Counseling with Gold or Hay?

1 Corinthians 3 says we’re the temple and we’re either building with gold, silver or precious stones, or with wood, hay, or straw. So in the end our work will be tested with fire. Will it stand? So the question is, are our counseling skills only working to reduce the symptoms of suffering or do they lead to every knee bowing and every tongue confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord, and loving our neighbor as ourselves?

— Aaron Sironi, CCEF: Any Given Day with Julie Lowe and Aaron Sironi


Where Is This Going? Where Am I Going?

Currently, I am a first year student in a counseling master’s program, and I have also worked as a practicum student at two counseling centers. Although I have yet to have my own client, I have interacted with clients in group counseling settings and have spoken with prospective clients over the phone.

Just hearing a weekly influx of people’s struggles, experiences, and burdens has recently made me… Well, not quite disappointed or distraught. I can’t sum it up in a word… It kind of feels like that rosy lens through which I looked at life has slowly been shattered.

And this isn’t just a lens of the world that has been changed but a view of people. Not only is the world full of disorder, ache, chaos, and affliction, but people are more capable of inflicting pain and injustice than we know. They are also more broken and weary than we often see from the outside…

This month, for example, is National Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month. Did you know that every 10 seconds a report of child abuse is made? One in four children have experienced neglect or abuse at some point of their lives. Those are some crazy statistics. You might think abuse is unlikely in your community, but the statistics show that it is more common than we (like to) believe.

As I write this post, I wonder… Where is this going? I guess I just wanted to share that the world and its inhabitants are more broken than what many of us like to believe. And then I ask myself where am I going with this? I guess, in part, I needed to remind myself of the importance of mental health and  counseling. Currently, it seems to be a generally world-wide phenomena, in which people downplay or disregard the importance of mental health. Counseling is a fairly new field, and we don’t quite understand it or value it. But I think counseling is a vital part of the community, because people, many people, have experienced life’s brutal winds, hurricanes, and shipwreck and it never hurts to have a helping hand. (One in four children abused or neglected? There are real mental and emotional effects that may need to be attended to).

Overall, if you are experiencing mental and emotional distress, you’re not alone. Sometimes we know the reasons for our distress and sometimes we don’t know why. And that’s okay. I don’t think you’re “crazy” or any of the other negative words associated with mental disorders. I encourage you to seek help, whether its speaking to a loved one or finding a mental health professional. It’s not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength. And to my friends who are pursuing a career in counseling, let’s keep fighting the good fight. The world may not understand why we do what we do or what exactly it is that we do. But I believe you are helping the world be a better place.

The cries of injustice and brokenness are many but silent. Who will be the ones to hear them?

“There is terrible suffering in this world and we are not to run from it. However, suffering must not rule our lives, nor be our master.” Dr. Diane Langberg

Counseling Abroad Advice

Found this neat article on counselors experiences and advice about counseling abroad. If I want to work with diverse clients in American and abroad, then I may want to also provide other needs than mental health services. As the article says, some countries do not have a word that means “counselor,” and there is stigma against mental illnesses… Interesting read. Makes me want to open or work for an organization that provides medical services and subtly also counseling services lolll. (Not in a manipulative way… But so that if people come to the organization, they don’t have to tell people it’s for a counseling session!) We’ll see how that’ll be phrased and marketed haha. x)

Counseling as a profession is not something many people are familiar with outside of the United States, Berliner says. Translating the word counselor is so difficult in some languages that psychologist is used instead. The trouble with that, Berliner says, is that the idea of psychiatry or psychology sometimes carries the stigma of a professional who works with the mentally ill or the “abnormal.”

“Counselors do well when they work on their awareness of their own cultural makeup and experiences, continuously work on expanding knowledge relevant to different cultural groups we work with — but making sure that we don’t try to fit our clients into what we learned about their particular culture — and strive to learn new skills and therapeutic techniques that could improve the effectiveness of our counseling intervention.” Alekma who moved from the US to Uzbekistan, which is a multiethnic country with Uzbeks, Tajiks, Russians, Koreans etc.

“One of the most powerful parts of the clients’ experience at NCS, Kozlowski says, is the respect paid to their needs. The simplest example of that, he says, is how clients are given tea or coffee and biscuits while they wait for their appointments. “This simple act has often been mentioned to me by clients and how they are made to feel at home, safe and cared for when attending services.” Christopher who moved from the US to Ireland to counsel those neglected by school and orphanage systems

“We must be students of the individuals we are serving and students of their culture if we are to guide them through a healing process that is effective for them. Even when we feel that we are familiar with a particular culture, we must not assume that all individuals from that particular ethnic group are the same and share the same culture. There are subcultures within each culture, so the learning process never ends.

