In a desperate attempt to change herself and take charge of her life, a 44-year-old housewife visited the Saneum Art Therapy Center in Yangpyeong, Gyeonggi Province, last winter.
Trapped in a prison of self-blame for being overweight, childless for years and having constant conflict with her husband, she was under extreme stress and feeling helpless, recalled her therapist Weon Jung-yen, director of the center.
The 44-year-old woman is just one of the many stressed-out Koreans trying to find ways to resolve stress and bring balance to their lives.
A recent government survey shows the number of people who visited clinics due to extreme stress rose by about 18 percent from 2007 to 2011. Of those, middle-aged women made up about 38 percent of the total patients treated for stress and related disorders.
Experts say more people struggle to survive in a highly competitive society, unable to find comfort and support from communities and families that are breaking apart.
“Many people are exhausted from being caught in excessive competition and feel as if they are machine components. They also feel loss, anger and confusion over losing ties with families and communities,” the Ven. Magga, president of the Mind Therapy Association, told The Korea Herald.
Korean society has coined two terms that best describe the state of a person’s mind ― “healing” and “losing mind.”
“Healing” refers to the restoration of one’s health and well-being. On the other hand, “losing mind” (literal translation from Korean is “mental breakdown”) may depict the state of psychological stress felt in daily lives. Frequently used when faced with difficulties at work, school and in any other stressful situation, it has become an idiomatic expression widely used by young people.
Healing through various means
To fight off stress and restore balance in life, people turn to various forms of recourse.
The housewife mentioned earlier found a way to be happy through art therapy sessions conducted with Weon.
“She said she always felt inferior her whole life, but after going through art therapy sessions with us, she gained much more confidence, which led her to land a job,” said Weon.
Weon said her client discovered her creativity through the art therapy sessions and began to use her creative ability in starting cooking and makeup classes for her neighbors.
For many, reading is the easiest way to find the small dose of comfort needed in their daily lives.
The weekly list of the top 10 best-selling books at Kyobo Book Store has two books of essays that aim to offer comfort to tired minds.
The Ven. Hyemin’s “What You See When You Take a Break” is leading the rising popularity of the so-called “self-healing” books. The essays written by religious figures or social leaders aim to guide readers to balanced lives and clear away negative emotions.
Seoul National University professor Kim Nan-do’s best-selling self-help book, “It Hurts Because It’s the Youth,” continues to inspire young adults struggling amid low employment and high tuition.
However, the growing popularity of “healing essays” may not be healthy trend, a publication expert warns.
“It just gives you temporary comfort,” said Park Shin-kyu, head of the literature publication department at Changbi Publishers, Inc. “I wonder how effective the comfort that these essays offer is in overcoming life’s obstacles.”
Park instead recommends reading literature and says it will enrich one’s life by stimulating the imagination and filling an emotional void.
It was not until last year that people began to pay attention to the word “healing,” according to Weon.
“I felt really uncomfortable saying ‘healing’ in my art therapy sessions because people usually associated the word with mental illness,” said Weon.
“Now they come to us asking if we provide ‘healing programs.’”
Weon said the “healing” boom started with the launch of the TV talk show “Healing Camp” on Seoul Broadcasting System last year. The weekly show features celebrities and politicians who talk about themselves freely in a setting surrounded by nature.
“People have begun to feel that psychological health is an important indicator of quality life. We are in a transition period in which people are beginning to consider the invisible aspect of life more important.”
Achieving mind, body balance
There are many methods that therapists and psychiatrists use to help one to achieve all-around balance of mind and body.
At Healience Sun Village, a “healing” resort located in Hongcheon, Gangwon Province, therapists and doctors guide participants to healthy lives through meditation, exercise, healthy eating and true rest.
|A man meditates outdoors at Healience Sun Village in Hongcheon, Gangwon Province. (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)|
“The healing program was the time I began to look after myself and heal myself psychologically and physically. I was able to listen to my inner self, and bring up the energy I need to revitalize my life,” a middle-aged college lecturer surnamed Baek who took part in the four-day healing program wrote on the resort’s website.
Away from everyday routines and stress, participants can focus on balancing their life through meditation, yoga, exercise, healthy heating and good rest, according to the center.
While Healience Sun Village adopts a comprehensive approach to facilitate the journey of returning to health, Saneum Art Therapy Center offers psychotherapy through art in the form of painting, dance and play.
“Art therapy is effective in helping people quickly realize what their problems are and help them not only overcome stress, but explore different aspects of their own personality,” said Weon.
Weon gave tips on how to overcome everyday stress and problems.
“People don’t know why they are feeling negative emotions such as depression, anxiety, anger, frustration or isolation. They are just frustrated to feel that way. But if you think carefully about what’s causing you to feel that way, you will be able to heal the root cause of such emotions,” said Weon.
By Lee Woo-young (firstname.lastname@example.org)