Discovering a Passion for Mental Health
Cindy Park is a familiar face at Chase Oaks. These days, when she’s not speaking from up front, she can be found writing papers and studying for exams as she pursues a graduate degree in counseling. Recently, Cindy took a break from her coursework to share about her passion for mental health.
What inspired you to start a degree program in counseling?The idea really came to me out of the blue. One day, my husband Peter was on a business trip. He called me just to check in, and I was like, “Hey, what if I went back to school?” And he was like, “What?!” He was super-shocked but supportive.
And then I talked to my counselor [Ly Tran] about it. Sheepishly, I said, “Uh, I'm kind of embarrassed to say this, but I'm thinking about going back to school to become a counselor.” And he said, “What? That’s awesome!”
Cost and time were huge factors. Originally, I was looking at a different program, but Ly encouraged me to check out this one instead. Because I already have two graduate degrees, it made sense to do a faster and less expensive track.
How is it going so far?I'm in my second quarter. I was expecting classes to be crazy hard and intense, but right now it’s about learning about different theorists and approaches, and stuff like that.
And because I'm so much older now, I’m approaching it differently. Like when you're in college, you don't know any better. You think, “OK, I have to learn ALL the stuff now, because this will help me in my career.” But now I realize the grades and coursework are just needed to start my career.
It’s 100% new, and it's only because I went through my own counseling.
Are your other degrees related, or is counseling a newer passion for you?
I grew up in the church and doing ministry involves a certain level of counseling. People would tell me, “Hey, you should become a counselor.” And I was like, “Absolutely not. I would never do that. I would never sit in a room with somebody and just talk about the same thing over and over.” I had bought into the stereotypes and stigma around counseling.
And then a few years after we moved here, I realized something was wrong. Not like a physical thing. Not just hormones. Not just medication. At that point, I was on antidepressants. It helped but it wasn’t enough. I told Peter, and he said I should go talk to Ly. So I went and he immediately uncovered all of this family stuff—stuff that I thought I had processed and dealt with. I thought I was on the other side of it all, in a place of forgiveness and grace.
But it was clearly not dealt with, and so that was the beginning.
I’ve been in counseling for three or four years now. And really, it has changed my life. Professional ministry is important and creates life change. But counseling is like really jumping into the deep end with people. And it’s what I want to do, to be a part of this kind of life change for other people.
Like, my craft room is totally organized and color coordinated. Before, it was just chaos! I mean, there was some organization, but it was just super messy all the time. But every personality test I’ve ever taken indicates that I love beauty. I love organization. That seemed crazy: how could I be wired that way while everything in my life is so messy?
But after I had dealt with all this stuff through counseling, I found space to say, “Oh, actually, this is what I really like. This is how I want it to be.” So now I’ve organized our home offices, our pantries, my closets, everything. But that all came after counseling because finally, there wasn't all this other stuff crowding my brain, taking up space where I didn't have time to think about how I wanted our home to look, or how it made me feel. It's like a random, bonus side effect from counseling.
Do you have a vision for how you might use your degree?I want to be part of an already established practice. I've learned so much from Ly, just as a client, and I think there's like a whole different level for me to learn from him as a counselor with Lifeologie.
What I really want to do is to counsel other leaders—leaders in church, organizations, business, or other settings. Peter and I have been in leadership positions for so long, and it can be so lonely. I would love to be a safe place for leaders to just say, “I'm not OK. And these are the things that I'm dealing with.”
You talked about the stigma around mental health and counseling. Do you think that stigma is stronger among leaders?I think it’s less the stigma of mental health and more like the stigma of being a weak leader, of being afraid that if I show need or weakness, then maybe I don’t belong here, or I’m not a good leader that people can follow. Leaders are used to giving answers and providing counsel to others. It’s an uncomfortable, unfamiliar position to say, “I’m weak” or “I need help.”
