Dr. Leanh Nguyen is a sought-after psychologist with an extraordinary life story as well as unique set of skills. For twenty years she worked with victims of severe trauma and was a tireless advocate for the disenfranchised. She brought her knowledge and skills and force of character to the witness stand, the refugee camps, inner-city hospitals and detention centers, as well as the offices of corporate Manhattan. Formerly dedicated to advocating for human rights and preventing persecution and violence, today she focuses on helping her clients tap into their hidden potential and address their deepest existential questions as they navigate life changes.
Trained as a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst, Dr. Nguyen also recently became board-certified in coaching. She is now turning her formidable skills and amazing energy to “helping people be who they are meant to be and live the life they deserve to live.” Her life coaching is steeped in this commitment to the humanity of her fellow men. Informed by her deep knowledge of trauma and dysfunction, she now uses her training to help her clients to use their innate power and wisdom to achieve their life goal and purpose. In her words, her work is now about “helping people thrive, succeed, claim their own power, and chart their amazing unique journey through this life.”
As a life coach, a therapist, or a human rights advocate, Leanh Nguyen offers herself as a support for people’s search for freedom and fulfillment. Her work is devoted to help people succeed in their effort to live meaningfully and to love creatively. In her personal life, Dr. Nguyen dedicates herself to finding beauty and cultivating joy. She describes mothering as the most fun and awe-inspiring job that she’s ever had.
Why did you choose to become a doctor?
I was more compelled, called on, rather than “choosing.” As an undergraduate, psychology, as well as literature, gave me solace and a beginning framework for making sense of life and the world. And the world when I was starting out in life was quite confusing, even overwhelming and full of loss and questions. I “chose” clinical psychology as a way to understand the forces that shape myself, my life, the lives of all the beautiful but damaged people that I had encountered. And I studied psychoanalysis in order to master a language through which to hear and speak to people at a deep, the most meaningful level. Being a clinician allows for that kind of deep, meaningful contact.
So, the drive to understand the human psyche was always the main motivation. Only much later into my clinical career, as I became more recognized as an “expert” in trauma, as the go-to person for the most difficult, painful, in-need cases did I realize that I had also been driven by the need to heal people. That I needed to prove that even the most broken spirit can be repaired, even the most damaged life can be restored, even the most “lost” soul and closed heart can be reached and retrieved. Essentially, it was all about doing for the world what I could not do for my own people, my own family. There was a moment 10 years ago after I testified in Immigration Court, and successfully helped give my patient the asylum win, when it clicked for me that this work that allowed me to say to myself that I could be of use in this life, and to show my fellow patients, to say to the world, that life is worth living! How cool is that?
What area do you specialize in?
You know, for over 20 years I worked with people who had suffered severe trauma and loss. Persecution, violence, displacement, childhood abuse, you name it –people who have been thrown into unspeakable darkness and struggle to come back to life, to the world of “normal” living. So, people knew me as an expert in trauma.
But in recent years, I have expanded, deepened my work. Now when people ask I say that I specialize in Life, that I specialized in working with people who want to live well, to need support in achieving true freedom.
Why did you make these choices? It seems that the choices that make your professional path are quite personal?
Yes. Certainly for me. But, parenthetically, I believe that it is true for all of us, is we look closely and if we have the courage and support to stay close to our individual history.
I am an immigrant. I am part of a long, big, deep history of loss and survival. I know how to recognize it, to listen for it, to be with someone in it, and to guide, to accompany him on his way out and back to normalcy. It’s familiar. I am good at it. I also need it, in order to heal myself.
And I did. And as I healed myself and others, I began to tune in to the pulse of life, to the tremendous will, joy, and beauty of being human. It was no longer enough to listen to pain, not enough to try to repair and restore. There was the effort to be human and the drive to be free and unique and yourself. It became more and more compelling to me that this thing of being human, this business of living on Earth, is quite astounding, effortful, beautiful, complicated. And I want to be a part of that, to understand, support, fulfill that.