The more relationships the counselor can build with individuals from diverse cultures and the more the counselor can travel, read and inform himself about various cultures that he may be called upon to counsel, the more prepared the counselor will be to understand the issues that may affect the counseling process and outcomes.” Deborah from the US who moved to Venezuela to provide family counseling

Church Counseling the Sexually Abused

Today, Dr. Diane Langberg posted an article about 5 mistakes the church and Pastors need to avoid making when counseling someone who has been sexually abused. I consider my discovery of Dr. Langberg as God’s good providence and planning. I was simply perusing Christian counseling centers around the area, and she popped up. She’s a Professor at BTS and has traveled the world (and continues to do so) to train workers. She’s a clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma. I love the work she’s doing and hope to keep up with her her work. (She even gave me a copy of one of her books! hehe)

Finally, one of the other vital functions of the church, and one that I think we’ve forgotten, is the art of lamenting. People who have suffered severe trauma, such as sexual abuse, need to lament. Often, I will send them to the Psalms or to the Prophets, but I help them find words from Scripture to express their pain, their fear, their doubts, and sometimes even their anger at God. We see often in Scripture where the psalmist or the prophets call out to God, “Where are you?” or “Why don’t you hear me?”

As the church, we need to come alongside those victims and help them find those words. But we also need to be saying those words with them. We need to lament with them, to weep with those who weep.

What is Microaggression?

What is microaggression? I’m glad you asked. (If you read the blog title, you did ask the question in your mind. 🙂 )

While perusing faculty in counseling psychology doctoral programs in America, I came across Dr. Derald Sue’s talk on microaggressions on the WVON radio. I highly recommend you listen!

Here is also his definition of microaggressions:

“Racial microaggressions are brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color. Perpetrators of microaggressions are often unaware that they engage in such communications when they interact with racial/ethnic minorities.” – Dr. Sue, Racial Microaggressions in Everyday Life


Some thoughts to ponder: When have I experienced microaggression? When have I committed acts of microaggression? How have I seen microaggressions occur on media and in the world (who was the perpetrator and the victim)?

Recently, I watched a youtube video on microaggressions. I was confounded by the negative comments stating that people need to stop being sensitive and that they need to stop making a big deal out of things. My heart broke that those people most likely never experienced such constant, “small” microaggressions, which indeed build up overtime. These microaggressions send messages about the victim that both parties may not be totally aware of, and the victim is left with the consequence of having that message about their identity and race unknowingly slip into their beliefs.

We are fortunate that America is talking about race. Plus, there are so many people working to understand the phenomena of racism, microaggressions, and stereotypes. Not only that but more people are trying to understand the experiences of living in America as a minority. So thank you to all those who are contributing to raising awareness and understanding about the minority and their experiences, particularly as it relates to mental health. Thank you, reader, for taking the time to read about microaggressions and my meagerly writing. The more we are aware, the more we can educate, empower, and make change.

I Spoke Up

October 6, 2016 marks a new day in my life. The first time I confronted someone about a stereotypical comment they made, or a microaggression.

In all my 24 years of living in America, my home country, I have never corrected or responded externally to a microaggression. Rather, I would respond internally with anger, hurt, and confusion.

Finally, after a big work problem this summer (revolving around cultural differences and expectations), I began to understand my past experiences a little more.

One summer I interned in India and students from all different colleges gathered in the same program. In an ice-breaker, we went around and said some interesting facts about ourselves. I mentioned that I play guitar, ukulele, and clarinet and that I was beginning to learn drums. One white male responded, “Well, you’re Asian so of course you play a lot of instruments.” His comment caught me off-guard. I was completely shocked, because I had never even thought about it. I was angry because I did not play a lot of instruments because I’m Asian. My mom never forced me to play the stereotypical Asian instruments, piano or violin. Whereas I thought it was cool that I learned guitar by myself and considered drums a cool instrument, all he saw was the color of my skin. He discredited my individuality. If a white person said they played all those instruments, I can guarantee my white peer would have thought it to be a cool fact.

A few other microaggressions: When I moved in elementary school my new school was primarily white. As a young 2nd grader, an older white boy on the school bus sang the “Wing wong ching chong” song while pulling his eyes to slant them. Another instance I get now a days is when college students or adult males ask if I’m from China or bow to me and say “Ching chong”.

I always knew that these microaggressions hurt me and made me sad. But I realize now that these microaggressions also caused much confusion.

What was the confusion about? The confusion was about being born in America but being treated like a foreigner. Do you know how distressing it is to live in your country but not feeling like you belong- simply because the citizens won’t acknowledge your belongingness to the country?

So after 24 years of receiving microaggressions and not quite understanding what was happening with those experiences, I have finally been able to understand it a little more and take action.

For my graduate assistantship, I am working in a lab and intervention where they teach African-American parents and their kids how to talk about race and deal with racial stress. During orientation I was really inspired. Part of the intervention is to help teach kids and have them practice how they would respond to racism or microaggressions. Responding to racism? Having plans for how you would do that? That never even crossed my mind!

