South Asian Therapists is the largest digital Directory of its kind: the brainwave of systemic activist, Raj Khaira, it was created during the high-pressure time of lock-down. Raj has represented the underacknowledged issues of the South Asian diaspora in the UK since launching her first successful grass-roots project, the Pink Ladoo Project, which encourages South Asians in the diaspora to celebrate & announce girls’ births by distributing vibrant sweets. Her current cause meditatively offers specific psycho-therapy that wholly “validates and explores the challenges” of those with Asian subcontinental heritage: especially, again, young women. “For a lot of South-Asian women, lock-down wasn’t new. They’ve been living like this for a long time. We began exploring this point on the Pink Ladoo Project through a series called Brown & Locked Down. However, I began receiving so many distressed messages from girls who were struggling to cope and wanted to provide followers an effective contact for counselling. I put out an initial call for South-Asian therapists, and received an unprecedented response from around 500 therapists across 16 different countries. I quickly realised the idea warranted an entirely separate platform.” Thus, South-Asian Therapists was born!
Continuing on the legacy of Pink Ladoo, Brown & Locked Down as well as several of Raj’s inspiring endeavours over the years, this project around cosmopolitan mental health gained traction quickly internationally, ultimately becoming its own brand. Indeed, Raj states mutually affirming connectivity as the big highlight: “knowing we’ve become the largest South-Asian collective for mental health in the world is amazing. The site gets 160,000 views a month and 95% of those come from the diaspora, spanning UK, Canada and the US. Actually 55% of that is from the latter alone. My favourite part is getting messages from the thankful public whose lives have been intimately changed.” Raj elaborated on the nuances that South Asian Therapists address that is otherwise missing in western practice:
“there are many and varied particulars. However, one issue that comes up time and time again is the desire to have somebody who really understands South-Asian familial dynamics and our cultural norm. People constantly say they’re sick of their white therapist telling them ‘just talk to your parents’. South Asians who seek support for mental health often want someone who empathises with what their life looks like. This preference is not something that should be dismissed.” Indeed, it can be hard to even start a dialogue, let alone argue for individual authority within a close-knit informal household. Raj continued: “another unique aspect is first-generational guilt. You are constantly reminded of how lucky you are compared to your parents who migrated here and lived in difficult conditions. Then we start to see toxic gratitude-culture show up as well.” In this sense, the South-Asian Therapists platform provides positive validation and truly tackles the feeling of being socially unseen. “Many South-Asians have to expend so much mental energy explaining their world to their white therapist. This becomes yet another barrier to opening up emotionally”: an action that is already internally difficult or culturally taboo.
In lieu of demoralisation then Raj’s platform brings personal emancipatory hope. As well as being key in networking, connecting people to the fitting therapy, running socials and publishing helpful conversational tips, “a second offering of South Asian Therapists is the monthly package, accessibly priced, which comes with a mental health workbook where popular psychology is reframed from a South-Asian perspective. We not only acknowledge relevant topics, but also continue to unpack and decolonise them. We consider how certain behaviours have knock-on effects and their affect in the long-run. Again, this level of care isn’t present for minorities in dominant psychotherapy.” The project is institutional. Raj herself has actually battled with mental health, having been diagnosed with depression at the very young age of twelve. “I have no problem admitting that I, the founder of the largest South-Asian enterprise has battled anxiety and depression for most of my life. Therapy has been key to my recovery on numerous occasions. I mean it when I say I believe in it.”
Here the consummate campaigner’s beautiful ethos at once emerges: authentic humanitarian fervour. It’s what runs through her entrepreneurial yet fundamentally sensitive work. “My quest is based on the deep desire to help those who simply want the chance to be able to embody benevolent change too.” Raj further recently authored the book, Stories for South-Asian Super Girls, which has been selected as Children's Book of the Week and Children's Book of the Month by the Times and The Guardian respectively. The collection was made to correspond with Eurocentric Feminist book, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, by Elena Favilli to provide as many accounts of Asian sub-continental female strength. Similarly, South Asian Therapists honours India’s soulful humility alongside western strident assertiveness, especially regarding the setting of boundaries which is contemporary capitalistic trend: “we are told to articulate our needs and to fight for what’s important to us, but it’s right to respect other people’s wants and be kind to them in the process too.” Indeed, what is the virtue of independence could not be so brutally straight-forward.
And so, going beyond even complete multicultural awareness, Raj finally champions an ideologically balanced spirit. “Unfortunately, we live in in a world where we’re constantly told to fear our own irrelevance. It’s draining. That’s why I don’t accept or engage with awards. They might throw flowers at you today and then tomatoes tomorrow. I don’t want someone else influencing how I feel about my work. I’m trying to run my own race. I might not always manage - but I’m consciously trying.” Actively living and tangibly sharing the social awareness she raises; Raj makes progressiveness an impactful industry. She shows that meaningful work is free of vanity, cumulative and moreover always relatable: “I am motivated by people’s capacity for change. I really believe society wants to grow and improve, but most people just don’t know how. I am a firm advocate of providing people with a place to start: giving a subtle nudge. That’s what all my projects have in common.” Raj concluded that she wants to change the face of South-Asian mental health. In truth she has built widely counteractive character.
"One issue that comes up time and time again is the desire to have somebody who really understands South-Asian familial dynamics and our cultural norm. People constantly say they’re sick of their white therapist telling them ‘just talk to your parents’. South Asians who seek support for mental health often want someone who empathises with what their life looks like. This preference is not something that should be dismissed”