A View From the East

A View From the East

Dr. Nina Vasilyeva

This paper is devoted to the development of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy in Russia. The difficulties that we face are objective as well as subjective.

I will start with a short historical overview. Russian psychology has a long and rich history but since the 30ies it developed mainly as an experimental science based on Pavlov’s and Bechterev’s theories. Psychiatry was another science dealing with the psyche but a medication was the prevailing therapy. Since the 60th Miasyschev pathogenic psychotherapy, which was concerned with relationships of a patient, started to develop in Russia. It became the only non-drug alternative for psychiatric and neurotic patients. This was the time when the term psychotherapy was introduced into the professional language. The term meant a combination of medication, hypnosis, and rational or supportive therapy.

Since the 60th, however, when the communication between the Soviet Union and Western countries became more open and wider, the notion of other forms of psychotherapy came about. Play therapy with children became rather popular. But there were only few professionals who tried to use these new forms of treatment. There was no training for psychotherapists and it was assumed that any psychiatrist could practice psychotherapy without any further training.

In the last decade when Russia intensified its relations with the western science and culture, many professionals from the West started to visit Russia with workshops. The period of professional deprivation was over. Psychologists and psychiatrists began to take in many different approaches, theories and techniques in psychotherapy. In the beginning of this era people participated in all kinds of seminars and workshops. Indiscriminately eventually the psychologists and psychotherapists began to differentiate according to their chosen theoretical approach.

From the early 90ies a psychoanalytic approach in psychotherapy was widely represented in seminars provided by western professionals. These aroused great interest among Russian professionals. Many of them started to practice psychoanalytic psychotherapy immediately after the seminar. There was much enthusiasm but little knowledge. During the ten year period we have passed a long way towards forming a psychoanalytically oriented community but the process is not yet stable and could still be reversed.

The process of developing a psychoanalytic psychotherapy network in Russia faces two sorts of difficulties, objective as well as subjective.

  1. Objective difficulties

    Objective difficulties in the first place comprise an absence of the psychoanalytic psychotherapists or psychoanalysts in Russia qualified according to international standards. This makes the process of training impossible. During the Soviet period all knowledge about psychoanalysis was lost in Russia. It was only in 1996 when the President’s Decree proclaimed the necessity to revive psychoanalysis in Russia a committee was organised in Moscow and a lot of meetings and discussions of how to arrange a psychoanalytic framework took place there. On the one hand the situation seems to be more favourable for psychoanalysis in Russia now. But on the other hand it has become more difficult. A lot of people have suddenly “discovered” great interest in psychoanalysis, which they never had before. Many people have become involved in the preparatory work for the development of “the new science”, some of them are people from high official posts and many seem to know all the answers. Small voluntary groups, which had been the only ones to study psychoanalysis before, have found themselves in danger of being smashed in the process. In the meantime the “new Russian psychoanalysts” try to establish temporary * standards for the psychoanalytic training which seems to be a legitimation of “wild psychoanalysis”: dozens of “psychoanalysts” treat people (according to what they consider to be contemporary Russian standards). Others insist on training psychoanalysts according to international standards. They consider the process of personal psychotherapy with a qualified psychoanalyst as the central requirement for training. There are several groups, mainly in Moscow and St. Petersburg, members of which travel to other countries for their personal analysis. (This is on an informal level, carried out by the individuals in spite of the formal one.) I would suggest this sentence: Individuals do this on an informal basis, as they do not consider the formal programme to be adequate When western psychoanalysts visit Russia they often perceive the newly emerging Russian psychoanalytic community as a strong sprout. It might be true. The wish and the potential for development is strong. But in the circumstances when visiting teachers can only offer seminars, lasting from 5 to 7 days, and no continuity can be maintained; no proper school is getting established.

    In such circumstances a long-term relationship with trainers from established Institutes is highly needed. We are very grateful to the psychoanalytic Communities, which maintained an ongoing relationship with the Russian groups and by doing so supported the development of psychoanalysis in Russia.

