Hye-shin 정혜신 Chung

Ashoka Fellow
,
Fellow Since 2014
Empathetic Persons

Citation

This profile was prepared when Hye-shin 정혜신 Chung was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2014.
The New Idea
Each generation of Koreans has experienced waves of violence against citizens over the past 60 years: starting with the Korean War, followed by state violence directed against citizens under military dictatorship in the 1970-80s, and the financial crisis and massive economic restructuring in the late 1990s that destroyed societal faith in job stability and economic mobility. Korean society as a whole has had few opportunities to confront this series of collective trauma and its impact on a large proportion of society. Left unaddressed, the effects go beyond a particular generation, as older generations often project their psychological status onto younger generations in the form of societal norms and expectations. The widely shared experience of violence, and consequent collective trauma passing through successive generations, have been implicated in South Korea’s highest and fastest growing suicide rate among the OECD countries.

Korea’s mental health care system has been largely inadequate to address the impact of collective trauma on individual citizens. There are simply not enough medical professionals to address the problem given its scale and multigenerational reach. Furthermore, most mental health professionals are trained to address clinical mental health needs. Hye-shin therefore is enabling a vast number of ordinary citizens with varying degrees of emotional and psychological needs to access tools and societal support to address their own mental well-being and that of people around them. From a simple and affordable self-evaluation tool to a new counselling model that focuses on shared trauma and collective healing, Hye-shin has created a set of highly replicable and self-multiplying approaches to turn ordinary citizens – a virtually untapped resource when it comes to mental health – into healing agents for themselves and others.

At the heart of Hye-shin’s work is a design principle that empathy is the key to transformative healing and that true empathy comes from shared experience. From this perspective, a series of collective trauma in Korea’s modern history becomes an asset for empathy, not a societal liability. A psychiatrist by training, Hye-shin learned from her own experience working with victims of torture and laid-off workers and their family members that those who suffered extreme emotional trauma can be excellent counsellors and healers for other people because they truly understand the pain and the process of recovery. Hye-shin is putting this principle to work at scale by empowering ordinary citizens to become what she calls “wounded healers.”
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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