Four years ago, Peter Chan Kin-yan organised a hiking trip in which he guided people in practising mindfulness, and he felt success when 60 people signed up.
At the trip’s end, he passed around a box so people could pay him whatever amount they felt like giving. When he counted the assorted coins and bills inside the box, he had only received a whopping total of HK$482.60 (US$61).
Undeterred by how little he had earned from this session, Chan could see how much Hongkongers needed a down-to-earth approach to psychology, and he founded Treehole HK, a company that promotes the subject through a wide range of courses and services for corporations and individuals.
“When you talk about psychology, you usually associate it with [mental] illness … But this is only one spectrum of a person’s spirit,” the 26-year-old said, adding that psychology had much to offer Hongkongers at every stage in life.
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Chan recalled discovering his interest in the subject during secondary school.
“I remember picking up an introductory psychology book when I was in Form Three – and I have been hooked ever since,” he said.
He went on to study psychology at the University of Hong Kong, and after graduating with first-class honours, he needed to decide his career path.
“I thought about pursuing the route of clinical psychology, but that was not my biggest aspiration,” Chan said.
The fresh graduate decided to tackle what he saw was missing in Hong Kong: everyday psychology education and support. He hoped that through Treehole, people would learn how psychology affected daily life as well as larger events in society.
Most of Treehole’s customers range from university students to professionals in their 40s.
Treehole educates the wider public through Instagram and YouTube, as well as a podcast called Five Minute Psychology, in which professionals explain social issues in a relatable and easily digestible way.
Chan noted that the company’s podcast and YouTube channel had so far reached about 3 million plays in total.
Beyond these free resources Treehole offers, customers can subscribe for access to the company’s online classes for HK$390 per month.
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The company founder shared about one of its most popular courses: “We focus on how to use mindfulness … to control your emotions better.”
Another sought-after class, Know Thyself, discusses different personalities and the concept of existentialism – topics important to today’s youth, Chan asserted.
“From the statistics we’ve seen on our social media platforms, whenever we post content about finding meaning and having doubts, the engagement is higher,” he shared.
The need to figure out one’s identity, Chan added, could be related to wider issues plaguing the city’s society.
“Hong Kong has a very standardised formula for success, but I think young people want to explore beyond that [definition],” he explained.
In recent years, the mental health of people in the city had deteriorated, especially after 2019, Chan noted. The pandemic and the anti-government protests have been a double whammy to Hongkongers’ mental well-being.
“Studies have tracked Hongkongers’ mental health over the past 20 years,” he pointed out. “You can see in 2003 and 2004, mental well-being was quite healthy amid a stable society. Then, you see it started to decrease from 2014 to 2019 when it really plunged.”
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Thus, even as Treehole finds success, its founder knows his work has only begun.
“What I’m doing right now is my purpose in life, but I would like to do better,” he said.
While he has found his motivation, he hopes to help others find theirs, too. Recently, Treehole launched a project called Mind Forest, in which clients receive one-on-one counselling services and guidance to work on their goals.
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“We [work with people] to create a life plan catered to their personality and will keep monitoring their progress,” the founder shared.
Four years after the start of Treehole, Chan said he had fulfilled his original goals, but he was not complacent.
“I don’t believe in an ultimate goal … I will keep coming up with new ones to work for,” he said.
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