The Doctor is In

The Seoul Counseling Center was founded by Dr. Chad Ebesutani and has locations in Seoul and Pyeongtaek. The professionals who work at the Seoul Counseling Center are licensed in the United States and Canada, as well as Korea. The staff are all fluent in both English and Korean and even offer online counseling.

There are currently 20 therapists, counselors, and psychologists who work at the offices of the Seoul Counseling Center or online. These professionals offer counseling in a variety of subjects such as anxiety, depression, relationship issues, addiction, stress, suicidal thoughts, and many other topics. They even offer psychological testing services.

Dr. Chad Ebesutani is a licensed in the United States and Korea, is a Mental Health Consultant for PracticeWise, and is the Psychology Advisor for Noom Korea. In addition to being the founder and Clinic Director of the Seoul Counseling Center, he is also an Associate Professor in Psychology at Duksung Women’s University in Seoul. Dr. Chad has developed many programs and has been invited to write for the Korea Times. He is also the Principal Investigator of a government funded grant studying mental health benefits in families via the use of an app-based parental monitoring tool to measure parents’ and their children’s use of evidence-based mental health coping and resiliency skills.

We reached out to Dr. Chad to gain some insight into the mental health situation in Korea and he was kind enough to answer our questions. Read our interview here:

Jordan: What sort of change do you think Korea needs to see to in order to make mental health issues less of a stigma?

Dr. Chad: There’s research showing that the older Korean generation believes less in the existence of mental health illness (such as not believing in depression) compared to the younger Korean generation. I think stigma would be reduced if somehow the older Korean generation were to come to understand more about mental illness, be less ashamed of it, and learn how to better support those suffering from mental health issues. In my clinical work with the Korean population, it is extremely common for Korean children (and young adults) to be afraid to tell their parents about their mental health challenges. This makes it even more difficult to get the help they need. I’m not blaming the older generation; but it’s a relevant factor I see affecting people’s ability to tell the truth to those close to them. 

I think including Mental Health topics in the core educational curriculum in Korean schools in the future would also help to reduce stigma associated with Mental Health issues. I also think laws need to be clearer and firmer in place to protect people at the workplace who struggle from mental health illnesses. People are often afraid about acknowledging (and thus getting help for) their mental health problems out of fear of negative consequences at the work place, such as being fired, etc. More protections thus need to be put in place in the workplace to reduce the negative consequences that could result from one experiencing a mental health challenge. 

I think stigma would also be reduced if mental health made it’s way more into pop culture in more positive ways. Currently, mental health is often raised when celebrities commit suicide. But Korean society needs to see positive examples of mental health interventions helping peoples’ lives, such as in film, dramas, etc. In the US, for example, there are movies and dramas, such as Goodwill Hunting, In Treatment, etc., where people are engaged in the therapy process, leading to important and healthy breakthroughs. I think producers need to see the value in embedding these themes more in their work to spread more positive messages associated with self-exploration, self-development, and other themes related to the therapy process. 

These are some of the changes that I think would lead to less stigma associated with mental health problems in Korea.    

Jordan: In your opinion, what is the number one problem those who struggle with mental health issues face when trying to get help?

Dr. Chad: In my opinion, the number one problem (in the help-seeking process) is that people looking for help are not clear on what therapy is, how it will help them, and thus what they need to do in order to overcome their mental health problems; because of this, they are often confused and/or not fully committed to the process of therapy and thus either (a) never go to therapy in the first place, (b) quit too early in the process, or (c) don’t fully commit themselves to get the most out of therapy to achieve what they need to in their life. 

Jordan: What is the most prevalent issue that you see day to day in the clinic?

Dr. Chad: Depression and anxiety, followed by couples/marriage problems. 

Jordan: Is there anything we can do as individuals to help spread awareness and lessen the burden of these issues?

Dr. Chad: Don’t be afraid to reach out for help yourself. I believe everyone could use help in life. Life is too complex to handle alone. Sometimes, our problems are obvious; sometimes they are less apparent to us—but usually the most important problem for us to address and overcome are the ones we don’t see ourselves. This is what therapy is for. 

Jordan: What do you think has caused the increase in mental health issues and suicide in recent years?

Dr. Chad: Suicide research has pointed to the following two factors as among the major contributing factors to suicide:(a) thwarted belongingness (e.g., feeling alone) and (b) perceived burdensomeness (e.g., believing that you are a burden to the world and/or to your family). 

I therefore think that all recent shifts in globalization, economics, religion, and family values have been contributing to the high rate of suicidality.  We need to take a closer look at how these rapid changes in society is leading to people feeling more alone and disconnected, and feeling like they are just a burden to the world. 

Jordan: What aspects of society and/or culture help to cause depression, anxiety and other panic disorders to develop?

Dr. Chad: Major contributing factors to mental health challenges like depression and anxiety include feelings of helplessness, uncontrollability, unpredictability, and a loss of meaning and purpose in life. I therefore think individuals need to take continual steps to fight these forces in their lives and in society. It’s an uphill battle that we need to fight. And we need to do it together with others. Hence the importance of being able to speak out open and honestly with those close to us about our struggles. 

Jordan: The stigma surrounding mental health illnesses is eerily similar to the American military policy “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” of the late 90s and early 2000s. What caused mental health illnesses to have such a stigma?  

Dr. Chad: Personally, I believe that an individual’s mental health problem (particularly things like depression and anxiety) are rarely only about the individual. In my work with people, it has become incredibly apparent to me that people’s depression and anxiety are intertwined with the lives of those around them. For example, if a wife is struggling with depression, usually the husband has a non-trivial role to play in her struggles (and vice versa). I believe that people are highly motivated to avoid major parts of their responsibilities—especially the ones that seem too overwhelming to take on. Therefore, I think people tend to want to ignore mental health issues and pretend they are not there….because if we acknowledge mental health problems in others, we may need to acknowledge those in ourselves.

“Life is too complex to handle alone.” 

Dr. Chad Ebesutani, 2020 Interview with Weibuzz

This is something so important for us to remember. There is no shame in reaching out and needing help sometimes. Even the strongest person you know needs help sometimes and it doesn’t make you weak to admit when something is more than you can handle. In all honesty, I think that makes you even stronger because it takes a lot to admit that you need someone’s help. Please don’t be afraid to reach out and take someone’s hand when you need it; no problem is worth losing your life.

Thank you so much Dr. Chad for answering our questions and giving us some insight on the mental health crisis that Korea is facing. When you’re struggling or you feel like everything is too much and you just can’t take it anymore, remember: Together we can find the strength to overcome.

~ Jordan

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