Stanley Sue is a pioneering scholar in the field of Asian American psychology and ethnic minority psychology. He was born in 1944 in Portland, Oregon, as the third son of Chinese immigrant parents. He received his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Oregon in 1966 and his doctoral degree in clinical psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1971. He completed his dissertation research on cognitive dissonance under Bertram Raven’s guidance but soon turned his scholarly attention to mental health issues facing ethnic minorities.
Sue was an assistant professor and associate professor of psychology at the University of Washington between 1971 and 1981, professor of psychology at UCLA between 1981 and 1996, and since 1996 has been professor of psychology and Asian American Studies at the University of California, Davis. In addition to his faculty appointments in psychology, Sue has served as associate dean of the graduate division at UCLA and as the director of the Asian American Studies Program at University of California, Davis. Sue’s influence on Asian American psychology and ethnic minority psychology spans a wide range with respect to scholarship, service, and public policy.
Sue has made significant theoretical and empirical contributions in the areas of ethnicity and mental health, cultural competency, and effective delivery of mental health services. His first major contribution was to document treatment disparities in mental health services for ethnic minorities. In his early collaboration with Herman McKinney in the 1970s, Sue analyzed the utilization patterns of nearly 14,000 clients seen in 17 community mental health agencies serving King County in the state of Washington. They found that ethnic minority clients tended to drop out from treatment at a higher rate and to have fewer average number of sessions than White clients. Based on this research, as well as on the consensus of other Asian American mental health providers, Sue made several policy recommendations to improve services for ethnic minorities, such as training therapists to be more knowledgeable about cultural bases of mental health, to recruit and hire more ethnic minority psychologists, to develop ethnic-specific mental health service centers, and to create new therapies and services that better meet the needs of ethnic minorities. These recommendations became fundamental building blocks for increasing cultural competence in mental health service delivery.
Sue’s groundbreaking studies, which suggested that inadequate services were being provided to ethnic minorities, were initially challenged by the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services and Sue was asked to testify before the Washington State Senate subcommittee on mental health. After his successful defense of the scientific basis for the findings, many of Sue’s policy recommendations were implemented in many areas of the country. In fact, Sue directed the training for the National Asian American Psychology Training Center in San Francisco in 1980, which was established specifically to train service providers in culturally competent practice with Asian Americans.
The early work documenting treatment disparities led Sue to pursue research on culturally competent services. In a 1987 paper, Sue and Nolan Zane proposed a theoretical model for treatment outcome based on various forms of match between therapists and clients. Sue and Zane contended that ethnic match between therapists and clients is important because ethnically matched therapists tend to have higher ascribed credibility with clients, but other factors (e.g., therapist-client match on problem conceptualization and goals, therapist behavior during the first session) contribute to achieved credibility that lead to better retention in treatment and more positive outcomes. In his 1998 paper, Sue articulated his hypotheses about three essential ingredients of cultural competency. In this paper, he argued that although culture-specific knowledge (e.g., making direct eye contact with an elder person would be considered disrespectful in a Chinese culture) was a necessary component, a culturally competent clinician must also demonstrate scientific mindedness (i.e., to treat such cultural-specific knowledge as a hypothesis rather than as a given in a particular client) and practice dynamic sizing (i.e., to know when to apply or not apply a particular culture-specific knowledge to assess and treat a particular client).
Finally, Sue has played a critical role in fostering cutting-edge research in Asian American psychology. He directed the National Research Center on Asian American Mental Health, a research center funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, between 1988 and 2001. Sue and his collaborators at the research center produced some of the major empirical work in Asian American mental health. For example, Sue was critically involved in the first large-scale psychiatric epidemiological study of Asian Americans in the United States, which was headed by David Takeuchi and conducted out of the National Research Center on Asian American Mental Health in Los Angeles. This study documented population estimates for the prevalence of major mental disorders among Chinese Americans.
Service and Advocacy
As a pioneer in the field of Asian American psychology, Sue was instrumental in creating a professional organization to provide scholarly network and public advocacy for the needs of this population. Together with his psychologist brother Derald Wing Sue and other Asian American mental health professionals in the San Francisco Bay Area, Sue founded the Asian American Psychological Association (AAPA) in 1972. In the formative years of the AAPA, Sue and other leaders sought to advocate nationally on behalf of Asian American mental health issues through the American Psychological Association (APA) boards and standing committees that were sympathetic to concerns of Asian Americans and ethnic minorities. Sue and other AAPA leaders also formed coalitions with the leading ethnic minority psychologists of the time to push the APA to move toward more diversification and inclusion.
With encouragement from Patrick Okura, the then executive assistant to the director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Sue wrote a conference grant proposal to the NIMH to convene a national conference on the training of mental health service providers to serve Asian American communities. After 2 years of planning, the National Asian American Psychology Training Conference was held in Long Beach, California, in the summer of 1976. This historic conference was critical to the grassroots movement for Asian American psychology in gaining the momentum toward visibility and influence.
Sue’s research on mental health of ethnic minorities has impacted public policy on a national scale as well. Sue has served as a task panel member for the President Carter Commission on Mental Health in 1978, planning board member for the Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health in 1999, participant in the White House Conference on Mental Health in 1999, and science editor of Mental Health: Culture, Race, and Ethnicity in 2001—a supplement volume to the 1999 Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health.
In recognition of his work and achievements, Sue has won numerous awards and recognitions in all areas of his work. Of note, he has received three major awards from the APA, making him one of a handful of psychologists to be awarded multiple times by the organization. Among the many prestigious awards he has garnered are the APA Distinguished Contributions to Psychology in the Public Interest Award in 1986; the APA Distinguished Contributions to Research in Public Policy, the Distinguished Contributions to Research in Ethnic Minority Psychology from the Society for the Psychological Study of Ethnic Minority Issues (APA Division 45), and the Distinguished Contribution Award from the AAPA in 1990; the Janet E. Helms Award for Mentoring and Scholarship in Psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University, in 1993; the Distinguished Contributions to the Psychological Study of Diversity from the American Association of Applied and Preventive Psychology in 1995; the Dalmas A. Taylor Award for Pioneering Leadership, Scholarship, and Aggressive Advocacy for Ethnic Minorities at the National Multicultural Summit and Conference in 1999; the APA Distinguished Contributions to Applied Research and the Society of Clinical Psychology’s (APA Division 12) Stanley Sue Award—which was established to recognize a psychologist who has made distinguished contributions to the understanding of human diversity—both in 2003; the Distinguished Research Contributions to Ethnic Minorities from Section IV of the Society of Clinical Psychology (APA Division 12); and the Davis Prize for Teaching and Scholarship from the University of California, Davis, in 2005.
- Sue, S. (1998). In search of cultural competence in psychotherapy and counseling. American Psychologist, 53, 440—148.
- Sue, S., & McKinney, H. (1975). Asian-Americans in the community mental health care system. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 45, 111-118.
- Sue, S., & Zane, N. (1987). The role of culture and cultural techniques in psychotherapy: A critique and reformulation. American Psychologist, 42, 37—45.
- Takeuchi, D. T., Chung, R. C., Lin, K. M., Shen, H., Kurasaki, K., Chun, C., et al. (1998). Lifetime and twelve-month prevalence rates of major depressive episodes and dysthymia among Chinese Americans in Los Angeles. American Journal of Psychiatry, 155, 1407—1414.
- U.S. Surgeon General. (2001). Mental health: Culture, race, and ethnicity. A supplement to Mental health: A report of the Surgeon General. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.