Melody Li: How Do We Move Away From “What Is Wrong With You”

Melody Li: How Do We Move Away From “What is Wrong With You?”

By: Maya Mascoll


Melody Li, “colony-born immigrant,” is the founder of Inclusive Therapists, a company dedicated to providing quality therapy and counseling to marginalized populations. Inclusive Therapists is dedicated to embracing diversity by creating a safe space where clients from all identities can connect with therapists with just as many layers and facets in their identity. Their mission states that they offer “a safer, simpler way to find a culturally responsive, social justice-oriented therapist.” Hestah was fortunate enough to quickly chat with Melody about why the company was started and more.


Maya Mascoll:

I know your organization focuses on helping members of marginalized communities gain access to mental health care. How did you come up with the idea for Inclusive Therapists, and what pushed you to start this organization?

Melody Li:

I would say I was inspired to start this from two perspectives. One is, I was a queer woman of color, trying to find a therapist in Texas came to be very challenging, and I have been burned in therapy. I’ve been gaslighted by therapists that did not understand all the valuable parts of my intersecting identity. Trying to find someone that is culturally responsive, that is, LGBT affirming, is hard, and I am a professional. If it’s hard for me, I can only imagine how much more challenging it is for people with fewer privileges or even less access to transportation or access financially, how much more challenging that would be. And so, the client in me said, I need something like this. Then the therapist in me, the therapist part is I primarily work with BIPOC folks. Many of them have come in, even after they’ve been burned in therapy or re-traumatized in therapy. You know, I really admire the fact that folks would still be willing to give therapy another chance, but in my mind, therapy shouldn’t be a gamble for people. That inspired me to create a community and a platform to make it simpler and safer for people with marginalized identities to find a therapist. Most of not all our therapists also have you know marginalized identity parts as well, and they are transparent about those parts, so I believe transparency is a powerful way to increase accessibility, because sometimes it’s that kind of guesswork that puts people in vulnerable, or even compromising, positions. So that’s kind of what inspired it. We’re almost a year old. Our community has really grown, and we’re drawing therapists with social justice orientations that put equity, justice, and liberation at the forefront of their work. It’s been amazing to see the growth.

Maya Mascoll:

One thing that you said was that you felt burned by therapy. And in my past, I’ve had some therapists who, because we differed either racially or ethnically – or even like if there was a part of my identity that they didn’t understand because we differed there, did not understand me. I felt like there was a disconnect between my therapist and me, which, you know, becomes frustrating and makes it hard to grow in that relationship. So how would you suggest someone approach that situation, where they feel like they have a therapist, but they can’t discuss everything that they want to because there’s a barrier there.

Melody Li:

I hear that from folks, especially BIPOC folks because almost 90% (depending on the license) of therapists are white. And it’s difficult for people of color to find even just another therapist of color, let alone someone that understands, you know, their cultural background. And so, it is not equitable for clients to have to work harder to get their therapist to understand them to simply understand. And I hear you on that barrier. If somebody finds themselves in that position, I will encourage them to be transparent, to be bold, and name that barrier. There are parts of me that I want to bring into this space that is important to be seen and heard. However, I feel that there are barriers here or that maybe I’ve tried to bring those parts of me into therapy, and I’m not sure if space is adequately held for those parts.

And then, as a therapist, what do you intend that we can do here? And so, based on the therapist’s response then that may give the client some indication of what moving forward can look like. And, you know, there’s no, there’s no one size fit all scenario or response here, but seeing how the therapist responds to this observation, whether they are defensive about it or whether they can be receptive, but also be able to identify their limitations and speak to perhaps how they intend to address the limitations. That hopefully will give some indication of whether or not this is a therapeutic relationship that’s adequate to support that growth.

Maya Mascoll:

Thinking about that, it makes a lot of sense. I don’t think that’s a response that a lot of us have just because a lot of situations were put in a place where, okay, this is what you have. You have to make it work, but thinking over what you just said, if you don’t feel comfortable and you address it, and there’s nothing that can be done, maybe you have to move yourself to a different scenario where you can feel comfortable.

Melody Li:

The power is always with the client. It’s the client’s right to choose. It’s the client’s right to ask questions and to get clear about what the therapist’s limitations are. And ethically, if a therapist has limitations, it’s their role to discuss how to best support their client, whether that is if they have a lot of learning to do that they’re committed to doing more work. And if the client’s willing to, you know, journey alongside them or to say, I’m not there yet, but I can connect you with other therapists that may be a better fit for you. 

Maya Mascoll:

So, the one thing I noticed as I was going through your website and your Instagram is that you have a really, really diverse team on your wisdom panel. How did you find those people?

