Interviews with Karuna Students: Korey Wong

Korey Wong is a therapist in the San Francisco Bay area. A graduate from the Karuna Training basic cycle, and student in the Karuna Training graduate cycle, Korey says that he started Karuna Training because he felt like he needed help with his personal relationships. “I don’t really deal with my emotions so much” Korey explains  “and I felt like if I could be intimate with a group of strangers, I’d be able to find a partner and I’d be able to sustain the relationship better.”

A Transformative Practicum Experience

Korey says that Karuna Training has helped with his personal relationships and other areas of his life as well, much more than he expected. He says his biggest takeaways came in the graduate program when he had the opportunity run a men’s group.

“The men’s group was something I wouldn’t do on my own” he recounts “I’m a therapist so it’s really helped me to just listen to people and embody their feelings. It’s like I’m not using my mind to solve their problems so much anymore. I’m just letting the experience of what they’re feeling enter my body so I can feel what they’re feeling. So it’s made me more compassionate. It’s like before there was a separation between me and other people. But now I feel like I can let people affect me more. Or I can let people get closer.”

According to Korey, the men’s group, which he is running as his Karuna graduate practicum, has really been a challenge, but has also given him insight into the way his own energy affects those around him. “I know whatever mindspace I’m in seems to really affect the outcome of the group.” he explains “The men are very sensitive and they’re kind of looking at me even though I’m just holding the space. But if I’m available to all my experiences, I see that people really open up in a deep way. When I was in a really good space (after a week-long Karuna Training) then people really shared a lot, like that they were suicidal or their past or just how they feel about themselves. I’m doing it after work and sometimes I’m not in an available space or I’m tired. I just noticed that people kind of check out during those groups or just kind of talk about current events rather than personally. I still think about safety. If I am, as a facilitator, not present then people don’t feel like they’re going to be heard or seen.”

Insights for Therapeutic Work

Korey says these insights have been helpful in his work as a therapist, particularly when it comes to empathetic listening to people with drastically different viewpoints on the world. “I’ve got people with different political views and that creates some tension.” he explains “I find that when I’m just with the liberal folks, which most of the men (in the men’s group) are, it’s just kind of like ‘oh you know, what’s going on with Trump in the world’ and people don’t really get into it. But then, I have one guy sees things differently – he’s pro-Trump. And it’s really interesting listening to him and where he’s coming from, because it’s really a different point of view. And I can empathize with that point of view and it really comes down to that. Like even though there’s different views from places that we’re coming from, it’s really more about just being there for people, no matter how they see things. It’s more about what people are going through emotionally. It’s just interesting to me, the polar opposites, how that’s generating energy….I’ve actually changed my political views, not radically, but just listening to him and his point of view and I could see where he feels like the world is like really not appreciating his talents. He’s kind of left behind. So it’s really helped me a lot to listen to him.”

Korey says that before facilitating the group, he may not have listened as much to this conservative friend, and hear out his perspective and the experiences that have led him to his beliefs. Now he is beginning to actually enjoy holding the group when this tension arises.

“There’s a lot of tension because even though he’s announced his political views, people still go on about their political views and I could see him just sort of disappearing. And it’s hard to hold those people.” he recounts “I’ve got a communist in the group… So it’s interesting just holding both of them and these really opposing views. And there’s been times where I felt like it could have degenerated into an argument. Maybe I was playing it a little too safe but I felt like I had to sort of safeguard the group from going there, and get more into just empathizing for struggles that people go through, to make it more universal.”

Korey says a lot of change in how he reacts has come from allowing more space. “I know that when I’m tired or I’m feeling kind of frazzled, I’m not giving people enough space to speak and share what they need without cutting them off or redirecting it or trying to fix it or trying to say something. I don’t know why.” he says, “I think it’s just the value of giving people space and letting them just be themselves and share themselves without having to block them interrupt them.”

Space and Friction in Personal Relationships

These insights have also led Korey to realizations about his personal relationships. “I think it’s true in intimate relationships, at least for me,” he says “I pick someone that has attributes that I don’t have or wish I had. Maybe they’re seeing the same in me. In one way that’s complimentary, but in another way it causes friction or tension. But I think that that creates. It gives things life.”

Now he says that this allowing of more space helps him to better handle tension in his intimate relationships. “My girlfriend, she goes through some severe emotional struggles, and I think before I wasn’t able to handle it, just the level of intensity of the pain that she goes through, both physical pain and mental pain,” he explains. “But I also (wasn’t able to) communicate when I need to have a boundary, or I need to take a break. (Now I can say) ‘I’ll be back later.’ Or just kind of shut the door, just do what I need to do to take care of myself around my capacity.”

“It’s really cutting edge for me. I still have trouble. Sometimes I will listen. But I think it’s not so much about her sharing about her problems. I think I have more of a trouble sharing about my troubles and creating space for myself in the relationship. And then I think I deny her the chance to be helpful. So it’s less about her problems but more about my difficulty in being vulnerable with her.”

Korey’s advice for others considering the program? “If you’re having trouble with some difficult emotions or with feeling emotions or are working with relationships, then I think Karuna Training is definitely for you. I mean, I can’t say what experience you’ll have…That’s sort of a surprise or something that comes out of Karuna Training. But it’s sort of impossible to predict, at least for me, the benefits I would have gotten from it, going in.”

“I had a set of expectations or things I wanted from Karuna training. But what I got out of it was kind of more. And I think it had to do with just dealing with peers that were really good at communicating and handling their emotions in a sophisticated way. I feel like that rubbed off on me, just being around people that are more open… It’s a really safe place to get into some really difficult or painful emotions that you’re resisting, and to be with really supportive people that have no agenda and get to experience that, both as the giver and the receiver.”