Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russian Christians have had the freedom to explore the implications of Christianity in every sector of society, including the integration of psychology and faith. During the communist era authorities considered psychotherapy suspect. Its practitioners for decades were deemed guilty of anti-Soviet activity. Today, mental health professionals have welcomed the influx of a variety of innovations related to psychological theory, including interest in psychoanalysis, client-centered therapy, systems therapy, humanistic therapies, as well as New Age theories. A large segment of the psychological community in Russia welcomes Christian psychology and psychotherapy as a legitimate approach to the discipline.
As the integration of psychology and Christianity has become a topic of interest in the church and in the psychological community, a simultaneous dialogue has begun that transcends the integration question. Whenever and wherever the integration dialogue is discussed, it also has provided a forum for a robust and very healthy exchange between Orthodox believers (generally Russians) and Protestant believers (Russians and Westerners). A number of groups and activities have encouraged both of these dialogues.
Moscow Christian School of Psychology, a graduate program of psychology operating in Moscow, offers a three-year curriculum focusing on the treatment of children, adolescents, and families. Students complete classes in both theoretical and practical aspects of clinical psychology. They also receive practicum training and extensive supervision, neither of which has been widely utilized in Russian clinical psychology training. The director of the school is Dr. Alexander Makhnach, a Russian Orthodox believer who is a psychologist and a fellow of the Institute of Psychology in Moscow. Assisting this school from the beginning has been Dr. Janice Strength, an evangelical Christian on the faculty of Fuller Theologicaleminary. Following several years of seminars and workshops the first class in this diploma program started in January of 1995. Students are taught by Russian professors and by American faculty consisting of both psychology and seminary faculty, who travel to Moscow to teach one- or two-week intensive courses.
The combination of both Russian and American Christian faculty has created an atmosphere in which students are continually exposed not only to central issues concerning the integration of psychology and Christianity, but also to issues of interface between Eastern and Western Christianity. The first class was composed of primarily Russian Orthodox students, the majority of whom stated their desire to grow in their faith.
The school graduated its first class in the spring of 1997. The graduating students took the initiative to form their own group practice together. They rent and share office space at the Institute of Psychology. This effort represents a beginning step in offering Christian-oriented psychological services in Moscow.
To date, three international conferences on the integration of psychology and Christianity have been held in Russia. The first, in 1994, was held in St. Petersburg and was described as a "seminar" on integration. Approximately 10 Russians and 15 Americans attended. Some discussion-oriented sessions were held, but the format was primarily lecture.
The Moscow School of Christian Psychology sponsored and organized the second conference held in Moscow in September 1995. It drew nearly 100 Russian, European, and American participants from psychology, the social sciences, and the church. Orthodox, Protestant, and Catholic speakers read papers and participated in lively discussions. Evenings featured workshops and live demonstrations of therapeutic techniques.
Imaton, a Russian firm which publishes psychological tests and literature and promotes utilization of professional psychology in Russia, organized the third of these conferences, held in St. Petersburg in May 1997. These three meetings provided a forum for the beginnings of a free and open dialogue on integration issues specific to the Russian context and on issues concerning Orthodox-Protestant-Catholic relations.
An ongoing dialogue on the integration of psychology and Christianity began in Moscow in mid-1995. Dr. Nikolai Petrov, a psychiatrist and evangelical Christian, formed an association of Russian believers interested in the relationship of psychology and faith. This Christian Association of Psychotherapists and Counselors has met monthly since its founding. Each meeting features a report or a lecture, followed by an open discussion of the topic. This association meeting has consistently attracted a large variety of individuals from all faiths. The therapists attending have expressed the desire to grapple with serious issues and many have voiced their desire to see formal training in Christian psychology become widely available.
Several substance-abuse treatment centers in Moscow have done significant work in making integration a practical concern. These programs have been greatly influenced by the 12-step model and by a number of publications on the 12-step principles and their applications to treatment of drug and alcohol abusers and addicts. Dr. Evgeny Protsenko, a psychologist and Orthodox believer, operates an outpatient day treatment program. With no funding source, this 12-step program struggles along using inadequate facilities, but has seen tremendous success in moving substance-abuse clients toward abstinence and spiritual reformation based on biblical principles.
Christian mental health professionals from all confessions have begun to develop a contextualized Christian psychology for Russia. This process is clearly in its beginning stages, and we can only pray that it can continue. Christian psychology in Russia presents a great opportunity to offer not only psychological solutions to a hurting nation, but to offer renewal of the whole person through the grace of God.
Dr. Dennis Bowen earned a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the Illinois School of Professional Psychology in 1992. He is a missionary with the Evangelical Free Church Mission and lives in Moscow.
Contact information for Christian Psychology in Russia
Dr. Alexander V. Makhnach, Director
Moscow Center of Psychology and Psychotherapy: A Christian Perspective in Psychology
ul. Yaroslavskaya 13
E-mail: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Janice Morgan Strength
Moscow Christian School of Psychology
Fullerton, CA 92834
Dr. Nikolai Petrov, President
Christian Association of Psychotherapists and Counselors
Sivtsev Vrazhek 15/25 - 54
Tel. (wk): 7-095-719-7779
Tel. (hm): 7-095-2451-7324
Dr. Evgeni Protsenko, Chairman
Old World Christian Charitable Foundation
ul. Remizova 5
Scholars Boris Khersonski and Sergei Sannikov founded the College of Christian Psychology Sotsium in Odessa, Ukraine, in partnership with Mennonites from Canada. Sotsium is designed to meet the needs of a post-Soviet society faced with serious cuts in services. It is an additional (dopolnitelni) two-year program for students already attending university. Approximately 60 students have graduated from the program, and roughly 60 additional students have enrolled as auditors.
While studying at Sotsium students are exposed to Christian principles, ethics, and practical applications. The school sponsors an Alcoholics Anonymous program, Narcotics Anonymous, a 12-step program, a suicide hotline, and youth clubs. It also works with orphans, runaways, and the elderly. Some graduates have entered the social work profession, but extremely low pay has led others to seek work in fields with higher salaries.
For more information, contact:
270021 Odessa, Ukraine
E-mail: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
Written permission is required for reprinting or electronic distribution of any portion of the East-West Church & Ministry Report.
© 1998 Institute for East-West Christian Studies