I was born in a small town near Moscow in 1969 and grew up in a typical Soviet family. My mother was a psychiatrist in a mental hospital for the long-term mentally ill, and I have powerful memories of being taken to work with her when she was on night shift, when I was about four or five. I was scared of the patients at first, but my mother taught me to respect their rights and emotional needs and to value them as people, as she did. Her attitude was radically different to the official model of Soviet psychiatry and from that early age I wanted to become a doctor.
I did my psychiatric training in the medical department of Patrice Lumumba International University in Moscow, living on campus with students from all over the world. This was unique in the Soviet Union as contact with foreigners was vigorously discouraged and the experience had a huge influence on me. Once qualified, I soon realised that the only treatment available to psychiatrists was to prescribe medicines, which reduced patients’ symptoms but did not address the underlying reasons for their illnesses. At that time there were no such professions as psychotherapy or counselling in the Soviet Union.
I was really interested in working with such people, but I needed new skills and knowledge, so in the early 1990s I took a number of courses in clinical psychology and began to familiarise myself with foreign textbooks about psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. In Soviet time such books, including the works of Freud, Jung and many others, were banned in the Soviet Union, so the only texts available were illegally translated copies that were privately distributed among trusted contacts.
Fortunately around this time British psychotherapist Jennie McNamara and her team were organising the first comprehensive and systematic courses in transactional analysis in Russia. For the participants, who ranged from clinical psychiatrists to senior professors of psychiatry, it was extremely challenging as they found themselves for the first time in the role of clients receiving psychotherapy. For the English trainers, too, teaching in English with Russian translators while being the participants’ psychotherapists was not easy. Both tutors and tutees were true pioneers.
I have always been interested in inner freedom. The works and thoughts of Erich Fromm and Abraham Maslow greatly influenced my view of psychotherapy. I see it not only as a means of achieving emotional stability but also of helping develop people’s abilities and self-realisation. About 10 years ago I noticed that more and more business people and entrepreneurs were coming to my practice and that, very often, problems in their businesses were actually connected to their personal limitations. What’s more, these clients were asking to continue with treatment after the initial problems were under control as they were interested in understanding how to avoid making the same mistakes again.
Many Russian business leaders were non-conformist ‘rebellious’ leaders in their earlier lives. From childhood they protested against the narrow strictures of the Soviet system and, by being non-conformists, gained emotional freedom. Russia today is dramatically different. The man in the street has as much freedom as his Western counterparts but, subconsciously, some of these entrepreneurs continue to break social rules and norms, creating problems in their businesses and private lives, because they remain prisoners of their old learned life scripts.
Working with these business leaders has become a mainstay of my practice in the past 10 years. In 2005 I founded the Institute of Integrative Psychotherapy and Coaching, enabling business leaders (and counsellors) to take courses in emotional literacy to help them understand their emotional and personal needs and how to manage and motivate their employees and thereby develop their businesses. I am glad that today opportunities are increasing for Russians to receive psychotherapy and so have the chance to improve their lives.
Olga Lukina is a Moscow- based licensed psychotherapist, in practice since 1995, with a PhD in Medical Science. She is also author of Business and/or Freedom, Бизнес и/или Cвобода, published by МAГИСТP in 2012 (available in Russian only).