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Image, random text will go here to hold the box

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Image, random text will go here to hold the box

A Japanese Mom’s Struggle in New York

A Japanese Mom Struggles to Raise Her Hyperactive Son in New York

By Ken Aragaki @kenaragaki

May 12, 2015


Yui, 39, who asked that her last name not be printed, moved to New York last summer with her 7-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son, after her husband was transferred to New York from his office in Tokyo. In December, a dance teacher pointed out that her son might have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Feeling surprised, and somewhat insulted initially, Yui started researching ADHD and consulting with a therapist. Here is her story and struggle in audio.

Q & A with Kyoko Sagaraaragaki_japanesetherapist_01

Licensed Mental Health Counselor/Licensed Psychoanalyst

Edited and condensed by Ken Aragaki Kyoko Sagara, 42, has been working as a mental health counselor and therapist for more than ten years in New York City. Originally from Osaka, Japan, Sagara is one of the few Japanese-speaking clinical therapists here and has worked with a number of Japanese patients.

Q: How are your Japanese patients different from the American ones?

A: When I started my private practice in 2006, most of my clients were from New York. So I had no idea whether I could reach out to Japanese people. The Japanese people who first came to me had been hospitalized or tried to kill themselves, or were at a serious point where they needed professional care. But nowadays, Japanese people come in and call me more casually to do a consultation because they want to see if they have something that should be treated. But culturally speaking, conflicts among friends, couples and families are viewed as things that you should deal with on your own or within your family, so there’s the perception that you shouldn’t ask for outside help. You figure it out on your own or within that family structure.

Q: How is the attitude toward seeking professional different between the United States and Japan?

A: In the United States people feel when there is an emotional problem, it is healthier, better and more productive to get help from a professional therapist. So it’s not a matter of getting advice from a family member. People here have a tendency to consult with a professional. That’s more of the norm here. In Japan or the Japanese community, when one mother tells another, “Oh, I have a problem with this kid” or “I’m having difficulties with my husband,” they just talk to each other. They feel like they can help each other and don’t really need professional help. Now the barrier is that if you seek professional help, you are wrong. You are deeply in trouble. You are not trying hard enough. There’s self-criticism. Culturally, Japanese people like to criticize ourselves. It’s almost like you criticize yourself and you try hard, and part of trying hard is trying to get better. So it’s a different concept from here.

Q: What is the perception of mental illness in children in Japan?

A: In Japan, a lot of behaviors that are considered problematic in the United States are not considered to be problems. They are considered unique or part of being kids. And definitely with the self-criticism thing, teachers become critical of themselves and say “What am I doing wrong that kids are not behaving correctly? What can I do to help these kids?” In Japan, even the term “mental illness” is a taboo. The average person avoids talking about it. So unless kids obviously have some kind of learning disability, learning delay or other obvious “mental illness,” people just think everything else is “normal.”

Q: What are the common issues you see among the Japanese community in New York City?

A: They don’t try to seek help right away. If the kids do have some kind of issue, it develops further and becomes problematic when they are pre-teens or teenagers. And that’s when they behave more violently or reach a point where they are about to be kicked out of school. Because there is easier access to different services and it’s easier culturally to talk to psychologists and get evaluated, parents here take it as a more positive notification. Japanese families are more negative, like “Oh my gosh, now what am I going to do?” There is also a sense of guilt – people tend to feel the parents did something wrong or gave that gene. There is a very strong sense of guilt.

Q: What is your favorite phrase to use when working with Japanese parents?

A: “Damena shitsumon wa arimasen” or “there are no wrong questions.” Having questions is a good thing. And you have to believe in yourself. You have autonomy and power, which is a very different concept for Japanese people: individualistic existence in the U.S. versus a group society in Japan. Conformity is sometimes more important in Japan. So you have to be culturally different when you live here.

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About the City Mind Project

CityMind explores mental health in New York City. The articles produce reflect the mental health concerns of particular communities, explores access to quality care and delves into larger social issues concerning stigmatization. The stories are New York based but reflect the larger issues of mental health nationwide. We hope the project will serve both as a news source and a resource.

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