Healing the whole body

Photo by Dan Huynh


She is just 24, yet soon, may be a person we can rely on for life advice.


Meet Lisa Tran, a MFT major at USC whom we met recently at a gathering.


MFT refers to marriage and family therapy, and Tran appeared as scholarship winner and speaker at a gathering sponsored by USC’s Asian Pacific Alumni

Association in Newport Beach, Calif. Standing in the living room of the home of Cookie Lee ― chairwoman and chief designer of Cookie Lee, Inc., a powerhouse in fine fashion jewelry ― Tran thanked guests for supporting APAA, which in turn supports fundraising for scholarships.


She is one of its recipients, allowing her to follow a passion after studying psychology at California State University, Long Beach. Later, in a visit with Anh Do of Nguoi Viet 2, Tran, the youngest in a family with four children, is reflective and forthcoming.


Q: We’re hearing that there are just a few dozen people majoring in your field at USC?

A: Yes, between 45 and 50. It’s a two-year program.


Q: What kind of classes do you take?

A: Psychopathology, theories of counseling, life spans. With life spans, in the beginning, the focus is on children, how they grow. … In the end, we talk about how older adults deal with death, grieving, regrets ― about people they lost in the past, about terminal illness. It’s very well-rounded.


Q: Do the topics ever depress you?

A: Oh yes, a lot of the courses prepare you to deal with the worst subjects possible ― because you want to be ready to deal with whatever your client brings up. You need to embrace it. … They don’t know how to handle it if you can’t handle it yourself.

We have to talk with our cohorts (in the program) when we run into problems. They encourage you to go to your own therapy, to deal with all your issues before you deal with clients.


Q: Tell us about your therapy.

A: I have individual therapy; it’s available every week for as long as you need. You have insurance through your school and it covers (seeing) a therapist nearby.

Everyone has their own problems. Therapy is not a stigma. It’s actually good. It’s actually for mental wellness. It’s very different from what I grew up with, as mental wellness wasn’t emphasized while financial stability was emphasized.


Q: Do you write down your thoughts in any way?

A: I used to be a creative writing minor. I’m not skilled in public speaking. I enjoy writing my thoughts down. It’s more organized that way.


Q: When might you start working?

A: In May 2013 I will graduate, and I would love to work with [ages] 16 to 25, as they age and experience more severe issues. Those years are probably the most tumultuous, they need the most help.


Q: What kind of issues are they mostly dealing with at that stage?

A: Teen angst, rape, generational conflict. There are many Vietnamese teens, for example, who don’t get along with their parents, and it affects everything they do. They could veer toward gangs.

Or their experiences could make them kind of rebellious. I want to provide them some support…

With this career, I don’t find anything quite easy, but I love the challenge. It’s hard to talk to teens because they’re so complex.


Q: What advice can you offer to Vietnamese parents with youngsters going through such experiences?

A: There will be some growing pains. I want to say to them, “You’re going to see your kid grow up and wanting to branch out, and you’re not going to like it. But ease up a little bit, be more open-minded.”

A lot of Vietnamese words that are encouraging, such as “gioi” or “hay,” [which] describe good things such as someone being smart or generally a good person. There’s not a lot of words to express kindness, so parents, find different ways to express kindness.

My father, for example, would choose English words like “good job.” He would reach out, he’d say, “Oh, you did a good job, I’m going to take you someplace special.” Or give a pat on the back. Just remembering what your kid likes, that’s a really good way to show you care.


Q: How do you feel about the Vietnamese living in a culture that’s not often openly affectionate?

A: If they’re adults, they’re going to be who they are. If they’re not affectionate ― I’m affectionate with them. If I want affection ― I give affection.

My dad’s not a very “huggy” person, so at night I go hug him first and he’ll hug me back.


Q: What moments tell you this is the right profession for you?

A: There are so many ― every day, it’s like a light bulb.

The most valuable thing I’ve learned is: If a client didn’t want to go someplace, if he or she would like to sit in their uncomfortableness, you just sit there then. Allow them to linger and think.

The client might think, “They’re going to make me talk about horrible things.” In reality, they have a partner in crime, someone who will help them get through these horrible times.


Q: Still, a lot of people don’t know what therapy is.

A: It’s medicine. If you’re sick, it’s like vitamin D, it makes you better. The public sees extreme cases ― schizophrenia, personality disorders. My parents thought, “Don’t go there.” It’s like a common cold to cancer. [Mental illness] is going to have the range like physical illnesses…

Over time, my parents understand a little more. It’s a work in progress, like a lot of other things are works in progress.

