Hinokishin School Symposium Discusses Social Withdrawal

Living as they do in increasingly complex social environments, growing numbers of people in Japan–especially among the young–are becoming socially withdrawn. They experience a loss of interest in normal social activities, cut themselves off from others, and seclude themselves in their houses for extended periods of time. In an effort to contribute to salvation work directed toward those people, Hinokishin School organized a symposium on “Mental Illnesses and Salvation Work–Focusing on Social Withdrawal,” which was held on February 25 at the Home of the Parent.

The first half of the symposium consisted of two keynote speeches delivered by Dr. Sho Kawata, head of psychiatry at Ikoi-no-Ie Hospital, and by chief clinical psychologist Katsuhiko Kubo of the same hospital. Based on their expertise in treating psychopathological and non-psychopathological illnesses, respectively, they offered advice on how to care for socially withdrawn people. The second half took the form of a panel discussion, with these doctors, as well as steering committee member Kazuhito Wakasa from Hinokishin School, serving as the panelists.

The symposium drew some 500 people–twice as many as this event had originally been planned for–who listened attentively to the presentations and discussions, hoping to gain tips on how to help socially withdrawn people and their families as part of their salvation work.

To commence the panel discussion, Mr. Wakasa shared some of the experiences he had in caring for socially withdrawn children. Besides being Sento Branch Church’s head minister, he has over the past six years been involved in juvenile issues in his capacity as a foster parent belonging to Tokyo Prefecture’s foster family association.

Following this, questions were raised by members of the audience. In response to a question about how one could separate psychopathological and non-psychopathological conditions, Dr. Kawata said that a psychopathological condition involves disorders of the self, whereas non-psychopathological illnesses are conditions where the self remains more or less undamaged but that still involve suffering from fears, anxieties, and worries. He also said that the long-term use of medications could control severe symptoms.

Responding to a question as to how to help someone whose social withdrawal began with refusal to go to school and whose family members are unable to accept this situation, clinical psychologist Kubo said that the important thing in working with such students is, not to try to get them to go to school, but to help them to connect with their parents, society at large, and specialized organizations. He said that while it is obviously important for parents to maintain communication with such children so as to show that they truly care for them, cases where the parent-child relationship is strained may also require the involvement of a third party–a role that could well be played by those engaged in salvation work.

Mr. Wakasa responded to a questioner who had recently been approached by parents with a socially withdrawn son and who wanted to know what sort of involvement might be appropriate for a follower. “Our first inclination,” he said, “may be to ask those people to change certain aspects of their lives. What is even more important, however, is to first help bring a sense of relief and peace of mind to them, for instance, by telling them, ‘It’s okay.’ This will allow us to be more effectively involved. . . . [As for concrete steps,] one thing we can do is to have all the three parties make some promise–for example, the son might promise to get up in the morning even if he is not going to school. The parents can also make some such promise, and our own promise might be to visit them every day. This can help the son enhance his sense of responsibility as well as serve to create a sense of unity among the three parties involved, thereby increasing the family’s trust in us.”

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