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Rehabillitation clinic aims to help South Korea’s internet addicts

An internet rehabilitation clinic has opened in South Korea in the hopes of making a dent in the millions considered to be internet addicts in the country. The clinic, which opened in early May, styles itself as the country’s first specialist clinic for such addicts.

The institution which bills itself as the “Save Brain Clinic” clinic offers a five-week treatment programme including group sessions, art therapy, medicine and processes known as neurofeedback and transcranial magnetic stimulation.

Neurofeedback uses real-time displays to illustrate brain activity, measured through scalp sensors, with the aim of controlling central nervous system activity.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain and is more commonly employed to treat depression.

Before treatment starts, the hospital provides a diagnosis through a survey, a brain image scan and psychological tests.
In spite of the large number of internet addicts in Korea, the clinic’s initial patient intake has not been staggering.

The clinic says that many parents have made inquiries. But only three people began the five-week course, which intends to focus on adolescents but is also open to adults.

According to Lee Jaewon, who heads the clinic at Gongju National Hospital, a psychiatric institution 120 km (74 miles) south of Seoul, parents have difficulty admitting their children have problems and feel embarrassed to bring them to a mental hospital.

Although internet addiction is not offically accepted as a mental disorder, the problem is already deep-rooted in South Korean society.

Lee says he has witnessed the kind of internet horror stories usually passed of as urban legends. Early last year, he said, a 31-year old man was brought to the hospital by his parents after playing games in an Internet cafe for 780 hours excluding short breaks.

Such behaviour is what was behind the opening of the clinic, despite internet addiction not yet being recognised as an official mental disorder.

“It will be too late if we only start treatment after internet addiction has been acknowledged as a mental disease,” he said.

“We will start now, hoping more medical effort and attention will be given to the issue.”

The Korean government does however, appear to be acknowledging the extent of the problem they may have on their hands in the near future.

Despite strong opposition from the computer games industry, parliament passed a bill forcing online game companies to block users aged under 16 from playing between midnight and 6am.

This bill only comes into force in November and may be difficult to enforce effectively.

While the government ponders policies to prevent Internet addiction, Lee said his clinic will focus on treatment as early as possible.–AFP