Understanding Types of Mental Health Services in Korea

Psychiatry, therapy counseling, and life coaching are distinct yet often confused approaches to personal development and mental well-being. Navigating such distinctions among these terms and services can feel confusing if not frustrating, but you are not alone in that. To better understand these differences, we must grasp the fundamental definitions of each term. This blog post will provide a breakdown of each type of service (psychiatry, therapy, counseling, and life coaching) to enable you to understand and make informed decisions on your mental health options in Korea.

Foreign Language Mental Health Services

International residents in South Korea may have access to a variety of the following mental health support services in a variety of languages such as English, Russian, Vietnamese, Thai, and Chinese. Access varies based on region and language.

Psychiatry (정신 의학)

First, let’s take a look at psychiatry.

Psychiatry Definition

As defined by the American Psychiatric Association, psychiatry is the medical specialty dedicated to diagnosing, treating, and preventing mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. 

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Credentials

A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who holds an M.D. or D.O. degree with a focus on psychiatry.

Purpose and Approaches

A psychiatrist’s primary purpose is to diagnose, treat, and prevent mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. The approach in psychiatry is mainly medical, utilizing medications to address mental health issues. 

NOTE: Psychiatrists are the only mental health specialists among the four we will discuss in this blog post who are allowed to prescribe medications.

Treatment Duration

Treatment duration varies based on the nature and severity of the condition, with long-term options for chronic cases. Initial sessions last 30-60 minutes, followed by shorter 15-30 minute follow-up sessions.

Insurance Coverage

Psychiatry services are partially covered by NHIS in Korea. Medication prescriptions are a common aspect of treatment. For more information on NHIS coverage for psychiatry services, call the NHIS English hotline.

NHIS Hotline

NHIS Hotline5

0338112000

Copy and paste phone numbers into Naver Maps to get directions

This phone number takes you to an NHIS agent who can answer any and all questions you have about the Korean national health insurance including cost and coverage. English, Russian, Chinese and other language services are available. Note: It may be difficult for a call to go through during the lunch hour (12pm-1pm)

(Listing information provided by the South of Seoul app)

To learn more about overall Psychiatry, read here.

Psychotherapy Therapy (심리 치료)

Next, let’s learn about psychotherapy. 

Psychotherapy Definition

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), psychotherapy is any psychological service provided by a trained professional primarily utilizing communication and interaction to assess, diagnose, and address dysfunctional emotional reactions, thought patterns, and behavior. Many individuals refer to psychotherapy, generally, as therapy or talk therapy.

Credentials

Psychotherapy is typically conducted by professionals with MA or PhD credentials in psychotherapy. Trained and licensed psychotherapists may include clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors, social workers, or psychiatric nurses.

Purpose and Approaches

The purpose of psychotherapy is to address and alleviate psychological distress, dysfunctional patterns, thoughts, and behaviors and to provide a safe space for individuals, couples, or groups to explore and understand their mental health

Psychotherapists employ various therapeutic techniques and forms of communication. Psychotherapy can be offered to individuals, couples, families, or groups. 

Psychotherapy is divided into main categories: 

  1. psychodynamic psychotherapy
  2. cognitive therapy or behavior therapy
  3. humanistic therapy
  4. integrative psychotherapy

Mental health conditions (e.g. Anxiety, Depression, ADHD, etc.) can be diagnosed by psychotherapists, if the psychotherapy clinic has the required questionnaires and resources. However, neurological or cognitive conditions (e.g. Dementia) are diagnosed by psychiatrists and neurologists.

NOTE: Psychiatrists can work as trained psychotherapists, but psychotherapists cannot work as psychiatrists unless they have medical certification in psychiatry.

For further information read this article by the APA.

Treatment Duration

Psychotherapy sessions can range from short-term to long-term, depending on the goals and severity of the mental health challenge. Session durations average around 50 minutes.

Insurance Coverage

In Korea, the NHIS does not cover psychotherapy sessions. However, some international insurance may cover psychotherapy services. To learn more about your international insurance coverage of psychotherapy sessions, contact your insurance provider and the clinic from which you would like to receive services. 

Counseling (상담)

On to learning about counseling. 

Counseling Definition

As per the American Counseling Association, counseling is a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to achieve goals related to mental health, wellness, educational, and career. Additionally, according to the APA, counseling provides professional assistance in coping with personal problems, including emotional, behavioral, vocational, marital, educational, rehabilitation, and life-stage issues (e.g., cultural adjustment or retirement). 

Credentials

Professional counselors typically have a Bachelor’s (BA) or Master’s (MA) credentials in psychology.

Purpose and Approaches

The purpose of counseling is to empower individuals, families, and groups to achieve mental health, wellness, educational, and career goals. Counselors offer professional assistance in coping with personal challenges, such as emotional, behavioral, vocational, and life-stage challenges.

Counselors employ techniques such as active listening, guidance, advice, discussion, clarification, and test administration (diagnostics).

Treatment Duration

The duration of counseling can be brief or short-term, depending on specific concerns, with sessions typically scheduled weekly or bi-weekly and lasting around 50 minutes per session on average. 

