Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Human Seoul

“Brevity is the soul of wit,” Polonius says. And sometimes particularly useful things come in small packages. Such is the case with an article on the South Korean population’s resistance to psychotherapy (“Stressed and Depressed, Koreans Avoid Therapy,” NYT, 7/6/11). According to the Times, the suicide rate increased twofold from 1999-2009 in South Korea, and is now thrice what it is in US. Yet Koreans refuse to see a shrink. Part of it is cultural—Koreans don’t understand why anyone would have to pay to talk to a stranger when they can talk to someone else for free. This point may resonate particularly with those anywhere who have had insalubrious relationships with their therapists. The other part of the problem relates to the stoic nature of a culture that adheres to Buddhist and Confucian values of “diligence, stoicism and modesty” in which “individual concerns are secondary.” Sounds a little like the Protestant ethic, in which salvation is the product of pragmatism, no? And listen to Doctor Jin-seng Park, a Seoul shrink the Times quotes about the paradigm shift that is the source of the problem: “As the society became more oriented towards materialism, people started to compare themselves. There’s a lot of competition now, even starting in childhood, and the goals of life have moved. We have a saying, ‘If one cousin buys land, the other cousin gets a stomach ache.’” You don’t have to go to Seoul to hear this.

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