Interview with a Counselor: Hany Cheng

N.B. This article was first written and posting on in 2019 and is reposted with permission from the original author.

The Interviewee

Ms. Hany Cheng.

Hany is a veteran of a different sort of war. One I’ve been a part of for many years as well. But where I am the mercenary-hired-gun, Hany has ten years on the front line, and possess a mixed bag of skills and experiences that make her invaluable in the war on Mental Health Issues including but not limited to her multi-lingual ability (Bahasa Malaysia, English, Mandarin, and Cantonese), a licensed counselor, teacher and educator, and as a motivational speaker. Her work focuses on helping children, teenagers and young adults face their mental health issues head-on, by helping develop one’s sense of self and emotional intelligence (EQ). This ultimately empowers the individual to take the best actions and choices for themselves, to ensure that they can lead a fulfilled, and happy life.

The Relevant Psychology

In brief, Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is defined as the ability to: -

  • Recognize, understand and manage our own emotions
  • Recognize, understand and manage the emotions of others.

In practical terms, this means being aware of how our emotions not only drive and influence our behavior but also how they impact others both positively and negatively depending on the level of stress and/or pressure that we are under.

The vast majority of individuals having varying levels of EQ development, but certain underprivileged segments, in particular children in shelter homes throughout Malaysia, never had the opportunity to learn or to develop their EQ. Hany firmly believes that helping these children first face, and then overcome these EQ barriers, through which a sense of self can be developed and defined, these children can then overcome the barriers that they face.

Shelter Home children face a different set of emotional and psychological challenges, the principal being that Shelter Home children are generally from homes where the traditional family (of mother, father, child/children) has been damaged if not destroyed by some event and/or the traditional family structure was never present. The children suffer from a host of abandonment, neglect, abuse-related trauma that result in poor EQ development, and ultimately a lack of a defined sense of self. Self-blame is a common theme, where the children believe they have done wrong, and are punished by sending them to the Shelter Home. Sadly, the children rarely understand why they are in the shelter and not with their parents.

Hany established a program and has taken steps to ensure that the program continues in a sustainable manner via the social enterprise Havan Clothing. More information on Havan Clothing is linked at the end of this article.

The Interview

Having spent time talking to Hany about things in general terms, she was kind enough to give me some time to dig a little deeper into some of these issues, and about mental health in Malaysia.

Q: -Children learn by observing, and can learn by doing. Is emotional intelligence something that can be learned in this fashion? Or is it something that should be more formally taught?

A: — Emotional Intelligence is perceived as something that comes naturally, and that you will “know” how to do “it” by the time you have grown up, but it can and should be properly taught to children. Based on my experiences dealing with children, teenagers, university students, and even adults, they do not know how to handle their emotions, because the underlying sense of self, individual identity is not developed. The lack of identity, the inability to handle emotions, and emotional situation result in being unable to handle “adult” situation.

Q: — That certainly puts a lot of those memes about “not knowing” how to “adult” into a new and terrifying context. How important are parents or guardians in building EQ and a sense of self?

we’re all too afraid to ask

A: — The parents are crucial for children to build a sense of self. The basis for creating a sense of self, and developing EQ is that sense of trust, that comes from the emotional bond that connects parents to their children. Shelter home children have many mental health issues related to abandonment, and generally do not trust, or know how to themselves or others, making it hard for them to grow their EQ. without this basis of trust, or any strong, stable relationship as a foundation, they cannot find their sense of self or form a self-identity.

Q: — You stated that Emotional Intelligence is something that has to be taught or learned, so it’s not something that will come naturally?

A: — Emotional intelligence is wrongly perceived as something that you just know how to do once you become an adult. While we can learn by observing and by often learn by imitating, most people are not taught how their sense of self is something that will change, grow and evolve as they go through life.

The lack of a proper sense of self or self-identity means that they cannot handle the emotions that one has to deal with in adult situations, whether they are personal or professional/career-related. For example, different people have a different understanding of what it means to be “sad,” and even if they are aware of it, they are not able to process it.

The lack of EQ development means that an individual cannot build a sense of self and identity, and as such cannot grow and mature as a person.

Q: — How does Havan clothing fit into your work with children?

