Wen Chang-Lit is a Licensed Creative Arts Therapist (LCAT) in New York City specializing in trauma/PTSD, anxiety, depression, and relationship-related issues. Wen also works with many immigrants and Asian Americans and provides therapy sessions in Chinese-Mandarin.
Wen's therapeutic practice encompasses a unique integration of gentle and effective trauma-informed care with the deep self-exploration and self-expression brought about through creative arts. She integrates music and art-making, movement, and various creative processes to provide a safe channel for her clients to express and explore their thoughts and feelings. We asked Wen more about her work with clients and her guiding philosophies on therapy.
Wen’s background and personal life
How did you decide to become a therapist?
Growing up, I have always known that I feel deeply and I am intuitive and observant about other people's emotions. I have always been interested in understanding the human psyche and enjoyed deep, meaningful conversations with people. I love to listen to people's life stories and I realized that people often felt comfortable opening up to me and sharing their fears and yearnings with me.
With a proclivity for music, I started learning to play the violin and piano at an early age. It was my ally and it allowed me to access and express a full spectrum of my emotions. Having an outlet for my deep feelings was incredibly important, especially being a shy and quiet child. I don't think I could be wholesome without music! Because of my personal experience of the therapeutic power of music, I decided to become a creative arts therapist.
What was your previous work before going into private practice?
I worked as a creative arts therapist and music therapist at Mount Sinai Beth Israel with patients across lifespan. I also worked at the Brooklyn Conservatory as a music therapist, working with children with behavioral and emotional challenges as well as neurodivergent children. I was also the Clinical Director of the Creative Arts Therapy Program at Center for All Abilities, a non-profit organization serving neuro-diverse families, especially in Chinese immigrant communities.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I love being in nature, hiking, biking, playing music, being with friends, watching a good movie, and traveling/exploring new places with my family.
Wen’s specialties and therapy philosophies
What guiding principles inform your work?
I strive to create a non-judgemental space for my clients, where they can feel accepted for being their honest selves because it is our basic need to be seen and heard and feel accepted for who we are. I believe a solid therapeutic alliance with my clients is the foundation of positive change and I place importance on nurturing that. I give my clients my full attention and listen deeply to them, attuning to their emotions. I model curiosity in exploring feelings and issues that get brought up in the process. When met with curiosity, there is no judgment, but understanding and compassion, which leads to integration of the internal system. I also believe that the therapy process is also a reparenting process. Through our work, I guide my clients to become the parent their inner child needs. This process often brings a lot of healing and self-compassion.
I believe that we experience vitality when our Authentic Self - our creative energy- is allowed to be expressed. So I strive to help my clients discover and nurture their authentic selves.
I am also an eager learner. There are always new treatment methods and discoveries in the field of mental health, and I make sure I continue to deepen my clinical skills and knowledge and equip myself with many different techniques and approaches. This allows me to be flexible to meet the unique needs of my clients and offer the most effective approach and methods to address the targets. I also give my clients psycho-education and teach them practical techniques to work on during the week, so they feel empowered and equipped to cope with daily stressors.
What clientele do you work with most frequently?
I work mostly with adults, young professionals, and teens who struggle with anxiety, depression, PTSD, complex PTSD, and abandonment issues/ insecure attachment styles. I am most drawn to working with adults of emotionally immature/abusive/neglectful/narcissistic parents. I love working with this population because the work is rich and the pain is deep. The negative childhood experience can have a profound impact on the whole person to the very core. I love the process of connecting the dots between current issues and the past and unpacking the trauma carefully and gently.
I also work a lot with immigrants and Asian Americans because I can relate to and understand the unique cultural complexity and I am capable of conducting therapy in Chinese-Mandarin.
Can you tell us more about your specialty in complex PTSD?
People with complex-PTSD (C-PTSD) often struggle with a deep sense of emptiness, feeling not good enough and unworthy of love. Individuals with C-PTSD might find it difficult to trust others and themselves. They often find themselves trapped in abusive relationships or codependency. It is hard to draw boundaries and take rejections without feeling abandoned. Many experience symptoms of anxiety, depression, and can even develop addictions to substances, internet, or love/sex. It is because their developing brains were constantly in high alert and trying to survive in an unsafe environment. Complex-PTSD involves pains inflicted by people who are supposed to take care of you, which contributes to attachment wounds and feelings of unworthiness and abandonment.
As a trauma-informed therapist, I understand how trauma impacts the brain, and how limiting traditional talk therapy is in treating trauma. We need to work with the autonomic nervous system and the body. With EMDR, somatic approach and other trauma-informed methods, I know how to gently and effectively desensitize the lower part of the brain that words cannot access, so my clients can experience relief from hypervigilance. I will teach my clients how to befriend their nervous system and process their feelings. This work is rich and rewarding. With curiosity and willingness to explore your emotions, it will bring self-acceptance, self-compassion and resilience.
Can you tell us more about your work with clients experiencing high levels of anxiety?
