Mandy Zhang: Therapist Spotlight

Mandy is a bilingual (Mandarin/English) clinical social worker who received her Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Chicago, Crown Family School, and her Bachelor of Art in Psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is passionate about working with individuals to address issues such as emotional regulation, self-esteem issues, cultural conflict, stress management, and life transitions. Due to her own cultural background growing up in China and having lived in the US for six years, she works mostly with different generations of Asian immigrants, multicultural individuals, and other marginalized communities. While she received training to work with young people with Autism and ADHD, Mandy also utilizes a wide range of therapy approaches including trauma-focused, CBT, ACT, strength-based, solution-focused and culturally sensitive approaches. 

InnerVoice:  What can clients expect when working with you?

Mandy:  I’m a good listener.  I provide a space for clients to really be heard, in a non-judgmental way.  A lot of times clients need someone to listen or to be heard.  I give clients a safe space to be themselves.  Often clients cannot be vulnerable in their daily lives, they need to pretend to be another version of themselves in order to survive.  I support my clients so they can be vulnerable and brave even though they might be feeling uncomfortable.  

I am a very curious person and I ask lots of questions to get to know my unique clients.  It gives clients a chance to reflect on themselves, get to know themselves better and have a clearer mind about their situation.  Clients often tell me they’ve never been asked questions like these before and it might be the first time they’ve ever thought about the answers to these questions.  

There is a really beautiful metaphor I use to explain the role of the therapist and the role of the client.  Attending therapy is just like driving a car on a road trip.  The client is the driver and the therapist is sitting in the passenger seat.  Even though this road trip will be really difficult with many challenges, the therapist will be there to look at the map or GPS and provide tools or even look for another route.  However, the client is the driver who is finishing the whole road trip.  When the client is ready to continue on without help, the therapist will get out of the car.  

Sometimes clients think the therapist is here to solve problems for them but that isn’t my role.  I’m here to fix the problem with the client.  

InnerVoice:  What do you like most about being a therapist?

Mandy:  I learn so much from my clients.  I want to have insightful conversations.  It is very valuable to me.  

Also, my mom is a really loyal believer of Buddhism.  So I was strongly impacted by these beliefs.  One of these beliefs is Karma.  In the Buddhist tradition. Karma refers to action driven by intention which leads to future consequences.  My mom has been an Ob/gyn in China for over 30 years.  We both went into healthcare to use our lives and love to give to the whole society.  Going into healthcare is related to my Buddhist beliefs because karma says if you try your best to help other people in this world, you will probably have a good rebirth.  My mom always told me to try and help other people in this life so I can have a better rebirth in my next life.  

InnerVoice:  What would you tell someone considering therapy for the first time?

Mandy:  Searching for help is difficult but you have already taken the first step.  I might not yet know what you are experiencing or what you have experienced but I know you have already tried so hard to cope with your circumstances.  Right now, let me be the one jumping in your car, sitting in your passenger seat, getting to know you and working with you to find out the new route on your road trip.  

InnerVoice:  What do you wish people knew about seeking mental health treatment?

Mandy:  Having mental health concerns does not mean you are abnormal or you are ill.  A professor once told me everyone is having certain types of mental health concerns such as anxiety, depressive mood and adjustment difficulties because we are in this abusive machine running system.  Some people are still able to use adaptive coping mechanisms and are still functioning well but some people are using maladaptive coping mechanisms that are negatively affecting their lives.  Seeking mental health treatment is just introducing another perspective to try and recognize the harmful patterns and shift to more adaptive strategies and live a healthier life.  

InnerVoice:  Do you have a motto or personal mantra?

Mandy:  Have a mind that is attracted to anything but attached to nothing.  This motto is related to two of my self-care strategies.  

InnerVoice:  We would love to hear about those strategies.  Mind sharing with our readers?

Mandy:  Not at all!  The first one is connected to my motto. 

  1.  I want to connect with everything but I want to have good boundaries.  It is related because I can have a variety of experiences but not define myself based on them.  I’m always able to take a step back and be an observer of those experiences.  
  2. Learning!  I am a solution-focused person so when I have challenges I want to learn.  Learning to me means I can search for the answer or the solution.
  3. Dancing!  I am a big fan of dancing.  I started dancing in kindergarten.  I started with Chinese dancing then in high school I did hip-hop dance, street and K-pop dance.  I still do those!  Dancing releases the energy in my body and helps me cope with stress.  It is also great for socializing.  I usually dance with my friends. 
  4. Connecting with others including friends, family and my cat.  I’m a cat mom.  If I’m feeling stressed, I just want to hug and play with my cat.  It is so soothing to me.
  5. Self compassion, appreciating myself and what I have, not what I don’t have.