Bennet Randall Wong (born July 16, 1930 in Strasbourg, Saskatchewan Canada), is a Canadian psychiatrist, author and lecturer who co-founded the Haven Institute, a residential experiential learning centre on the west coast of Canada, with Jock McKeen. He has written on mental illness and personal growth.
Who's Who in Canada
Bennet Wong was a serious student from childhood. An avid reader, he wanted to find answers for life's questions even as a youngster. He excelled academically, and was a talented musical performer in high school and university. Very engaging in social interactions, and was always a bright light in a group. He was interested in psychology from an early age; for a Chinese family, psychiatry is viewed with suspicion, being seen in this culture as superstition and not legitimate. Against his family's wishes, he entered the study of psychiatry following graduation from medical school and attended the Menninger School of Psychiatry in Topeka, Kansas.
During his training in psychiatry, many visiting lecturers appeared at the Menninger School. Anna Freud came to lecture, as well as Henri Ellenberger and other noteworthy luminaries of the day. Wong was especially interested in the presentations of S._I._Hayakawa, the semanticist and political figure. Hayakawa gave a lecture on the history of the blues with illustrations in music rather than words. Wong's imagination was captivated by this innovative use of multimedia; after that, Wong began to deliver his talks with "more than words," and music and poetry became features of his rousing presentations from that time on.
He was appointed to be Clinical Director at the Winfield State Hospital in Kansas. This was a large hospital with chronic patients, most of whom were profoundly retarded. Wong was stunned by the poor conditions for the patients; in some of the wards, the patients were never dressed, and they were hosed down rather than receiving caring attention. Wong was indignant, and vowed immediately to change this. He instituted many programs during his time in this office, all aimed at helping the patients to develop and advance within their own limitations, and always with care for human dignity. He had considerable opposition to his humanistic approach; this detractors believed that such intensive care for people with limitations was not justifiable. Wong was immoveable, and he engaged the nurses and orderlies and medical staff to assist him in his goals. He was able to introduce a feeling of camaraderie and team spirit amongst the workers, and with the patients themselves. This was evidence of a core belief he has exhibited throughout his career: that all human beings have worth, and are to be treated with respect and dignity. Also, this period was a harbinger of future times in his career when he would work with group dynamics to enhance the expression of his goals.
Wong was very interested in psychological and emotional development, and had a special fondness for the idealism of youth. This led him to specialize in adolescent psychiatry. When he opened his practice in Vancouver in 1961, he limited his scope to adolescents and youth. He was asked to consult to numerous agencies and bodies that dealt with youth. He was a frequent speaker at teachers' conferences, schools and parent/teacher associations. He also consulted to the Foster Parents' Association and the Child Welfare League of America. He befriended school principals who were looking to find new and effective ways of keeping young people interested in learning and growing, rather than dropping out. As well, he was a consultant to the Attorney General in British Columbia, and was seen as an expert on dealing with troubled youth (Vancouver Life, 1966) (B.C. Civil Servants' Newsletter, 1967).
He entered the public stage, and was a frequent lecturer at meetings, interviewed on television and radio, and quoted in the newspapers of the day (Campbell River Courier, 1970) (Campbell River Upper Islander, 1970). As the youth revolution of the late 1960's and early 1970's found public attention, Bennet Wong was there to comment on the social phenomenon, and by some he was known as the "hippie shrink." He had traditional training, and position; but he understood the concerns of both the adults and the youth, and he would refuse to taken sides in a moralistic debate. He shocked audiences by talking about things that now seem obvious: adolescents do have premarital sex and many use drugs recreationally. Wong believed that the acting out of disturbed youth was often a cry for help, a hidden message that the young people wanted contact and understanding, even while they appeared to want nothing of the sort (Brown, 1970).
Wong began to work more in groups, and was an early adopter of the encounter group process. He was a close friend of Dr. Lee Pulos, the psychogist and entrepreneur, and became friends with Alan Watts, who came to Canada to teach at Cold Mountain Institute. Watts saw in Wong an active mind and a readiness to see beyond the habitual beliefs of the commonplace. Wong was also befriended by the zen master Paul Reps. He discussed many issues with Canada's former Minister of Health and Welfare, Judy Lamarsh, and television journalist Laurier Lapierre. Lapierre credited Wong with helping him to discover his authentic nature. (Lapierre, 1981).
Wong was increasingly interested in the existential approach of writers and thinkers, and saw anxiety as a normal human condition rather than some pathological state. He was quoted in newspapers about his radical view in this regard (Grenby, 1975).
He saw that all human situations have an emotional and psychological component, including illness conditions. So, when he began to study the mind-body approaches of Wilhelm Reich in the early 1970's he began to find answers to questions that had been gestating for years. Traditional medicine in the 1950's made a sharp distinction between physical problems (which were the concern of clinical medicine, and psychological problems (which were seen to be the domain for psychologists, social workers, priests, counsellors and psychiatrists). A common notion was that psychological disturbance was not really a sickness, but rather a sign of weakness. Wong theorized that the human was one entity, and mind and body were one. (Gomori, 2002, p. 205). When he met McKeen, they had an immediate "meeting of minds" on this issue, and in their subsequent collaboration they maintained a theory of bodymind unity (Niosi, July 30, 2005), (Allen 2005, pp. 45-46).
Now retired from psychiatric practice, he is a consultant to corporations, and to the field of child and adolescent development (Wong 2005), (Irvine & Reger, 2006, pp. 90-92). He continues to lecture internationally, and participate in artistic events (Burnaby Now, 2002), (The Record, 2002), (Times Colonist, 2002),(Nanaimo Daily News,2004), (McKeen, 2007).
The unfolding of this phase of Dr. Wong's career in association with Dr. Jock McKeen is detailed in the entry for Wong and McKeen, and in a biography by Gerry Fewster (Vancouver Sun 2002), (Nanaimo News Bulletin 2004), (Niosi, August 31, 2005).
This phase of Wong's career in association with McKeen is detailed on the Wong and McKeen pages, and is further discussed on the page for the Haven Institute (Nanaimo Daily News, Jan. 23, 2004), (Wellburn, 2005).
See Wong and McKeen Publications list