Korean Catholics seek more counselling to curb suicides

Experts and Catholic groups in South Korea have called for more psychotherapy centres and counsellors and urged the Church to promote counselling as part of pastoral care amid a rise in suicide rates.

Mar 17, 2023


SEOUL:
Experts and Catholic groups in South Korea have called for more psychotherapy centres and counsellors and urged the Church to promote counselling as part of pastoral care amid a rise in suicide rates.

“[Pastoral] counselling should be added to sacramental pastoral care,” said Fr Matthew Hong Sung-nam, director of the Catholic Psycho-Spiritual Counselling Centre of Seoul archdiocese.

He added that “the Church intervenes in people’s lives from birth to death and takes care of them. Similarly, pastoral centres of the Church should try to solve the problem.”

Pastoral counselling is a unique form of psychotherapy that uses spiritual resources as well as psychological understanding for healing and growth, according to the American Association of Pastoral Counselling. It is provided by certified pastoral counsellors, who are not only mental health professionals but have also had in-depth religious and/or theological training.

Fr Matthew ChoYoung-su, an official at the Good Neighbour Counselling Office of Chuncheon diocese pointed out that the positive image of the Church in Korea is a huge factor that contributes to the trust of the public in its counselling services.
“Trust is important in counselling, and Korean churches are positively recognised in society. So they have strengths in providing counselling pastoral care,” said Cho.

Cho said that the economic crisis caused by COVID-19, the Russia-Ukraine war, and social and political turmoil has created the need for a “neighbour who can help them [South Koreans] and stabilise their mind.”

However, Church officials cite a shortage of counselling centres and trained personnel as drawbacks in providing timely counselling to potential victims.

Pastoral counselling experts suggest setting up counselling centres with trained personnel at local churches to tackle the ever-increasing demand for counselling.

In South Korea, many people consider seeking mental health support as a weakness and taboo, which makes them unwilling to speak about the issue in public.

Official data shows that only 20 per cent of South Koreans seek mental health care when they are depressed, and nearly 75 per cent of South Korean elderly individuals feel that depression and other mental health problems are a sign of weakness.

In 2021, there were 10 mental healthcare facilities operating in South Korea’s Chungnam province, according to statista.com.

There is a total of 59 such institutions nationwide, a number that has not changed for over a decade now. Gangwon is the only province that has no active mental health institutions.

Fr Mark Lee Geum-jae, director of the Pastoral Counselling Centre of Jeonju diocese said that the Church needs to follow the footsteps of Jesus to reach out to people who badly need mental health support.

“Jesus was the most exemplary counsellor who sympathised with, embraced, and accepted the people who always came to him, giving them healing and new opportunities,” the priest said. -- ucanews.com

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