Charlene Chan is a licensed clinical social worker in New York City specializing in anxiety, depression, relationship issues, life transitions, trauma, and racial identity. In addition to her work with adults of all ages, Charlene also works with couples navigating a variety of relationship concerns. Charlene has a holistic perspective on therapy and takes a supportive, psychodynamic approach to sessions to help clients navigate their challenges and develop a deeper understanding of any past or present factors that could be influencing their symptoms.
We asked Charlene more about her work with clients and her guiding philosophies on therapy.
Charlene’s background and personal life
How did you decide to become a therapist?
There are a number of experiences in our lives where we may feel unheard, devalued, or unconnected. Knowing that these experiences exist in various ways for everyone led me to want to be there for others and guide them in learning their self-worth, so they know that their feelings matter and their voice is heard. I bring my passion and previous training to each person I see, and I feel fulfilled in the journey we take together.
Charlene’s specialties and therapy philosophies
What guiding principles inform your work?
One of the guiding principles that informs my work is that some of the healing power comes from being able to voice your vulnerable feelings and thoughts in a safe space with the support and compassion of a therapist. I'll work with you to explore what you're going through in a warm, non-judgmental way. The connection you have with your therapist is critical. Our therapeutic relationship, along with my nurturing style, can be reparative in improving - or accepting - other relational aspects in your life.
I use our time together to really get to know you. I work hard to understand your experiences, your relationships, and how these experiences have made an impact on you. In developing insight and awareness into these areas, together, we can learn how some patterns emerge.
What clientele do you work with most frequently?
While I work with a wide range of people, a large number of my clients are in their 20s and 30s. They bring in feelings of self-doubt and insecurity, challenges in asserting themselves in their relationships (anywhere from romantic, family or friend relationships), or they are trying to process ruptures or conflicts from when they were younger that bleed into their lives.
Can you tell us more about your specialty in relationship issues?
Clients sometimes have a hard time in their existing romantic relationships or in finding relationships. Other clients may have challenges with being able to set healthy boundaries with people in their lives or being able to assert their needs. That can lead them to feel that their needs are not being met, which can lead them to feel somewhat unfulfilled.
I work with these clients by sitting with them as they reflect on these moments and by finding ways to empower themselves.
Can you tell us more about your work with couples?
The couples that come to see me range in concerns, from those who have had tension for years to those with more recent challenges to those in search of pre-marital counseling.
In the present moment, I work with couples on developing tools to help improve communication and connection. We practice these tools in session, and you can take them with you when you leave. We also work on addressing and healing some old wounds in a safe environment. What is sometimes forgotten is that two individuals with their own histories are coming together as a unit. In couples therapy, we will explore each partner’s history and understand how this may play a role in the relationship.
Can you tell us about your work helping clients who have dealt with childhood trauma?
Sometimes trauma can seem obvious in the sense of the word, but other times it isn’t as apparent. When you were younger, you may have experienced casual put-downs from a parent or sibling, or you may have felt abandoned by a loved one when you most needed support, or perhaps you were teased or bullied by peers at school. These can be deep, raw wounds that you continue to carry with you into your adult life.
I’ve noticed that these past wounds can come out in different ways. Perhaps they have left you feeling like you can’t trust or rely on others to keep you safe, or perhaps it has taken a toll on your self-esteem, self-worth, or feelings of security. We’ll work together to process these experiences, and I’ll walk with you through how some of these past experiences may be impacting some of your current emotional or even physical reactions.
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
I find it to be such a privilege to get to be a part of this journey with my clients, that they have entrusted in me their most vulnerable feelings, most of which they may not feel they can share with others.
Therapy sessions with Charlene
What will our first session together be like? What happens in ongoing sessions?
I consider the first session to be sort of a “getting-to-know-you” session. We can either delve right into what brings you to therapy, or we can just talk about who you are, what your typical day is like, etc.
In ongoing sessions, you’ll continue to bring in things that are top of mind or maybe broader issues that you’ve noticed. The more you bring into session, the more I learn about you and can start to fit some of the puzzle pieces together to help us understand potential patterns that might be arising.
How long do clients typically see you for?
Clients typically commit to therapy for at least a year – which may feel like a long or a short time for you. If it feels like a long time, maybe break it up in quarters of the year. You can reassess how you’re feeling after the first 3-4 months. Other clients feel like issues and challenges change over the course of the year(s), so more time may be needed. All is okay! There’s no minimum or maximum time one can be in therapy.
I also welcome the discussion if you’re having doubts or just questioning where we’re at in the process.
How do you help ensure I'm making progress in therapy?
Therapy is a collaborative effort, and I’m invested in you and your progress. I will check-in with you from time-to-time to gauge how you’re feeling, to see if we are addressing what brought you in to therapy to begin with, and to work through any new topics that may arise. Because therapy is such a subjective experience, I encourage you to provide open feedback on what is working (or not working) for you.
How can I prepare for our first session?
For our first session, I would ask you to think about what may be troubling you at this point in time. Think about why you’re wanting to be in therapy and what you hope to get out of it.
How will I know it’s time to end my time in therapy with you or reduce session frequency?
It’s important to continue to check in with yourself (and with me too!) to see how you’re feeling throughout therapy. When you’re finding that the things you brought to therapy are now feeling manageable, or that you’re finding that you are able to take away things you’ve learned in therapy and apply them, it may be time to end sessions or reduce the frequency of sessions.
Why should I seek therapy, rather than turning to my partner, friends, or other loved ones?
Having other people to talk to, like a partner, friends, or other loved ones, is a wonderful way to have a strong support network. Unlike those loved ones, however, a therapist creates a space where you know whatever you share will remain “in the room.” You won’t have to wonder if what you share will get back to someone else. A therapist will also understand you in the context of you and what you bring. Your therapist will be an unbiased third party.
Also, the societal expectation that you need to check-in with the person you’re sharing your thoughts and feelings with doesn’t apply in therapy! We have an understanding that you’re engaged in therapy for you, so you’re not feeling like you need to take care of your therapist – this space is specifically for you!
Visit Charlene’s profile to watch her introductory video, read more about her, and book an initial call!