Anxiety is so prevalent in our lives. With the overwhelming inputs of information from the news and social media and the real existential threat of climate change and the chaos around the world, anxiety seems to be a common experience for all of us. I teach my clients concrete strategies, such as breath work and changing negative thought patterns, that can be effective in alleviating anxiety. As a creative arts therapist, I also find it helpful for my clients to have a creative outlet for their emotions and anxiety.
Can you tell us about your work with clients who identify as Asian American?
Asian Americans have to navigate between the complex identities and cultural-specific internal conflicts that stems from the generational and cultural conflicts, the high expectations and the lack of emotional nurturing common among Asian immigrant communities. Asian Americans also have to deal with the trauma of discrimination and the trans-generational trauma passed on from the parents. I understand the complexity of this particular population experience and can help my clients heal from the feeling of never being good enough, having to be perfect and having to perform for love.
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
I find the deep connection I experience with my clients and bearing witness to their pains and loneliness as well as their strength and wisdom, incredibly rewarding. I have the honor to witness my clients healing from the emotional pains and landing on a profound sense of self-love and self-compassion. I often come out of the session deeply moved and inspired by these amazing human beings!
Therapy sessions with Wen
What will our first session together be like? What happens in ongoing sessions?
The first session is an intake session, in which I will ask about the client's reason for seeking therapy, current issues, therapy goals, childhood experiences, significant life events...etc, to get a holistic understanding of the client's needs, strength, attachment style, and treatment targets. I will discuss the treatment plan with the client and provide pertinent psycho-education and practices they can start implementing in their daily lives.
How long do clients typically see you for?
My clients typically see me for at least 6 months. Most of them have found it helpful and as they heal, they become more interested in their personal growth and would continue working with me for years.
Are there any books you often recommend to clients?
For clients who are looking to heal from trauma, I recommend What My Bones Know: A Memoir of Healing From Complex Trauma by Stephanie Foo. I recommend it because Stephanie is a superb storyteller and journalist. You will learn a lot about complex PTSD while being totally absorbed in her story. It's a must-read for both clients and therapists!
Do you assign “homework” between sessions?
I do. I believe growth and healing requires daily practice to rewire the brain with adaptive thought patterns and behaviors. Examples of "homework" are breathing exercises, noticing and writing down automatic thought patterns, writing a letter to the inner child...etc.
How do you help ensure I'm making progress in therapy?
It is very important to me to ensure my client's alliance in working towards growth. Checking in with my clients about their "homework", helping them identify the progress they have made, having the client come up with their own homework are some ways I keep my clients accountable. If I notice a stagnation of progress, I would explore it with my clients in session. Maybe there is apprehension towards making positive change as a protective mechanism. We will work together to explore that, so the protector gets integrated in the client's internal system and allows the client to do the work.
How do I know that it’s time to start seeking therapy?
It's time for therapy when you:
- Are experiencing symptoms of anxiety, fear, hypervigilance, explosive anger, self-loathing, mood swings, loneliness, sadness, loss of appetites or sleep disturbance.
- Experience symptoms of hallucination, paranoia, or exhibit irrational behaviors.
- Are struggling with addiction
- Notice the same pattern keeps repeating itself
- Experience strains in your relationships
- Are in a highly stressful environment
- Are in major life transition
- Are dealing with physical illness
- Are reactive
- Want to learn more about yourself
- Seek personal growth
How can I prepare for our first session?
As I am providing mostly teletherapy, I usually ask my clients to prepare a glass of water, blanket, pillow, tissue box... anything that invites comfort during the session. I might also ask my clients to bring a notebook for taking notes and writing down homework, art materials they like to use and blank paper for music and imagery or parts work, and headphones for EMDR.
Mentally, it would be helpful for the client to reflect upon what to bring up and focus before the session.
How will I know it’s time to end my time in therapy with you or reduce session frequency?
You'll know it's time to reduce session frequency or graduate from therapy if:
- The same triggers no longer elicit intense emotional and somatic reactions.
- You are able to regulate your emotions and sit with difficult feelings.
- You are able to build healthy relationships with others and with yourself.
- You are not afraid to be alone.
- Can draw healthy boundaries and speak up for yourself
- Have more self-compassion
- Regularly implement self-care practices
Why should I seek therapy, rather than turning to my partner, friends, or other loved ones?
Your partner, friends or other loved ones all have their own emotional baggage and maladaptive coping mechanisms, which would limit their abilities to hold space for your feelings and validate your pain. It can result in them trying to "fix" things, give you unsolicited advice, or unintentionally minimize your pain and make you feel more alone.
In therapy, the therapist is trained to hold the space for your feelings and provide well-informed and effective interventions to help you.
What advice would you share with therapy seekers?
Everyone can benefit from therapy. It not only can help you through challenging times in life, but you can discover your authentic self in the process, and live a fuller life with vitality, self-compassion and resilience!
Visit Wen’s profile to read more about her and book an initial call!