The Korean American Goldilocks Of Psychotherapy Essay

1414 words - 6 pages

“They would not be able to help me and I do not need their help anyway” is a common answer given by Korean-Americans when asked why they do not utilize mental health services, such as psychotherapy. This response broadly reflects two of the predominant reasons why Korean-Americans largely oppose the notion of Western psychotherapy. For one, there is the widespread opinion among the Korean-American population that the psychotherapist or mental health specialist conceives of the problems and solutions using a framework that differs from the cultural beliefs held by Korean-Americans (Kim & Ryu, 2005). Korean-Americans are inclined to believe that Western psychotherapy cannot be helpful in resolving their issues because the therapist will not understand their problems. Another, more influential, explanation for the sparse participation in Western psychotherapy among Korean-Americans is the idea that their problems do not require outside help. Within the Korean-American culture there is the understanding that problems arise as the result of pal-ja, or “immutable destiny,” and are to be quietly tolerated without seeking outside support or guidance—to solicit the assistance of a psychotherapist is thought to be shameful (Kim & Ryu, 2005, p. 357).
Although it is important in all therapy involving ethnic clients, establishing a good fit between the cultural background and experiences of the client and the type of treatment that is provided is especially critical when working with Korean-Americans due to the negative assumptions they hold about psychotherapy (Sue & Zane, 2009). By virtue of the extreme distrust and skeptical that Korean-Americans have towards Western psychotherapy, those voluntarily entering therapy likely consider it their last option and may be ambivalent or not entirely content with their decision (Sue & Zane, 2009). It is necessary that the therapist create a space where the client can feel comfortable during the first session. To do this they need to establish their credibility—the client needs to develop respect for the therapist and view them as helpful—and engage in giving—providing the client with evidence that they gained something from attending the session (Sue & Zane, 2009). Credibility and giving can be achieved early in treatment with Korean-Americans through awareness of two important principles of their culture, jeong, empathetic and humanizing behaviors, and chae-myun, the importance of face-saving (Kim & Ryu, 2005). While these two themes are important in finding the therapy that is a good match, or “just right,” for a Korean-American client, it is likewise necessary to consider the various other cultural aspects that could affect the suitability of that treatment.
Person-centered psychotherapy is one treatment that is well suited for clients from the Korean-American culture. This therapy is a favorable match for the Korean-American client because both the therapy and their cultural background acknowledge...

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