Photo of Jean Lau Chin

Jean Lau Chin





Training Location(s):

EdD, Teachers College, Columbia University (1974)

MA, Teachers College, Columbia University (1969)

BSc, Brooklyn College, CUNY (1966)

Primary Affiliation(s):

Adelphi University (2006-2020)

Career Focus:

Gender and ethnicity in the therapeutic relationship; cultural competency; women's leadership; Asian American mental health.


Jean Lau Chin was born in 1944 in Brooklyn, New York. Her parents had immigrated to the United States from China, and they expected her to complete high school and find work as a typist. As Chin noted: "high school was regarded as a real accomplishment and secretary work was ideal and typical work for women." In China, her parents had lived in a small village; her mother had completed a 6th and her father a 9th grade education. In speaking about her own path, Chin states, "the idea of going to college was not viewed as being important, because of the standard against which they [her parents] were measuring it, but also because of being female."

In high school, teachers encouraged all students to apply to college, and this widened Chin's horizon of expectation to encompass the possibility of further education. She applied and was accepted into Brooklyn College, where she initially majored in math. Although she was interested in psychology, she was aware that math might lead to more job opportunities, at least at the Bachelor's level. She eventually followed her heart and switched to psychology - despite the long road of graduate training that lay ahead.

Chin undertook her graduate training in school psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University. In this program she anticipated being able to complete her Master's degree and become a school psychologist. However, the expectation was that all students would complete the doctoral program, which she did, at first simply to avoid feeling like a "drop-out." Chin was interested in studying cognitive styles, but after a lack of support from her professors (who were focused on other areas), she dropped the project she had been working on for 3 years and completed a dissertation within a year on relational concepts in children.

Chin was drawn to psychology because of her interest in human behavior and her desire to understand the intricacies of motivation and psychodynamics. She remembers feeling she did not have mentors to guide her, and she struggled to identify with the different theoretical orientations presented. Although Chin was drawn to psychoanalytic theory, she recalls a professor who severely criticized a paper she had written on psychoanalysis during her undergraduate training. When later interviewing for an internship at Boston Medical Center, Chin was asked what her theoretical orientation was, and responded, "Well, if there is anything I am not, it's psychoanalytic!" Luckily, it turned out that Boston was very psychoanalytic and despite Chin's public disavowal of this orientation, she received the internship and went on to become director of the clinic.

In addition to the lack of mentorship in her own training, Chin distinctly recalls the lack of support for students from ethnic minority backgrounds. Since members of her family and community were not familiar with graduate school education, she had to learn how to navigate the system as she went along. This was difficult in a system that assumed implicit familiarity with its standards and expectations. Chin remembers having to reorient her style of learning to conform to a Western standpoint, where you are suppose to participate actively in a classroom and speak up, as opposed to listening and absorbing the material.

During her training, Chin felt the absence of a cultural framework acutely. Culture and diversity have ultimately become the focus her career. Chin recalls that the first invited talk she ever delivered was to the Boston Psychoanalytic Society. She was invited to speak on Asian culture as it related to psychoanalysis, primarily because she was Chinese American and her expertise and interest in this topic was assumed. After this talk, Chin did integrate her professional experiences with cultural issues. A question that has particularly interested her is how expectations about a person's racialized identity shape all situations, including the therapeutic relationship. Chin's work has explored how the genders and ethnicities of clients and practitioners intersect and shape the therapeutic relationship.

Chin's research can be seen as part of a movement away from cultural sensitivity and towards cultural competency. From her perspective, "the problem...was that you can be sensitive, but that didn't mean that what you were doing was necessarily competent." Chin defines cultural competency as something that, "does not simply rest with individual providers or staff; it should be part of a system." Her own work has taken a systems approach and has had impact on policies at the state and institutional levels.

Chin believes, "it is important to have a strong sense of one's own need to feel comfortable with yourself because, it is hard enough dealing with these issues without feeling as if you're being questioned - because you in fact are." It is this sense of self that Chin believes can assist other Asian American feminist women entering psychology when negotiating the stereotypic expectations people will have. She notes that people will have impressions of you whether you like it or not, and you need to deal with these impressions from a place of strength. Finally, she believes strongly in mentorship. Given that there are more Asian American professionals today, supportive networks are possible. She believes that "building these networks will help you realize that you are not the only one, and that there are safe havens in which you can bounce ideas and reality test the distortions received from others."

Dr. Jean Lau Chin died unexpectedly in the early morning hours of May 13, 2020 from complications of the Coronavirus in New York.

by Jenna MacKay (2010); Updated (2020)

To cite this article, see Credits

Selected Works

By Jean Lau Chin

Barrett, S. with Chin, J. L., Comas-Diaz, L., Espin, O., Greene, B., & McGoldrick, M. (2005). Multicultural feminist therapy: Theory in context. Women and Therapy, 28(3/4), 27-62.

Chin, J. L. (2004). Feminist leadership: Feminist visions and diverse voices. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 28, 1-8.

Chin, J. L. (2005). Learning from my mother's voice: Family legend and the Chinese American immigrant experience. New York: TC Press.

Chin, J. L. (2009). The psychology of prejudice and discrimination - condensed. Westport: Praeger Publishers.

Chin, J. L., Lott, B., Rice, J., & Sanchez-Hucles. (2007). Women and leadership: Transforming visions and diverse voices. Malden: Blackwell Publishing.

Chin, J. L., Mio, J. S., & Iwamasa, G. Y. (2006). Ethical conduct of research with Asian Americans. In J. E. Trimble & C. B. Fisher (Eds), Handbook of ethical research with ethnocultural populations and communities. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

About Jean Lau Chin

Garcia, M. A., Kawahara, D. M., & Porter, N. (2021). Jean Lau Chin (1944–2020). American Psychologist, 76(5), 807-808.

Nguyen-Feng, V. N., García, M. A. & Porter, N. (2022) Jean Lau Chin (1944–2020): An Oral History Project. Women & Therapy, DOI: 10.1080/02703149.2022.2125615

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