Frank Kuo’s approach to student counseling is to look at his client’s entire life—social, family, personal beliefs, environment, genetics—and see the work at hand as part of a continuum into the student’s life that lies ahead.
This story is part of a series on newly tenured faculty.
Chun Fang “Frank” Kuo, director of Counseling Services at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, believes counseling should encourage students to integrate their cultural and traditional approaches to strengthen their wellbeing.
“It is important to promote mental health in a cultural context and framework, so that the students and stakeholders from different cultures and backgrounds can learn and grow in the area of mental health through their cultural lens,” he says.
Kuo, who has been involved in bettering student mental health at UH Hilo since 2019, recently received tenure.
“Tenure is an affirmation of your ability to continue building on what you have done in the area of direct service, scholarship, and service for more productive contributions to the job you do,” he says.
Director Kuo received his master of science in counseling and counselor education from Indiana University at Bloomington and earned his doctor of philosophy in counseling psychology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
His approach to student counseling is to look at his client’s entire life—social, family, personal beliefs, environment, genetics—and see the work at hand as part of a continuum into the student’s life that lies ahead. In keeping with this holistic approach, he also shares his counseling expertise with other units on campus with the belief that the campus system as a whole must provide support for students’ well being.
“In order to effectively meet the critical and evolving needs of the UH Hilo campus community, I have centered my professional activities and efforts in assisting students both on an individual level to meet their academic, personal and future potential, and on a systems level in utilizing my training and expertise in assisting staff, faculty and related departments to better meet the needs of their students,” he says.
In the context of community service, Kuo dedicates a big chunk of his time both internally within the campus and externally in the local community. On campus, he is a member of the UH Hilo Faculty Congress and is on the Student Affairs Leadership Council. He serves on the Care Team that receives referrals about students whose behavior raises significant concerns. He also serves on the Suicide Prevention Committee. Out in the local community, he works closely with several non-profits on community resilience, suicide survivor support, and substance abuse prevention.
It is worth noting that Kuo’s office works with a suicide prevention grant that supports training and awareness. Practical suicide prevention training—called “Question, Persuade, Refer” or QPR—is available to members of the campus community to learn how to recognize warning signs. Many sessions have been held attended by a mix of faculty, staff, and students, and Kuo plans to hold more regular trainings in order to help monitor suicide risk and prevent suicide on campus.
Kuo’s most recent scholarly work is co-authorship of the published paper, “Do Christian Counselors Show More Empathy Toward Christian Clients Than Secular Clients?” (Journal of Psychology and Theology, 2022), and book chapter, “Rural Public Health for Migrant Workers” (Foundations of Rural Public Health in America, 2020). He also routinely gives presentations to academic and professional groups at home and on the continent, both online and in person, on the topics of provider burnout cycle, mental health care for college students, single session therapy, and virtual outreach activities.
As the university emerges from the pandemic, Counseling Services is retaining virtual and hybrid methods that were used to connect with students during the periods of covid isolation mandates. Counseling Services also utilizes technology such as Instagram, TalkCampus, TV advertisements, and more to promote mental health on campus. Virtual outreach programs such as Zoom also help, and all counseling activities are now offered in a hybrid format that integrates in-person and online services due to the improving situation surrounding the pandemic.
Kuo says, whatever the mode, “It is essential for us to help students deal with depression, anxiety, trauma, and stress in life through counseling, social support, and development of resistance.” Top of this list is helping students build healthy coping mechanisms and manage their stress.
“There are unhealthy ways to cope with stress such as using substances to self-medicate,” he says. “They may just dwell on things and take negative emotions into themselves. They may isolate themselves from others, but not do any self-care when they are by themselves. They may binge eat or spend money to make them feel better. The worst route is thinking about harming themselves to reduce the stress and pain.”
To help students manage stress in healthy ways, Kuo suggests they learn to notice when they are under stress. Some signs are tensed muscles, tightness in the chest, headache, and digestive problems. Other signs can be feeling anxious, depressed, or having poor judgement.
Kuo stresses that support, exercise, a healthy diet, and getting enough sleep are all positive factors in mental health and wellbeing. Students can also simply take a break from their busy lives to recuperate and destress. “After all the things they try, if they still feel stressed or even get worse, that is the time they may seek professional help such as counseling.”
Going forward, Kuo says he will continue to provide innovative contributions to the area of student mental health. He is developing new counseling service models, as well as conducting research in the field of mental health services.
“I think the most important thing is that we not only help the students when they are here in the university, but also equip them for something other than their knowledge and degrees such as life skills, resilience, integrality, and a sense of responsibility.”
Edited by Susan Enright, a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor.