Meet three professionals in charge of helping people of all ages, across the complete spectrum of psychological difficulties. We asked them questions that we thought would demystify the process for those seeking psychiatric and psychological treatment, and show that help with mental health-related issues shouldn’t only be considered when things are at their worst.
Dr. Esperanza Salinas
Dr. Salinas is a psychiatrist with Beijing United Family Hospital’s Psychological Health Center, and has over 11 years of clinical experience. Her interest areas are mental illness in the young adult population, and in the impaired professional population. When she’s not guiding her patients through a range of psychological issues, she also enjoys writing children’s books which also touch on these topics of mental health.
Making that step towards getting treatment for mental illness can be a difficult one. Do you have any advice for people that are trying to decide whether or not this is right for them?
Salinas: There is a whole industry out there of coaches and life coaches, and I always get the feeling that people don’t usually have an issue consulting with them. I see what I do the same way. How do we make your life better? How do we make your life the fullest that it can be? There will be bumps and dips in anybody’s road, but how do we make these more manageable for you? There is a stigma with mental health, but I think if we start looking at this more from the perspective of life coaching and a perspective of overall well-being, it’s important to this more holistic approach. No one ever says, don’t go see the doctor for your yearly exam, why can’t it be the same way with psychiatry? Why not have that same type of attitude towards it? Just, general checkups to make sure that everything is OK.
How do you think a yearly mental checkup could be implemented?
Salinas: What we rely on quite a bit is our peers and our colleagues in primary and specialty care. Good doctors will be able to pick up if this individual has an anxiety or depressive disorder, and then may suggest to them to go see us. I think the harder anxiety disorders are more chronic and people find ways to live with them, and there can be a lot of resistance on letting that stuff go. We do know though that life does get easier and better when the anxiety lifts, or when people start addressing that in a different way.
Would you say that part of the stigma of mental health is that many people don’t often view these illnesses with the same gravity as a physical illness?
Salinas: There are differences and there are similarities. I think we have historically and culturally looked at it as very different, but we are starting to learn more and more biological aspects of mental illness, and we have to view it more like diabetes or more like high blood pressure, where these are chronic illnesses that need chronic attention. We don’t necessarily see diabetes when a person walks into the room and we don’t normally see depression. We may see a broken arm, but biologically we are starting to understand depression and anxiety in a much more fundamental way to make it very similar to these other chronic illnesses. There still aren’t any blood tests or MRIs that can be used. What we rely on are our rating scales, inventories, clinical judgment, and clinical interviews to make diagnoses, and also to follow the illness through its progression or improvement.
Dr. Bojun Hu
Dr. Hu is a psychologist in Beijing United Family Hospital’s Psychological Health Department and has over 10 years of clinical experience practicing psychology. Before moving to China in 2016, she worked as a therapist in hospitals and outpatient mental health clinics in both the Boston and New York City areas. In her free time, she teaches yoga and collaborates with dancers and architects to create cross-disciplinary art installations.
How do you work toward building trust with your patients?
Hu: Things that I do, and things that I think most therapists do, are basically, one, provide a time and space where people know that their concerns, no matter how insignificant they think they are, are significant here, because their feelings are probably related to all sorts of other things going on in their lives. I also do a lot of reflections, so you reflect back to people: “I think what I heard you say was this,” or “I imagine if you are experiencing this, you must be feeling this.” When you are able to be with people in their experience, it allows them to relax. It allows their bodies to relax, and they are more willing to open up and talk.
Because we are human beings and we take comfort in predictability, is there a balance between talking about things that can be frightening for people and things that are more comfortable for them?
Hu: I think that’s a really important balance, particularly for people with trauma, because there is that feeling of insecurity or fear that can be pretty constant in their lives. A lot of what most therapists do is to establish this safety and comfort. That’s the priority. It is only within this safety and comfort, that someone is willing to look at things that scare them. Part of my professional experience is to read people, to notice when they’re feeling anxious, scared, or otherwise overwhelmed.
What would you say the differences are between a wellness class and therapy with a psychologist?
Hu: There is a therapeutic frame and there are boundaries to this interaction that allows it to be safe, and we work within these boundaries of confidentiality, time limit, and therapist-client relationship. There are different boundaries in a wellness class. There are also things that are allowed in the therapy room that may be frowned upon in a class. So, you can yell in here if you want to, and as long as you feel safe we can talk through it and understand what that’s about. We can’t normally do that in a yoga class, as you are asked to contain outbursts.
Dr. Ru-Chi Yang and Dai Hu
Dr. Yang is a licensed psychologist, a health service provider in psychology, and a registered play therapist-supervisor in the United States, and Hu is the General Manager of LIH Olivia’s Place and an occupational therapist. They explain to us the benefits of seeking help in an environment like Olivia’s Place that is specifically engineered with the needs of children in mind and ways that parents can take an active role during the treatment of their child.
How do you begin to help kids take a more engaged role in their therapy?
Yang: This depends on age, but for younger children, it is still not easy for them to verbalize their feelings, so it is essential to use some playful intervention. You want to have a child build a feeling vocabulary. As they build a vocabulary for these feelings, they will later learn to verbalize these feelings. It is important to use interesting or fun ways to initiate this instead of just asking, “how do you feel?”
