|PHOTOGRAPHED BY KO EUN-BIY
DIRECTOR AND art therapist of the Mogul Center, Park Jung-eun, has dedicated her entire career to provide means of communication for the disabled, especially those with autism. Her ways of communication are rather unconventional: she uses art. She specializes in art therapy because art provides an unconfined method of expression for those who have difficulty communicating with the outside world. Having lived in the United States and South Korea, Park had a glimpse of how people from different cultures communicate. She realized that South Korea lacked the facilities for the disabled, and thus created a mobile application, Mogul AAC, that provides a support system for those with communication difficulties. During the interview with The Yonsei Annals, Park shared her experiences as an art therapist and her insight on how to make a more inclusive world.
Annals: When did you become interested in counseling? Is there a specific reason you focus on autism?
Park: I mainly focus on autism, but my general interest is developmental psychology. I mostly counsel kids with developmental issues, like depression, anxiety, school problems, or family problems.
I became interested in this area when I was living in the States. I moved to America when I was around 14 or 15 years old. Since I could not speak English, I took English as a Second Language (ESL) course, where I met my best friend. She had trouble interacting with others, and I also had difficulties conversing with her since I did not speak English. We could not talk to each other properly because of the language barrier, but we still became friends. I was not aware at the time, but looking back now, I think she had autism. My experience as a non-English speaker in an English speaking country made me realize that language barrier can prevent you from communicating with the world even if you are not psychologically disabled. For that reason, like my friend whose disability kept her from connecting with others, I had difficulties socializing with others.
Annals: Could you elaborate on that last comment?
Park: According to some studies, most people show autistic behaviors when they are young. However, they learn to socialize as they grow older. Certain kids do not develop such behaviors naturally, which is why they are labeled as autistic. Some people consider autism as a disability, and this may be true, but autism starts with the inability to communicate and interact with others. People consider those with autism as different, but I think that is questionable. A butterfly is still a butterfly even though it does not have both wings.
Annals: Why did you choose to specialize in art therapy?
Park: First of all, I have done art since I was very young. Also, art is one of the basic communication tools that people use when they are young. Remember how you drew circles, zigzags, and other random shapes when you did not know how to write? That is a behavior that people are born with. But once we start to develop language skills, we stop using art as a means of expression. However, many people, especially Korean kids, do not focus on art anymore. People concentrate on Math, English, and other studies. I think that might be the reason that many kids are psychologically distressed.
Annals: Can you explain what art therapy is for the readers who are not familiar with it?
Park: Many people misunderstand art therapy and think all we do is analyze drawings. We recently stopped using the term “interpretation” when looking at the client’s artwork. For the therapists, art is a tool to gain access to the unconscious mind of the client. For the clients, doing art itself is a method of treatment. Drawing or painting help the clients release their stress or express their thoughts non-verbally. We sometimes give them a step-by-step instruction and ask them to draw something specific, which is a more structured art therapy. But there is also unstructured art therapy in which the clients freely draw what is on their minds. Additionally, art therapy does not always consist of drawing and painting on a piece of paper. It incorporates all types of techniques, such as clay, sculptures, collages, and photography.
Annals: Once, you mentioned that you wanted to implement the American therapy system to your system. What do you think are the differences between the American and the Korean therapies?
Park: In the States, it is respected when kids who receive therapy or counseling do not want therapists to talk to their parents about certain things. But in Korea, you have to interact with their parents as well. Of course, I do keep certain things secret, but it is important to talk with the parents for about 10 to 15 minutes after each session. I have to explain to the parents what we did and what progress their kids have made. However, my clients are the kids, so I should listen to them when they want some things hidden.
|PHOTOGRAPHED BY KO EUN-BIY
Annals: How did you come up with the app, Mogul AAC?
Park: When I was planning to come to Korea, I learned about the differences between Korea and the United States. One of the biggest differences was that the United States has strict laws and stable organizations. For example, I worked in an institution that provided people from 3 to 21 years old full therapeutic services, funded by the government and the citizens. But in Korea, centers for the disabled lack government support and personal funds are not always used wisely.
There were many changes during the past ten years, but there is still a lot of work to be done. While doing my research, I found out that there was a lack of Argumentative Alternative Communication* (AAC) devices in South Korea for kids who have difficulty communicating. In the States, there are about 200 to 300 different kinds of devices that people can use for communication. But when I was planning to come to Korea, there was only one app available. The app was only available in English and the price was about ₩3 million ($900), when it was only $300 in the States because of the government’s support. That is how I decided to make an app in Korean. I knew I had to provide a means for communication in an accessible form. I then recruited six team members to work on this project.
Annals: What are some of the functions of the Mogul AAC?
Park: This application is simplified in several ways in order for the children with developmental issues to use it easily. Aside from dialogues and audios, the application also has images that symbolize each word and phrase. Mogul AAC has 45 categories that users can choose from. Apart from these phrases, the children are able to make new phrases according to their needs. Mogul AAC also has several functions that allow the users to express what they want to say in a short amount of time. For example, the app has a function called Quick-Speech, which allows fast access to simple phrases, such as yes and no. You can also add widgets for particular phrases on your smartphone screen, so that you don’t have to open the application each time to use them. This function can be very useful in urgent situations.
Annals: What makes the Mogul app different from the other AACs?
Park: We focused on the fact that everyone, autistic or not, develop at different speeds. Therefore, we decided to allow the users to customize the app according to their needs. For example, the app can be connected to the GPS in order to track the most frequently used phrases in that place. As a result, the application automatically shows those phrases whenever the user enters that area. Also, the users can make their own categories and add phrases to them. Since people use different tones and sentences in various situations, the Mogul app allows them to categorize and pre-program certain phrases. Hence, they can say appropriate words at school, at home, or other places.
Annals: What are your future goals as a therapist?
Park: I thought about having a therapy and research school for autism in Korea, like the ones in the States. It could be a center and school for autistic kids. Even though the idea seems a bit out of reach at this point, it is still my dream. Having a school for the disabled is necessary because special schools in Korea do not provide a happy environment for the children.
Annals: Please share some words of advice for the Yonsei students.
Park: Respect differences, have passion, and try new things. You do not have to do the things that people expect you to do. You should do what you really enjoy doing and become good at it. You asked me before why I do art therapy, and that is because art was the easiest thing for me to do and I had fun doing it. My dream was to paint in Paris and when I was 21, and I achieved that dream. I did not know what to do after that, but I found another path. So, if you do not have a plan for your life, it is okay because it is somehow going to turn out well.
You have to know yourself: what you like, what you enjoy doing, what your passion is. If you end up doing something you do not like, you are going to end up complaining all the time and be unhappy. So listen to yourself, not others. In your 20s you might feel old and feel like you have to choose things really fast, but you actually have time to think about yourself and about what you like. Find who you are and try new things. It is okay if you fail. If you are not happy with what you are doing, there is a higher chance that you will be depressed (laughs).
* AAC (Argumentative Alternative Commuication): A support system for anyone who has a problem with communication or language development (autism, hearing disability, accident or natural loss of speaking)