Celebrating Asian Pacific Heritage

IFS News
Celebrating Asian Pacific Heritage Month with Dr HeaKyung Kwon

IFS Institute celebrates diversity! Today we are spotlighting IFSI Korean American Co-Lead Trainer, Dr. HeaKyung Kwon. She shares her experience with IFS as a Korean American and how identity informs her practice. 

Dr. HeaKyung Kwon is a licensed psychoanalyst and creative arts therapist in New York with over 25 years of experience. As a trauma therapist, she has been trained in numerous treatment modalities, including Internal Family Systems (IFS), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy (AEDP), and the Theory of Structural Dissociation. Among these approaches, IFS has become the foundation of her work.

Among your diverse identities, which one plays the most significant role in shaping your approach to the IFS Model, and why?

I have many identities. First and foremost, I am Korean, American, and an immigrant. At home, I'm a mom and wife, and within my extended family, I'm a daughter and sister. In terms of work, I am a teacher, student, supervisor, supervisee, therapist, and client. My teacher/supervisor identities play the most significant role in shaping my approach to IFS, because in order to teach, you need to know the model very well. Additionally, having role power over my students/clients can trigger them, which in turn can trigger many of my parts - this allows me to use them as trailheads, so I can get to know my system better and embody IFS. Having an IFS perspective teaches me to see the good intentions of each identity and the importance of balancing multiple identities with Self.

How does your application of the IFS Model align with your identity?

The Korean culture places a strong emphasis on community and harmony, which aligns well with IFS’s goals. We are very connected with our ancestors through ancestral rites - many attribute the ups and downs of their lives to their ancestors’ wellbeing, so the concept of legacy burden/gift is well understood. Interestingly, we have a shamanistic tradition that resembles the unburdening process in IFS; if a soul is angry or lost, we invite it to speak, console it, play music, dance, and then send it off.

What challenges arise when you work with people who have similar identities to you?

In the Korean culture, teachers have much more role power than they do in the U.S. My part detector has to work extra hard to identify a client’s/participant’s parts that are not expressing their needs and trusting me too much, as well as my own parts that enjoy my role power too much or take on too much responsibility. Because we share a similar culture and history, there is also less room for curiosity – I can wrongly assume that the other person will understand me because of imagined shared experiences.

As expressed, I cannot speak for a monolithic Asian experience, but many people assume that I can – this is harmfully reductive and puts the pressure on me to generalize, when we should be looking at each individual case as unique experience.