And the one thing we need to remember: Physical illness you can see. Mental illness you can’t. It’s so elusive. It’s invisible.


Q: What led you on this path?

A: When I first entered college, I started in biology. Then I got interested in what blocks people and what cycles they go through that makes them suffer.

Initially, my parents said, “Don’t do it.” In terms of a different career, in terms of intrinsic motivation, the rewards are greater. But a lot of times, it’s what’s inside. It’s what you want for yourself.

My parents have never seen any examples of any Vietnamese people [in therapy] being successful. They see doctors, dentists and lawyers who are really smart and successful. They want a path where they can see a good goal come of it.

I’m sure after I graduate and work hard, they will be able to see me, reaping the rewards and giving back to my family.


Coming Friday: A look at how one California region is working to encourage its Asian residents to seek counseling when needed.




In the first person: aspiring therapist says communication is the key to happy relationships.





Human psyche captivates me; the primal need for expression is vital to humanity. This need is not always met through constructive means. All too often, human nature fosters miscommunication. The consequences of this are immense and can adversely affect one’s life. Understanding how and why miscommunications occur represent the core of my personal and professional interests, especially as it relates to familial issues.


Two classes in particular, Assertion & Behavior Modification and Psychology of Personality, increased my interest in effective communication and its relevance to marriage and family therapy. The latter emphasized the impact of differences in individuals. I enjoyed the challenge of thinking how external forces such as culture affect different people. The former emphasized how humans are social creatures, uniquely adept at using systems of communication for self-expression. Sadly, miscommunication abounds, not allowing for satisfying needs and negatively affecting others.


In my Vietnamese family, there is a defined hierarchy. This rigidity makes effective communication at home highly difficult. The youth are subject to the indisputable wisdom of their elders. Personally, this creates many inconveniences in asserting my own prerogatives as freedom for personal expression and a strong basis in interpersonal communication is integral to life satisfaction. Also, knowing both English and Vietnamese enables me to see how different languages communicate feelings and thoughts. Entomologies are different; emphasis and density of certain types of words reflect the importance of cherished aspects of culture. This intern plays a major role in individuals’ thoughts, feelings and actions, something important to consider in psychotherapy.


I volunteered for a nonprofit afterschool help organization, Think Together, where I was assigned to a disadvantaged community. Schoolchildren were provided with ESL classes and help with schoolwork; however, they were uncomfortable about asking for help with homework. This is a byproduct of home life, for their parents pick them up after work, they eat dinner, then the children do homework with the little time remaining before bed and school the next day. There is little time or energy for exchange of ideas between children and adults, impacting children’s self-efficacy of expression. Such realities are becoming more common in lower [income] families, creating hardship for the families when their children do not do well in school. From these experiences, how different groups deal with similar hardships and their subsequent impact on the family fascinates me.


In my travels to Viet Nam, I experienced a new side of my culture. Heavily collectivist cultures rely on close familial ties and mutual dependency in almost all situations. The value of family, and what each person is worth in comparison to the whole, is emphasized. These values play a huge part in the well-being of each individual since individualistic happiness is partly dependent on the whole. Depending on the degree to which culture is engrained in the mind, the more inflexible a person might be, thus requiring the therapist to not only be considerate but creative. It is vital to approach with care, not to offend them or encroach on their beliefs. Learning what people value is important for receptiveness and understanding.


My experiences have made me want to help others through life’s circumstances and rigidity of norms. Peace of mind is not a luxury. It is only with thorough insight into the catalysts of human action, which I plan to further attain through a master’s in psychology, that I will be successful in my chosen career as a marriage and family therapist.




Báo Người Việt hoan nghênh quý vị độc giả đóng góp và trao đổi ý kiến. Chúng tôi xin quý vị theo một số quy tắc sau đây:

Tôn trọng sự thật.
Tôn trọng các quan điểm bất đồng.
Dùng ngôn ngữ lễ độ, tương kính.
Không cổ võ độc tài phản dân chủ.
Không cổ động bạo lực và óc kỳ thị.
Không vi phạm đời tư, không mạ lỵ cá nhân cũng như tập thể.

Tòa soạn sẽ từ chối đăng tải các ý kiến không theo những quy tắc trên.

Xin quý vị dùng chữ Việt có đánh dấu đầy đủ. Những thư viết không dấu có thể bị từ chối vì dễ gây hiểu lầm cho người đọc. Tòa soạn có thể hiệu đính lời văn nhưng không thay đổi ý kiến của độc giả, và sẽ không đăng các bức thư chỉ lập lại ý kiến đã nhiều người viết. Việc đăng tải các bức thư không có nghĩa báo Người Việt đồng ý với tác giả.

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