Melody Li:

I love that question. These people are honestly dear friends of mine, people that I work closely with through the years that I’ve grown alongside, people that I really admire and that bring their specialties and diverse identity parts, as well. So, I would say, you know, these are people that are close to me, that are trusted people to me, and the diversity part is intentional because we can only be experts of our experiences. And so, being able to invite them on board for them to bring their stories and their experiences have been really enriching in how we build our site and our community.

Maya Mascoll:

How does having different backgrounds on the team help you grow your mission? Because I know, as we said before, one thing that you really care about is helping the members of marginalized communities.

Melody Li:

What’s most important to me is, you know, firstly, that these are folks, and we’re talking about Natalia, Ryan, Ebony, we have a similar shared vision, right? That we are all committed to doing continued healing, work on ourselves for ourselves, that we are community-minded and that we are social justice-oriented, and that we see what is broken about our field. And we share this passion for increasing the equitability and justice, and accessibility of our mental health field. But in addition to that, they’re just really smart in their areas of specialization. Like, Ryan is an expert on gender sexuality. Dr. Ebony is an expert in so many things, in food relationships and working with black women and empowering black women, and Natalia she’s a Latina that specializes in feminist trauma therapy.

And it’s like, wow, I feel really inspired by them, and we help each other grow too. And we also kind of look around corners for one another, and we correct each other when needed. So, I also need people that are willing to, you know, correct me and that we can correct one another because we’re bound to make mistakes. But we have that bond to be able to push each other and to challenge one another. That’s important to me too because I think we need more of that in our field, in general; that being civil or polite is not getting us anywhere that we need to be willing to have bold, brave conversations about the state of our field and how we need to be better and to grow.

Maya Mascoll:

I really love that. So my mom is a doctor, well, she’s a nurse, but she has a doctorate. I call her a doctor. And one thing that I’ve noticed, especially with people in the health field, is that they’re so aware of, you know, the issues with the field, and that’s not something you see in all the fields. I think the medical field is one where, because you’re working so closely with patients and you’re tasked with the wellbeing of someone else. It’s refreshing to know that there are people in the fields that we have to interact with that know that, okay, these are the things that are wrong. How can we fix them? You know, I’m going to take it as my responsibility to make progress in my field. Yes.


Melody Li:

We share in that passion. And I’m glad to see that there’s that movement in the mind in the, you know, medical field as well. At the same time, we recognize that you know, we all have marginalized identities. So, from a structural standpoint, institutional standpoint, we have less power. And so, people in a position of power still, it’s a white-dominant field, a very hetero CIS dominant field. And so, our voices really are taken less seriously, are less likely to be heard. And so that’s where the advocacy work and the activism work come in where we have to empower and mobilize our community to increase our voices, our collective voice to make an impact. Because structurally right now yeah, it’s still very hierarchical and, but at the same time, that’s why we created these refugees, you know, for therapists as well as therapists with marginalized communities to come and to, and to tend to one another, to support one another and to make noise together.

Maya Mascoll:

I love that. I really do. I’m glad that your organization exists because this is something that even though, as, you know, clients or people who are not in that field, we don’t see that it’s needed. It really is. And I’m glad to know that you guys are doing that work.

Melody Li:

Thank you. Thank you.

Maya Mascoll:

Recently I’ve noticed there’s a surge in my generation with people who are seeking therapy, not only for their mental health, but to have someone unrelated to them to talk to, but there’s also a kind of pushback from the older generation that doesn’t believe that therapy is necessary or that it makes you weaker. What kind of advice would you give to those people?

Melody Li:

So, I have to look at it through a couple of different lenses. From a decolonial lens, so many BIPOC communities have been traumatized by colonization and even through colonization and imperialism through war. So, what happens in that historical trauma is, you know, Eurocentric white supremacist ideologies become embedded into the culture through force. And one of the symptoms is, heading towards individualism. So this mindset of “I have to do it on my own in order to show that I am strong,” but that is very different from many indigenous cultures where there’s a more collective mindset of “We got to do this together.” We must take care of one another, and in order to do it together, that means we have to talk to one another. And so, therapy through talk and being in community therapy through ritual, through festivals, through celebration, through sharing, through storytelling, through dance, through music, this is how we heal, and this is how we care for one another.

But so much of that has historically been stripped from us through the process of colonization and imperialism. And we have internalized these ideals that didn’t originate from us. It’s from the colonizers. So there’s a double trauma there. There’s the trauma of colonization, but then there’s the colonial mindset that continues to hurt our people that makes us resistant to being in community with one another and to talk and to heal in a relational way. Then there’s the added trauma of how psychology has been used as a tool to hurt people of color, to diagnose people of color, to take people’s children away, to institutionalize children, to separate families. Much harm has been done through this through psychology being used as a tool through colonization too. And so, from kind of this historical intergenerational standpoint, I see why communities of color are resistant to mental health care.