Insurance Coverage

In Korea, the NHIS does not cover counseling sessions. However, international insurance may cover counseling services. 

NOTE: Individuals may conflate their understanding of psychotherapy and mental health counseling due to the similarities between the two practices. Such confusion can lead to difficulty in choosing between psychotherapy services or mental health counseling when seeking mental health support. For a side-by-side comparison of psychotherapy and mental health counseling aspects not discussed in this blog post, read here.

Life-Coaching Coaching (정신 건강 코칭)

Finally, let’s delve into what life-coaching is.

Life-Coaching Definition

According to the APA dictionary, life coaching is a form of teaching and encouragement, conducted one-to-one or in a group, designed to assist individuals in identifying and achieving goals of importance to them in both personal and work aspects of their lives.

Credentials

Life-coaching practices do not have universally mandated credentials or licenses. However, a life-coach may complete a certification program to practice mentoring.

Purpose and Approaches

The purpose of life-coaching is to assist individuals in identifying and achieving personal and professional goals, with a focus on personal development, motivation, and goal setting. 

Approaches for life-coaching often involve one-to-one or group sessions to provide guidance and encouragement, employing techniques such as goal-setting, action planning, positive psychology, and strengths-based coaching. 

Treatment Duration

Life-coaching is typically short-term, with a focus on specific goals. Sessions may be less frequent and more goal-oriented. 

Insurance Coverage

Life-coaching services are generally not covered by insurance (either NHIS or international insurance options).

Snapshot Comparison of Mental Health Counseling Options

Below, you will find a table that gives a side-by-side comparison of the 4 types of counseling options defined within this blog post.

PsychiatryPsychotherapyCounselingLife-Coaching
CredentialsM.D. or D.O.MA or PhDBA or MANone required
PurposeDiagnose and treat mental disordersAlleviate psychological distressEmpower and address mental health
Goal-setting and personal growth
ApproachMedical treatments and medications(1) Psychodynamic therapy

(2) Cognitive-behavioral therapy

(3) Humanistic therapy

(4) Integrative approaches tailored to individual needs
Supportive guidance
Motivation and strengths-based coaching
DurationVaries; typically 15-60 min sessionsVaries; Short or long-term*; ~50 min
Brief; weekly/bi-weekly; ~50 min

Flexible; ~30-60 min sessions
Insurance
Coverage
NHIS**International insurance*** International insurance***Not covered
Medication
Prescription
YesNoNoNo
*Short-term is typically 10-20 sessions spanning 3-5 months; long-term can range from several months to years
**NHIS covers evaluations and medication management but not therapy.
***Check with your provider for coverage details

Conclusion

By understanding the features of each approach, we hope you feel more confident in navigating the choices that align with your needs. Remember, the journey toward well-being begins with taking that first step. Don’t hesitate to make choices that resonate with you. Your mental health is a priority. The initial step might seem challenging, but as with any essential aspect of self-care, getting started is often the hardest part. Embrace this knowledge, trust in your ability to make informed decisions, and take that first step.

Special Thanks to Our Mental Health Collaborators

This post was enriched by the knowledge and cooperation of several local mental health organizations in the Pyeongtaek area, whose insights have been pivotal in detailing the counseling services available. We express our sincere appreciation for their support and commitment to mental wellness. Their efforts in making mental health care accessible to our international community, play a crucial role in fostering understanding and support across cultures. Thank you to the following organizations:

Asana Counseling Center

Asana Counseling Center0

0316639110

Copy and paste phone numbers into Naver Maps to get directions

Hangul Address

경기 평택시 밀월로15번길 89-6

Asana Counseling Center is a mental health counseling center that offers support for trauma, PTSD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Couples/Marital Strengthening, Anxiety, Depression, Adjustment, Child Therapy, Parent Consultation and more. They accept international insurances such as afspa, United Healthcare Global, CISI, GBG, AXA, VA Foreign Medical Program, Tricare, Bupa, and aetna.

(Listing information provided by the South of Seoul app)

Integrated Counseling Services

Integrated Counseling Services 0

0316627571

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Hangul Address

경기도 평택시 목펀로 5

English-speaking counseling services located near Osan Air Base

(Listing information provided by the South of Seoul app)

Seoul Counseling Center PT

Seoul Counseling Center PT0

031-692-5556

Copy and paste phone numbers into Naver Maps to get directions

Hangul Address

경기도 평택시 팽성읍 신흥북로29번길 40-15

English and Korean speaking therapists, many of whom are internationally accredited. They take Tricare as well as a host of other international insurance options. Individual, couples, and childrens therapy is also available.

(Listing information provided by the South of Seoul app)

Hope & Wellness Services:

  • Address: Prime Building 3F, 134-4 Anjeong-ri, Paengseong-eup, Pyeongtaek-si, Gyeonggi-do, Republic of Korea (17983)
  • Tel : 031-647-4436 / 031-647-4437
  • E-mail : contact@hopeandwellness.co.kr

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