Caring for the Mental Health of Asian Communities with Funding from the Cigna Foundation

Group of WJC students and faculty in Vietnam street

Left to right: Min-Chen Tsai, Dr. Natalie Cort, Dr. Thanh Phan, Tin Huang, and Dr. Catherine Vuky, in Hoi An, during the inaugural service learning and cultural immersion trip to Vietnam in summer 2023.

William James College (WJC) received a $50,000 grant in January 2023 from the Cigna Foundation's Health and Well-Being Grant Program to support a one-year pilot of the Asian Competency Education (ACE) program. ACE aims to enhance equity and access to quality behavioral healthcare for underserved Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) populations in Massachusetts.

Led by Dr. Catherine Vuky, an assistant professor in WJC's Clinical Psychology Department and Director of the Asian Mental Health Program, WJC's ACE program strives to bridge gaps in behavioral healthcare access for AAPI communities by combating stigma, providing linguistic competence, and offering career opportunities to aspiring professionals. ACE fosters improved patient-provider relationships, better outcomes, and greater community trust in mental healthcare services. The multipronged approach includes an internship program, cultural competency workshops for healthcare professionals working with AAPI populations, and a “behavioral health career day” targeted to AAPI middle and high school students and their families from the Greater Boston region.

ACE collaborates with the South Cove Community Health Center (SCCHC), Massachusetts' largest primary care provider focusing on non-English speaking Asian Americans. Dr. Vuky serves as their Associate Director of Behavioral Health and a practicing clinical psychologist, hosting interns fluent in Asian languages from Boston area colleges and providing them with didactic interpretation education and mentorship in their case manager roles.

This year’s Vietnamese- and Mandarin-speaking interns/case managers were able to build trust and rapport with SCCHC’s vulnerable patient populations, proving the crucial role linguistically competent behavioral health professionals play in improving patient outcomes and mental health operational efficiency. ACE also empowers students to fill a critical workforce gap, showcasing the potential of their linguistic and cultural skills and providing a valuable career pathway into the behavioral health field.