(Family Magazine May 2011 2nd Issue)

Interviewed by Lily Ma

Annette Jewik is not only a knowledgeable family counselor, she is also a sought-after speaker on television and in community and church sponsored workshops.  Her light-hearted discussions and insightful analyses deeply inspire her audience.  During this special interview, Annette reveals her personal experiences in counseling families under stress.

From Orphanage to Los Angeles 從兒童之家到洛杉磯

Annette had firsthand experience of profound stress at a young age when she lost her father and was sent to live in an orphanage in Hong Kong.  Despite a deprived childhood, she excelled in school.  As a result, an organization sponsored her to further her college education in the United States.  She chose Sociology as her major course of study, with the intention of returning to serve in the orphanage in which she grew up, which was quite unusual among her fellow students.

Upon graduation, she followed her plan and returned to the orphanage to work as a social worker.  It didn’t take her long to notice that many of the children in the orphanage were deeply marred by the troubled families from which they came.  Her main job was not merely to solve a social problem; her greater responsibility was to offer counseling to meet these children’s emotional needs.  To better equip herself for the work, Annette returned to the United States to pursue a Master’s degree in Family Counseling.  Once again she returned to the orphanage and worked as the counselor to the children for three more years until she got married.  After immigrating to Los Angeles, she started her own family but continued her work in family counseling.

Influence of the Family of Origin 原生家庭的影響

Through years of working at the Chinatown Service Center, schools, and Asian-American family centers, Annette encountered numerous families who were experiencing crisis and deep struggles.  Most of them came to her unwillingly, sent by various government agencies or social workers.   Some were new immigrants, with language barriers and a low education level, who struggled daily with work and finances. Additional stress at home came as a result of cultural differences with their children that created relational problems.  Harsh words and corporal punishment were common means used by immigrant parents to discipline their children. This, however, is unacceptable in the American culture and to the younger generation.

The highly educated and financially established families are not immune from experiencing stress. Among Annette’s clients, some were very well-to-do, but despite their success, they also developed personality disorders and emotional and relational problems.  Their difficulties were often rooted in their childhood.  These adults disciplined their own children the same way they were treated when they were growing up.  One of her clients consistently used negative and curse words.  After numerous counseling sessions, Annette learned that was the way his mother related to him.

Keys to Successful Counseling 輔導過程中的成功要訣

Establishing an objective is one of the keys to successful problem solving. Annette requires those who come to her for counseling assistance, voluntarily or not, to establish an attainable goal, such as to improve relationship with a certain family member or to learn a disciplinary skill.  The more specific the goal, the more commitment one will give and a better chance for the problem to be solved.  For those who refused counseling for fear of being labeled as emotionally crippled, Annette encourages them to step back and learn from the past, and view the counseling process as a study course for growth.  During her counseling, Annette maintains her good humor.  She reminds her clients that our journey of life is not necessarily full of bitterness and tears, there are always moments of joy and laughter.

The success of counseling largely depends on the client’s attitude. The obstinate client will most likely fail.  On the other hand, if one shares truthfully without being defensive, the counselor will be able to offer proper guidance.  Solutions to problems may very well be in sight.  Some hesitate to change, fearing the added pressure of adjustment as a result of changes.  There are also some who only expect others to change to meet their expectations.  They would never consider self-examination, while always casting blame on others.

In order for counseling to be helpful, the counselor’s primary role must be an encourager and a cheerleader so that the client feels secure, respected, and accepted. The job goes beyond psychological analysis.  However, as much as emotional support is needed, the client needs to learn independence, recognize boundaries, assume his own responsibility, remain hopeful, and be confident of change. Drawing support from people around him also plays an important role toward success.

Annette recalls one successful case involving domestic violence.  Fleeing from her abusive husband, her client, Anne* moved to the U.S. with her children.  Emotionally wounded and stressed by the demands of life, she was helpless and worn out.  To get on the road to recovery, Anne had to first deal with their physical needs.  She learned how to effectively make use of the social welfare benefits.   Then she established boundaries to protect herself and her children from further harm by the husband who still visited occasionally.  Gradually she felt empowered to say no to unfair treatment.   Growing up in an abusive family, this was a major breakthrough and a brave step for Anne.  Annette, as counselor, came alongside to offer support and encouragement.  With the goal to love and protect her children, in addition to the hope of a brighter future for her kids, Anne persevered, grew, and matured.  Eventually, Anne was able to emerge from the bondage of violence, and to raise her children in a secure home environment.

Learning Personal Responsibility 學習承擔個人責任

Unfortunately, the result of counseling is not always positive.  Betty* was one of Annette’s clients who failed to make improvements in her life.   Betty was deeply stressed by her young daughter, who had a child out of wedlock.  Feeling the burden of her daughter’s behavior, Betty exhaustively cared for the baby with her own time and money.  The daughter, on the other hand, continued her unruly lifestyle after the baby was born.  She squandered the welfare money designated for the baby, and never took her role as a mother seriously.

When Betty came to Annette for assistance, she was frustrated at doing this thankless job.  Through the counseling sessions, she understood that, to get her daughter to change, she needed to be determined and allow the daughter assume the responsibility.  However, instead of changing her way of dealing with the daughter, Betty held on to the wishful thinking that the daughter would take the initiative to make changes. She refused to let go of taking the responsibility for the baby.   She tolerated the daughter’s perpetual behaviors: hoarding the welfare money, not abiding by house rules, and not enduring the consequences of her uncooperative behavior. Betty feared her uncommitted daughter might put the precious granddaughter at risk once she relinquished the baby.  In reality if the baby was left uncared for, government agency or social workers will take over and ensure the baby’s well being.

Because of Betty’s refusal to let go, her daughter was never forced to grow up and to bear consequences of her actions.  Betty failed to realize her main responsibility was to train up her daughter to be a mature woman and a responsible mother.  She didn’t understand that true love means to help her daughter to uphold principles and fulfill obligations.  In the fear of losing her granddaughter, Betty was willing to forgo teaching and disciplining her own daughter.  She continually raised her granddaughter alone until she became totally exhausted, depressed, and helpless.

Whether one can overcome and mature during hardship is a matter of personal choice.  Choosing to confront the problem and willingness to learn and accept changes are factors leading to breakthrough and growth.  It is best to seek help when problems first surface. “Don’t wait until the pain of not dealing with the problem is greater than dealing with it before seeking help,” advised Annette. With wise counsel and faithful support from family and friends, an insurmountable burden becomes bearable.  Don’t stall until the problem grows to irreparable ruin.

Annette’s best advice is if you are still thinking and feeling unsure of whether to seek help, don’t wait any longer.  “Be courageous. Deal with the problem,” says Annette.  “The most important motivating force is love – for yourself and for those you deeply care about.”  Because of love, we can experience miracles in life!


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