So, I focus now on life coaching because being as fully human as possible, living as authentically and freely as possible is the most difficult and the most amazing thing to aim for. And I want to support that.
What is your daily routine?
I am self-employed and also a single mother of young children. So my “routine” is complicated and varying! But I have a few must-do items that ground my days: I make sure to be there with my kids at the start of the school day and when they end their school day. I treat my mind, my soul to some poetry or literature. And I treat my body to 1 hour at the boxing gym. AND I make it a point to create a moment of joy, to seek out something beautiful, to have one meaningful conversation, learn something from or about the world, and say yes to something wholeheartedly.
I don’t pay much attention to what I actually eat. I know I should. But I am very militant about getting these other nourishments into my being.
When you look forward in your career, what trend in medicine do you see impacting your specialty the most? Is it for the better or worse? Why?
There is a longing for connection. And there is an appreciation, even a requirement for a holistic approach to health, to the self. People are more aware that to be a healthy person, to live a fulfilling life involves a beholding of their whole self and a cultivation of the many dimensions of their existence. And they want to see that reflected in the treatment, the service that you render. The spiritual dimension, for instance, is more and more foregrounded. What it is, is an appreciation that there is more, beyond the material concerns, and consequently that there is more that you can be and have. And once you get deep into that holistic, spiritual dimension, you get smack into the existential question of being human: How to live, love, and die with joy, grace, and creativity. I am all for that!
What do you love about your job?
This means also that people want to make contact with a full, fully dimensional human being in their doctor, their provider. That may be an implicit ask. The idea of the doctor as this impersonal, objective figure of authority and purveyor of medical knowledge is limiting and may be counter-therapeutic and plain bad business, bad practice. At least in my field, from my perspective. People want to know that you are knowledgeable and “good” but they also need to see that you are present, real, and human. Sounds simple, easy, but I hear so much from so many people that it is lacking. But people want that.
What would you consider to be the greatest accomplishment in your career?
I don’t know, as it is not over yet! I have barely started! I assume you are asking about some concrete, specific thing that is achieved. But in terms of what I am proud of, and what I am grateful for, it is the ability to say “I love what I do, and I am good at what I do.” To be able to say that wholeheartedly is a tremendous gift to myself.
Tell our readers about some of your volunteer activities.
I coach soccer to the little ones. There is nothing like being around children to remind and affirm the glorious frustrations and celebrations of being a person in this big world.
I also do a lot of pro bono work for people who seek political asylum, or immigrants who are trying to make a new life for themselves.
What do you do in order to mentally separate yourself from your job?
My work is so integral to my self, my personal journey, that it is hard to answer this question. But if you mean how do I rejuvenate, cultivate my being, then it is by turning to the arts and to my children. I go to things, seek out experiences that –and this is going to sound like not an answer—that confirm for me why I do my work: Things that remind me of what is so amazing, so special about being human. Listening to music, laughing with another person, hugging or looking into someone’s face, making someone, anyone, happy even for a brief moment, and letting someone make me happy.
Where do you want to be in your career in five years?
I want to develop a coaching program for people who were formerly incarcerated. My coaching right now helps people accomplish their career and life goals, executives, leaders, professionals, even people who have to deal with trauma. I want to offer this to people whose time was taken, who had to step away from the business of living. There is currently no such thing as re-entry, rehabilitation, recovery. And we in this society just throw people in jail in such a cruel, cavalier way. Don’t get me started on racism, discrimination. But mass incarceration is a disease of this society.
I also want to reach people who are retired and aging. Again, there is no support, to resource or wisdom to help people in the end game of their lives. To live well and to die well are inseparable.
And there is no resource that I see right now that helps people reclaim their selves and re-build their lives, and that helps people come to terms with their life choices and be strong, wise, AND creative in how they are ending their lives. Traditional therapy ain’t gonna do it. But coaching, empowerment, deep existential questioning AND coming up with true, authentic answers for each person, may be a resource. At least, I want that to be my modest little contribution.