural Influences on Mental Health Center, which works to improve wellness for those from diverse backgrounds within the CMC community and beyond. Through the Center, Hwang and students developed a compassionate meditation approach to help students of color heal from race-related stress and trauma, and continue ongoing studies to better understand the role providers play as gatekeepers to care.

Other important work in addressing racism in mental health care includes studying implicit biases that increase prejudicial behaviors and deny people of color the mental health care that they need. This work informs a paper Hwang is currently writing for the American Psychological Association on systemic racism in mental health care.

“Systemic racism is responsible for health disparities and access to treatment, as well as affecting people's social, economic, and educational opportunities and mobility,” Hwang said. “Systemic racism is a multi-level problem, so a socioecological approach that addresses all aspects of society are needed.”

Despite recent progress, Hwang notes there is more work to be done. He hopes to improve mental health care and address racism, both of which are public health crises. 

Beth Jager


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