Normal is overrated
May 3, 2022

Breaking Thru Fear, Understanding Cultural Influence w/ Robyn Tamahana

"Fear can definitely hold us back. It's scary. Even if it's fear when it comes to something self-development or, mental health, that is quite scary, I always try to do these reframes with people when they are I don't know, and I think when it comes to anything, whether it's. Mental health or, I had to take a leap and do my own businesses? It feels like a risk, right? This is a risk."

Robyn Tamanaha is a Japanese American Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in Orange County, CA. She has been a therapist for almost 10 years and has her own private practice where she specializes in helping people who are living with Bipolar Disorder hop in the driver's seat, take control of extreme mood changes, and live a fulfilling and balanced life. She also helps to build community by running a clinical consultation group for Asian American & Pacific Islander therapists who reside throughout the United States. In addition to her role as a therapist, she is the creator and host of two podcasts, the Books Between Sessions podcast and the Open Mind Night podcast. Her mission with both of her podcasts is to help people not feel so alone in their struggle with mental health and mental illness.

Follow Robyn:





Books Between Sessions podcast Website:

Books Between Sessions podcast Instagram:

Open Mind Night podcast Instagram:


[00:00:00] Helen: So on the show we've had on some creatives, some musicians, entrepreneurs, and then now we're having more therapists per your requests. I think that oftentimes the lives of healthy therapists, isn't a dialogue that's being talked about so much. The Asian American and Latin X experience is rarely discussed.

[00:00:20] And so. In this episode, I talk to Robyn Tamanaha licensed marriage, family therapist based in orange county, California, about her personal journey to becoming a therapist, how she continues to take care of herself and the creative practices she engages in to stay healthy. My name is Helen Garcia. This is the Brain Krafty Podcast

[00:00:40] welcome in. Let's get started.

[00:00:42] Robyn: I didn't know that thing. I didn't know that people went to therapy. And given, I'm a kid of the eighties, the messages that I had grown up. with were in, media, which was pretty inaccurate. Also within my family and culture things just weren't talked about.

[00:01:13] Helen: And when you talk about media and how therapy wasn't accurately portrayed, what did you think therapy was?

[00:01:20] Robyn: More stigmatizing ways, in the hospital or psychiatric unit or something

[00:01:25] People go to the doctor. But as far as real talk therapy, that wasn't something I knew of until I was an administrative assistant for a therapist and a private practice when I was in my early twenties,

[00:01:35] and so that's how I actually found out about therapy and that , people went to therapy and she was not only a private practice therapist, but she was also a certified sex therapist. So I'm doing scheduling for her and. So, I'm getting an idea.

[00:01:49] It's all related intimacy, infidelity, sexual health, cancer and when you go through cancer treatments, which affects your hormones, which is going to affect your relationship and sex life and all that. And so it was just very eye-opening for me, because for one, I didn't know, people called in for help.

[00:02:06] And then, people were coming in with very intimate, struggles that they were having within their relationships. It was really transformative for me in a lot of ways

[00:02:16] and to see also a woman who was her own boss, I thought was. So cool and empowering and she loved it. And she's, I believe she's still in private practice here in orange county and she's amazing.

[00:02:29] So I just I remember how that stuck with me and I was originally going to go into public health. Actually, I had already been accepted into a health and human services program, a really good one, and I was going to choose a public health track, but A

[00:02:43] semester in. It wasn't for me, I didn't wasn't into it

[00:02:49] and what always stuck in the back of my mind was the therapist I worked for.

[00:02:53] I'm going to do whatever I can to get to that point where I'm helping people. Who don't know that it's okay to ask for help. And even now, in my private practice, lot of my clients are actually first-time therapy. Which is really interesting.

[00:03:09] And I think when I look back on everything in my life, that decision that I made to change my major and do something that I felt was in my heart.

[00:03:22] And I was really interested in, it was passionate, even though it went against everything. People in my family do. That was the first time that I felt really good

[00:03:32] about a decision I

[00:03:33] had made.

[00:03:34] Helen: We wouldn't be talking today.

[00:03:35] If you didn't.

[00:03:36] Robyn: I could be in public health, which would have been a whole different experience or not, and just lost. And so figuring out what I want to do,

[00:03:44] Helen: what was it about that therapist that like, pulled you in? Because, there was something about her personality that I want to know more about this.

[00:03:52] What was it about her?

[00:03:54] Robyn: She was excited. She would. Love coming into work. She was doing five days a week, eight to five. That excitement and that passion and she was doing something that I felt was really cool, which was helping people, my experience was that you don't talk about things either because it's not okay.

