A Conversation with Vera Cheng

Vera Cheng is the person behind Talk Therapy with Vera, a private practice that aims to share awareness and education on mental health. She aims to use her platform to help people understand themselves better, and better themselves.

Introduce yourself!

I’m Vera and I’m a social worker based in Toronto, Ontario. I started my private practice Talk Therapy with Vera back in 2020 when the pandemic hit. It’s been about a year and a half now since I’ve been doing private practice. Prior to private practice, I’ve worked in different agencies and with family health teams doing counseling and therapy. I’ve always wanted to start a private practice and I thought it would be a good opportunity but since the pandemic hit, everything’s been online.

How did you get into mental health advocacy and choosing this field as your profession?

My family and I moved from Hong Kong to Toronto in the 90s. Back then, there was a lot of discrimination and racism happening to immigrants. I thought, “You know what, maybe it’s a good idea for me to get into social work so I can support immigrants.” At the same time, I also struggled with anxiety— I was diagnosed with anxiety many years ago. I didn’t know how to cope until I saw my doctor and my psychiatrist. And I thought that it would also be great to support someone who has issues with anxiety as well. And I hope that when my clients come to see me or when I want to help them, I can share my own experiences with them so that they feel less alone.

You run the page @talktherapy.with.vera, how do you think using social media to promote mental health awareness can help others be more mindful about their mental health?

The clientele I work with is 20-40s, and the majority of them are on social media. Sometimes with the younger generation, it’s best to promote what mental health is all about through these channels— whether it’s giving strategies or tips on how to cope with mental health, or amplifying psycho-education about different types of mental illnesses.

However, I always emphasize that what we see on social media is not a replacement for therapy

Social media is not just for the audience who follow me for mental health awareness, but it’s also a platform for different therapists who can relate to what I went through. I use my platform to talk about my own experiences being a BIPOC individual, or about my immigrant experience dealing with discrimination as a way to connect with different therapists through platform. It helps to humanize the people behind the work because people often forget that therapists are human too.

What does self-care mean to you? What does it look like?

What it really means to me is to truly take care of myself; that I recognize that I need to be healthy, not just for myself, but also so that I can provide care for others. My self care can range from exercising, getting a massage, or binging Netflix. It can even be spending quality time with my bunny because I have a bunny! I think that’s important because people often have a hard time setting boundaries or saying no; they overextend themselves and that’s when they start burning out. One of the things that I teach my clients is that it’s good to set boundaries. I think that’s important because I think a lot of people have a hard time saying no or they identify themselves as a people-pleaser.

As a trained professional, what is one misconception about mental health you wish to address?

Just because you have mental health [issues] doesn’t mean that you’re labeled as weak or crazy. I think that’s a big misconception. The older generation still have that mentality despite mental habits being more talked about now. Hopefully, the older generation will be able to understand one day.

I always applaud anyone for coming, for reaching out for support, because I know it’s not easy.

I think that’s one thing that I always tell my potential clients— that there’s nothing to be ashamed of. It doesn’t doesn’t mean that you’re weak, or you’re crazy. It’s okay to ask for help.

On mental health in Asian communities; what are some stigmas around it? Why do you think people in the community still view mental health help as taboo?

We can destigmatize the taboo around mental health by openly talking about it. Especially in a lot of Asian communities, the matter is always so private and never openly discussed. I’m really glad that I have the platform on social media to talk about it. Even on my website, I have my blog that talks about my own mental health experiences as a way for me to share with others about me as a person and not a therapist. One way to really combat mental illnesses is for people to reach out to their friends and family, and ask “How are you really doing?” Go a bit deeper. If you’re able to share mental health resources to your friends and your family, that will be helpful as well. 

You’ve also established a “Stop Asian Hate” masks initiative to spread awareness about anti-Asian sentiment and to support the community. Can you share more about this project?

I started this project after the Atlanta shooting that happened earlier this year. To be honest, I feel like talking about Asian hate and its devastating impacts have been forgotten. We talk about it during Asian Heritage Month, but once it’s over, no one really mentions it anymore. Unless you’re someone a part of the AAPI community, you don’t really see this conversation at the forefront because if you’re not AAPI, it’s not part of your lived experience.

It’s definitely a continuous battle against racism; the conversation never really ends.

I just wanted to keep that hard discussion alive and remind people: this is not over.

Has your Asian-Canadian identity and background influenced the way you view mental health (in the past and the present)?

I actually felt a lot of shame when I first got diagnosed. I didn’t want to go for support. But as I continue to work in the field of mental health, I recognized that it’s normal. There’s a lot of celebrities and notable figures now who are more open about their own mental health, and they encourage people to go for support. I think that gives people encouragement or the idea that, hey, if celebrities are seeking support and [mental illness] is really affecting their lives, then I should also reach out for help. And that’s okay. Back in the day, mental health was never really openly discussed. But now, there’s more platforms, there’s more organizations, and more people are openly discussing mental health. I’m really glad that things are changing. I’m glad that more people are recognizing that getting help does not mean you are weak, it means you are trying to be better.

Fun Rapid-Fire Questions!

Favorite Holiday

Chinese New Year

Favorite Asian Dish

Anything traditional Chinese

Favorite Place to Visit

Paris


Vera is the founder of Talk Therapy with Vera and she is a Registered Social Worker, Psychotherapist based in Toronto, ON.  She has both Bachelor and Master Degrees of Social Work from X University (2006) and University of Windsor (2012). She moved to Toronto at a young age many years ago and experienced many obstacles in life that allowed her to accept and challenge herself. It allowed her to cultivate herself as a therapist and support individuals who have had similar experiences. 

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