All these revelations led up to a breaking point in my life. I don’t want to be passive anymore, but I want to respond to microaggressions.

A few weeks ago, a peer in my counseling class said a stereotype. The computer wasn’t working and the teacher asked if someone could help. He said, “Just get one of the Chinese kids to do it.” A Taiwanese international student laughed in disbelief. I just turned around and said some small remark, like “Are you serious?” but in a light-hearted way.

Finally, this past Thursday I decided to say something about it. Yes, a few weeks late, but better late than never I thought. With my new conviction to speak up, I did.

I asked the guy if I could talk to him. I told him that the comment really hurt me. If you look in the class, these Asian people are not all Chinese. Some of the international students are from Singapore, and I myself am Korean-American. Additionally, just because they’re Chinese does not mean they’re good at computers. As I shared, tears rolled down my face. The tears were from all my past hurts. (Yeah, it does suck to have received so many microaggressions while growing up, and I still get them. People can tell me it’s not big deal, or it’s just part of America, or just toughen up. But no, frankly it does suck, and it does pick at people. We cannot excuse microaggressions and racism. When we ignore them, we are condoning them. I don’t want to do that, but I want to help humans understand each other).

I told him that I have been quiet for 24 years of my life, and that this is the first time I wanted to say something about a stereotype someone said. I just wanted to let him know that it did hurt me, and that he did make a racist comment. The tears are not from him but from all the hurt that’s accumulated, so I told him: “I know it doesn’t speak to your character.” He’s a kind guy. And with that, he thanked me for sharing and even messaged me later that day:

…seeing you tear up today is really getting to me again now. I will take it as a learning point, something developmental for me. As much as it pains me to see how much hurt I’ve caused a friend, I’m thankful you told me. I really respect you for that, Jen. Have a good weekend.

I am really lucky that the first time I spoke up was to my peer in a counseling program. Not to assume that counselors-to-be are going to be kind and sweet, but yeah, he is kind. Thank you, friend, for being understanding and gracious. You have made this milestone in my life memorable and positive. I know in the future when I speak up, I may receive negative feedback and may get even more hurt. But I’m willing to try. I am going to speak up. It is worth it.


“The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in
listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word;
so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

What I’ve Been Learning These Days

Steps to Dealing with My Emotions (in prayer)

  1. Be real and share: Tell God exactly everything I feel. No sugar-coating it. Express my desires, express my emotions.
  2. Sort through the thoughts and feelings: Realize that some of my emotions come from a good place and some of them bad. Note the roots of these emotions and thoughts. Do they come from a natural, human condition/inclination? Did God design me to desire, want, or feel certain things? And am I placing these very human and real desires in the wrong places? Separate the good roots from the ill expression.
  3. Confess: Repent of sins and confess for my need for God to work in me. Cry out to God for help and His Holy Spirit, as I cannot change on my own.
  4. Turn to God and give thanks: Proclaim that Jesus is Lord of my life, and that He is faithful to me. Although my emotions make me feel unfaithful to Him (as they sometimes contradict obedience to Him) and unstable, proclaim that Jesus is faithful and constant. Proclaim the power of Christ! And give thanks to God for being our constant counselor, friend, and Savior.
  5. Invite friends into this process if you want…

Many times I don’t like how my emotions can consume me, and I don’t want to face that storm of a beast. (Haha, see my strong dislike for emotions? “Beast?” Really?). Recently, God has been coaching me through it, and I’ve been able to take little baby steps towards facing my emotions/aka my self and bringing my emotions to God.

Emotions aren’t bad. In fact emotions give us the opportunity to grow deeper in intimacy with God in examination, prayer, confession, and thanksgiving.

Social Anxiety

“What is Social Anxiety?”

An interesting point about social anxiety as it appears in different populations.

Khazan: Has there been a rise in social anxiety, with social media and people interacting more through their computers?

Hofmann: It’s impossible to tell, because the definition of social anxiety disorder changes, and depending on how you define it, you’ll get different rates of prevalence.

We do know, however, that there are interesting differences between cultures, which tells you a little bit about how society also shapes and influences that. We know that [some] Asian cultures, such as Japan and China, report social anxiety disorder less often. In more collectivist cultures, where the individual is not in the center, social anxiety disorder is less of a problem. In individualistic cultures, where it’s important that you are your own, unique person, in those cases social anxiety becomes more of a problem. So Western cultures report the higher prevalence rates of social anxiety disorder. Even within the U.S., Asians report lower rates, whites report the highest rates, and Hispanics and African Americans are in between. So that has to do with the setting, the cultural background, family relationships, and the like.

^Or Asians just report it less…

Take Away: Cognitive behavioral therapy is more effective than medication treatment.