[00:04:11] Or you just don't know how. So to me, I felt that was super meaningful too where she was passionate and excited about something that really was transforming people's lives really, and enhancing their relationships.

[00:04:26] Helen: Robin, what was that personal transformation for you to not talk about your emotions?

[00:04:31] To not even go there and then to work for this woman who people. Openly talking about their sex life, their relational life, what was that process? And self-transformation for you,

[00:04:43] Robyn: It took a little bit, there was just so many people, calling in and being vulnerable and open so for me to keep, continue to hear that multiple days a week made me think about what I grew up with and how that wasn't even brought up or when things are talked about, I think it was just other topics, school how's school how's work. What are you doing? think For me, the more you hear something in the more you hear others, sharing their story or being vulnerable, I think it unlocked something for me to where I was like, this is okay.

[00:05:16] There actually are a lot of people that do this. It just didn't happen in my, with me or my family. But that doesn't

[00:05:24] mean it's not okay.

[00:05:25] Helen: Yeah. When I was growing up, I come from a Filipino background. I'm first generation and therapy was for crazy people. But it wasn't until someone really took the time to listen to me that I started to have a sense of self-transformation, but. It was a friend who started therapy that told me that it wasn't always going to be this way, someone from an Asian American background.

[00:05:52] It's very rare to come from an Asian-American family and to talk openly about your emotions, why do you think that is.

[00:05:59] Robyn: I'm Japanese American.

[00:06:01] On my dad's side Okinawan, but from Oahu or Hawaii. So I can't speak for everybody, but I know there is this, very traditional. Japanese saving face, how you present yourself.

[00:06:14] I think there were a lot of expectations on me that I didn't so much resonate with. So I think it's just that shame, that shame and not wanting to look a certain way or at least my experience brings shame to the family or any negative, thoughts.

[00:06:31] And and then my other side of the, my family they just didn't know how to talk about, I could share something or just say a little bit and there'd be silence I don't think it was because they don't allow it. I think for that side of the family, it's just, they don't know how to respond. They didn't grow up with it, so they don't know what to say. And so I think there's this probably multiple reasons, but I think for me, those two, those two were mine where it's one don't do that, not so much.

[00:07:02] And then the other was I don't know what to do with this information. So how's your work this week? But the message that just to not

[00:07:11] say anything,

[00:07:13] Helen: it's interesting to me because in therapy school, you're taught not to disclose so much about yourself.

[00:07:20] Don't talk about yourself. Don't but you do it so shamelessly, you talk about your personal story towards it. You talk about your own personal transformation. why is it important to do that as a therapist?

[00:07:34] Robyn: Part of it's just culture specific. I feel that's something that some of us may have in common.

[00:07:39] So my method is being very authentic. And I'm just going to say the words, but I just remember. Even up until now, as adults, we're still learning where, I hear somebody say something or hear somebody talk about things and I feel seen, so part of me is, is it does it in that way so that somebody watching my videos, somebody's reading my blogs, they're by themselves, to themselves dealing with things.

[00:08:06] And then they read or they watch what I put and they're wow. I really, I really relate to that. And then there's usually a message. Getting help or, reaching out or whatever, so also linking it with that, yes. You were feeling, [00:08:20] you may be feeling this if you, and if you are it's okay to talk about.

[00:08:23] Yeah.

[00:08:23] Helen: I'm hearing you say that you have to be the transformation you want other people to go through. I want to thank you too, because you're the reason why I started blogging again. I started blogging daily because I saw that you continue to write on your website and you talk about depression and how I know that I have depression and the different symptoms and things that.

[00:08:43] And I even read about your family that once I grew up in Hawaii, three generations and then the other one is very traditional Japanese. And you talk about. The specificity of your Asian American culture. And what I'm learning from you just as a licensed therapist is that you have to be as specific as possible.

[00:09:02] And the story that you tell about yourself to actually reach the population you want to be serving. And so I know, I see, I also see a bunch of books behind you. I'm also a reader. I probably read three books a week. Have you always been a reader?

[00:09:21] Robyn: I was a late reader and it's so funny. Cause over here, there's three bookshelves that you can't see.

[00:09:26] What's the background on my podcast videos, but I was actually a late bloomer when it came to reading and it started when I was working for that therapist in private practice actually. That's when I really more got into it. And then, although hers were more psychology therapy based ones.

