Introducing: Dr. Jenny Chien, Assistant Professor of Counseling

By Kris Rolls on April 5, 2017

Grand Rapids Theological Seminary is undergoing an exciting season of growth! This fall we are excited to be welcoming two new full-time counseling faculty to our learning community. Faculty make incredibly important contributions to the culture of our school as they instruct students, make academic policy decisions and continue to labor in their disciplines through research and writing. Over the last several years, GRTS's counseling program has grown exponentially. We are excited about the new students and the new faculty that are building a culture of serving God's Kingdom through a variety of vocational paths and contexts here at GRTS. This post will help introduce you to one of our new faculty members, Dr. Jenny Chien. Dr. Chien will be serving as an Assistant Professor of Counseling.

KR: Can you tell us a little bit about your faith background and your story up until now?

JC: I grew up in a family where I was taught about Jesus Christ, but was not actively involved in church. Although I am not exactly sure of the date, I came to a saving knowledge of the Lord through a vacation Bible school around the age of nine or ten. In my childhood, I longed to know more about God and yearned to be part of a church body.

When I went to undergraduate university, I became involved in Campus Crusade for Christ. This was instrumental in the development of my faith. I met authentic Christian students and leaders who were seeking to walk out their faith in a meaningful way. There, I learned about the importance of fellowship and accountability in my spiritual journey.

After pursuing various professional roles in education, I returned to graduate school to study counseling. However, one year into a graduate program at a state institution, I found I could not separate my counsel from my faith. This prompted me to transfer to a Christian university to study counseling from a Christian worldview. My time at that institution taught me a great deal about deepening my prayer life, the importance of spiritual disciplines, and the integration of Christianity into my counseling practice.

Since graduating with my master's degree in counseling, I have had many personal experiences that have deepened my faith in God. Probably the most transformative personal experiences have been getting married, having my son, completing my Ph.D. and adopting my daughter from China. The Lord has taught me a great deal about His role as Healer in my life, my marriage and my family as well as the lives of my students and clients. I am excited to continue learning and growing in this next season of my life and career.

KR: What originally drew you to the counseling field as a profession?

JC: I was originally drawn to the field of counseling through my work as an elementary school teacher. I have always considered myself to be an educator at heart and worked for several years after graduating with my undergraduate degree as an elementary educator and outdoor education instructor. However, I found myself having more of a passion for the lives and struggles of my students and their families than the elementary curriculum. When you teach school, you often spend more time with children than they spend with their families. I started to see firsthand the impact of positive factors in students' lives such as, good parenting, sound financial resources, a faith foundation and solid nutrition. The flip side of that is that I also had a front row seat to the impact of negative factors such as, addiction, abuse and poverty. Like many students who enter the field of counseling, I knew I wanted to make a difference to impact healing in peoples' lives. I wasn't sure initially what that would look like, but that desire is what drew me into the field of counseling.

KR: Your dissertation revolved around religious practices and stress in university students. Could you tell us a little bit about that and what interested you about the topic?

JC: A great deal of my professional career has been spent in institutions of higher education. Personally, I have spent a lot of time as a student, have worked in Student Development as both a Resident Assistant and Resident Director and have worked as a University Counselor and as the Director of a University Counseling Center. Another fun fact, is that collectively, I have lived on a college campus for over 15 years of my life! Therefore, I have been in very close proximity to university students for an extended amount of time.

I find the stage of emerging adulthood (roughly age 18-late 20s) as theorized by Arnett (2000) to be a unique stage of development. Students in this stage of development deal with the usual pressures of moving from home for the first time, establishing a major and career goals, and creating meaningful relationships. However, in addition, this stage of development also corresponds with the age of onset for many mental health disorders.

University students are reporting greater rates of stress and university counseling centers often are buckling under the pressure to serve the ever-increasing intensity and number of demands (Gallagher, 2012). For this reason, I was interested in looking at the relationship between stress (as measured by the Perceived Stress Scale) and mental health symptoms (as measured by the Outcome Questionnaire). In addition, I sought to determine if various religious coping styles (Deferring, Self-Directed, Collaborative, and Surrender) impacted or mediated the relationship between stress and mental health symptoms (Pargament et al., 1988; Wong-McDonald & Gorsuch, 2000).

The findings indicated that college students in a faith-based university do experience significant levels of stress and mental health symptomology. In addition, a significant association was found between the level of stress and the severity of mental health symptoms. Students who employed self-directed and deferring religious coping styles were more likely to experience higher levels of mental health symptoms than those who utilized collaborative or surrender coping styles.

KR: What do you look forward to most about your new role at GRTS?

JC: There are so many things that excited me about my new role at GRTS, that it is hard for me to limit it to just one! First of all, I am excited to be part of a faith-based learning community where there is transparency and encouragement in our journeys with Christ. Secondly, I am looking forward to having the opportunity to shape future counselors as they grow and develop to bring healing to a hurting world. I am really looking forward to being in the classroom, but also am excited about mentoring and getting to know students personally. Finally, I love that the mission and vision of Cornerstone are centered on knowing Christ and impacting the world for His Glory. That is a mission and vision I want to be a part of!

Arnett, J. J. (2000). Emerging adulthood. A theory of development from the late teens through the twenties. American Psychologist, 55(5), 469-480. doi:10.1037//0003- 066X.55.5.469

Gallagher, R. P. (2012). National survey of counseling directors. Retrieved from

Pargament, K. I., Kennell, J., Hathaway, W., Grevengoed, N., Newman, J., & Jones, W. (1988). Religion and the problem-solving process: Three styles of coping. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 27, 90–104.

Wong-McDonald, A., & Gorsuch, R. L. (2000). Surrender to God: An additional coping style? Journal of Psychology and Theology, 28(2), 149-161.

Categories: Counseling, Interviews, Vocation