April 20, 2001

Stanley Sue earns kudos for improving minority psyches


Andy Frank, right, and a student at UC Davis' Hybrid Electric Vehicle Center.ric Vehicle Center.

Stanley Sue originally focused on a career in clinical psychology. But the civil rights movement persuaded him to research mental health issues of ethnic minorities. Luis Galvez/Axiom

By Susanne Rockwell

When Stan Sue announced in high school he wanted to be a clinical psychologist, little did he realize that understanding his father’s objections would become the crux of his career.

In fact, Sue became a national pioneer in helping ethnic minority groups and service providers both overcome ignorance about adequate mental health services.

For this accomplishment, the UC Davis psychology and Asian American studies professor has been awarded the 2001 Academic Senate Distinguished Public Service Award.

The award was announced at Monday’s Representative Assembly meeting of the Davis Division of the Academic Senate.

Sue was nominated by his colleague, Nolan Zane, an associate professor of psychology and Asian American studies.

"Stan has emerged as one of the most influential voices in the nation on issues related to ethnic minority groups and mental health services," Zane said in his nomination. "He has spent 30 years studying ethnicity and mental health and means of alleviating emotional distress among members of minority group populations."

As Sue has been increasingly identified as the top authority on the topic, he has been tapped for national leadership roles. Notably he is currently the section editor for a report on the mental health of Asian Americans that will supplement the U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health to be published this fall. Also, he was an active member of the planning board for that December 1999 Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health.

Sue attributes much of his success to chance. His first career ambition was to repair televisions, but he soon got bored with shop classes. Then, he developed great fascination with psychotherapy and the idea of helping emotionally disturbed individuals.

"I told my parents that I wanted to become a clinical psychologist, not fully knowing what a clinical psychologist did," writes Sue in a 1994 autobiography.

"My father, who was born in China, said, ‘What is that?’ He couldn’t believe that people would pay me to listen to their problems – indeed, he wondered if I could make a decent living."

The senior Sue would learn to appreciate psychologists: Stan Sue and his three brothers all earned doctorates in psychology.

After graduating from University of Oregon, Stan Sue attended UCLA for his doctorate in psychology, at first focusing on a clinical psychology career.

But history intervened. "In the late 1960s, the civil rights movement and Vietnam War were on the minds of many students. Personal and societal values were being challenged, and I experienced some personal conflicts," Sue relates in his autobiography. "I felt committed to civil rights, but it did not initially occur to me that my chosen profession could address ethnic minority and cross-cultural issues or that a career could be built on researching such issues."

At the time much was unknown about identity development, mental health and the means to structure intervention and prevention efforts with respect to ethnically diverse populations.

Ethnic research was considered by some psychologists as being the study of a population rather than the study of a phenomenon. "Because of ethnic and racial tensions in society, others thought that the research was not really ‘science’ or ‘psychology’ because ethnic investigators were often polemical or interdisciplinary in approach," Sue writes.

He began his career at University of Washington, where he taught and did research for 10 years before moving to UCLA for another 15 years. Sue came to UC Davis in 1996 to chair the Asian American studies program. He brought with him the National Research Center on Asian American Health, established in 1988 with a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health. Devoted to Asian Pacific American mental health concerns, the center conducts both theoretical and applied research with the aim of impacting mental health policy and service delivery.

One curious fact Sue found early in his research was that while all groups may underuse mental health services, Asian Americans may be especially prone to avoid and delay mental health care until the problems are highly disruptive.

"We concluded that for cultural reasons (e.g., shame and stigma, having different conceptions of mental health, and the unavailability of bilingual and bicultural therapists), Asian Americans tended to avoid using services," Sue said. "Only the most severely disturbed, who lacked other resources or who posed management problems for the family or community, tended to enter the mental health system."

Sue and a few colleagues took on the challenge of improving services for ethnic minorities.

He says he couldn’t have predicted in his early career what has occurred. The numbers of ethnic minorities and ethnic researchers have increased in the United States. At the same time, research and training on cultural diversity issues have become more of an integral part of psychology.


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