    Thus, the development of Child psychoanalytic psychotherapy was launched by the long-term seminar provided by the Anna Freud Centre professionals. The late ** Rose Edgcumbe was at the heart of the process. Her seminar in 1994 marked the beginning of relationships of the St. Petersburg child group with the Anna Freud Centre, and this relationship continues still, in the form of mutual visits, seminars, correspondence, and joint papers. This invaluable experience with the Anna Freud Centre teachers determined professional thinking of the whole group of psychotherapists in St. Petersburg. 25 members of the group spread psychoanalytic ideas on child development among parents, teachers, and university students. The existence of toddler groups and observation seminars are also the results of the Anna Freud Centre teaching.

    With all the knowledge and skills we were getting, the need [in] for personal psychotherapy and ongoing supervision was felt more and more acutely. There was a long period of time when it was impossible to [comprehend] conceive how the training process for [the] individuals in Russia could ever be arranged. Therefore, efforts of the international psychoanalytic community, which has been assisting in the process of psychoanalytic development in Russia, cannot be overestimated. The development of [the] a psychoanalytic profession in Russia has started with [as] the development of psychoanalysis. The first Russian professionals in the field are being trained as psychoanalysts.

    The process started to take shape when in 1994 the IPA organised the first summer school for the East European professionals in Estonia. With the time it became clear that these schools played a crucial role in maintaining motivation for high professional standards in their participants. In Russia it were the participants of the IPA Summer Schools who first originated their own training process and paved the way for other colleagues.

    The psychoanalytic Societies of different countries contribute a lot to this process. Candidates from Moscow started their shuttle analysis in Germany, Holland and the Czech Republic. Candidates from St. Petersburg were really lucky to get a chance of full psychoanalytic training in the Finnish Society. I will mention here the name of Dr. Eero Rechardt who has organized this program for the group of professionals from Russia, Estonia and Latvia in the Finnish Society. The contribution of the members of the Finnish Society is really great. It is only their assistance in accommodation, the flexibility in setting and the financial support, which makes the condensed analysis possible for us. We appreciate their efforts very much.

    IPA Summer Schools also play a crucial role in forming the East European psychoanalytic Community. We have the same team of teachers uniting the participants from Eastern Europe. Year by year we get to know each other, we learn to overcome the hostility towards each other and turn to mutual sympathy and help. In the East European countries the process of development of psychoanalytic psychotherapy started earlier, in many countries it survived the communist regimes. The East European countries actively participate in the process of training Russian candidates now. The Czech Republic, Yugoslavia, Poland, and Lithuania – all these countries provide personal analysis for candidates in training. The East European community of psychoanalytically oriented psychotherapists grows.

  2. Subjective difficulties

    The subjective difficulties are less obvious but not less stronger. In comparison to the western culture there is a marked difference in values in Russia: individuality versus collectivism. We may argue about what lies at the basis of this: eastern roots or soviet ideology. Anyway, in Soviet times common interests have always been considered as much more important than the individual ones. Perestroika marked the end of the idea of the country’s might and omnipotence. Everyone was left to himself. The Public recognition of subjectivity occurred. But people inhabiting the new society in Russia today are still the same as before perestroika. The ideology cannot be changed that fast. Therefore, we may surmise that psychoanalytic thinking in which the individual is the focus, is being transported to a different mental space. In such circumstances there might easily occur the substitution of values. Only form is being preserved but the essence is different. Although psychoanalytic psychotherapy is acknowledged, in fact we are still in the frame of the former mass ideology. This feature is well observed in the formal training of psychotherapists in Russia: the group of people is being trained, the stream, not the personality, which is far more laborious and longer. Therefore again and again we face the axiom of psychoanalytic thinking: in order to be able to help others we have to help ourselves first. The internal change can only come about? through the process of personal psychotherapy or psychoanalysis. Only in Russia not everyone in the profession shares this opinion. But those few who go this way are committed to the idea.

To summarize, the development of psychoanalytic psychotherapy in Russia has started as the development of psychoanalysis, in the first place. We have to wait till at least several psychoanalysts finish their training. Only then can the further training process begin. Some of us will become psychoanalysts; others will choose psychoanalytic psychotherapy as their profession. The process of creating a network has started.


*   I think you mean in the meantime
**   This is how you refer to someone who has died.