Ms. Hany working with children at one of her workshops.

A: — I was working at a children’s shelter home, providing free EQ lessons to children between 7–12 years of age. Over 4 months I saw positive change, improvement, and growth and I realized that I have to continue the lessons to benefit more children.

Havan Clothing was founded by my husband and me as a social enterprise. The funds raised are used to continue the lessons and I hope to expand both the scope and scale of the project in the coming years.

The lessons allowed children to communicate their world through art and Havan Clothing takes those artworks and printing them on fashionable pocket t-shirts. This gives the children a sense of achievement and empowerment. Their artworks become a way for them to give back something good to their society. For the children, this is an achievement and an accomplishment that they can hold on to, and can never be taken away from them helping build that sense of self, and their EQ.

Q: — What would you say is the current state of Mental Health in Malaysia?

A: — Based on my work with clients from the age of 5 to 55, of all nationalities, races, and religions, I have found that almost 30% of the population suffers from some form of Mental Health Issue. While it appears that mood disorders such as Depression and Anxiety are the most common, what worries me is that these two conditions are only symptoms of a much deeper, problem that comes back to the same fundamental issue: — limited emotional intelligence and a lack of a sense of self.

Q: — What, based on your experience is the main causative factor of this lack of emotional intelligence?

A: — The core cause of these mental health issues is almost always the same. These individuals had a very poor relationship with their primary caregivers during their formative years — their childhood. As having trust is the basis of any stable relationship, the lack of trust means that their emotional intelligence never really developed and that leads to a poor sense of self which is the core problem.

Q: — Malaysians, in general, do not seem to cope very well with mental health issues. What is the unhealthiest coping mechanism that you have seen?

A: — The repression that Malaysians feel comes from the way that individuals are raised. This originates from the Malaysian parenting culture of “no-no-no.” We are not supposed to feel angry or sad or jealous. We can feel happy, but not too happy. The problem is that the problem is repressed — we bottle it up inside and deny what we are feeling. This is the unhealthiest and most common mechanism: — Denying that there is a problem.

In this society, we grow up repressed, forced to keep our emotions bottled up inside. It has reached the point where Malaysians do not even know that they are repressed. They do not know that they are not coping. Being told to “move on” or “get over it,” is ingrained in society.

Q: — There has always been a social stigma towards or rather, against individuals with mental health issues. What is your take or rather your opinion on this and what should those who are seeking help do?

Malaysians…we have… issues…

A: — There is a social stigma against those who suffer from any Mental Health Issues, and they feel that it is not easy to cope because the stigma comes from family, friends, coworkers, and even employers. They feel that the moment they admit to having an issue, they will put themselves under a negative spotlight of scrutiny, prejudice, and judgment. They bury the problem and do their best to carry on, but keeping it, all bottled up inside is not good or healthy, and it will cause problems unless it is dealt with properly.

The road to recovery is a long one, but the first step is to get help. The best way to do that is through technology. Use the internet. Find a therapist or counselor. That is the first step. The second is to make that appointment and the GO to that appointment. Therapists, are here to help you first understand then help you focus and overcome the obstacle that you face.

The greatest challenge you will face is in building a support network of people who you can trust to be there for you. Again, the internet can be a very powerful tool, to help you find people who understand, who can show compassion, and can provide the support you need without giving up your anonymity.

Malaysians are very instinctive people, who move and act on those instincts. But decisions made without a proper understanding of emotional self-awareness and self-regulation — fundamental components of emotional intelligence — comes the danger that they think they are coping until things go badly wrong, by which time it might be too late to receive help.

Q: — Thank you for your time, is there anything else you want to add before we wrap up?

A: — For everyone out there, who is suffering, please remember that your feelings are never wrong. Your feelings are always valid. Emotional Intelligence is something that can be learned. It does not have to be instinctive. Use technology to your advantage to find the help that you need.

Additional links and information: -

To make an appointment to see Hany, please refer to

For more information on Havan Clothing, please refer to

Another perspective on the work done by Havan Clothing by Rojak Daily can be found here:

I hide from people in real life. Game Designer by day, writer by night, & Gamer in-between, I’m 3 exhausted cats in a trenchcoat pretending to be 1 human.