Publication Date


Document Type

Masters Thesis


School for Social Work


The objective of this study was to explore how second generation Korean Americans negotiated separation and individuation during the life cycle phase of adolescence. This qualitative study, based on in-depth interview with 12 second generation Korean American adults, examined the participants' separation – individuation process during adolescence and currently. In addition, the project addressed the applicability of the Western concept of separation-individuation theory to Confucian based collectivistic cultures. The previous research conducted on this psychodynamic process has focused on the Western ideal that this developmental stage is vital to a young person's psychological formation to adulthood. There is a dearth of research on how separation and individuation occur in Asian American families and even less research has been done which is not framed within the model of individuation and differentiation. Several major findings emerged from this study which remarkably parallel the theoretical literature on the second generation Korean American experience. The primary findings of the study suggested that adolescence was not recognized as a developmental stage; separation was delayed into adulthood; participants reflected a familial rather than individualistic identity; participants adopted the culture of their parents as they grew older; participants developed adaptation strategies to negotiate their multiple identities and participants had immense gratitude for their parents and for their culture. This investigation highlights the clash of expectations and theories around separation and individuation and can provide a useful cultural lens for treating this population. Finally, participants' recommendations for parents to increase communication with their children and for their children to learn more about their parents' culture provided implications for future treatment and program development.


Thesis (M.S.W.)--Smith College School for Social Work, Northampton, Mass., 2008. iii, 123 p. Includes bibliographical references (p. 112-117)