“My Golden Kids” Dr. Oh Eun-young Puts Therapy On TV

SEOUL — The day of the meeting had finally arrived. The parents had waited a month to see the famous South Korean psychiatrist about th...


SEOUL — The day of the meeting had finally arrived. The parents had waited a month to see the famous South Korean psychiatrist about their child’s problems. They entered the room, the doctor arrived and the door closed.

Then the teleprompters came on, the cameras started rolling and the producer shouted “Action!”

Thus began the recording of “My Golden Kids”, one of the most popular reality shows in South Korea. Reigning over the episode was Dr. Oh Eun-young, a specialist in child and adolescent psychiatry who has been dubbed the “god of parenthood.”

His mantra: “There are no problem children, only parenting problems.”

In a country where celebrity is often personified by young megastars from a demanding entertainment industry, Dr Oh, 57, occupies a unique cultural place. She attracts millions of viewers on television and on the Internet, dispensing advice on parenting and marriage.

Through a portfolio of shows — and books, videos, and lectures — she redefined therapy for Koreans, shattered the traditionally private relationship between doctor and patient, and introduced the nation to an accessible vocabulary about health issues. Mental Health.

“She’s the mother you wish you had as a child,” said Dr. Yesie Yoon, a Korean American psychiatrist in New York who grew up watching Dr. Oh’s shows. “People really put their personal feelings towards popular figures in the media. And I have the impression that she plays a role of good mother for many Koreans.

Its success is all the more notable in a country where taboos about seeking mental health treatment have deep roots and getting therapy has always been a stealth business.

South Koreans are testifying to Dr. Oh’s role in de-stigmatizing psychiatric treatment, and the fact that some are willing to share their struggles on his shows is a defining cultural moment. Practitioners in Dr Oh’s field say it is getting easier to persuade South Koreans to seek therapy or take medication.

In South Korea, about one in four adults said they had had a mental disorder in their lifetime, and only one in 55 received treatment in 2021, according to the National Mental Health Center. (One in five American adults received mental health treatment in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.) South Korea has one of the highest rates in the world. suicide rate; it was the fifth leading cause of death in 2020, according to the government. Among people in their twenties, it accounted for 54% of deaths.

When Dr Oh began her career as a doctor in 1996, many South Koreans associated mental illness with weakness, she said in an interview at a counseling center in Seoul’s wealthy Gangnam district. Some even believed that people could become mentally ill after studying psychiatry. Over the years, these attitudes have changed.

“Compared to when I took my first steps as a doctor,” she said, “more people have realized that talking to a psychiatrist is something useful – not something embarrassing. at all.”

Dr. Yang Soyeong, a psychiatrist practicing in Seoul, agreed: “Parents may be afraid of being noticed by a psychiatrist. But because Dr. Oh does it so gently on TV, I think it eased people’s apprehension about visiting the clinic.

The United States has long made stars of single-name medical personalities like Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz, who have attracted critical for their tactical. Dr. Oh’s fame has also spread outside the medical sphere. In Seoul, a life-size cutout of her stands in front of a cellphone dealership announcing the operator’s family plans. She appears in television commercials for a health insurance company.

Dr Oh, who runs a hospital and four counseling centres, has used television as a therapy platform since 2005, when she began her career in broadcasting lecturing on childhood developmental disorders.

On “My child has changed”, which aired from 2005 to 2015, each episode was devoted to the problems of a family. Dr. Oh came into their home for counseling sessions, and the conclusion of many episodes was that many children’s problems were caused by parental abuse, lack of understanding, or neglect.

In a thriving signature show, Dr. Oh would get rid of all the items parents used to beat their kids — back scratchers, umbrellas, shoe horns, broken chair legs.

When “My Golden Kids” premiered in 2020, the pandemic, with its social restrictions, forced people to face the problems of their loved ones head-on. Rather than visiting each other, Dr. Oh now sends a camera crew into homes to record what is happening; clips play when families discuss issues in the studio.

The problems presented run the gamut: a 9-year-old who yells at his mother, a 5-year-old who self-harms, a 12-year-old who steals from his mother, a 14-year-old who suffers from chronic unexplained . vomiting.

Even with family consent, home cameras can seem very intrusive. But giving a doctor the ability to assess family interactions in real-world settings, not the confines of a psychiatrist’s office, has diagnostic benefits, experts say.

“It’s a child psychiatrist’s dream,” said Dr. Yoon, the New York psychiatrist. “In my clinic, I only approach and discuss the things they bring to me. I may ask questions to dig deeper that they may not answer, and they may not answer honestly.

The show illustrates the amount of work parents go through to follow doctor’s advice. It also shows how change can take time and how old problems can resurface.

Since debuting “My Golden Kids,” Dr. Oh has expanded her television empire to include “Oh Eun-young’s Report: Marriage Hell,” in which she counsels couples; and “Dr. Oh’s Golden Clinic,” in which she counsels individuals. She says she has a plan to tackle the country’s low birth rate alleviating people’s fear of having children. She also hopes to introduce more Korean families who live overseas and face cultural and language barriers.

Dr Oh was born premature and she said doctors weren’t sure she would survive. Until about age 2, she was smaller than her peers and had a “fussy temper”: picky about food, often sick, and crying every night. She credits her comfort with herself as an adult to her parents, saying she “got a lot of love from them and felt understood by them.”

She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Yonsei University Medical College and an MD from Korea University Medical College. She married a doctor and their son is in the army.

“We were all someone’s children at one time,” she said. “The point is not to blame parents for every problem, but to emphasize that they are incredibly important figures in children’s lives.”

During a recent taping of “My Golden Kids,” a panel of comedians and celebrities appeared. They and Dr Oh took in the parents of a child who had refused to go to school for months. A video of the family’s home life was released. The doctor then shared his recommendations.

She has critics. Lee Yoon-kyoung, 51, an education reform and parenting rights activist and mother of two school-aged sons, fears that Dr Oh’s fame will lead viewers to take his words as gospel when there could be several interpretations of the same thing. behaviour.

“Of course, we recognize his expertise,” Ms. Lee said, “but some parents are a little uncomfortable when people judge his opinions unconditionally true, as if his words were divine.”

Some viewers have questioned the wisdom, as well as the privacy implications, of putting screams and punches at families on TV. In “My Golden Kids”, Dr. Oh does not explicitly identify the children, but the faces are not masked and the parents declare their own names and call their children by name.

Videos of episodes were uploaded to YouTube, generating humiliating comments about the families. Comments have since been disabled. But some parents and mental health professionals, noting that the internet is forever, demanded the show blur faces.

Dr Oh says the blurring could make it harder for people to empathize, inviting more abuse. Viewers, she said, should view television issues as part of the human experience. “The main reason I do these shows is because understanding kids is the starting point for understanding people,” she said.

Ban Su-jin, a 42-year-old mother of three from Incheon, had privacy concerns when she appeared on “My Golden Kids” in 2020 to consult with a son who was worried about leaving home.

“My husband was worried that my son’s friends would laugh at him because he had this problem,” she said. But they agreed it was “worth risking anything”.

After the recording, she says, her son’s anxiety improved significantly. The episode drew negative messages, Ms. Ban said, but also encouragement from friends and neighbors.

“The episode,” she said, “helped them understand how much my son had suffered.”

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