Boston Voyager Interview: Conversations with the Inspiring Karen Chinca

EDITORS NOTE: This article originally appeared in the Boston Voyager on September 3, 2018. Please view the original piece by clicking here.


Conversations with the Inspiring Karen Chinca

Today we’d like to introduce you to Karen Chinca.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Karen. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
My professional journey has taken me through many twists, turns, and detours. It has been quite the ride! I have always known that I love helping people. When I was a kid, many of my friends confided in me and told me about their problems. I loved being the person my friends came to for help. Most people thought of me as an empath, always wanting to help the underdog. However, I never thought about going into the mental health field because it was not really valued in my family. My parents, who emigrated from Poland, wanted me to become a medical doctor, lawyer or a businesswoman because these professions were highly valued and respected by many immigrants. Working as a mental health professional was really frowned upon by my family. As a young adult, I knew I could never pursue a career in human services because my family wouldn’t be happy with me. That’s how my professional journey started.

I went to Brandeis and earned my BA in history, hoping to go on to law school at some point. After college, I moved to Paris where I taught English as a second language. Living in Europe was an amazing experience as I was able to live and work in another country all on my own. I was already fluent in fluent in French and then years later became fluent in Spanish after spending extended periods of time in Central America.

Fast forward to 1995, when I earned my MBA from Boston University with a specialization in health care management. After graduating, I worked for a chain of psychiatric hospitals in the marketing department doing market research. I was not happily working on the business side of health care. My passion was to directly help people struggling with mental illness rather than working behind the scenes. So, I went to Boston College to earn my Master of Social Work (MSW) and graduated in 2004. This was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

Upon receiving my MSW, I took a position at a trauma clinic in Waltham called Children’s Charter. This was an incredible place to work because I learned a great deal about trauma, and I worked with many very skilled clinicians. Although the work was very demanding and emotionally draining, it was also very gratifying. I learned how to set boundaries with clients, develop a healthy work/life balance, and manage my own emotions in order to not bring home the stress of my work. I provided therapy to adults, kids, and families, all of whom had experienced severe trauma in their lives; physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, severe neglect, and domestic violence. In addition, I started conducting therapy in Spanish with Latino women and children, many of whom were undocumented. Their stories of trauma and survival were truly heartbreaking, but also amazing. I feel so honored to have worked with so many beautiful, strong, and resilient survivors. They taught me so much, and my work with them has truly informed my current practice.

In 2007, I opened up my private therapy practice in Brookline which is called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Wellness. I work with clients with a variety of issues which include anxiety, depression, trauma, eating disorders, and OCD. Although the work can be emotionally intense, it is very satisfying, and I do love being my own boss. Also, I am able to combine my clinical and business skills which has definitely contributed to my success.

Within the past year, three other female clinicians and I started a collaborative specializing in eating disorders and disordered eating. Our team consists of 2 psychotherapists, 2 registered dietitians, one of whom is also a psychopharmacologist. The name of our collaborative is Greater Boston Wellness Collaborative (GBWC). As a team, we have worked on many cases together for many years, providing specialized and comprehensive services to our clients. We are all experts in the field of eating disorders, and our expertise, dedication, and collaborative approach are what sets us apart from other private practice clinicians.

This brings me to the present. I am absolutely fulfilled with my work and hope to continue to make a difference in peoples’ lives for a very long time.

Has it been a smooth road?
Smooth road! NO! I don’t know any business owner who has had a smooth road. I definitely struggled along the way. When I started my practice, I took a risk. I had no idea how it would turn out. But I followed my passion, knowing that if it didn’t work out, I had the education and skills to do something else. I believe that we as women need to take (healthy) risks in our lives. If we don’t, we are static and don’t move forward. I always ask people, “What’s the worst that can happen?” Ok, they often tell me they may fail. My response is always “At least you tried.” That’s my philosophy. Many of my friends and colleagues see me as a risk taker which I definitely am when it comes to my professional life. And yes, some of my projects and ideas did not work out, but I don’t look back at these as failures, rather as bumps in the road which have helped me grow as a person and as a professional.

It’s so important to be true to oneself and acknowledge one’s strengths and limitations, as well as passions. Use your strengths to your advantage and surround yourself with people who complement you and can support you in the areas you are not as strong. And passion! Yes, it’s so important to follow your passion while also being realistic. I didn’t follow my passion until I went back to graduate school to become a social worker – I am not complaining because I learned so much along the way and my journey helped shape who I am today. However, it was a time-consuming and costly journey which could have been prevented had I been true to myself from the beginning.

Another piece of advice is to not give up. Life will throw you some curve-balls. It happens to all of us, but we need to be resilient and move forward.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Wellness story. Tell us more about the business.
I am a licensed independent clinical social worker (LICSW) and have a private practice in Brookline. I provide individual and family therapy to people struggling with anxiety and panic disorders, trauma, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and eating disorders. Although my approach is eclectic, I specialize in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Exposure Therapy, and Internal Family Systems (IFS). I am most proud of the work that I do with clients with eating disorders and OCD. Both of these disorders are very difficult to treat and require a lot of specialized training, patience, and empathy.

What sets me apart from others? I have pondered this question many times during the course of my professional life. I am very committed to my clients and my profession, sometimes to a fault. I work a lot, connect with my clients a lot, and am very collaborative with other professionals on my clients’ treatment teams. I also make sure I stay current with new treatments, modalities, and therapies. This is so important! Things are always changing in the mental health world, and I spend a lot of time reading up on recent trends in the field, as well as attending many pieces of training and workshops to advance my knowledge. Being a therapist is not only a job for me – it’s a passion and I take my work very seriously.

I am a certified cognitive behavioral therapist (CBT) and am currently in the process of obtaining my level 1 certification as an Internal Family Systems (IFS) Therapist. In addition, I am a certified eating disorders specialist (CEDS). As a clinician, I believe that it’s essential that we constantly learn and better ourselves. My desire to learn and keep up with current trends in the field sets me apart from other clinicians.

I also LISTEN to my clients. By listening I mean that I hear them first and foremost and don’t impose my own agenda onto theirs. I listen and don’t judge, no matter what my clients tell me. So many clients have come to me saying that their previous therapist judged them or told them what to do or not to do. That is not my approach. I want to listen, support, and empathize with my clients, and empower THEM to make their own decisions and have agency in their lives.

Who do you look up to? How have they inspired you?
Rosa Parks – an amazing woman ahead of her time, advocating for civil rights, a risk taker, and a progressive woman. What an inspiration!

Gloria Steinem – an activist and feminist with an amazing life story! Such an inspiration!

Mother Teresa – a compassionate and loving woman who helped so many people. I totally admire her. Her modesty, passion, and loving stance with people really inspire me.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg – another amazing woman. A Supreme Court Justice who advocated for women and fought fervently for gender equality. She is also a staunch advocate for same-sex marriage. Such an inspiration!

Last but not least! Luz Marlene London᷉o – a dear friend. She is a second mother to me. Her unconditional love, support, and joy have touched me in so many ways. Luz is originally from Colombia. She came to this country as a young woman, having experienced discrimination, domestic violence, and sexual assault. Despite her traumatic past, Luz is one of the most hopeful, optimistic, and hard-working women I know. Luz is like a breath of fresh air, always smiling and happy to be alive. She is an inspiration to me and I feel blessed to have her in my life.

I am motivated and energized by women who fight for the rights of individuals who are disenfranchised. The women who have inspired me are strong, compassionate, and willing to go out on a limb for causes they care for. What can I say? Are they amazing? How can they not inspire me with their wisdom, empathy, and fighting spirit?

Contact Info:

Getting in touch: BostonVoyager is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.