By Takanori Kuge, JSS CounsellorKuge2
This is my ninth year working at JSS as a counsellor. I have been working very hard as a JSS counsellor for all these years, and although JSS has been providing quality social services to the Japanese ethno-cultural community in the GTA for about two decades, I still often hear people say, “I don’t know what JSS is for,” and/or “Is JSS really necessary?” In a way, however, it is natural that JSS does not have a high profile since confidentiality is an essential part of counselling services so we generally do not publicly boast about our feats or achievements.
Even though JSS is a small, low profile agency compared to other Japanese organizations in the GTA, actually JSS is the only registered non-profit charitable organization providing professional counselling and community support programs in the Japanese language. Services are provided not only in the GTA but also across Ontario and even in the Eastern Canada.
It is said that the population of Japanese and Japanese-Canadians in the GTA is about 25,000 – 30,000. The actual number of counselling service users of JSS is about 55 – 60, which is the monthly average. While the number of our counselling clients is seemingly very small compared with the size of the Japanese community in GTA, from the perspective of counselling agencies, JSS’s caseload has been quite heavy, having to be dealt with by two counsellors – one full-time counsellor and one part-time counsellor working 2 days a week.
With this article I would like to unveil somewhat of JSS’s counselling operations in the hope that the Japanese community in the GTA would have a better idea of what JSS does. We’ll introduce the information of various community support programs that JSS provides for the Japanese community in Toronto some other time.
The Features of JSS Counselling
◎ Counsellors with Canadian Credentials
JSS currently has two counsellors who grew up in Japan. One is a full-time male counsellor who has a Master’s degree in Counselling from Acadia University in Nova Scotia, and the other is a part-time female counsellor who has a Master’s degree in Social Work from University of Michigan in the United States. Both counsellors have valid Canadian credentials to provide counselling.
◎ Culturally Sensitive
JSS counsellors deeply understand the language, culture and social standards of Japan and how it translates in Canadian terms. This is very important for us in order to provide counselling for Japanese nationals as well as Canadian-born Japanese. Actually, approximately 90% of our counselling clients are Japanese speaking. This seems natural because it is easier even for people with high English proficiency to describe their feelings and emotional pains, and because the cultural background deeply affects the way people think, the unique value system and social standards. The most important feature of JSS counselling is that the counsellors with a thorough knowledge of Japanese culture can provide clients with counselling in their first language, Japanese.
◎ Client-centered Approach
While many people assume that “counselling” is for a client seeking some advice from a counsellor, the most important role of a counsellor is to help a client find ways to solve and/or to better deal with her/his issues on her/his own initiative on the basis of the basic philosophy, “No one knows you better than you yourself.” Whereas there are cases, in which a counsellor needs to take somewhat more of an initiative than in other cases, basically JSS counsellors would try to optimize the use of the client-centered approach. Thus the counselling progresses according to the client’s needs and personal pace. The biggest benefit of this approach is that, through counselling, a client can learn how to take the initiative to solve, better deal with and solve problems, which benefits in dealing with daily life at the end of the counseling period.
◎ Combination of Social Work and Individual/Couple/Family Counselling
As JSS counsellors we utilize our expertise in social work as well as counselling. In the realm of social work, counsellors help clients adjust their life in the GTA, for instance, by helping them make the most use of various professional institutions and social services and programs offered by public and private organizations. In the area of counselling, the focus is on personal and internal resources/strengths that the clients already posses rather than relying totally on support from outside. For instance, counsellors provide professional assistance for clients to deepen the understanding of self, between a couple and among the family members through individual, couple and family counselling.
Case study 1:

  • Main complaint – experiencing severe domestic violence from her husband
  • Clients – a Japanese woman (Permanent Resident of Canada) with a child

Individual Counselling for the mother
–       To help the client calm down to ensure the safety of her and her child,
–       To help the client have a clear idea and understanding of the current situation that she and her child are in since many victims of DV are under mind control of their abusers – “You cannot live without me,” “you won’t be able to see your child if you leave me” and etc.
–       To help the client see the possible options as clear as possible, so that the client can pick the best available option,
–       To help the client enhance her lowered self-esteem due to DV
Individual Counselling for the child
–       If the child experienced abuse or was emotionally hurt by witnessing the violence between her/his parents, JSS would provide counselling for the child, as well, especially when the child’s most fluent language is Japanese. Although there are several counselling agencies specifically meant for the children who experienced abuse, in reality most of them have waiting lists that are several months long. For this reason, JSS often provides counselling for the children whose strongest language is English.
