Date of Award


Degree Type

Restricted Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Work


This study examined clinical issues relevant in working with Korean immigrant women through an analysis of two cases through in-depth case studies supplemented with secondary data. The sample cases for the study consisted of two Korean immigrant women who received psychological treatment from transcultural perspectives. The cases were analyzed by two inter-raters who have more than ten years of clinical experience and are bilingual in Korean and English. There were twelve themes, including twenty- two sub-themes, which emerged from the data analysis: acculturation, separation-individuation, parent-child relationship, self-esteem in Confucianism, sexuality, shame, guilt, chemyon, han, hwa-byong, hanpuri and culturally sensitive practice.

The examined clinical issues presented by thematic analysis of the two cases are as follows: (1) applicability of psychodynamic theories from transcultural perspectives in working with Korean immigrant women, (2) influence of acculturation and separation-individuation of Korean immigrant women and conflicts with their children, (3) reconceptualization of terms: self-esteem, sexuality, shame, guilt, chemyon, han, hwa-byong and hanpuri in intervening with Korean immigrant women.

Implications for the study were presented in terms of social work practice and education, including necessary modifications of Western theories, reconceptualization of cultural norms, community education and mental health policy. The findings of this study suggested that psychodynamic approaches such as self psychology and object relations theory, as well as non-psychodynamic approaches such as Bowen systems theory, are applicable to Korean clients even though the two Korean study participants would not necessarily be representative of Asians as a whole. The study presented the necessity for social work practitioners to reconceptualize cultural phenomena that have been seen in Korean culture such as han, hwa-byong and hanpuri by considering the historical, political, social, and cultural factors which Korean American women are heavily influenced by and are important issues in the treatment setting. Social work practitioners need to network with Korean churches to provide mental health education for Korean immigrants because they are more likely to cope with problems by engaging in religious activities. The findings suggested that social work practitioners should advocate for public policies that create more mental health resources and develop prevention programs for Asian Americans by funding more research studies. The limitation of the study and future research were also addressed.

The study addressed intergenerational and intercultural conflict that Korean American women experienced with their children and accumulated psychological pain from their relationships with their husbands in Confucian society. The effectiveness of psychodynamic approaches for Korean immigrant families based on Korean cultural values was demonstrated. The study provided a theoretical framework in working with Korean clients, although further research is necessary in order to enlarge the applicability of transcultural psychotherapy to various Asian populations.

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