Sometimes living in a foreign country can really take its toll on you, especially if your personal life isn’t going so well and/or you have mental illnesses to cope with. If you think you can’t handle the stress and pain all alone, if you think you may have a mental illness, perhaps it might be time to seek help with a mental healthcare provider.
“But… mental healthcare in Japan? And in English, at that?” Perhaps you might find yourself asking those questions. Yes, seeking the help of a therapist or psychiatrist may still not be a widely accepted or talked-about practice here, and awareness of the importance of self-care and mental health may still be low, but that doesn’t mean that mental healthcare is non-existent. Beyond Tokyo (especially in rural areas), such resources may be difficult to find (or, at worst, practically non-existent), but it’s not as difficult if you’re based in Tokyo.
First things first
Before we get to the resources, let’s get started with some things that you need to know.
First of all, it might help to know the distinction among the different types of mental health professionals. For one, pyschologists and psychiatrists work closely together, but are not synonymous to each other.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors; they’ve gone to medical school and can thus prescribe medication. They can identify, diagnose, and assess mental disorders. Although they are trained in psychotherapy, they focus more on chemical imbalances in the brain and the physical symptoms and effects of mental illnesses. Japan’s National Health Insurance (NHI) covers psychiatric services.
Meanwhile, psychologists have a doctorate degree (or at least a master’s degree in some countries) in psychology and a license to practice in a certain state/region/country, and focus more on thoughts, emotions, and behavior. They treat mental illnesses through psychotherapy (also known as “counseling” or “talk therapy”). However, they are not the only mental health professionals that provide psychotherapy, as there are also counselors and social workers that hold master’s degrees or less in psychology or a related field (e.g. counseling or social work).
Mental health professionals that provide psychotherapy are interchangeably referred to as counselors or therapists, but only those who have met certain requirements and attained the relevant license can call themselves psychologists. None of these are qualified to prescribe medication; they can only provide counseling. On average, a single session costs 5,000-10,000 yen for 50-60 minutes, and NHI does not cover counseling sessions. Some counseling centers offer sliding-scale payment systems, which means that the fee you’ll pay will be adjusted according to your circumstances.
Choosing the right fit for you
Since therapy doesn’t come cheap, we’re sure you’d like to make sure that you select the right therapist or psychiatrist so that you don’t end up wasting your time and money. Unfortunately, one frequently mentioned issue regarding mental healthcare in Japan is that the field isn’t stringently or consistently regulated.
While there are organizations for mental health professionals that can give members added credibility, there is no national license system for psychologists. As such, it isn’t too difficult for anyone with even the least bit of knowledge in psychology to call themselves a counselor and offer their services, so it’s best to be careful. Don’t just go with the first result you see on Google, and ask around as much as you can. Tokyo being a vast metropolis, this can be difficult if you don’t know anyone at all, but online communities might have some kind souls willing to help out.
We’ve also compiled some options for you. We’ve taken care to choose options that have been consistently recommended, so rest assured that these are legitimate. (This isn’t to say that those not mentioned here aren’t legitimate; it’s just that we can’t vouch for them.)
General mental health resources in Tokyo
International Mental Health Professionals Japan (IMHPJ)
IMHPJ is a nationwide association of mental health professionals that serve Japan’s international community. It’s a private, professional organization, and not one that gives out licenses or accreditation, but it has stringent requirements for would-be members, so you can be assured that their members have credibility. You can search through their website for therapists that accept clients and will suit your needs—be it couples counseling, counseling for depression and anxiety, or whatnot. Good news for non-Tokyoites: their network also has therapists based outside of Tokyo.
Japan Healthcare Info (JHI)
JHI is a non-profit organization that helps locate English-speaking doctors for Japan’s international residents—and yes, they can also assist you in your mental health needs. Contact them if you need any assistance.
While these centers cannot prescribe medication or provide psychiatric services, they can refer you to psychiatrists if necessary.
Tokyo English Lifeline (TELL)
Serving Japan’s international community since 1973, TELL offers phone, chat, and face-to-face counseling.
Regarding TELL’s phone counseling, it’s a helpline akin to that of Samaritans and other crisis helplines. While calls are not toll-free, you can call the line if you need a safe space to talk about your troubles completely anonymously. Recently, as an extension of the lifeline, TELL has begun a chat service from 10:30 pm on Saturdays until 9:00 am on Sundays. While TELL aims to provide 24/7 services in the future, the line would need more volunteers for that to happen, so this is the best that they can do right now.
For counseling that’s tailored individually to suit you, TELL provides face-to-face counseling services. The regular cost of a 50-minute session is 20,000 yen; however, TELL offers a sliding-scale payment system. It also offers distance counseling for those who can’t make it to Tokyo.
Phone and chat counseling
Hours: (Phone) 9:00 am-11:00 pm every day; (chat) 10:30 pm on Saturdays-9:00 am on Sundays
Recommended Tokyo Accommodation
Address: 2F Wesley Center, Minami-Aoyama 6-10-11, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Hours: 9:00 am-5:00 pm on weekdays
Tokyo Counseling Services (TCS)
All psychologists and other mental health professionals at the Shimokitazawa-based TCS are licensed. Counseling services are not only provided in English; some therapists offer counseling in French, German, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, and Portuguese, as well as Skype counseling. An hour-long individual session costs 10,000 yen, while couples counseling and group therapy cost 15,000 yen and 4,000 yen, respectively. However, rates may be negotiable, so be sure to ask.
Address: Ma Maison Daizawa 202, Daizawa 2-30-21, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo
Access: Shimokitazawa Station