Shining Their Light: Marika "Maka" Melgar and Her Passion for Psychology

In photo: At the oath taking of Psychologists, September 2015.

In photo: At the oath taking of Psychologists, September 2015.

Marika "Maka" Melgar was a literature major before she decided to go into the field of Psychology. "I [have always been] fascinated with storied lives", she said, "be it through books, film, art, or music." Having worked as a research analyst soon after university, she realized that business stories were not the kind that she wanted to understand. Her mom suggested that she enroll in a hypnosis workshop under the late Fr. Jaime Bulatao, S.J. in Ateneo as she tried to figure out her next steps. This is where her journey with Psychology began.  

"Ready, Fire, Aim: Father Bulatao had these three words written on the board at the beginning of the workshop", she said. "After the summer of playing with marbles, rods, and altered states, I found myself learning this odd and slightly eccentric way of understanding human experience. These experiences cannot be easily put into words, and yet they leave a lot to read. More questions in my mind lingered after that workshop, and I knew that I needed to follow where my curiosity would lead. Climax: I quit my corporate job and enrolled in my first semester of graduate school in counseling psychology. Ready, Fire, Aim."

Today, Maka provides counseling and psychological assessments / evaluations. Her clientele range from children to adolescents that may be diagnosed with mild autism, ADHD, and other socio-emotional concerns. 

What kinds of assessments do you provide?

Among school-age clients, the common reason is a psychological assessment or evaluation for school or for the client’s developmental pediatrician. These evaluations are generally requested in order to get a sense of the client’s cognitive strengths and weaknesses. It may be that the client has an underlying condition and/or has been experiencing academic or behavioral difficulties, and the psychological assessment aids in the treatment plan or individualized education plan.  

Among adults, a common reason for referral is the personality assessment. Sometimes, it is requested by the client’s psychiatrist to have a broader understanding of the client’s psychological functioning; sometimes, the adult clients themselves have an interest in understanding themselves better. 

Do you follow any schools of thought? Which ones do you find yourself using in therapy the most? Why? 

In photo: Co-facilitating a PAPJA workshop for Psychology majors on Expressive Arts in Therapy, January 2016.

In photo: Co-facilitating a PAPJA workshop for Psychology majors on Expressive Arts in Therapy, January 2016.

The schools of thought I have directly learned from graduate school—from Psychodynamic to Social Constructivist—are familiar to any counseling psychologist. One uses each paradigm or a combination of paradigms depending on the context of the client. Others may choose to specialize in a particular therapeutic modality as they further their practice. I look forward to going deeper into cognitive-behavioral therapy, expressive art therapy, and play therapy: three modalities I use quite often with the clients I work with.

What I have learned outside of the classroom is the value of mentorship, which often spells a difference in the path each psychologist pursuesI call to mind these mentorships—two, in particular—almost equally as I draw upon my graduate school training.

On one hand, I trained as a practicumer under Mr. Anthony Grecia (a Ph.D. candidate of the Ateneo psychology program). By profession, he is an esteemed occupational therapist. At the time, I have observed Teacher Anthony use his psychologist hat in understanding why some of the kids would disengage for reasons beyond physiological issues. Through psychotherapy and group therapy, their socio-emotional needs took a front seat. As a psychologist-in-training, I learned the benefits of interdisciplinary and long-term approach to therapy for this population.

On the other hand, my thesis adviser—Dr. Cara Fernandez—gave me a chance to train at the Ateneo Bulatao Center during the final year of my graduate studies. It was through the Bulatao Center that my assessment skills were further honed. Moreover, the Center eventually became a hub for pioneering research projects that had therapeutic interventions in their design. Learning from local and international partners and being trained to deliver group interventions allowed me to see how evidence-informed psychological interventions being implemented in other countries may be adapted to our unique Filipino setting. To this day, I continue to serve and train in the Bulatao Center for assessment, therapy, and group facilitation.

As a psychologist, we know that self-care is important for us to be most objective in our work. How do you implement self-care in your daily life? What kinds of rituals do you go through? Which ones are necessary for your routine?

Recovery begets resilience! In the moment, if I need to check-in with myself, mindfulness practice helps me in creating a space between my automatic reactions and my responses to them. Before or after a difficult situation, I do a three-minute breathing space: This short pause helps me to attend to what is going on at the moment, to gather my attention to where I feel my breath in the body, and to expand this awareness to the whole of the body.

In the long run, it takes a village. Aside from deliberately setting aside quality time to touch base with loved ones, I find that peer support to be important in my personal and professional life. Having a sense of relatedness with other psychologists remind me that I am not alone in this path. We gather weekly to “talk shop” or to throw caution to the wind.

We know that in order to heal, we need to become fully aware of the circumstance and everything that surrounds it. In a way, it’s a form of consciousness, awakening. How do you nurture consciousness in your life? 

 “The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.” – H.P. Lovecraft

I have to come to terms with my own vulnerabilities as a person, not all of which I am conscious. At one point, this involved me seeking my own therapist (Yes, therapists can have their own therapists, too!). When I finally became the client, I felt what my clients have probably felt: the push of wanting to express what I was clearly aware of and the pull of all that is “unsayable” caught at the back of my throat. My own experience on the couch, through the hands of another healer, captured for me what consciousness feels like when one is trying to heal: embracing that which I cannot yet see, trying other lenses, proceeding with fresh eyes.

How do you think authenticity is valuable to you as a psychologist? In the art of psychotherapy? Why?

The art of psychotherapy involves the rational and intuitive mind, and yet if the client does not trust the therapist or the process of therapy, even a competent therapist may find it hard to invite the client to come back. In the end, the center has to hold: a therapeutic alliance between a therapist and a client has to take root and grow, especially as challenging insights become imminent for both. In my experience, this alliance—this trust—is partly built on authenticity: the client coming in as they are and me being true to my own person while wearing the therapist hat.

How does therapy help someone become truly authentic with themselves and with the world around them?

My professor of personality theories and assessment, Dr. Roger Davis, gave this memorable anecdote about Hippocrates, who coined a “rule of thirds”: One third of your patients will get better on their own; one-third will not get better; and one-third will get better through your help.

For the people that we are able to help, exploring “how” therapy helps in the client’s self-awareness can be partly answered through the lens and pace of the client, even while the clinician has a sense of the mechanisms underlying the client’s progress. In my experience, therapy remains to be a collaborative and iterative process of growth. One South African therapist, at a gathering of other healing professionals, thoughtfully summed it up: “People change: slowly, over time, in relationships, in small steps, with lots of practice, and with opportunities for reward.”

If someone wants to book a session with you, where can they find you? How can they get in touch? When are you available?

I am available by appointment only on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and I conduct my private practice in the BGC area. For inquiries, interested clients may reach out to me through the clinic mobile number (09084121831) or by emailing me at marika.melgar@gmail.com.