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September 17, 2004


China just needs someone to talk to

If you live in a hard-core Communist country, in which your job, house, family, and life are all owned and regulated by the government, you probably won't have much psychic space in which to question your existence and wonder if you're an actualized person. But if your Communist country starts to encourage some entrepreneurship, and more and more industries and elements of daily life are sometimes controlled by individual people, but with many inconsistencies, and if social expectations suddenly change to include more competition and self-determination, you might have a nervous breakdown.

There's an interesting LA Times piece about the rising industry of talk therapy and psychoanalysis in China [login req'd]. As you might guess, living in a country of a billion people with vast economic stratification, an economy changing from state-controlled to more free-market, western influences in tension with traditional eastern values, and horrific pollution and urban decay, all gets pretty stressful. Prozac sales have doubled over the last 4 years, and a new therapy industry has "sprung up virtually overnight", with many therapists operating in private practice as the government struggles to get in on it.

China has an average per capita income of $1,000, so only the relatively wealthy can afford a therapist. But isn't it the trappings of wealth and modernity that get people anxious and miserable enough to seek out therapy? Increased pressure and fast-paced cultural change are taking their toll on well-off urban Chinese people. As the article says, "For many Chinese, the most troubling sign of increasing instability has been a parade of news stories unheard of in years past. Overwrought college students pour acid on zoo animals, kill roommates with a hammer and step in front of trains."

One Beijing therapist is hosting group therapy sessions for road rage, as well as individual counseling for typical western complaints, like divorce and relationship problems. Her style is reminiscent of Denis Leary's therapeutic philosophy: She says of some of her clients, "They have to be strong in front of the people they know, but they are weak inside. Most of them need to be told: 'You have no problems! Cut it out! Get to work!' "

And just like that, they feel better about themselves.

categories: Culture, Health, International
posted by amy at 11:44 AM | #