Dec 20

Life After JET: Matthew Kohut, Psychotherapist

Matt Kohut (CIR Aichi-ken, Shitara-cho, 1998-2000) is a psychotherapist is New York City. He is not a writer but wrote this piece. For more about Matt please visit:  

*Have your own “Life After JET” story that you think would be of interest to the JET/JET alum community?  Email jetwit [at]


Matthew M. Kohut, LMSW

JET was always part of the plan. Since studying abroad in Japan in my teens and twenties I felt the need to keep my love for Japan alive. I had each step planned. First do JET, learn Japanese, then work at a high-profile company pushing billions of Yen around the world, bow, firmly shake hands, exchange business cards without pocketing them until outside the room, guzzle Kirin black-label with colleagues until shuden, show up for calisthenics the next morning, pretend like none if it happened, live long, prosper and die. It was a nice plan, cinematic and to the point. But, exciting? Debatable.

I did ok at making the plan work until I got to the point of pushing billions of yen around the world. Upon returning from JET in 2000, I landed a job at the Consulate General of Japan in San Francisco as Assistant to the Cultural Attaché. I was hobnobbing with National Living Treasures, speaking Japanese in huddles of diplomats by day, and lazing around home with my Japanese boyfriend by night, ne-ing and yo-ing about it until bedtime. It wasn’t the plan, but it was close enough.

And it was good enough too– for a while. But about my third year of working at the Consulate I grew weary. The work wasn’t allowing me to grow. I would show up, punch my time card, check email, and meander through my daily routine of tasks without much thought or creativity. I began to need much more from my work and from myself. So I hit the pavement looking for a new job. Around that same time the dot-com boom of the Bay Area was ending. I was hitting the job market in a pack of extremely qualified candidates with more applicable education (my major: Japanese) and experience (mine: local government international relations) than I had to offer. Over the next two years I went on countless interviews but never got one offer. The prospects looked grim and I was becoming depressed.

Also about this time my boyfriend and I had ended our relationship and I struggled to make ends meet living in San Francisco on a Japanese government salary. It was becoming clear I needed to change that plan I so beautifully laid out for myself. So I did. I began by forgiving myself for making the mistake of not being more flexible, and enacted that forgiveness by having a new plan of fewer plans. This became my no-plan plan. I also gave myself the permission to do whatever job I wanted, no matter the amount of school, money and time. This was frightening because the career I wanted required exactly that—more time, more schooling and more money. Yes, I wanted to become a shrink.

A shrink? Yes, a shrink. Since my parents divorced when I was 11, I have sought psychotherapy off and on during my life.  Psychotherapy has been instrumental in building my ability to support myself around all sorts of important issues– family, relationships, love, fear and intimacy, just to name a few. It allowed me to become more of myself.  But I had doubts, too. I had positive experiences as a client, but was I confident enough to believe that I could do the work of a therapist? I decided I didn’t need to know this up front. Just believing it was possible and feeling that there was something I could contribute to the field of therapy was enough. Plus, not having all the answers was totally in keeping with the spirit of my no-plan plan.

So I restarted my career. I quit the Consulate and moved home with my Mom. I got a job as a waiter while applying to grad schools in New York and California.  A year later I enrolled in the NYU Masters of Social Work Program with a scholarship to study clinical social work. While studying there I took a survey course on Gestalt Therapy and fell further in love with the work of therapy. Today I am in my third of four years of training as a post-MSW Psychotherapy Fellow at the Gestalt Associates for Psychotherapy in New York City. I see clients in my own small but growing private practice. I live a rewarding life filled with the wins and losses, disappointments and achievements of any good life, but do it with very little boredom.

All it took was a little practice.


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