Hu: We are treating children with social or emotional problems. The older ones like to keep to themselves. So they don’t really talk to you that much in the very beginning. It is important to bring yourself down to their level and play by their side. You don’t just jump into the treatment. For some children, you will need to take about two or three sessions before you start with anything therapeutic.
How are parents involved in this process of therapy?
Yang: A child’s stress becomes a parent’s stress. We encourage parents to provide positive attention to their child, such as scheduling a special playtime that is child focused. Parents are busy, and it’s very difficult to do it every day. It is also very important to give support emotionally. Listen to and ask your child about everything that has happened throughout the day. Listening will help the child to feel like the parents understand, and support them. Also, encourage the child to engage in social activities with their peers, this helps in dealing with difficult feelings too.
Hu: Sometimes we feel, especially for psychological problems, that the child is a perfect reflection of the family. So you need to involve the family, otherwise, things won’t change that fast.
What makes Olivia’s Place unique among other child-focused therapy providers?
Yang: In China, a lot of people need help but the number of professionals that can provide these services is low. We’ve been trained overseas and have a high standard, and not everyone has the same concept of legal ethical conduct or professional training to deal with some of the difficulties they say they can treat.
Hu: Also, most parents don’t have the ability to differentiate. For example, when someone might have experienced a false version of play therapy, they might come here and say they’ve tried that even before experiencing Dr. Yang’s efforts. Dr. Yang is probably one of a few doctors in Beijing that are certified in play therapy. So we only use qualified and certified people.
Mental Health Resources
Hospitals and Organizations
Raffles Medical’s Mental Health and Counseling Services
All ages. Staffed by experienced and internationally trained doctors and counselors, Raffles Medical is available to help you identify problems and provide individualized support. Daily 8am-8pm. Suite 205, Wing 1, Kunsha Bldg, 16 Xinyuanli, Chaoyang District. (6462 9112)
LIH Olivia’s Place
Kids. Olivia’s place has the expertise to conduct assessments related to learning problems, ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, cognitive impairment, mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression, and challenging behavior. Mon–Fri, 9am-6pm. Sat, 9am-12pm. 13 Jiu Xian Qiao Road, Building 6-1, Second Floor, Chaoyang District. (6461 6283)
BJU’s Psychological Health Center
All ages. They provide consultation, assessment, and treatment for concerns ranging from mood disorders, relationship and parenting issues, loss and bereavement concerns, and educational and developmental needs. United Family New Hope Clinical Center, 9-11 West Jiangtai Road, Chaoyang District. (5927 7067)
The Learning Frontier
Kids. Located in Shuangjing, The Learning Frontier is dedicated to providing bilingual, personalized guidance, and support services for children and families residing in Beijing. Their team includes a variety of specialists focusing on mental health, education and learning, applied behavior analysis, and speech and language and occupational therapy to assist children. 4th Floor, No. 11 Dongbai Lu, Chaoyang District. (6775 3268)
Adel Andalibi, PhD
All ages. Andalibi uses mindfulness-based somatic psychotherapy, using the Hakomi method, somatic experiencing, movement therapy, metaphor, and narrative therapy. Group therapy is also available for parents and teens. The approach is respectful, playful, mindful, and gentle. (Phone/WeChat: 18321746409, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Michelle Mope Andersson
Adults. Focusing on existential wellness, stress management, marriage, and family help, Michelle has been a pastoral counselor since 2005, and was a wellness and stress counselor for the UN in Pyongyang. (email@example.com)
All ages. Hill specializes in a wide range of child and family issues including family breakdowns, family and peer relationship difficulties, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, diversity issues, abuse, addiction, stress, bullying, bereavement, and transitioning. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Integrative Counseling from the University of Surrey. RMB 950/50 min session. (186 1255 7824, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Ages 13+. Lee became a certified counselor for positive and transcultural psychotherapy at the age of 25 and a certified psychotherapist at the age of 27. He has had his practice for 10 years and specializes in marital conflicts and psychosomatic symptoms. RMB 600/hr. (WeChat: leonptp)
Adults. Blanco is a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist specializing in individual and group therapy. Through personal development courses, Blanco helps families trying to overcome relationship difficulties or stress issues. His courses are primarily conducted in English and Chinese, but he also is a native Spanish speaker. (WeChat: baidaweiindonesia, email@example.com)
Adults. CandleX offers mental health support, in English, to teenagers and adults living in Beijing. Both expats and Chinese nationals are eligible to receive this support. Their bimonthly support groups conducted in English help to create a community among people struggling with the effects of mental illness. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Beijing LGBT Center
The Beijing LGBT Center is a non-profit, community-based organization that empowers the Beijing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community by providing social services and organizing advocacy programs. Their work seeks to further the LGBT movement, eliminate discrimination and achieve equality. Rm. 2606, Bldg B, Xintiandi Plaza, 1 Xibahe Nanlu Jia, Chaoyang District. (5903 3730, email@example.com)
Beijing Mindfulness Centre
The Beijing Mindfulness Centre is dedicated to providing a safe and inspiring environment for learning and growth. They offer various mindfulness-based programs in English, Spanish, and Chinese, and individual coaching to the community. 44 Qian Yongkang Hutong, Dongcheng District. (6403 4923, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Lifeline Shanghai serves the English-speaking community with free, confidential, and anonymous emotional support via telephone from 10am to 10pm, 365 days of the year. Though they are located in Shanghai, the operators are available to talk to anyone in China. (021 6279 8990)