The Asian American Psychological Association (AAPA) is a national organization dedicated to the advancement of Asian American psychology and advocacy for Asian American communities and their psychological well-being. Its advocacy efforts include the promotion of culturally responsive mental health services for Asian and Asian American communities, the advancement and dissemination of psychological research on Asian Americans, the education and training of Asian American mental health service providers, the development of culturally appropriate mental health policies, and the establishment of professional collaborations and networks within the field of mental health. Founded in December 1972 in the San Francisco Bay Area, the AAPA has grown from a local organization with 10 regular members to a national organization of approximately 600 members in 2006. Parallel to their growth in the United States, Asian Americans constitute approximately 4% to 5% of the doctorates awarded in psychology, according to the National Science Foundation.
Despite the AAPA’s contemporary origins, its formation occurred within a historical context of discrimination and toward Asian Americans within the United States. Since the arrival of Chinese immigrants in the United States in the mid-1800s, subsequent groups of Asian immigrants from a variety of ethnic groups have encountered strikingly similar patterns of individual, institutional, and cultural forms of racism. Historically, Asian Americans have been the targets of numerous anti-immigration, anti-naturalization, and anti-miscegenation laws. Currently, Asian Americans, despite their diverse ethnic origins and histories, continue to be treated as a homogeneous community and stereotyped as a “model minority” (i.e., presumably a uniformly successful racial group in terms of educational and economic achievement) and “perpetual foreigners” (i.e., a racial group of untrustworthy outsiders). Moreover, Asian Americans continue to be the targets of modern-day forms of racism ranging from homicide and physical assaults to glass ceiling barriers in the workplace to implicit quotas within higher education. Recognizing this shared history of discrimination and inspired by the larger civil rights and antiwar movements, predominantly Japanese American and Chinese American activists coined the term Asian American in the late 1960s to unite the various Asian ethnic groups in recognition of their shared experiences. More importantly, Asian American activists across the nation formed a range of organizations to challenge racial inequities in areas such as physical and mental health, education, and politics. Within this context, AAPA was formed in recognition of the neglect of Asian American issues within psychology and the sense of isolation among Asian American mental health professionals.
The cofounders of AAPA were two brothers, Derald Wing Sue and Stanley Sue. Both men recognized their own lack of training in working with Asian and Asian American communities and the lack of a professional network for mental health service providers. As a result, the two brothers began to organize informal gatherings to discuss Asian American issues and their roles as Asian American clinicians and scholars. D. W. Sue was chosen to be the first president of AAPA out of respect for his status as the older brother, and S. Sue was elected as secretary. In the initial days of AAPA with so few Asian American psychologists, many members of the organization were social workers, counselors, educators, and other allied health and mental health professionals. Additionally, interdisciplinary alliances with fields such as Asian American studies and with community leaders were key to the initial formation of AAPA. Indeed, one of the seminal papers in the field of Asian American psychology, S. Sue and D. W. Sue’s “Chinese American Personality and Mental Health” was published in 1971 in Amerasia Journal, the first Asian American studies journal. At an organizational level, AAPA drew inspiration from the newly formed Association of Black Psychologists, which was founded in 1968, also in San Francisco. In particular, the activism of organizations such as the Association of Black Psychologists and academic disciplines such as ethnic studies inspired AAPA to strive for organizational and systemic transformation within the field of psychology.
AAPA has been involved at a national level in advocating for greater awareness of both Asian Americans and the issues that affect their psychological well-being. For instance, AAPA has been involved with ensuring the accurate representation of Asian Americans in the U.S. Census and in advocating against English-only language initiatives. Additionally, AAPA leaders have advocated for Asian American issues before President Carter’s Commission on Mental Health, President Clinton’s Race Advisory Board, President George W. Bush’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health, as well as authoring portions of the supplement to the Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health. Within psychology, AAPA and its members have been instrumental in fostering the recognition of Asian American issues within the field of psychology in general and in professional organizations such as the American Psychological Association (APA) and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Within APA,
AAPA has worked toward the inclusion of Asian Americans at all levels of APA governance, the formation of the Board of Ethnic Minority Affairs and the Office of Ethnic Minority Affairs, and the inclusion of Asian Americans in editorial positions and journal review boards. As a result of this emphasis on leadership development, Asian Americans have been elected to numerous governance boards, committees, task forces, and division leadership positions within APA. Indeed, Richard Suinn, an early AAPA member, was elected as the first Asian American president of APA. Both Suinn and Alice Chang served on APA’s board of directors. Moreover, Christine Iijima Hall, the first female president of AAPA, also served as the director of APA’s Office of Ethnic Minority Affairs. Currently, AAPA is a member of the Council of National Psychological Associations for the Advancement of Ethnic Minority Interests, composed of all the national ethnic minority psychological organizations, and an observer on APA’s Council of Representatives.
Within NIMH, AAPA has been effective in advocating for Asian American issues since its inception. In particular, the support of K. Patrick Okura, an executive assistant to the director of NIMH and an early member of AAPA’s board of directors, was instrumental to AAPA’s visibility. Okura organized the first Asian American mental health conference in 1972 and was vital in securing NIMH funding for the National Asian American Psychology Training Conference in 1976 under the leadership of Robert Chin and S. Sue. In 1988, the NIMH also provided funding for the National Research Center on Asian American Mental Health, with S. Sue as its first director. Additionally, Okura, along with his wife, Lily, established the Okura Mental Health Leadership Foundation with the reparations money that they received for their internment during World War II. The foundation provides leadership development opportunities to emerging Asian American mental health professionals from a variety of disciplines.
AAPA is led by an executive committee selected from its membership. The president, vice president, secretary-historian, president-elect, past president, and a four-member board of directors are all elected for 2-year terms. One member of the board is designated as a student representative. Additionally, the following officers are appointed positions: membership, communications, financial affairs, and editor of the newsletter. A central focus of AAPA’s leadership is hosting a national convention on the day before the APA convention. The convention has served as an integral event for the dissemination of the latest research and best practices within the field, mentor-ship across all levels of AAPA membership, and the recognition of the achievements of its members. AAPA publishes a newsletter, the Asian American Psychologist, three times a year to communicate with its membership about events, issues, and position announcements. AAPA also maintains an active Listserv, open to all individuals who are interested in Asian American psychology, as well as a Web site. The Web site provides information about AAPA, its activities, resources for mental health professionals, and access to online forums on a variety of research and practice-oriented topics.
Currently, AAPA also has two divisions that address issues specific to segments of the professional community: the Division on Women (DoW) and the Division of Students (DoS). The DoW was founded in 1995 under the leadership of Alice Chang. The DoW provides a forum for collaboration and mentorship among Asian American women within the field and provides a platform for the advocacy of women’s issues. Similarly, the DoS was founded in 2006 by a cohort of students under the leadership of Szu-Hui Lee to give voice to, and in recognition of, the large student community within AAPA.
- Asian American Psychological Association: https://aapaonline.org/
- Leong, F. T. L. (1995). A brief history of Asian American psychology, Vol. 1. San Francisco: Asian American Psychological Association.
- Leong, F. T. L., & Gupta, A. (in press). History and evolution of Asian American psychology. In N. Tewari & A. Alvarez (Eds.), Asian American psychology: Current perspectives. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
- Munsey, C. (2006). A family for Asian psychologists. American Psychologist, 37(2), 60-62.