As a recent graduate of the Wheaton College Graduate School program for marriage and family therapy, Hannah Kim M.A. ’23 is trusting the Lord to establish her own steps and the journeys of her clients as she helps them find healing.
Words: Eliana Chow ’21
Photos: Tony Hughes
Born and raised in Washington State, Hannah Kim M.A. ’23 was daunted by the prospect of leaving home for graduate school, no matter how valuable the program might be. Yet after a series of closed doors from university options in her home state, it was clear God was guiding her to Wheaton College, one of the few Christian institutions in the country offering an accredited marriage and family therapy (MFT) program.
“I wanted to learn to be a healer with Christian and therapeutic ethics in mind,” Kim said. “Through my interview process, and in conversations with MFT Program Director Dr. David Van Dyke, I knew it would be really great if I could come to Wheaton. But I sobbed when a school at home turned me down and Wheaton opened its doors to me. I’ve lived in Seattle my whole life, so it was scary thinking about leaving.”
Kim’s heart for counseling began in her own family circle. Her younger sister, Haemi, lives with autism spectrum disorder, and Kim often found herself desiring to see life through her sister’s eyes. From a young age, Kim cared deeply about how her sister fit into their family and how they fit into her world, which later pushed her in the direction of family counseling. After earning her bachelor’s degree in psychology and communication from the University of Washington in 2019, Kim encountered something of a crossroads. “It’s always been on my heart to counsel,” Kim said. “But I was unsure of my options.”
In an earnest hope to gain clarity about how to apply her passions in the longer term, Kim spent the next few years working as a paraeducator in a local public school. In that role, she served as an assistant to the teacher in a special education classroom, providing additional support to students with intellectual disabilities or other developmental needs. She also poured herself anew into her family’s home church, serving in the children’s and youth ministries. Through her interactions with her coworkers, the kids, and parents in the community, Kim quickly discovered the importance of building healthy family systems to support kids and adolescents as they prepare for whatever lies ahead of them.
“It occurred to me that these children have behavioral patterns that often originate in their homes, and there’s only so much I can do in the six hours that I’m with them in school during the day,” Kim said. “I wanted to be someone that could support them in their family systems because that’s where they spend most of their time. That’s where real change and growth can happen for a child.”
Arriving on Wheaton’s campus in the late summer of 2021, Kim was grateful for the MFT program’s small, 18-person cohort model, which guaranteed a core community for her and her peers over the next two years while they worked through a rigorous master’s curriculum. Kim soon settled into the daily rhythms of training in close collaboration with her cohort and a select group of highly credentialed yet caring faculty.
“One of the things I really appreciate about the program is how we incorporate theology into what we’re learning,” Kim said. “We often discuss the Trinitarian unity—how there is a relationship within God himself. There is so much beauty in him inviting us into his good and perfect relational stance. Those conversations have made me appreciate relationships even more and grasp what it means for individuals to be more than just their environment and more than self-sufficient beings.”
Beyond the classroom and textbook studies of topics like theological anthropology and therapeutic theories, Kim cites the hands-on approach of the program as one of the most valuable aspects of her experience. From day one, MFT students start working with their faculty supervisors to serve clients through Wheaton College’s Center for Family and Relational Health (CFRH). This accelerates trust-building and establishes a collaborative healing space for faculty, students, and clients alike. As nerve-racking as those first sessions may be, MFT students like Kim gain invaluable experience in offering counseling that empowers both them and their clients. During her second year, Kim has been serving her own clients at the Outreach Community Center in Carol Stream, Illinois, even as she prepares her heart and hands to return to Seattle and provide counseling services to communities closer to home.
“In a therapeutic and theological sense, we are wounded healers,” she reflected as she neared graduation. “We are all broken people sitting in grief. As therapists, of course, we want to successfully implement healing and change in our clients’ lives. But in addition to providing solutions for their brains and bodies, we have to know that ultimately, healing is with the Lord. Sometimes the best thing we can do is just to be in the room with them. And even when I am uncertain, aware of my own brokenness as a therapist, the Lord is establishing my steps and the steps of my clients.”
To learn more about marriage and family therapy at Wheaton, visit wheaton.edu/mft.