Diversity Spotlight: Dr. Nita Tewari

TCP Vol. 76, Issue 1. Diversity Spotlight

The current spotlight is on Dr. Nita Tewari whose work focuses on Indian American, South Asian, and Asian American mental health. Dr. Tewari received a B.A. in Psychology from the University of California, Irvine (UCI) in 1992. In 2000, she completed her doctoral degree in Counseling Psychology at Southern Illinois University.

Dr. Tewari is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist (CA) who provides psychological and consulting services to young adults, parents and diverse populations in her practice. She currently serves as a Board Member for the Dean’s Leadership Council at UCI in the School of Biological Sciences (since 2018), is a Member of Beauty In Grace at Saddleback Memorial Care Hospital, a giving circle dedicated to women’s health, and just completed her term as an appointee representing District 2 for the Orange County Mental Health Board. Dr. Tewari began her professional life at UCI, providing individual and group psychotherapy in the student counseling center and teaching Asian American Psychology. Based on her teaching curriculum, Dr. Tewari obtained a book contract and published Asian American Psychology: Current Perspectives in 2009.

Since then, she has gone on to contribute multiple book chapters dedicated to multicultural counseling with a focus on Asian Americans clients. One of her latest chapters, published in Culturally responsive cognitive behavior therapy: Practice and supervision (2019) highlights cultural and historical factors for South Asian Americans, such as the intersection of identities and cultural-specific concerns, acculturation, bicultural stress, and more. The chapter also provides clinical considerations, such as the therapeutic relationship, advantages and disadvantages of using CBT, and assessment with South Asian American clients.

Her clinical and consulting work with young adults and parents continues to use these culturally sensitive principles to help clients find solution-oriented strategies around specific goals such as choosing the right major or having a healthy relationship. Dr. Tewari has paid particular attention to the rising popularity and presence of social media in our lives and their role in the development of young adults.

She developed the SPACE model of wellbeing to help teenagers and parents looking to make more intentional use of technology and combat its negative effects on sleep, academics, and social interactions. The model encourages people to examine the Social, Physical, Academic, Cognitive, and Emotional dimensions of how technology and social media affect them. For example, the Emotional dimension refers to using technology to enhance one’s mood, resilience, and coping skills.

In light of her multifaceted professional life, and outstanding and needed service, I posed the following five questions to Dr. Tewari.

Given your expertise on race, ethnicity, and culture, with an emphasis on Asian American populations, what are two or three of the most important things that we, as psychologists and researchers, might be able to do to help reduce the mental health disparities that Asian Americans face in this country?

There are three primary methods we can use to reduce disparities: psychoeducation, training, and accessibility. First- and second-generation immigrants will benefit from culturally sensitive psychoeducation on what mental services are, where to receive them, and what to expect, because this is often unknown territory. We need to train more psychologists from every racial, ethnic, and cultural group to pursue research and clinical practice so that we can keep up with continually changing demographics. Lastly, mental health services need to become more accessible, both in terms of availability and affordability.

What led to the development of your wellness model, and how is it used today?

SPACE initially started with the challenges parents and students were facing with excessive use of technology that was permeating overall wellness. The changes were not necessarily reaching clinical levels, but enough such that there were negative changes in interaction, sleep, grades, etc. Parents wanted to know how to set boundaries around social media use, and teens and young adults wanted to talk about digital detoxing and digital impression management. This wellness model was created to help young adults be intentional about aligning their values with this stage of identity development. Considering the five dimensions encourages people to easily do self-assessments and create a personalized plan to use technology as a mind-enhancer, not a time waster.

After COVID-19, we have all become more comfortable using and relying on technology. Given your work with SPACE, what do you think is the future of technology in psychology?

Technology is here to stay. We must continue to adapt to the ever-evolving digital age in our daily lives, educational system and workplace – mental health apps, ebooks, virtual therapy and so on.  However, we must be aware of who are the beneficiaries of tech use given varied levels of knowledge, comfort levels in using technology and individual communication preferences in seeking support and learning. Resourceful communities may benefit through access to technology-based support, while others experiencing disparities may face challenges in using technology, whether access is the issue or whether the tech support is not seen as being user friendly. This is especially so in rural areas without reliable internet access or the lack of resources to purchase devices, computers or software needed to advance one’s knowledge of psychology. There is also a huge gap and high frustration level among the aging population in navigating mental health apps to use live chats and seek support as well – so we as psychologists will continue to have opportunities to advance the intersection of technology and psychology.  There have been positive technological advancements to enhance treatment outcomes in our field – like virtual reality to treat posttraumatic stress disorder among veterans or train military personnel for high risk and costly performance drills. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is also an emerging area in therapeutic technology. Software for emotion recognition has been developed and bots are being programmed to help minimize loneliness through chat features. I encourage trainees to keep up with technological advances because they will be a part of our future professional work.

You are such a productive clinician, author, and educator, and also find time to serve the community. What tools have you developed to balance so many demands?

Thank you.  I have five tools that I have developed to manage my demands. First, I prioritize what I value the most at the developmental stage of my personal and professional life. You cannot do everything all at once, so prioritize what you need in this particular stage of life. I began my career in teaching and therapy in a university setting. Although I found this work to be incredibly fulfilling and rewarding, it did not give me the flexibility I needed as a parent. My second tool, be in control of my own schedule – I found the best way to remain engaged in the field was to be my own boss where I could determine my own projects, publications, and consulting work- not all at once, but over time.

My third tool, I have believed in giving back to my community as a second-generation immigrant born in the United States when my parents immigrated from India52 years ago.  I sought out people who cared about others and wanted to make a difference.  I had incredible role models in higher education beginning with my writing professor, Jan Horn at my community college to Dr. Joseph White from the University of California, Irvine as an undergraduate. A fourth tool, staying connected to people; over the decades, I have maintained my educational, professional and social networks, both inside and outside psychology, where I can reach out to receive mentorship or guidance for my areas of interest, growth and development. Last, but not least, my most used tool is that I try to live my life intentionally with adjustment of my work-life balance, developing new goals and purpose each year professionally.  Personally, I reevaluate healthy and unhealthy relationships with friends and family. An important driving force for me is to have an anti-stagnation way of life to keep my dopamine levels and desire for constant evolution to stay fired up!

Finally, how do you like to spend your spare time?

I do something every week from my SPACE model. I can’t do all of it daily, because life happens, but I try and live by my own model for my well-being whether it’s spending time with my family, in nature, exercising or cooking farm-to-table gourmet meals!

Written by Nandini Jhawar, M.S.