Guidelines and Strategies for Cross-Cultural Counseling with Korean American Clients

By Kim, Yea Sun Eum | Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, October 2005 | Go to article overview

Guidelines and Strategies for Cross-Cultural Counseling with Korean American Clients


Kim, Yea Sun Eum, Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development


The 3 major topics discussed begin with a recommendation of family counseling as the primary therapeutic modality for Korean Americans. Second, the article recommends various culturally congruent joining strategies, presented in 5 general groups. The 3rd major section of the article offers the cross-cultural counselor strategies for therapeutic changes, discussed under 7 categories.

Los 3 temas mayores discutidos empiezan con una recomendacion de aconsejos de familia que aconseja come la modalidad terapeutica primaria para Americanos Coreanos. Segundo, el articulo recomienda varias estrategias culturalmente congruentes de la union, presentado en 5 grupos generales. La seccion mayor tercera del articulo ofrece las estrategias transculturales de consejero para cambios terapeuticos discutidos bajo 7 categorias.

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According to U.S. Census Bureau immigration statistics (Yu & Choe, 2003), the Korean population in the United States is estimated to be 1,076,872, which reflects a 35% increase when compared with the statistics for 1990. Because of their minority status and immigration traumas, Korean Americans' mental health problems are very serious, with a high incidence of divorce, domestic violence, extramarital affairs, substance abuse, and juvenile delinquency. Korean Americans are reported to experience the highest rate of domestic violence among various Asian groups in Los Angeles County (Rhee, 1996).

Western counselors who work with Korean American clients need to understand their clients' cultural characteristics, values, family dynamics, acculturation problems, and attitudes about seeking counseling services. At the same time, I cannot overemphasize the pitfalls of making overly broad generalizations about the guidelines and strategies for cross-cultural counseling with Korean American clients. Recognizing the tremendous within-group variety among Korean Americans, this article offers only a framework to begin working with this client group. Although recommendations should not be overgeneralized, this article attempts to provide Western counselors with some culturally congruent therapeutic guidelines and strategies that can be applied to many Korean Americans. In this article, Korean American refers to people of Korean descent who have a very low level of acculturation, including recent immigrants.

the primary therapeutic modality for korean americans

The most fundamental guideline when working with a Korean American client is to recognize the impact of the family on Korean Americans and to use family counseling as the primary treatment modality as often as possible. The influence of Korean American families on an individual during a crisis is so powerful (K. I. Kim, 1973; Uba, 1994) that one cannot even make an accurate diagnosis without also seeing the identified client's family members. Furthermore, the exclusion of family members often results in therapeutic failure because families can sabotage the counseling process (Y. S. E. Kim, 1987).

The importance of family therapy as the primary therapeutic modality for Korean Americans can also be supported by their most representative traditional method of problem solving--shamanistic healing. Shamanistic healing has played an indispensable role in healing numerous wounds experienced by traditional Korean families. Shamanistic healing itself is not accepted by the majority of Korean Americans any longer. However, the therapeutic aspects of shamanistic healing, which I discuss further in the last section of this article, merit the attention of modern cross-cultural counselors.

One of the most distinctive therapeutic aspects of shamanism is that it often is used to find the cause and solution of problems in family relationships. For example, a 17year-old boy was admitted to a psychiatric hospital with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. During hospitalization, the family invited a shaman to their home because of the grandmother's wishes. …

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