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Foreign psychologists offer free counseling for expats reeling from Itaewon trauma

Amid lack of public mental health care in other languages, counselors from abroad step in to help grieving expats

Professional counselors provide mental health support Tuesday to help people cope in the wake of the deadly crowd crush in Itaewon Saturday night. (Choi Jae-hee/The Korea Herald)
Professional counselors provide mental health support Tuesday to help people cope in the wake of the deadly crowd crush in Itaewon Saturday night. (Choi Jae-hee/The Korea Herald)

Paula Nascimento, a 31-year-old Brazilian female office worker, is suffering from depression and anger after witnessing the nightmarish scenes in Seoul’s Itaewon Saturday night.

“My mind kept straying back to when I saw emergency rescuers and citizens performing CPR on people lying unconscious on the street. What terrifies me the most is the faces of teenagers in the crowd screaming for help,” she said.

Psychological trauma affects many people, in-person witnesses like Nascimento, bereaved families, the injured and even those constantly exposed to photos and videos of the chaotic scenes shared widely on social media.

At makeshift booths set up near the memorial in front of Seoul City Hall and at another location near Noksapyeong Station, not far from where the disaster occurred, mental health care professionals offer free counseling. But they speak only Korean.

“A number of foreign nationals came to the booths to get psychological therapy, but unfortunately, we are not offering counseling services in English or other foreign languages,” said one of the staff members at a Seoul Plaza counseling booth.

For non-Korean speakers who need help, private counseling centers in Seoul are planning group therapy sessions.

Starting next week, Adaptable Human Solutions, a mental health center near Gongdeok Station in Seoul, will offer a total of four psychological counseling sessions in English to occur on Wednesdays.

Led by Dr. Jill Dunbar, a clinical psychologist from the UK, the upcoming sessions will provide a group counseling setting where participants can share painful memories or concerns. Each session will accomodate a maximum of 20 people on a first come, first served basis.

“The deadly incident in Itaewon has inflicted collective grief. When it comes to overcoming psychological trauma, it is very important to speak out about your traumatic events in a supportive environment. Words of consolation from people who have had similar experiences can help you confront the trauma and deal with emotional distress. Otherwise, you are likely to feel isolated and lonely, which can make things worse,” Dr. Dunbar said.

The mental health center said, those who wish to attend the group therapy sessions can send their name and phone number to the center's email at welcome@ahskorea.com.

Foreign clinical psychologists Dr. Jill Dunbar (left) from Adaptable Human Solutions in Mapo-gu and Adrian Dezwart from Mindful Seoul in Gangnam-gu. (Courtesy of Adaptable Human Solutions and Dezwart)
Foreign clinical psychologists Dr. Jill Dunbar (left) from Adaptable Human Solutions in Mapo-gu and Adrian Dezwart from Mindful Seoul in Gangnam-gu. (Courtesy of Adaptable Human Solutions and Dezwart)

Adrian Dezwart, another foreign psychologist from Canada who opened an English-speaking mental health center Mindful Seoul in Seolleung, southern Seoul, last year, also plans to host a group therapy session for both foreigners and English-speaking Koreans, this Thursday Nov. 3 from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.

“As a Certified Clinical Trauma Professional with 15 years of experience working with trauma and mental health crises, I felt a personal responsibility to offer whatever is within my means to support those in need. Anyone that was impacted by the incident is welcome to join,” Dezwart said.

“The long-lasting impact of a situation like the Itaewon disaster can be devastating to one's mental health if not managed effectively. It is imperative those who were impacted by this incident are heard and supported throughout this challenging time. No one should be left to deal with this on their own. The individuals without anyone close to them are most at risk and will benefit the most from professional mental health support.”

There is a limit of 12 spots and applications are available at www.mindfulseoul.com on a first come, first served basis.



By Choi Jae-hee (cjh@heraldcorp.com)
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