[00:09:44] And that was in my early twenties. And then I got so interested. I was reading memoirs and autobiographies. I was wanting to know people's story. I that's how much I was and then over the years it's transformed into just general self-help. And I young adult Y a contemporary and I read a lot of books, especially since for one of my podcasts, you

[00:10:05] Helen: know, it's also

[00:10:06] Robyn: how that came about.

[00:10:07] But books between sessions. Yeah was between sessions. And that one I have authors on, so I get to so cool. So, so it's, it's become more. So so I have, she could see all my books, so yeah, I'm reading a lot now, but I wasn't always a reader.

[00:10:29] Helen: No, and I'm my sister's that too. And I'm wondering if it's because when you grow up, reading is assigned, it's not really.

[00:10:38] Something that you chose, and there is something about the exposure of those books, the psychology books that opened you up. I feel reading books comes with self-transformation if you have questions, that's where it starts.

[00:10:53] Robyn: Yeah. Even the types, even the fiction books that I read, the, a contemporary I don't even know if I've ever said this, but I know, I don't know if anyone's asked to, but one of my favorite genres is white contemporary. Right. And so it's essentially, it's fiction, but it's sort of a version of real life possible topics. And, and the reason why is because there are so many amazing young adult books now that touch on mental health, mental illness, or in depth, complex struggles, family dynamics, we've got a lot of API authors now, which is wonderful.

[00:11:34] Helen: And I, I

[00:11:35] Robyn: wish I had those books as a team. I think if I would have come across those, when I was younger, that would have

[00:11:41] Helen: been super helpful.

[00:11:43] Robyn: And so that's why I'm so into, why essentially, there's there's this really great. I forget who talks about it, but oh, Tiffany Rowe talks about it. If you just close your eyes and you think about a specific age that you wish that you got the healing that you had.

[00:12:01] Helen: I feel for you, it was I wish someone spoke to the younger me that wanted a little bit more opportunity and I think. We aligned in so many ways because I have a book review segment on my podcast. And I also have segments where I interview people who have done their own transformational work.

[00:12:19] And a couple of the things that I notice about you that make you stand out as a therapist, is that you're not ashamed about what you to read and, and a little bit about your past. And you're able to talk about it in such a way where you already have two podcasts. You have open-mind. And then you also have books between sessions and why was it important for you to create those podcasts?

[00:12:43] Robyn: Yeah. Thank you for that too. So books between sessions, I started right before the pandemic hit actually. And and it was actually suggested to me by two people that I started a podcast at that time, I'd already been doing vlogs, video blogs on my website and interestingly, the two. Popular videos that were watched out of all, my blogs were ones where I talked about mental health books.

[00:13:09] So I was that was interesting. And so two people that I knew suggested Hey, you do all these videos. Why don't you do a podcast? I would never do a podcast.

[00:13:20] But it was essentially, I just started my private practice. I was the first year I was 20 actually it was a few weeks worth a few years before the pandemic 2018. And I had all this time because I was still building my caseload. So I was literally reading books between my sessions. That's what I was doing.

[00:13:36] And. So I started the podcast with the hope that trying to think of my intro. It's I'm hoping that people could read these books and not feel so alone in their struggle. Not everybody is ready or is even knows that it's okay to go to therapy. But there'll be ready for. And so that's essentially how books between sessions started.

[00:14:04] It was just me, if you go back to the past episodes, the early episodes, it's just me talking. I go through books and the mental health pieces and clarify things. And then I started getting authors on where I was okay, I'm gonna do a leap here. It's the pandemic now I'm by myself. I want to talk to people, but I don't want to talk to people at in-person yet because of COVID.

[00:14:23] So I started asking guests to be on authors, where I had already read their books. And that was cool and very terrifying at the same time. And then open mind night, I actually started this year. The first episode went up in February and the reason why I started open my night is because I wanted to get a bigger range of things.

[00:14:45] It's I become busier. It is a little harder for me to read books all the time. Now. 'cause I vet the books, I read the books and then if I'm okay, this is, thing, then I invite the author on. So it's a very long process. I was I know so many people now, and I know of so many people that are.

[00:15:04] I just want to have him on and talk and share their personal story or them talk about their specialty or psychiatry or their business or their clubhouse thing, and so I was I think I'm going to do that because that would be really, really cool because there are so many other, other ways that we can put out mental health information, decrease stigma.

[00:15:28] And so open-mind night. The, the. The mission with that thing is, is very similar where it's hoping that people not feel alone in their struggle, but it's through a personal story or someone's professional, opinion, and it's the same where it's, it's very conversational and and I love it.

[00:15:46] For me I started cause it's fun during the pandemic, I realized how much connection is a value to me. And this is one way for me to connect with people.