Family Counselling for the mother and the child
–       In cases where the relationship between the mother and the child was negatively affected by DV, JSS would provide family counselling for the mother and the child to reduce the negative impact from the abuse and to enhance a healthier relationship between them.
Social Work:
Below is a list of outside agencies, with which JSS would communicate and work with in collaboration according to the client’s decisions.
–       Hospital (in case the client and/or her child is physically hurt)
–       Police (in case the client wants to report her experiences regarding DV to the police or in case the child was also abused by her/his father.)
–       Children’s Aid Society (in case the child was also abused by her/his father.)
–       Family Shelter (in case the client wants to urgently escape from her abusive husband with her child.)
–       Family Lawyer (in case the client wants to separation and/or divorce.)
–       Legal Aid (in case the client cannot afford a lawyer on her own.)
–       Ontario Works (in case the client cannot afford basic needs.)
The significance of JSS counselling
Although JSS deals with the very various cases other than the cases pertaining to the issues of DV, as it is demonstrated in the above case study, most cases that JSS deals with tend to be quite serious and demanding. This is probably because culturally Japanese people tend to hide their problems and plights from others as much as possible. In other words, they don’t seek counselling until the issues have become totally out of control. And therefore, in a way it is natural that the cases from Japanese clients tend to be so serious that they require a lot of support for long periods. Among those serious cases, there are a number of cases that are literally “matters of life or death.”
The most common life-threatening cases are when the clients have high suicidal tendencies mainly due to depression. Some clients contact JSS to seek counselling according to the advice from their psychiatrist after having attempted suicide.
Within the past year, there were two cases, in which JSS provided quality support for the clients who had several months to live and who had no family or close friends in Canada until their last day and beyond. In one case, JSS provided a terminally ill client with counselling support, as well as Japanese food, which was the client’s last wish while the client was under hospice care. It took a lot of time and commitment of JSS staff and volunteers to cook and deliver the authentic Japanese food quite frequently. JSS counsellors also played a leading role to take care of all the tasks after the client’s death.
In another other case, a client was a senior who did not have any family members or close friends in Toronto with a very limited English proficiency. After the client was diagnosed with concurrent terminal illnesses, JSS provided the client with counselling, as well as interpretation services when the client took treatments at hospital. JSS took care of the client’s funeral and burial, as well. The cases similar to these will increase, as the Japanese community in the GTA ages.
Between January 1, 2014 and September 30, 2014, JSS counsellors dealt with 48 cases pertaining to domestic violence. Some cases involved severe physical violence, in which our clients could be killed with a slight mishap. Those are literally the life-threatening cases that JSS deals with.
Bullying at school could be deadly, as well. JSS sometimes provide counselling support for school-aged children who are being bullied at school. Although it’s not as prevalent as cases in Japan, there have been a number of cases involving suicide of school-aged children who were suffering from bullying at school in Canada. In those cases, the support from JSS is especially important when the children and their parents are new to Canada and when their English proficiency is not so high. In those cases, a JSS counsellor often communicates with the principal and other staff members of the school to best deal with the case.
While JSS counsellors sometimes have to deal with clients’ deaths, we also take care of the cases involving new lives. In those cases we mainly provide various means of support for clients who are pregnant without a responsible partner, without OHIP coverage due to their visa status or without either of them. More often than not, those clients are victims of domestic violence. Cases such as these require a lot of help from JSS both in the way of counselling and social support. It takes a lot of counselling in order for a pregnant client to make the decision about whether or not to have a child especially when her status in Canada is not stable. Once she decides to have a baby, through counselling the client needs to decide where she will deliver the baby – in most cases, Canada or Japan. If the client decides to deliver the baby in Canada, the counsellor would need to provide support in the area of social work – connecting the client to outside institutions and agencies, such as a family doctor, midwife, community women’s centre, family lawyer, immigration lawyer, Legal Aid of Ontario, family shelter and etc. No matter how demanding those cases are, welcoming new life is always quite an experience for us, and we feel really privileged to be a part of it.
In Closing
I believe this is the very first time that JSS reveals to this extent, what we have been doing in so far as counselling clients is concerned. I therefore would like to give you my answer to the question, “Is JSS really necessary for the Japanese community?” And my answer goes, “There sure are people in this community who are in pain due to the issues that are difficult to solve on their own, and for many of them JSS functions as their last defense, and therefore JSS’s role in this community is crucial.”
In closing, I would like to ask for your wholehearted support towards JSS in order for us to keep providing crucial support for our fellow members in pain and distress in the Japanese community.