Exploration of Employment Possibilities for Hmong Women with Psychiatric Disorders

By Velasco, Joyce D. | The Journal of Rehabilitation, October-December 1996 | Go to article overview

Exploration of Employment Possibilities for Hmong Women with Psychiatric Disorders


Velasco, Joyce D., The Journal of Rehabilitation


Consumer response to vocational rehabilitation services can be heavily influenced by perceptions or attitudes towards their disability. Their reception can be furthered influenced by a host of other social, cultural, and economic variables. A three month exploration project sampled the response of Hmong women with psychiatric disabilities to rehabilitation counseling services, Americans with disabilities, vocational interest surveys, and visitations to job sites. Their reactions and perceptions towards the listed interventions are presented, along with conclusions and suggestions for further study.

Rehabilitation counselors are faced with an ever-changing consumer population. Some consumers with strong cultural differences may only need "stepping stones" in order to attain rehabilitation goals. Others may need "huge bridges" to reach our paradigm of what constitutes successful rehabilitation.

The need to construct a "huge bridge" proved to be the metaphor for what would be needed to assist consumers in a work exploration project implemented at a rehabilitation day treatment program: a mental health service for Hmong female refugees whose primary diagnosis included major depression and posttraumatic stress disorder.

The purpose of the work exploration project was to learn how the participants would respond to vocational interest surveys; visits to job sites; Americans with disabilities; and information on rehabilitation counseling services. The ultimate goal of the project was to place the participants in a supportive employment program.

Cross-cultural counseling possess many considerations. In the case of our participants, Hmong female refugees with psychiatric disabilities, we were faced with the following question: what happens whin professionals try to assist those from non-industrialized societies?; whose formal educational experience is non-existent; whose command of the English language is severely limited; whose selfhood has been seriously affected by war-related trauma (Gelsomino & Mackey, 1988); whose methods for coping is rooted in animism and the belief in reincarnation (Muecke, 1983); and whose over-whelming expectations, by both themselves and their host country, is to assimilate quickly and easily (Marme & Retish, 1988). To "answer" these questions, this paper presents the findings from a four-month student project conducted in 1994; a small stepping stone to help bridge the gap between two societies that once lived worlds apart.

Description of the Consumers

Fifteen Hmong women participated in the work exploration project. Eight of the fifteen women were identified as having the most potential for transitioning into a supportive employment program because they "lost their role" in their family structure, thus freeing them to pursue employment opportunities. The women, ranging from ages 28 to 50, did not participate in house hold chores or child rearing, nor attended to their won activity of daily living (ADL) needs. Family members, which included young children, would assist the women in bathing, dressing, and eating. The participants' days were spent resting, visiting doctors, and seeking the assistance of herbalist and/or shaman (Westermeyer, 1989).

The psycho-social history of the participants date back to their "own homeland" in the northern region of Laos, landlocked by five surrounding southeast countries: China, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam (Vang & Lewis, 1984). Back in the remote, northern mountainous villages is where fond and horrid memories still exist.

For some of the women, fond memories included walking barefoot on unpaved roads, tending to livestock, working in the family's cash crops from sun-up to sun-down, giving birth to children, cooking for the entire household, doing traditional needle-point, laughing and partaking in the traditions of their culture, and listening to the soothing night noises. …

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