By Lisa Denenmark December 5, 2014
In China, according to reports, psychological problems, such as anxiety disorders, appear to be on the rise.
A multitude of changes in China since it introduced economic reforms and open-door policies in the late ’70s, have brought many sociocultural problems, such as dislocation and displacement, helplessness, job stress, and dramatic changes to family and community structures.
“There are so many issues that China has never faced before,” says Lixin Huang, President Emerita of the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine (ACTCM) and CIIS Trustee, who left China in 1986. “In every generation there is need that counseling can help. China knows that it needs to create a new model for health. Modernization and Western influences have become impossible to contain.”
Now there is public discourse in China about personal problems and therapies in books, in advice columns, and on TV, and with it a rising demand for counseling services.
This is a radical shift in a nation where focus on the individual was discouraged by both community values and traditional culture—where psychology was disparaged as unscientific and banned during the Cultural Revolution.
The Chinese government, recognizing the important role of counseling, has launched several initiatives to help curb mental health problems, including its first national mental health legislation, which took effect in May 2013.
The wide-ranging law aims to transform mental health services in China by promoting psychotherapy and preventive measures that include training and education for practitioners and students.
SYCHRONICITY AND THE CHINA PROJECT
In November 2013, CIIS President Emeritus Joseph L. Subbiondo and President Emerita Huang traveled to China. Building on established relationships fostered in great part by CIIS Trustee Meihong Xu, they visited Zhejiang University (ZJU), in Hangzhou, and Beijing University of Chinese Medicine, where they explored academic collaborations to attract students from China to study psychology at CIIS, as well as to create opportunities for CIIS faculty research.
Ascertaining the great and growing need for the education and professional development of counseling psychologists in China, Subbiondo began envisioning a way for CIIS to contribute to that development and facilitate dialogue about mental health across cultural contexts.
A lunch with alum Caiphong “Jeremy” Zhu (EWP ’11), now living in Beijing, proved to be serendipitous.
Back home, Subbiondo followed up on conversations with scholars and mental health practitioners; and he created, with the support of CIIS trustees, the China Initiative (the Initiative).
He then appointed Zhu to assist with student recruitment and develop collaborative opportunities for faculty.
“President Subbiondo understood the moment and responded quickly. Bigger name universities can’t do that,” says Huang. “These prestigious universities in China saw how promptly and professionally CIIS responded. They recognized CIIS as a true leader in the field of psychotherapy and as an established university that acts ethically, with integrity and a commitment to diversity.”
According to Zhu, “What’s most exciting about the Initiative is that China is right in the midst of recognizing the value of psychology—especially counseling and clinical psychology.”
Zhu senses a resurgent yearning for spirituality and transformation across many groups of people in China and believes that “CIIS can provide both types of nourishment in ways typified by Integral Counseling Psychology or East-West Psychology, among other programs.”
“They recognized CIIS as a true leader in the field of psychotherapy and as an established university that acts ethically, with integrity and a commitment to diversity.”
FIRST STOP, SHANGHAI
In spring 2014, two CIIS alums anonymously donated $100,000 in support of the Initiative. Their gift, which established a scholarship fund for Chinese students to study at CIIS, also supports Initiative-related activities and faculty travel to China to present their work. According to Subbiondo, the gift is a “strong indication that our Initiative in China resonates well with our donor and alum communities.”
In May, Zhu arranged for ICP core faculty Alzak Amlani to teach a three-day workshop on Integral Approaches to Counseling and Self-Growth, held at the Sinrong Shanghai, a center that trains and educates counselors and psychotherapists. Amlani found the students “curious and reflective” and eager to understand CIIS’s integral perspective and educational model.
“One of the strengths of CIIS is that it has a multimodal approach to training psychotherapists and can offer many ways of working with clients.” says Amlani. “For example, somatic, transpersonal, expressive arts techniques, and drama therapy can all be used toward an integral approach to psychotherapy that’s attuned to the needs of each specific client.”
Judie Wexler, President Emerita, believes that CIIS Counseling Psychology programs have much to offer to the field of psychotherapy in China.
“In China, there are strong academic psychology programs focused on research and academic psychology—quantitative research mostly—but not clinical psychology.
CIIS’s strength is around preparing people to be therapists, in working with clients to help them go deeply toward understanding themselves,” says Wexler.
“This is also an opportunity for faculty to look at psychotherapy through a different set of lenses and to ask how it can be relevant in a different cultural context,” she says.
“CIIS is positioned as a leader because of its diversity and exposures to different cultures,” says Huang. “Now it is ready to respond to the needs of the country with the largest population in the world that is so thirsty for collaboration.” In June, Expressive Arts Therapy Professor Denise Boston presented her Community-Based Research to ZJU’s Department of Psychology and its Mental Health Counseling Center.
“I introduced a research approach that promotes collaboration between higher education counseling programs and community leaders,” says Boston. Her focus on narrative strength-based intervention and approaches to psychotherapy, and the transformative power of story to foster healing for both for teller and listener, profoundly resonated with students and faculty.
Jianhong Ma, Chair of the Department of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences at Zhejiang University, found Boston’s lectures to be “very impressive.” His department is preparing a development plan for the next four years. “We would like to incorporate the academic link with CIIS into that plan,” Ma says.
OPEN TO PSYCHOTHERAPY
The two faculty visits convinced ZJU and the Sinrong Group that working with CIIS and further collaborating with the University would be of mutual benefit. There are prospective plans to offer lectures, courses, and certificates, as well as to engage in collaborative research in integral education and psychotherapy.
A few months after the faculty excursion, ZJU sent a delegation of students and faculty to CIIS. Over three days, they participated in workshops and lectures, met faculty and board members, and toured San Francisco. The visit was organized by Dorotea Reyna, Vice President of Development; Jody O’connor, International Student Recruitment & Advising Manager; and trustees Huang and Xu.
“The three days with the ZJU group was an amazing success for both CIIS and the delegation. We engaged in rich conversations, sharing perspectives and experiences about psychology and higher education, which helped build our relationship and our crosscultural understandings,” says O’Connor.
One of the highlights was a visit to the Center for Somatic Psychotherapy, where the delegation did experiential work with clinic director Steuart Gold. “I believe that made a big impact on their understanding of the unique programming that CIIS has to offer,” O’Connor says.
For the 2012–13 academic year, according to a report, the number of Chinese students enrolled in U.S. higher education rose by 26% at the undergraduate level from the previous year.
“I’m excited about the relationships we’re building that can lead to cross-cultural collaboration going forward and more opportunities for us to do this work elsewhere,” says Boston.
“If we create something replicable, that will enable CIIS to stand heads above what anyone else is doing around counseling psychology.”