Article by Olivia Rosenman. Originally published by South China Morning Post. Photo credit: SCMP Pictures.
In addition to her work as a psychotherapist, Monica Wong Hiu-hung teaches counseling at The Chinese University. She is also studying for a doctorate in Clinical Psychology at Alliant International University’s California School of Professional Psychology (CSPP).
She runs the Psych-Art Therapy Association, a group of professionals who practice a combination of psychotherapy and adventure training for disadvantaged children. Every six months, she takes groups of volunteer therapists to Sichuan to counsel survivors of the devastating Wenchuan earthquake in 2008 and train doctors and graduates in the area.
She is a writer with ten books to her name; the latest is being translated into English and will be published in the US next year. A mother of two, she and her husband like to hike, but it’s difficult to work out when they manage to find the time.
When I suggest it’s a lot of hard work, Wong plays it down, “Isn’t that the Hong Kong spirit? Hong Kong people are like that”, she says, laughing.
“I’m so lucky. If I keep it all to myself it’s too much. I should share”, says Wong. She is driven by an intense interest in psychology and therapy and a desire to help those less fortunate than herself.
When we speak of her work in Sichuan, it’s as if she herself feels the pain of the survivors she works tirelessly to help. When she first arrived in Wenchuan, in the immediate aftermath of the quake, she was overwhelmed by the pervasive smell of dead bodies.
“I cried. I could not stop my tears”, says Wong. “But I had to smile, because I couldn’t add any burden to them. I had to be happy and give them some positive energy”, says Wong.
Wong is strengthened by the resilience of those who have experienced trauma and can recover. She was touched by the children who survived having the earth crumble on top of them, “When I worked with those children, after a period of time they stood up and moved forward. I think it’s quite amazing”, she says.
Wong’s successful career demonstrates her own resilience. She migrated to Hong Kong from the mainland as a 12 year-old in the early 1980s. Unaware of Hong Kong’s free education system, her family kept her out of school for fear of fees they could not afford.
But Wong was determined to get an education, she wanted to realize her father’s dream which was for her to become a writer. “I thought to myself, if bad luck comes, I’ll just say no to it. I want to be the master of my own fate”. She received just two years of secondary education by attending evening classes. “I tease myself by saying, I got only two years of high school but I have three degrees already!”
When she first came to Hong Kong, she didn’t know any Cantonese or English. “I was discriminated against by the local people, it was quite a hard time for me”, says Wong.
Wong has seen more tragedy and trauma than most would care to imagine. But she is inspired every time she works with someone along their road to recovery. Her next ambition is to take her volunteer therapy group to Cambodia and Burma.