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American Imago 57.1 (2000) 25-33
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Revolution and Evolution in Russian Psychoanalysis
I first met Sergey Agrachiov in the beginning of 1996, when we both started to work in a group of experts of the State Committee of Science and Technology. The task of this group was to find ways of carrying out the Presidential Decree "on the revival and development of philosophical, clinical and applied psychoanalysis." We both faced the dilemma: to support or not to support it? We spent a lot of time discussing it after official meetings. I wanted Sergey to read my psychoanalytical essay about Dostoevski because Sergey's feeling for Russian language was extremely subtle and refined. This article is but a distant echo of those discussions about the future of psychoanalysis in Russia and we have not finished our talk.
Whenever I am asked about my attitude toward psychoanalysis I remember the words of the great Russian philosopher Nikolai Berdiaev about himself: "I am not a philosopher, I just love wisdom." Colleagues of mine and I give different courses of lectures and seminars in psychoanalysis to undergraduate and post-graduate students of the Faculty of Psychology at St. Petersburg State University, but we do not prepare our students to be psychoanalysts per se. They obtain diplomas in psychology with a psychoanalytical background, and our main field might be called psychoanalytical psychology. We carry out research in this area and every member of staff of our Chair works as a counselor or psychotherapist in private or state practice. We strongly believe--and it is easy to prove to the students (easier at least than to other colleagues--psychologists)--that it was psychoanalysis that provided the foundation of many of the latest approaches in psychotherapy and counseling. Also, psychoanalysis provided the main ideas that led to a new kind of help for suffering people. That is why the use of only one particular method or technique, such as the so-called [End Page 25] "fairy tale therapy," for example, which is quite popular in Russian child psychotherapy now, gives only an illusion of efficiency. This is true for two reasons: a) the client has to place himself within the narrow frame of the psychotherapist's technique; and b) there is ignorance of the theory and even philosophy underlying the method. For Russian psychology at the moment I think that this is one of the great dangers. Many ideas stemming from psychoanalysis seem to be easily adopted by Russian psychologists and psychotherapists, but not all of them. Some ideas appear in a very simplified or distorted form: for example, the concept of infantile sexuality, of the symbolism of unconscious material, and of countertransference. Very often an article about psychoanalysis is reminiscent of a "tea party talk on previously forbidden topics" such as "psychoanalysis of the Russian soul," the sexuality of witches, and so on. You can fall upon a large volume about defense mechanisms written by well-known Russian psychologists, in which you hardly find a couple of pages about the unconscious. It is understandable as a temporary compensation for a previous period of ideological pressure in psychology but it should not replace attempts to develop psychoanalytical culture in Russian science and philosophy. The main methodological problem which might seriously influence the destiny of psychoanalysis in Russia is that the boundaries between philosophical, psychological, psychoanalytical, medical, religious, and other different kinds of knowledge about human beings are vague. It should be accepted that these kinds of knowledge are really different; they use different sources of information, and they differ in nature. That is why, even though we are psychologists and undertake research, for example, we do not try to "psychologify" psychoanalytical ideas; we try, first and foremost, to explore the unconscious, going beyond the target of helping the particular person. Secondly, we try to import psychoanalytical models into areas where Russian psychologists have only just started to practice: for example, in counseling, psychotherapy, and in social work. We are aware that despite the fact that according to Popper's point of view, psychoanalysis as a theory could not...