As a teacher in Puyang, China, Baohua Liu ’19 (M.A. in clinical mental health counseling) watched people labor to master a new language while she instructed international students in Chinese and Chinese students in English. But she also witnessed colleagues, friends, and family struggle with another type of problem: mental health issues.
“There are few clinical mental health counselors in China,” she explains. “People can access Chinese traditional medicine like acupuncture and herbal therapies, but Westernized counseling is not readily available, and it’s needed. In my own family, my father has depression and my nephew has ADHD, but neither can get appropriate treatment.”
Liu was teaching Chinese to K-12 students in the U.S. when a friend, a visiting professor at Redlands, told her about the University’s program in clinical mental health counseling. “It’s hard to change careers in China, especially in your early 40s, as I am,” she admits. Her family questioned her decision; she already had a stable and prestigious job as a lecturer. “But I got a rare chance to come and study at Redlands, so I jumped at the opportunity. Luckily, my husband is very supportive, not just financially but also emotionally.”
Liu’s bold decision was motivated by her desire to help fill the need for mental health counseling in China. According to School of Education Professor Rod Goodyear, “China has about 135 master’s programs in clinical or counseling psychology, a small fraction of the number of programs we have in the United States, despite a Chinese population four times greater.”
Coincidentally, Goodyear had been building on his close professional connections with China’s top psychologists to spearhead a collaboration between the U of R and Hubei Oriental Insight Mental Health Institute of Wuhan, China, to help address this shortfall. Liu has served as both an interpreter for visitors and a student advisor for the program, which will welcome its first cohort on campus in 2021. In this new venture, Chinese students will complete 27 of 40 mental health counseling units
Liu completed her Redlands degree in July. “These past two years have been very hard—harder than I expected,” she concedes. In addition to the change of subject matter, Liu found the American learning style markedly different. “In China, in most public schools and colleges, students are told what to do: repeat, memorize, recite, and are not encouraged to question. But in the U.S., you must be proactive and self-directed. You have to plan and manage your time.”
The pressure and pace of the last two years were intense, but Redlands classmates and professors were kind, she adds. “My classmates shared notes, included me in study groups, and encouraged me to continue when I felt like giving up.” Liu’s professors also provided her with emotional and academic support so she was adequately challenged, while respecting her background.
Hideko Sera, associate dean of the School of Education and a former international student from Japan, emphasizes that Liu’s point of view enriched her peers as well. “I know firsthand we can learn the most about ourselves and others after leaving our comfort zone,” says Sera. “Because students in our School are going to be administrators, educators, teachers, and counselors, international experiences are important for them to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and develop empathy.” Sera notes the U of R program has a unique curricular requirement involving global comparisons of mental health issues and treatment, paired with short-term study away opportunities.
As for Liu, she is relieved to finally have her degree in hand. “I can’t believe I made it,” she says with a gentle laugh, and she is grateful for all that she has learned—about her new field of study as well as herself. “Before I was very passive, but now I’m proactive and I feel free,” she says. “I’ve learned to think critically, rather than take things at face value, and I’ve discovered that I can construct my own reality.”
Liu is eager to take what she’s learned back to China. Ultimately, she would like to teach in a university and offer counseling services to private clients there: “With the knowledge and skills I’ve gained, I know I can lead a more successful and constructive life in China.”
Liu also vows to encourage others to broaden their horizons through study abroad. “You’re not only increasing your education, but also growing personally and learning more about yourself,” she says. “This experience has given more meaning to my life.”