An Epitome of Strength, Dedication, and Loyalty: Dr. Cheryl Andaya, Director, The Family Strengthening Center (FSC)

May 11, 2023

FPH: What is your position with the Family Strengthening Center and how long have you been working at FSC? What is your specialty within FSC?

  • DR. ANDAYA: Director and Internship Training Director – I’ve been with FSC since 2018.
    Specialty: Clinical psychology, child and adolescent psychology, child maltreatment, and forensic work

FPH: Why did you decide to be a therapist?

  • DR. ANDAYA: I had taken an introductory psychology class in undergrad, and the professor was a clinical psychologist who was very entertaining, enthusiastic and had a great sense of humor. He shared his experience at a psychiatric ward and demonstrated the frozen, uncomfortable stance of a patient in a catatonic state. I was astonished to learn that the mind could have that kind of power. Fast forward to grad school, I was introduced to forensic psychology, and that’s when I knew I wanted to pursue psychology to understand the dark side of human behavior. I was intrigued by serial killers, specifically an individual’s ability to torture, inflict harm on another human being, and take their life. I also liked the versatility of psychological practice, where psychological understanding and knowledge could be applied in so many areas of life and science.

FPH: Why do you work at FSC as a mental health therapist? Are there any defining moments in your life that made you decide, “This is what I want to do for a living?”

  • DR. ANDAYA: Switching from working with psychopaths (serial killers, serial rapists, and serial pedophiles) to child welfare cases came about when I did my post-doctoral training at the Kapiolani Child Protection Center. I had the opportunity to combine my experience of working with children and forensic work. While sitting with serial killers as they shared about their crimes fascinated me, listening to the horrendous stories of young children being hurt by their caregivers truly upset me. It tugged at my heart, and I felt compelled to protect the children and find ways to prevent the harm from happening. The work was extremely taxing, and I stepped away into a lighter line of work as a Pediatric Psychology Consultant for the Regional Health Command of the Pacific through the Department of Defense within the Pacific Region, providing service in a more consultative role in pediatric psychology for the pacific region that spanned 5000 miles and across five different time zones from the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, Hawaii, Japan, Guam, and South Korea. However, my clinical experience and desire to protect children continued to draw me into child maltreatment cases within the DoD. They brought my attention to missed opportunities within their primary care and behavioral health settings to recognize and prevent child maltreatment. It eventually led me back to focusing my energies on addressing and preventing child maltreatment.

FPH: What is your greatest achievement/accomplishment, so far, in working at FSC?

  • DR. ANDAYA: There have been tremendous achievements and accomplishments in these few years. Each year brings an opportunity for us to learn from challenges and improve our processes. A more recent accomplishment was seeing Dr. Choy step happily into retirement. He has been such an inspirational mentor to me, and hearing him say that the center will be left in good hands has been such a boost of confidence and validation for me. This, coupled with former trainees returning to our center for further training and joining as staff as competent, compassionate, trauma-informed mental health workers who want to continue serving this population, is a HUGE accomplishment for our center.

    There have been several other accomplishments. The FSC recently completed a site visit from the American Psychological Association as we seek national accreditation for our internship training program. This endeavor began two years ago with Dr. Choy and me sometimes waking at 4 am to attend meetings coordinated from the mainland as we prepared for accreditation. To hear the positive things the visitors had to say about our center was very humbling and reassured us that we were doing things right. We are hoping to hear about the final confirmation soon.

    The FSC was also awarded a fifty-thousand-dollar grant from the Chamber of Commerce to train and certify professionals in the area of child maltreatment. With this training, we are hoping other individuals (CWS workers, teachers, first responders, family court workers, physicians, and mental health providers) will be able to recognize not only the obvious signs of maltreatment but also the more subtle signs of child maltreatment and intervene sooner. Providing guidance, consultation, and support will enable them to make the necessary calls and referrals and thereby decrease the occurrence of maltreatment. We are also hoping other providers would be more receptive to taking child maltreatment cases.

    Finally, creating a work environment where our FSC team respects each other, enjoys coming to work, and promotes family-work balance and staff well-being are all accomplishments of our team. Seeing our clients build stronger connections within their families as parents reconnect with their children and learn alternative ways to communicate with their children are achievements we celebrate. Seeing children safe and empowered is the ultimate goal.

FPH: And what makes you want to continue your work at FSC every day?

  • DR. ANDAYA: We have an AMAZING team who are passionate about doing this work. Our Executive Assistant, Erin Nobriga, is the actual reason for my return to this work. She had the foresight (and persistence) to encourage Dr. Choy to reach out to me. Having done this work longer than I have, she has a wealth of knowledge, and although she would never admit it, she is actually very compassionate, cares about our clients, and recognizes systemic challenges that help us navigate obstacles. Dr. Kimberlee Kunichika was once my postdoctoral resident, and she agreed to return with me to FSC, which has been a blessing as she has a grounding presence, and her area of expertise on attachment and therapeutic work has been invaluable. The addition of our new clinical staff, Drs. Megan Deaver, Danielle Pagat, and Shaun Hara round out our current team. They all bring unique perspectives and areas of specialization that provide our center with a multi-faceted composition of talent. However, the best aspect of FSC is the sense of humor, support, ideas, enthusiasm, and camaraderie found at our center. Self-care and providing each other with support are important to us. We genuinely care about each other and our trainees. We share each other’s struggles, successes, and achievements. FSC is not just about one person. It’s the dedication and tenacity of our team to do the right thing, work ethically, and serve the children of Hawaii.

FPH: Outside of FSC and being a therapist, what do you enjoy doing for fun?

  • DR. ANDAYA: I love dancing Tahitian! I also enjoy watching my kids play sports, crocheting, gardening, networking, meeting new people, trying new things, and pushing myself outside of my comfort zone.

FPH: As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? Did you always want to be a psychologist?

  • DR. ANDAYA: I had aspirations of being a medical doctor but was afraid of having the responsibility of someone’s life, worried that I would mess up. I then wanted to be a lawyer but thought they went to school for too long and read too many books. Then I wanted to be an actress and did that on the side while in grad school, appearing in a few of the old school shows that used to be on an island and training with Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa. However, I began putting more effort into grad school and away from acting.

FPH: What is your personal philosophy when it comes to both your professional and personal life? How did you come to this thinking and why?

  • DR. ANDAYA: I have so many: If you’re not going to give your all, then it’s probably not worth doing. If you come from a place of love, you’ll ultimately find a way. Never forget where you’re from and always give back. Always be grateful. My ultimate favorite: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13). I’ve always been a daughter of God (higher power – whatever you wanna call it). I believe in something bigger than myself. There have been times where I needed to overcome fear, uncertainty, and self-doubt. When I needed strength, I looked to that higher power, and I see the blessings, the path, and the guidance I seek.

FPH: What do you think sets you apart from people?

  • DR. ANDAYA: LOL Oh wow! This is something that I continue to work on recognizing within myself. I have always seen myself as just like anyone else. We are all so unique and I admire the unique qualities I see in people. In that sense, I think everyone sets themselves apart in their own way. If I had to pick, I think it was my ability to believe that anything is possible and find ways to make it happen.

FPH: As an adult, if you could do anything else in the world, what would you be and why?

  • DR. ANDAYA: If I could reach more people and help others on a broader scale, I would do it in a minute.