Inclusion of identity

Sarah Chun shares role in SPU athletics, identity-influenced sessions

Isabella Tranello, Sports Editor

Sarah Chun M.S. is a doctoral student in SPU’s clinical psychology Ph.D. program who’s main focus is connecting with student athletes. (Courtesy of Sarah Chun)

It is okay to seek help when one is struggling. Their problems do not need to fit into a standardized category. Whatever part of their identity or life affects their emotions or their capability to routinely function is completely valid. The help they seek should nurture all of the character-defining elements of their existence.

The entire identity of a client is the sole focus of Sarah Chun’s sessions with student-athletes at Seattle Pacific University. Chun is the Sports Psychology Consultant at SPU and is currently in the doctorate program at the university focused on adolescent and young adult mental health and emotional regulation strategies. 

She believes that therapy and mental health care should be influenced by all the different aspects of a person’s life and should not be formed around just one element. 

“Even though I am here with the title of Sports Psychology Consultant, I allow room to discuss anything. I would say that a lot of what I talk about with clients is not even directly related to their sports,” Chun said. “A lot of the issues have a direct impact on the sport they play, but it really is a lot deeper than that. So, I allow athletes to bring any issue to the table, and I kind of just roll with what I believe they need at that moment.” 

The doctorate program at SPU runs on a half clinical, half research structure, which has allowed Chun to gain experience in a variety of different atmospheres, including the athletic department at SPU. 

Chun has a generalist training background and has worked in community mental health centers like Swedish Medical Center, primary care settings and individualized practices specializing in the young adult population. 

Through her generalist training, Chun has developed a specific way of deciding on treatments for her clients. She believes that therapy and mental health care should be shaped to the individual’s specific needs instead of structured routine practices

“The theoretical background that I operate on is evidence-based. Our training at SPU exposes us to a bunch of theoretical approaches to how to treat mental health,” Chun said. “So, instead of just picking one and being very manualized and rigid with that, I take all the ones that are scientifically backed and proven and apply different techniques and interventions depending on the individual and their needs. I think that this way it is more personalized than just following the A-Z manual for how to treat a client.”

Although Chun is currently involved with the SPU athletic department and works with young adult athletes on the various sports teams, her initial reason for becoming a psychologist and chasing her doctorate did not involve sports at all. 

Instead, she wanted to understand and connect to people. Chun deeply believes that there is no ‘normal’ person. 

“I have always just been interested in people and have held the belief that there is no such thing as normal. Everyone has their things and everyone has a whole history of experiences and traits that make them unique to who they are. I think that this is how people develop into the person they present to others and this aspect has always just been really interesting to me,” Chun said. 

Beyond her work with the athletes on SPU’s campus, Chun enjoys music in the Seattle area and going on solo hikes. 

Graduate school takes up a lot of your time, but I love music and I am a huge fan of Seattle shows. So, now that we are semi-post COVID-19, I try to hit a lot of venues in Seattle because it is such a good music hub,” Chun said. “I also am a big hiker, which was something I started doing only a couple of years ago. It’s been really fun learning how to do that and even learning how to hike by myself and not relying on other people to go with me.” 

Chun also enjoys fostering relationships with those around her and with those closest to her. Her focus on her relationships plays a major role in the way that she conducts herself in her position at SPU. Chun cares about the student-athletes she works with and works extremely hard every day to produce an environment that caters to any person from all walks of life. 

When an athlete or any human being walks into a session with Chun, they are entering a space where all aspects of their identity matter. All of their characteristics matter. Every inch of their being matters. 

“I approach this job with not necessarily a liberation perspective, but more of an absolute affirming stance of all identities. I emphasize to every athlete from the moment that they walk in that I want them to know that whatever part of themselves they want to expose to me, I will fully celebrate and support,” Chun said. “I understand that it is scary for them to be open about it and when you first walk in you don’t know what you are getting into. I like to make it very obvious that I am supportive of all identities.”