[00:15:56] Then also help others who I'll never meet, but they'll hear the podcast, and learn something and be oh, that's okay. Right. I feel that way too. They they'll explore my mental health a little bit.

[00:16:08] Helen: I want people to catch something that you said that they might've missed of podcasting is an opportunity to really speak to an experience that people think they're alone in.

[00:16:18] Because one of the things that I've realized is that the Asian American Pacific Islander story isn't talked about enough also Asian-American Pacific Islander experience and mental health and book reading. Isn't something that's uniquely talked about that you discuss. And when I first heard about you, I was surprised because I thought I was alone for a really long time.

[00:16:39] And then I [00:16:40] started listening to your podcasts and books between sessions and it was inspiring to hear about. A woman who was on on was an entrepreneur and also talks so candidly about her own process and about other therapist process that I thought I was doing this without any past experience. And so you've really been an example for me in how far I could take it and where I go with it.

[00:17:02] And so I just wanted to acknowledge you for a second because human connection is so valuable. But on top of that, the specificity of the type of connection you could be making with another human. Yeah. Is another experience that's not discussed quite often, especially in the Asian-American community. So thank you.

[00:17:19] Robyn: Thank you for that. That, that means so much. I love hearing that, that it's, it's been helpful, that's why I do this. I do it exactly. For

[00:17:29] Helen: the average, what's something that you wish more people would ask you, especially about what you do. What's something that you've just been aching to talk more about that you're Man.

[00:17:42] I wish someone would ask me that question.

[00:17:48] Robyn: Hmm. I don't know if it's a question, but I wish people knew that it doesn't have to get really bad for you to talk about things or to reach out, even if it's venting to a friend. There's a lot of comparison going on, or, and I think and, and this is something I've, I've also experienced myself.

[00:18:10] When I, when I think back to my elders and what they have, Side that was in the internment camps and then there was the other side, that grew up very, very poor in the countryside of Oahu, and so sometimes we get caught up in that, or just the experiences of other people's stories that we hear too.

[00:18:33] And sometimes we minimize our own experience or invalidate it. But it doesn't have to be. Quote-unquote super, super bad for you to be talking about whatever struggle that you're going through. I feel that is yours to have the feelings that you have about whatever the situation that.

[00:18:52] You're right. You have the right to feel that way and to experience. What's your experiencing with it and, and the struggle. And there's nothing wrong with that. And then there's also nothing wrong with just talking about that too.

[00:19:04] Helen: Yeah. What's the common reason why so many people don't openly talk about their struggle.

[00:19:09] Robyn: Like the shame, that I spoke about before. I think everyone has their own reasons. Talk them out of it. What or the own, their own thoughts or experiences or just sometimes discovering. First time, clients that reach out to me, they have been browsing for three months before they even reach out to schedule that phone consultation to potentially work with me.

[00:19:39] Right. Or potentially work with a therapist. And they're talking to many therapists, which is good and that's a good thing to do. So I think there's a lot of those, there's so many factors and sometimes it is just the general, fear. And worry, of, of taking. That next step. Or even if it's with a friend being vulnerable, that's a vulnerability, right.

[00:20:02] There is to share all parts of you, even the parts that you're struggling with or don't feel so great about. And that takes, that takes a lot. Oh yeah.

[00:20:08] Helen: So that collaborative partnership with another human takes a lot of humility and a lot of courage, similar to what you said. A lot of people I feel are driven by fear of the unknown.

[00:20:19] What if I get better? What would happen?

[00:20:21] Robyn: Fear can definitely hold us back. It's scary. Even if it's fear when it comes to something self-development or, mental health, that is quite scary, I always try to do these reframes with people when they are I don't know, and I think, when it comes to anything, whether it's. Mental health or, I had to take a leap and do my own businesses? It feels a risk, right? This is a risk. And don't know how this is going to go the uncertainty, especially if you've never been in therapy for the unknown.

[00:20:52] Right. There's that. But then if I do get a chance to speak with them, I say, well, this is actually an investment in yourself, it's scary. It feels scary. It feels as scary as a risk would be we're taking a risk on yourself, but it's really, you're taking an investment.

[00:21:08] You're investing in yourself especially those that, adults now, when you're an adult, you can now give yourself that, you can now give yourself something that you didn't so much experience before or in a way that would have been more helpful, and that's huge to be able to do that for yourself. So when people call in and, for, and they want therapy, I just tell them how amazing it is that they, that they took that first step and that they're putting themselves as a priority. Cause that's very hard to do. And so I think I have a lot of I view, I view people that reach out as very strong.

[00:21:49] I think it takes a lot of strength to do so, even though it feels terrifying.

[00:21:53] Helen: Yeah. There's a question that I want to ask you because this podcast is driven towards helping therapists prevent burnout.

[00:22:00] What's your advice about burnout as a therapist?

[00:22:03] Robyn: Yeah, . There's multiple tips, but I think the biggest one was my work boundaries, because it's okay, now everything that I'm doing and all these timelines or deadlines they're self-imposed.

[00:22:15] It took me a while. To work out of that. And I'm very driven. In a perfectionist, so I can get caught up in these loops and it took a while for me. Create a schedule, a method and a system for things to prevent burnout. It took a while actually. Because I was just functioning per usual, even though I was out of I wasn't no longer an employee.

[00:22:40] I don't know why I was doing that to

[00:22:41] myself.

[00:22:42] So I think it's just creating what truly works for you and putting your health, because this is burnout health and mental health first, especially if you are in a position where you are an entrepreneur or a CEO, you technically hand, but I think that sometimes we feel the need to do it all.

[00:23:04] And we don't have to, we really, we really don't. It's it's okay to ask for help. And this is so ironic coming from a therapist, right. It's okay to ask for help. Even those therapists, private practice owners, and it's okay to just your full time is going to look different from somebody else's full-time. Your workweek is going to look different from somebody else's You get to make it your own.

[00:23:29] And that is the benefit if you can, of being your own boss.

[00:23:33] Helen: You're speaking the truth. I want to be sensitive to any associate therapists that are listening to this and may not have the means to start their own private practice or can't start their own private practice. When you were still working in community mental health, what advice would you give to that version of yourself who didn't have good boundaries with.

[00:23:50] Their work. I

[00:23:52] Robyn: think when I look back at, when I was in associate, and I was working as an employee, what helped me through burnout in that, cause it was very demanding, was the connections I had with the other therapist. I feel we were super close knit or I had a few where we would just I'd be Hey.

[00:24:11] Can I pop into chat for 10 minutes or they come to me, we just want to chat or vent or whatever whether it was about the job or just you, or, life. And then also, I remember I had a few mentors when I worked in agencies who helped me with my system

[00:24:29] and their method of paperwork and everything. So I didn't have to reinvent the wheel that was transformative because that was time consuming. So it was also nice to, in a way it looked different in agency, but I still welcomed help, but it was in the form of different tips as far as paperwork and strategizing and time and all that.

[00:24:49] And I just learned from those that had been there for years. And so same thing, I think which was.

[00:24:56] Community, and, and asking, asking for [00:25:00] help, but it's hard. And I think trying as best as you can to eat

[00:25:06] Helen: three meals, I'm facing, that's so real though. That's so rare. We forget to eat. We forget to eat.

[00:25:13] I have a snack

[00:25:14] Robyn: chore, take a break. Yeah, you got another client in three minutes because one went over. Just slide that door closed for those three minutes and just try to tune a head, tune out the overhead speaker that's going on and just take some deep breaths and do some resets.

[00:25:31] It's limited time, but still doing what you can with those little bits of time that you have

[00:25:38] Helen: using your love of reading. What books would you recommend to people who have just gotten out of therapy school and want to know more about private practice, but aren't.

[00:25:53] Oh

[00:25:54] Robyn: books. I'm looking at my book shelf off to the side here.

[00:25:57] Helen: Take your time. Let's see. Well, "The Gift of Therapy" is a classic by Yolem there's also one here. It's not specific to therapists. Bye Needra Glover Tawab called "Set Boundaries, Find Peace" I think that's good for everyone. Cause there is a chapter on social media and work and I also treat OCD too.

[00:26:15] Robyn: So it's also topic specific, but I know the gift of therapy. That's a classic set boundaries. Swine piece is amazing just for anyone in general and it's not books, but there's some really good therapists communities out there. I think. One of the things that I had done. And this was in the past year was my way of also building community.

[00:26:41] Is I have a clinical consultation group for API therapists and we're all over as far as Queens, New York is our farthest one I'm in California. So for me that was a way to do self care, and then also have community within the API therapists. We've got psychologists and LCSWs. So I think if you can get into a group or even start one with a buddy of yours because private practice was already.

[00:27:11] And then you add on the pandemic. Cause a lot of us are still working from home you're by yourself. So I would say, read those two books and then also see if you can join in on some virtual groups here.

[00:27:23] Helen: Thank you for that. You're giving so much gold

[00:27:25] Robyn: thank you so much for this.