A Korean Psychiatrist Sees Mental Health Benefits in Believing in Life After Death
Posted on 29 October 2012, 9:06
When Jasung Kim, M.D., (below) a South Korean psychiatrist, contacted me about translating my book, The Afterlife Revealed, into Korean for possible distribution in his country, I welcomed his request and took advantage of the contact to discuss his views on the subject of life after death, as well as those of his countrymen.
Dr. Kim is both a Korean and U.S. board certified psychiatrist, practicing at Dong-Hae Dong-In Hospital in Kang-Won, South Korea. After doing his internship and psychiatric residency at Seoul National University Hospital from 1985 to 1989, he spent three years as a psychiatrist in the South Korean Army, followed by various positions in both Korea and the United States. His U.S. experience included a fellowship at Yale University, training in psychoanalysis at Columbia Psychoanalytic Institute, four years at New York Presbyterian Hospital, and a year as assistant clinical professor at the University of North Dakota.
I recently put some questions to him by e-mail:
Dr. Kim, how did you become interested in the subject of life after death?
“It was in the long context of my pursuing of religion/spirituality questions. From the fundamental Christian belief I was raised with, I began my quest to find a belief system I could accept. I developed an ongoing interest in religion/spirituality topics in this quest. I went through many Christian theologians’ works and later expanded to comparative religion studies. I became a psychiatrist, and with this, I was exposed to many different psychological traditions, including Freud, Jung, cognitive/behavioral, developmental psychology, and pure biological psychiatry. In the mean time, my question on the ultimate issue of whether there is an afterlife was put on the shelf. Basically, I stayed as an agnostic on this matter until finally I was exposed to the numerous scientific studies on the afterlife topic. My first encounter with this type of research was with Dr. Gary Schwartz’s “Afterlife Experiments.”. I thought his work was very convincing, and soon I came to know of many mediumistic books, near death experience studies, reincarnation studies, hypnotic regression studies and theoretical books with quantum physics and other related theories, which can possibly explain the invisible spiritual world.”
If you don’t mind sharing, what are your personal beliefs and how did you arrive at them?
“With all the readings I have done so far, I have come to believe that spirit or consciousness remains after physical death, and through either many reincarnations or through different levels of the spiritual world, our soul continues to experience and evolve. As I have learned from Hindu tradition, and all other sources, I believe now that human life is basically the school for spiritual development.”
What is the predominant belief in Korea relative to the survival of consciousness after death?
“Many people just simply say ‘I don’t know,’ but basically accept death’s finality, even among Christians and Buddhists in Korea. Most of the people coming to see me for psychiatric problems are non believers. But some core group of Christians or Buddhists will believe in either heaven or reincarnation.”
I understand that you have given talks on the subject of life after death to your fellow psychiatrists in Korea. What is the basic message that you are trying to get across to them?
“Basically, there is a shortage of information on this matter. Transpersonal psychiatry is one branch in psychiatry that opens a door for this afterlife matter. Unfortunately, this is still not introduced enough both in the U.S. and here. So, basically, I try to spread the information for fellow psychiatrists, and they can judge on their own. And I think if we truly believe in the afterlife, it could become the most fundamental fact of life and will become an excellent coping strategy of life issues, including death anxiety, coping with failures, or human sufferings in general.”
It would be very risky for a psychiatrist in the United States to openly discuss the subject of an afterlife with his peers. His reputation might suffer. Is that not a problem in Korea?
“I don’t think it is as extreme as in the U.S. I think part of the reason why it is so extreme in the U.S. is a radical swinging from the traditional psychoanalytic/mind paradigm to the behavioral/biological psychiatry in the last 3-4 decades in the U.S. So it became too extreme. Here there has been no such dramatic change of paradigms to begin with, so it may be not so extreme. Personally though, I don’t worry too much about a reputation. One reason may be because I have been through top academic institutions both here and the U.S. for my residency training, I feel relatively more freedom than my peers to express my view.”
Do you feel that many mental problems can be related to a belief or non-belief in life after death?
“Yes. I think if someone has a strong afterlife belief, it will help in coping with many life issues, and the result will be fewer mental problems. It will work as an excellent coping strategy. I think uncertainty of life and hopelessness is the source of main psychological stress and it will create anxiety and depression related disorders. So the message of certainty and fundamental hopefulness from afterlife studies can become a strong foundation of good mental health.”
Is the subject of life after death something that a psychiatrist in Korea can discuss with his patients?
“Yes, I think we can and should. But we were never exposed to this topic during our regular training. I learned this topic from my own personal spiritual/religious searching. So talking with patients about this topic is my own decision. I almost routinely address this issue with elderly depressed patients, when they mention issues related to family death or grief, and their own underlying death anxiety. I often find it becomes a very crucial help for them. I do have copies of Jeffrey Long and Peter Fenwick’s NDE books (which are currently in print in Korea) in my office and let patients or family members borrow or buy them.”
Are there many published books on such things as mediumship, near-death experiences, past-life memories, apparitions, and related phenomena in your country?
“I found there are some translated books on near-death experiences, including Drs. Moody, Long and Fenwick, and past-life memories through hypnosis, like Michael Newton, but not any on mediumship, etc. to my knowledge. Because of that, I decided to translate and publish your book, “The Afterlife Revealed,” for the Korean people. I found your book had a very good summary of the messages coming from mediums over the years.”
Thank you for your interest in my book. One last question: More and more mental health workers are coming to believe that some, if not many, psychological problems are the result of possession of the individual by earthbound spirits. Do you have any thoughts on this subject?
“I have no direct experience on this matter, so I can only defer my own judgment on it. But in a metaphoric way it is a good analogy to think of addiction as a possession. Like the concept of 12 steps for AA, the power of addiction is so demonic, and so often transcends our individual will power, that concepts like ‘surrender’ and ‘seeking Higher Power’ to overcome addiction are very similar to ‘possession,’ I think. (I have read Dr. George Ritchie’s NDE account and vision of a ghost getting into a drunken person, then possessing the individual for a while.)
“I have seen a few cases during my residency at Seoul National University, in which the patients were diagnosed as schizophrenic. They were treated as possession cases in some Christian retreat type facilities, with prayer and some exorcism type procedure. But during the procedure, they were scratched on the abdomen with bare finger nails, resulting in infection, or they were beaten with sticks and came to the hospital later with bruises. So definitely it can be mismanaged. I think if some cases are considered as possession, a team of psychiatrists and clergy people who are well acquainted with both sides should see patients together as a team and decide.”
Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After we Die,
href="http://whitecrowbooks.com/books/page/transcending_the_titanic_beyond_deaths_door_/" title="Transcending the Titanic">Transcending the Titanic, and The Afterlife Explorers Volume 1., published by White Crow Books and available from Amazon and all good online bookstores.
Next blog: November 12