Mental Health Counseling in Ukraine

By Yakushko, Oksana | Journal of Mental Health Counseling, April 2005 | Go to article overview

Mental Health Counseling in Ukraine


Yakushko, Oksana, Journal of Mental Health Counseling


In the past two decades, some profound changes have occurred in the former Soviet Ukraine. These changes have significantly affected Ukrainian mental health counseling. This article provides a synopsis of the historical and social influences on Soviet and Ukrainian mental health services, transformations that are occurring within the mental health field of the present day Ukraine, and specific mental health issues faced by Ukrainian women and men. The conclusion shares potential implications of this information about Ukrainian mental health issues for U S. mental health counselors.

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The fall of the Soviet Union created a unique situation for people who have lived behind the Iron Curtain of the Cold War. The change in the political and economic systems of the newly formed independent states resulted in unprecedented changes in the lives of millions of people. These changes have been especially significant for the field of mental health counseling. This article provides an overview of the historical and social realities that have influenced Soviet and Ukrainian mental health counseling, changes that are occurring within the mental health field in present day Ukraine, mental health issues faced by its women and men, and the potential implications of this information for U.S. counselors.

HISTORY OF MENTAL HEALTH COUNSELING IN UKRAINE

Counseling and psychotherapy were not commonly available or sought after in Soviet Ukraine. During the Soviet era, information about mental health counseling concepts and practices was scarce. The work of famous scholars such as Pavlov and Vigotsky was known only for its connection to neuroscience and psychobiology, not for its applicability to counseling practice (Havenaar, Meijler-Iljina, van den Bout, & Melnikov, 1998).

Mental health practice, however, has a relatively long-standing tradition in the former Soviet Union. Prior to the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, individual psychotherapy and, especially, psychoanalytically influenced counseling were highly developed in imperial Russia. Many of Freud's works were translated into Russian, and Freud himself paid great attention to Russia, which included Ukraine among its imperial colonies (Sosland, 1997). Starting in the 1930s, however, the work of Freud and other Western mental health scholars and practitioners was prohibited and considered reactionary (Havenaar et al., 1998). Books and articles on Western mental health practices were distributed only illegally, and foreign information about Western mental health ideas could only be learned through "black market" books.

During the Soviet era, individuals with mental illness were treated solely by psychiatrists within a medical setting. Mental illness was typically associated with prison-like mental institutions, where psychobiological treatments of political dissidence were common (Daw, 2002). The "paternalistic models of the State and of psychiatry" (Korinteli, 2003, p. 374) led many of the clients to see their counselors solely as figures of authority. Psychiatrists were not trusted with less clinically severe counseling help (Mokhovikov, 1994), and less severe difficulties, if treated, were addressed by medical professionals through a focus on psychosomatic concerns (Roth, 1994) as well as rational (e.g., convincing, explaining, distracting) and suggestive (e.g., hypnosis) techniques (Havenaar et al., 1998). Mental health counseling as a separate field was nearly nonexistent during the Soviet times.

Less frequently discussed in Western and scholarly literature are the indigenous or traditional forms of counseling, which have long been practiced by people of Ukraine. One of the common causes of poor mental health was believed to be a "bad or evil eye," a type of bad energy inflicted by others on a suffering individual. The treatment by medicine women and men could include listening to the person's concerns, asking for a detailed family and relationship history, scanning the person's body for bad energies, and giving advice on how to deal with particular difficulties. …

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