Melvin Wong: Family, Forensic Neuropsychologist

Salary: $100,000 and up

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Melvin W. Wong had no intention of entering the field of psychology while he attended U.C. Berkeley. With a bachelor・s degree in biology, he had a strong foundation in science and research.

:Forensics is very rational, objective, and scientific. It・s black and white,; Wong says.

In the master・s program at San Francisco State University, Wong studied child intelligence and its relationship to emotional stability in adulthood. He became more interested in what he calls :the human condition.;

:I saw all this human pain and suffering around me, and I wanted to help,; he said. He attended the Center for Psychological Studies to earn a Ph.D. in clinical psychology.

As a forensic psychologist, Wong deals with court issues ranging from family life to evaluation of criminal culpability. Forensic psychologists are called to consult lawyers, or carry out research related to the court system. They also administer tests and psychological assessments.

Wong became involved in forensic psychology during the post-1965 mass migration of Asians to the United States. Many such immigrants encountered legal issues for which he could provide expert advice and opinion.

:I love my job because I can make a difference in people・s livesKWhat I do can revolutionize a person・s life,; Wong explains.

Wong worked on cases where Asian women immigrants suffered abuse from their employers. He also recalls a case in which he counseled a woman suffering from trauma, who in turn, now helps other women in her community.

After completing his doctorate, Wong held positions at the Department of Public Health at San Francisco General Hospital and was assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco. Currently, he has a private practice in family and forensic psychology. Forensic psychologists, he says, earn salaries from the :mid-to-upper six figure; range.

Wong・s advice for aspiring psychologists: :You have to know yourself. Are you emotionally healthy enough to be an agent of change? [Those] who have their own problems and want to heal themselves become the bad apples of the profession.;

He hopes that more psychologists will enter the child-custody aspects of forensic psychology.

:Very few want to get into it because the adversarial nature is so strong, but the need is still there.; For Wong, the high stress and pressures of the field bring its own rewards.

:The work is extremely gratifying and much more than money can buy. Money is important, but it・s not everything.;

Interviewed and authored by Janet Ng (Email her)

Asianweek,  June 29 - July 5, 2001 San Francisco, California