In the way to a satisfied and joyful living, many studies over the years confirmed that the capacity to cultivate positive and healthy relationships with others, and especially with the ones we love, is certainly the most important factor. The same view is shared by Kongit Farrell as she carries more than 13 years as mental health professional with a key specialization in marriage and family therapy and working in Los Angeles. Not solely couples, Kongit has earned cross-cutting experience working with businesses and health organizations by supporting their employees to overcome psychological, socio-relational, communication and conflict-related challenges. Enthusiast of the contribution that mediation and conflict resolution principles can bring to the psychological practice, Kongit is currently training as a Mediator at the Columbia University. Last but not least, she is teaching as a professor at the Pepperdine University.
Q and A with Kongit
Thank you Kongit for being here today, it is a pleasure to meet you. To get our conversation started, can you tell me a bit more about your passion for psychology, how did it begin?
First and foremost, I obtained an undergraduate degree in Human Interaction at the University of Southern California. What fascinated me was understanding people more, like what drives people to certain behaviors or what motivates people to do a certain thing, and how we can work together to improve our common condition. After I got graduated, I realized I wanted to go deeper in the subject, thus I pursued a master’s in Clinical Psychology at the Pepperdine University Graduate School of Education and Psychology.
I think my interest for human psychology, and predisposition to it, has always been natural. My friends always used to come to me with a problem and, after I had talked to them about it, the results were mostly positive. One day I realized I could do this for a living. It is simply spontaneous; it does not feel like it is a big stretch for me.
How would your career take off afterwards?
The first steps were quite mixed to be honest. Firstly, I got a White House internship, interning for the first lady; at that time, it was Hillary Clinton. After that, I was appointed Commissioner to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Social Services. What I did was mostly undercover investigation and reporting to the county supervisors about how things were run in the area. I also did some TV and commercial work but nothing big, just for paying the studies. When I got into my master’s in clinical psychology, I worked as a practitioner with people that were homeless and coming out of mental institutions.
After I got licensed, I transitioned into private practice, and I started my own business. Since 2010, I have just been growing the business working mostly with couples and mental health institutions. Most part of my work revolves around family and couples therapy, premarital arrangements, regular couples counseling and I am also a sex therapist. And I am going to build out the mediation part of it as soon as I finish the conflict resolution course from the Columbia University.
Speaking about that, I see that you are taking a Conflict Resolution course at the Columbia University through which you will become a certified mediator, what specifically led you to become passionate about mediation?
In high school, I grew up between South-Central Los Angeles and Israel. They are very different places, of course, but they also share similarities. For instances, there is a lot of conflict in South Central LA with the gangs and there is a lot of conflict in Israel with the Palestine issue and all that. At the beginning my life I lived in these conflict areas and had to learn how to survive, and negotiate, and make it through difficult environments. This experience in high school kind of moved something within, it expanded my horizons, and above all it grew a feeling of more dedication to peace, of wanting to know what are the things that can make people who think they are different getting more connected, what it needs to be there for these people to solve their conflicts. In my last semester in high school, I took a peer mediation course but then I temporarily left peacebuilding to dedicate myself to psychology. Now, I am pursuing a fellowship in Conflict Resolution at the Columbia University.
How does psychology intertwine with mediation in your work?
When I got into family therapy, I had to get back to some mediation work because so much of therapy with couples and families has elements of mediation in it. For example, there are a lot of underlaying issues and people do not know well how to elaborate or define problems, they do not communicate well or do not have a proper communication structure. For these kinds of therapies, it is as important to master psychology as to know conflict resolution techniques. Personally, I want to excel to serve people at best, and I am not going to be the best unless I do not understand conflict resolution like I understand psychology.
In LA, I am close to the black community and work with a lot of people of color. The people living in poverty mostly do not know about mediation or how to use it, and they may resort to physical violence instead. My way of serving them is to educate myself so that I can educate and teach to others. Part of the way you can escape poverty is to learn to cooperate, collaborate and solve problems without getting a gun. That, I believe, is my fundamental mission. This is one of the things that can help the community I live in. But it goes hand in hand with psychology literacy. If it as important as to understand what your emotions are, what you are feeling and how you can intervene, and choose something else. It is all connected.
You are connecting psychology and your practice as a therapist to mediation. What is the key to resolvinge a conflict erupting within a family or couple?
From my experience, I think it is about the ‘vulnerable moments’ people experience within a conflict, the moment in which someone shifts from anger to vulnerability. For example, when a couple is mad with each other, but then at some point they demonstrate to be tired, that is the moment, that is your golden opening. In the language of the mediation theory I am studying, that means passing from the hot system of activation to the cool system. When you transition from the fight or flight to your rational mind, that is the moment we can go in and try to do something for the better.
How did you decide to join Mediators Beyond Borders International?
I chose to join MBBI as soon as I decided I was going to become a professional mediator. The idea was to start connecting, learning, and doing what I can for the organization. David Smith introduced me to MBBI, and it was him who gave me the first literature on mediation. I also joined just because MBBI represents a noble group of people, a wonderful group of who want to bring more peace into the world and help people live more harmonious lives. I am excited to dive deeper into MBBI’s projects and work.
Interview by Matteo Piovacari: MBBI Writer