There’s so much trauma there. When I hear things like, “You know therapy makes us weaker,” I don’t criticize that. I go back to the origin of how did this trauma come to be, what healing needs to be done, and what did our original indigenous forms of healing look like? Can we start there? Can we try to reconnect there and then decide, you know, what else might we need to integrate into this collective or community mental health care and it may or may not be talk therapy, but rather than refuting or saying, “No, that’s not true. Therapy doesn’t make you weak,” I go back to the source of how that narrative came to be so that we can collectively be conscious and not fall into that trap. And to say, we have to take ownership of our collective mental health care. And what does that look like for our people and us?

Maya Mascoll:

Wow! I’m glad I’m having this conversation because these are things I needed to hear as well. So, hearing that, it’s refreshing to know that even though it may be a push back, it’s not personal. There are deeply rooted reasons why this is not something we want you to pursue.

Melody Li:

Yeah. I mean, I’m thinking for the black community, historically for a black person to go into a white therapist’s office to tell them about what they’re struggling with, that’s really risky. And so, it would make perfect sense for black parents to teach their children, “No, that’s not, well, you don’t go telling people our business,” and even right now, it’s not necessarily safe. We know about re-traumatization. So that makes perfect sense to me, and it’s not personal, but the healing can still happen in the community. And I think there’s also a cultural and spiritual component too. What are the places that our people go to find more safety and healing? For certain communities, it could be the church, it could be a temple, it could be spiritual, religious places that the younger generation might not connect with as much, but those could have originally been places of safety and resistance for BIPOC communities to say, “This space is ours, and we get to come together on our terms,” but for younger generations that don’t know that history or the significance of these communities, they may have a harder time connecting with them, so getting to know your lineage, your history could be part of the connected process too, of how to have these conversations about mental health care, intergenerationally.



Maya Mascoll:

Building off that question, I know for me personally, for a very long time, I had a struggle in admitting that there was something that I needed to speak on and expose so that I could heal from it. And I think for most of my life, I was scared of there being something “wrong with me.” How do you think we should breach those conversations? What do you think is a good way to have people begin to have these conversations where they’re not saying something is wrong with them, per se, but that there is something that they want help with to understand about themselves?

Melody Li:

Yes. I love that question. And that reminds me of an Instagram post, which you can find on our Insta. It says society asks, “What is wrong with you?” A trauma-informed therapist will ask, “What happened to you?” We understand that behavior is symptomatic. It’s a trauma response. We learn to cope and to survive as best as we can. And if a person has been traumatized, their trauma response would make perfect sense considering their trauma. But when that behavior shows up in environments that are not traumatic, it may not fit. So, a trauma-informed therapist would be able to see that, but a racial trauma-informed therapist would ask what happened to you and your people.

That trauma is not an individual. It can be, but it can also be systemic that people groups are oppressed depending on the power and the privileges that they have or do not have. The system is traumatic. It can also be intergenerational, passed down from one generation to the next, or historical. So for people wanting to start these conversations, how do we move away from “What is wrong with you?” and towards asking the question, “What happened to us and our people to bring us to this place?” and hearing the stories of our elders if they’re willing to share, and asking, “How did we get here?” And also requiring some, maybe a little bit of research or even some imagination of what people were like before trauma, before colonization, imperialism, and war. For certain generations that have seen much trauma, these can be difficult to talk about. I’m thinking of, for example, refugees that have escaped the war. Talking about the traumas that they’ve seen can be really difficult, but at the same time, there is strength and resilience and those stories that can be freeing when we get to know them when our future generations get to know them.

And so, I think this intergenerational dialogue is really important, but I understand it’s not easy to have. Sometimes, for our younger generations, it may require us to talk to other folks that may have similar lineage experiences as we have, to be in community and go, “Hey, I’m struggling with this in my family. Does this happen to anyone else?” and saying, “Yes, me too. What do you think that’s about? What did you find out from your parents? Your grandparents?” and then from that place hypothesizing, “Hey, could this have been something, a pattern that shows up in my family too. Could that be a place to get curious and always come back to?” Yes, there’s trauma, but on the other side of trauma is strength and resilience. And can we also honor the resilience of our people?

How did we survive? What helped us survive? What helped us stay together? What can we still practice that will keep us together and strong and united, and having a balance of both could be a place to start getting inquisitive? No symptom occurs in a vacuum. It’s always interconnected to our environment. It’s always interconnected to our lineage and our stories and systemically, what’s happening around us, but can we pick up enough clues? And sometimes it’s with the help of a therapist or talking to others with similar experiences and going, “Oh, I’m getting it. Now I have this piece, and I have that piece. This is making sense,” but also then that will hopefully connect us with resources too, and how to find healing and community.