Have you encountered other barriers as you pursue a career in mental health, for example, as an Asian woman in your life stage?Yes, I've talked about it in counseling. Being a pioneer feels lonely. I don't know women who look like me that are in my life stage, that are doing what I'm doing. I can't find those women. And Ly’s like, “Yeah, because there's not very many of you. But if this is what God has for you, then this is where you need to go. This is where you will feel most alive. You can try to do something else…you can try to just build a life apart from using your gifts. But that’s not the place you’re going to be fulfilled. It’s hard, but that’s the way it is.”
And honestly, I want a different answer. I want to hear that we CAN be completely fulfilled and happy in every way, and we won’t feel the void of something missing. And he's always like, “No, Cindy. That only happens in heaven. That only happens with Jesus.”
What would you say to someone who is realizing they have some mental health needs?I think the first thing is to just check daily to see how you are. Some days I wake up and think, “OK? Yeah. I'm OK.” And then sometimes I wake up and I think, “Well, I'm not OK. I'm not in a good place.” It’s about self-awareness, admitting that we are not okay and that we need help. Even after three years or four years of counseling, I'm continually pursuing emotional, spiritual, mental health.
The second thing is to see if you have safe places to go, like a friend, or a pastoral leader. Sometimes it’s enough to talk with a friend. But there are other times that I know there's something deeper happening, and I can't quite figure out what it is, and that’s when I go to counseling.
Finances are obviously a barrier.
Counseling is not cheap. But for me, it's worth the money that I've spent on it because I couldn't have figured this stuff out on my own. I didn't want to live the way I was living. And there were not enough books or friend conversations or conferences for me to go to that would have given me the same self-awareness and tools as counseling.
Some people are content to say, “Yeah, I know there's something wrong with my life, but whatever. This is just the way it is.” And they find themselves living in a loveless marriage or being disconnected from their kids or finding all their identity in their work. And they just do that for 20-30 years. And for me, I was like, I can't. I can't live like this.
I want to see more people in my age group doing things that are exciting and new and challenging and fulfilling. I love crafts, but I don't want to just be doing crafts for the next 30 years. When Scripture says to taste and see that the Lord is good, there's good for us that He has for us now, in this moment. I couldn't fully experience that until I had done counseling.
What advice would you have for someone who wants to work in the field of mental health?Go through your own counseling first. I really, really believe that every single person should be in counseling.
And then, you should explore your gifting. Are you a good listener, empathetic and able to help connect dots for people? Are other people in your life affirming that? I think that's super important to have that kind of natural skill set.
If you’re young and have no experience, then start serving. Lead a small group, or volunteering with a Care ministry group. That’s how I discovered this was in my wheelhouse, because I had been leading small groups and different areas of ministry for so much of my life. People would say, “You've helped me” or “You've really spoken into this” or “You saw something that nobody else saw.” I learned how to be a good listener, and how and when to ask questions. When it's time to give people space to just feel their emotions. There’s a whole different level I'll have to learn as I work in professional counseling.
What about people who find themselves counseling others but don’t feel called to do that as a career? Like the friend that gives great advice, or the co-worker who always has people show up in their cube to talk or share about what’s going on?
I would say one, thank you, Jesus, for those people! And two, I would want to make sure that they are healthy themselves. There have been times that I jumped into every crisis because it made me feel good about myself, that somebody needed me. But it wasn’t the healthiest thing for me. It’s like, you need to put on your own oxygen mask before you help somebody else with theirs.
If this person is healthy and has good boundaries and is having their own needs met, etc., then I would say to be able to pour out to other people is amazing. And that’s what we’re called to do.
Is there anything else that you want to share?When I first went to counseling, it wasn't because I was in crisis. I went because I was dealing with feelings of jealousy related to social media. It's such a common thing. So you don't have to be in a tremendous amount of pain, dealing with life-and-death situations, to go to counseling. It's for the normal, average person.
People can benefit from a safe place to just talk about their feelings, without relational expectations. I know that there's zero expectation from Ly to ask him questions about his life. When we meet, it’s a time for me.
So don't wait until there's something huge or traumatic. Go now. It's more like coaching. Like, I go once a month now and I'll probably go at least once a month for the rest of my life because now I know what it's like to have that as a resource. I can't ever imagine not having that tool or that resource in my life.
To learn more about Chase Oaks' Care ministry, visit our resource page here.