Staff writer

OSAKA — Living in a foreign country, cut off from familiar social and cultural norms, dealing with a language that is not your own and attempting to fit in without losing your identity can cause serious mental stress in the most hardy of expatriates.

Until recently, most had nowhere to turn for professional care. But this past year, a group of professional mental health care providers, led by a Kansai-based American social therapist, formed Japan’s first organization that provides professional counseling in English and several other languages.

International Mental Health Providers Japan consists of nearly 40 mental health care professionals, from licensed physicians to social workers, nationwide. The group is led by Kelly Lemmon-Kishi, an American social worker who gained fame in the Kansai region after the Great Hanshin Earthquake for her efforts to provide mental health care to both resident expatriates and Japanese.

“My experiences with local hospitals, clinics, police, and other health care workers in the aftermath of the quake showed that there was no network of mental health providers that the foreign community could turn to. This lead to the formation of IMHPJ,” Lemmon-Kishi said.

Currently, there are IMHPJ members in nine prefectures centered around the Kanto and Kansai regions and in Okinawa. While English is the common language for all members, some are also fluent in Dutch, French, German, Hebrew, Polish and Spanish. Nine are fluent in Japanese.

“There are two categories of membership,” Lemmon-Kishi said. “Clinical members are licensed or license-eligible in the country they trained in, while associate members are working in para-professional, volunteer or other roles, or are actively pursuing training that will allow them to be eligible for clinical membership.”

What makes the group unique, Lemmon-Kishi said, and what insures that members adhere to a high degree of professionalism, is a code of ethics that all are forced to sign before they are allowed to join the organization.

This code includes sections on privacy and confidentiality, protection of clients’ rights, including the right to query the mental health provider on the person’s qualifications, as well as an agreement to provide services only in the areas they are qualified.

“The code of ethics is the first of its kind, we believe, and helps insure that the organization’s members are qualified, experienced professionals,” Lemmon-Kishi said.

IMHPJ professionals treat a variety of mental health issues, from cross-cultural counseling to depression to family psychotherapy. Lemmon-Kishi said adjusting to life in Japan and international marriage counseling are two of the most common issues she deals with.

“In the case of international marriages especially, we get a lot of calls, and our members, many of whom are married to people from cultures other than their own, are very experienced,” she said.

To receive a copy of the IMHPJ guide or to find out more about the organization, contact Kelly Lemmon-Kishi at (0720) 67-4437, or e-mail KLK@resolutions.org

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