Get to know Jiwon, registered psychologist at Therapy Alberta, in this interview blog.
Who are you?
This is always the seemingly simplest, but also the most difficult question to answer. My name is Jiwon, and I am a 1.5 generation Korean-Canadian. I immigrated from South Korea to Canada in 2006, and I am currently living in Calgary, Alberta. I have a laundry list of hobbies and interests, mainly painting and music, and I am always trying to find more ways to incorporate creativity into my daily life and in work. I am a curious person and a life-long learner, not just in therapy but in all areas of life, and believe that learning can come from anywhere and anyone. I like to recharge by enjoying quiet times by myself with activities that fill me with joy.
What led you to become a therapist?
This is an interesting question! If you ever get a chance to look at my resume, you may also wonder “why did she decide to become a therapist?”, given just how diverse my paths have been. I was (am) an artist, a graphic designer, a researcher, a video game developer, among other gigs here and there. Even though I enjoyed each and every one of those roles, the reason I chose to become a therapist is because therapy has made a deep, positive impact in my upbringing and shaping who I am. I believe that no one goes through life without any scars- figuratively and literally. The times in my life where I felt most wounded and punched down, I found a lot of healing from seeking therapy and other mental health support. The therapist I had was a wonderful person, but what really helped was that therapy helped me to develop confidence that I could help myself and overcome hardships, and the courage to love myself. After going through a period of struggles and coming out of the other side, I found myself naturally leaning towards helping and encouraging others because I wanted to share with others that were struggling the possibility and hope that healing is possible. Down the road, I felt the desire to help people beyond just those in my immediate social circle; I wanted to reach more people, and I wanted to be in a position where I could advocate for those needing concrete resources. After learning that I could do these things as a therapist, I started my journey to become one.
What did you want to be when you were 10 years old?
Throughout my childhood, I’ve always wanted to be an artist - especially a painter. Painting still brings me so much joy and healing, and I continue to carry this dream in my heart. My wish is that one day, either through further academic pursuits or self-study, I will become a part-time professional traditional painter, while still continuing my job as a therapist.
What is your life philosophy?
There are three statements that guide my life both personally, and in therapy: “One thing at a time”, “Sometimes it is what it is”, and “All actions make sense.” The first philosophy guides me when I feel pressured to achieve something and start to feel overwhelmed. It reminds me that I don’t have to do everything at once and I can go at my own pace, dealing with one thing at a time. The second statement might come across as a resignation for some, but for me, it is a philosophy that helps me accept the things or people I cannot change, and thus orients me to focus on what I can and develop compassion for myself in the face of hardship. Pain is inevitable in life, but I do not have to create more suffering for myself by struggling against a reality I cannot control. Lastly, the final statement is a reflection of my belief that every behaviour, regardless of how seemingly irrational they are, makes sense, because they most likely served us in some form. Substance use might have been the only thing that kept someone alive when their world got turned upside down; pushing someone away before they can develop intimacy might’ve been a protective mechanism that kept them safe in their upbringing. Whatever it may be, having this philosophy in mind helps me develop compassion and understanding for others, as well as myself.
Do you ever get overwhelmed by the stuff people tell you?
I normally do not get overwhelmed by the contents of people’s stories, but since I am human, I can occasionally feel swept up by the sheer intense emotional energy that can come out in sessions - intense grief, sadness, helplessness, anger... Over time, I’ve developed many strategies to keep myself regulated in and out of sessions so that I can contain whatever is happening in the session and take care of both myself and my client. Mindfulness before, during, and after sessions, I find, is so important in keeping me centered. Taking a short walk, breathing in fresh air from outside, and engaging in hobbies completely separate from therapy also releases the heavy feelings and helps me to recharge.
What makes your job fulfilling?
Being a therapist is fulfilling in so many ways for me. Developing therapeutic relationships with very cool people and having the privilege to learn about their life, witnessing a client’s small and big moments of joy and celebrating together, expanding the horizon of my knowledge and gaining more understanding of humankind… the list goes on. Yet, the most fulfilling aspect of my job is when I can see the client break free of old patterns of thoughts or behaviors that kept them stuck, and move into a new understanding of themselves and the world that fits them better. It could be a very eventual process, but it could also happen very suddenly in the middle of a session - when their eyes open and both the client and I can feel that something finally “clicked.” Hearing clients say in session statements like “It was never my fault”, “I don’t have to hate myself so much”, “I can actually trust in myself”, and actually seeing them carry forward these realizations into their daily life fills my heart with joy.
What would you tell someone who’s nervous to start therapy?
Congratulations! You have already taken the first and one of the hardest steps - acknowledging that you want help and deciding to start therapy. This courage and determination you have already will carry you throughout your recovery. Healing won’t be linear, and there will definitely be times you might be asking “is this even working? Am I doing this wrong?”; this is normal. Trust the process; there are no right or wrong ways to do therapy, and there are no right or wrong ways to heal. In fact, healing sometimes looks completely different from how you originally imagined it to be, and that is okay! That’s why your therapist will be with you every step of the way, meeting you where you are and gently guiding when need be.
What are your hobbies?
As mentioned, I have what feels to be around two million hobbies. It seems that if something involves creativity, I will take it on as a hobby. I enjoy drawing and painting the most, especially oil painting, and my subject matters vary from strict realism to cute, warm, cartoon-style scenes. I also play guitar and like to sing. On warm sunny days, I like to busk outside in parks, or go to local open mic nights. I knit and crochet to make my own clothing and dolls as well, although this is a struggle sometimes, as my cat always tries to run away with my yarn. Although less frequent than my other hobbies, I also like to bake bread and pastries, as well try new food recipes. Occasionally I will write short poems or short stories, or write lyrics for songs I may one day create in the future! Video Games and boardgames are also another one of my favorite pastime hobbies. I like engaging in these hobbies alone, but I especially gain so much joy from gifting and sharing what I created with my loved ones.
What's your favorite media right now?
My favorite media changes a lot depending on my mood, where I am in life, etc. Currently, my favorite is Good Omens (book & tv show) by Neil Gaimen, and the Neuromancer book series by William Gibson!
What’s your wish for your clients?
I wish for them to accept themselves, their situations and world around them, and of the things they can and cannot change. Acceptance, of course, does not mean agreeing; we can accept something and still not like it. However, by accepting that a situation may not be how we want it to be, we no longer have to blame or fight with ourselves on things we cannot change. I further wish for my clients to feel care and compassion for themselves. This is slightly different from love; we can be compassionate towards something or someone without having to love them, we just need to have the desire to alleviate suffering and see them well. Such compassion, I believe, will be a force of warmth and encouragement for my clients that will support them even in the hardest of times. I wish for them to feel that despite everything, they can always count on themselves to have their own back.
What’s your favorite food?
Sushi and other rice-based dishes!
Jiwon You is a psychologist specializing in working with adults in trauma therapy and self-esteem therapy. She is passionate about helping people heal from trauma and self-criticism so they can feel better and live more fulfilling lives. Jiwon provides affirming online therapy in Calgary and across Alberta for all folks 18+ and can provide services in Korean and English.