East-West Church & Ministry Report
Vol. 12, No. 2, Spring 2004, Covering the Former Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe

Training Pastoral Counselors in Russia

Dennis Bowen and D. Russell Bishop

In the current Russian social climate people trust church leaders, but there is substantially less trust for mental health professionals.1 Indeed, psychology and especially psychiatry are mistrusted as tools of state control.2 Nonetheless, many pastors in Russia understand that their own training and experience provide insufficient preparation for pastoral counseling.3 Yet one mission leader in the former Soviet Union reports that none of the eight training programs he supervises includes counselor training curricula.4

Counseling Classes in Kursk
One typical Protestant theological training program began operating in 1998 in Kursk, Russia, as a partnership between the U.S.-based Evangelical Free Church and the Evangelical Christian-Baptist Union of the Kursk Region. Trinity Bible College is a two-year residential Bible college whose pastoral counseling training component includes two 45-hour courses, "Introduction to Biblical Counseling" and "Marriage and Family." The introductory course covers the biblical basis for counseling, microcounseling skills, theory of the change process, descriptive psychopathology, ethics, and such counseling issues as forgiveness, guilt, and grief. Students practice counseling and diagnostic skills in class, followed by supervised practicums in retirement homes or with volunteer clients in the community. The marriage and family course examines secular and spiritual perspectives on family life, human development, sexuality, premarital preparation, marital communication, parenting, and the family generation lifecycle.

Overall reaction to these courses has been positive. Students appreciate skills training, descriptive psychopathology, and practicum sessions, but question the relevance and validity of pastoral counseling within the Russian Protestant context. Biblical conservatives are often skeptical of psychological techniques in relation to spiritual questions, non-directive pastoral counseling, and the propriety of sex education, even for couples preparing for marriage.5 However, younger Russian Protestants generally are more open to social science theory and practice, which contributes to positive opportunities to promote training for pastoral counseling.6

Major Stresses in the Russian Church and Society
Major issues in pastoral counseling in Russia today include economic problems, Soviet-induced trauma, limited counselor training for church leaders, setting and maintaining personal boundaries in ministry, and, among theological conservatives, resistance to the utilization of social sciences in church ministry.7 Other salient social problems in the post-Soviet transition include growing materialism, increased crime, and a decline in population and life expectancy due to deteriorating health care and educational systems, alcoholism, drug use, AIDS, and domestic violence.8

In the former Soviet Union--and in all former Iron Curtain nations--the first layer of culture derives from the trauma of Soviet rule. Underneath is a Russian layer that is characterized by a collectivist/communal mindset and a strong desire to avoid uncertainty. At the same time, Russians are very well educated, with a 98.4 percent literacy rate.9

Problems Western Teachers Face in Russia
Important challenges Western teachers encounter in the former Soviet Union include the conscious or unconscious imposition of Western values,10 achieving contextually relevant teaching,11 issues of oral and written translation,12 differing educational methodologies,13 and cross-cultural communication.14 Western faculty teaching in Russian theological institutions usually recognize their responsibility to teach a theologically sound curriculum, while not favoring their own cultural values.15 But differences do arise. For example, despite Russian and American Protestants holding most doctrines in common, most Western Protestants are Calvinist while most Russian Evangelicals are Arminian.16 Also, theologically conservative Russian Protestants listen carefully for messages from Westerners that could be perceived to be theologically liberal.17

Reconciling Psychology and Theology
The relationship of pastoral counseling and social sciences is a question that has been vigorously debated, with Christian viewpoints ranging across a wide spectrum from Bible-only counseling18 to psychologically informed biblical counseling19 to an integrationist position20 to a psychologically oriented pastoral approach.21 Interestingly, in translating "pastoral counseling" and "Christian counseling" into the Russian language, Russian students suggested "dushepopecheetelstvo", which literally means "soul care."

Ways to Strengthen Pastoral Counseling in Russia
Relatively few pastoral training texts exist in Russian, with most being translations of American and European authors. Of course, Russia needs indigenous writing in theology and pastoral care, a process that will take time.22 Western teachers usually have prepared curricula, course outlines, lectures, and lesson plans, but such curricula and lessons do not necessarily resonate with what Russian students are used to and expect. Curricula and program development in all spheres of theological education will need to be revised and shaped to meet Russian needs and worldviews.23

As Russian students have differing educational expectations in the classroom, so too their expectations for practical training and supervision differ noticeably from those of Western students. Difficulties include a scarcity of appropriate sites for practicum training, Russian students' unfamiliarity with Western models of counselor training supervision, and traditional Russian distrust of authority.24

Greater interaction between Western and Russian educators in the area of pastoral counselor training ought to take place. Regional and nationwide dialogues could help identify the number and effectiveness of trained pastoral counselors in Russia. Informal discussions among Russian pastors, counselors, parishioners, and missionaries could also help identify counseling needs. Finally, professional exchanges, consultations, and conferences could aid the development of pastoral counseling in Russia. The international divisions of such organizations as the American Association of Christian Counselors and the American Pastoral Counseling Association, among others, could contribute to this process.25

Dennis Bowen, an Evangelical Free Church missionary in Ukraine, earned a Psy.D. from the Illinois School of Professional Psychology, Argosy University, Chicago, Illinois.

D. Russell Bishop, Psy.D., is an adjunct professor, School of Professional Psychology, Chicago, Illinois, and Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Illinois.

Edited excerpt published with permission of the authors and Haworth Press from the American Journal of Pastoral Counseling 6 (No. 4, 2003): 3-22.

1. David J. Hesselgrave, "Third Millennium Missiology: 'Use of Egyptian Gold,'" International Journal of Frontier Missions 16 (No. 4, 1999/2000), 191-97; Andrei Rudinsky, "Counselor Preferences among Religious and Non-Religious Individuals in Kursk, Russia," unpublished paper (in Russian), Trinity Bible College, Kursk, Russia, 2002.

2. Glenn E. Curtis, Russia: A Country Study (Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1998); Jacob D. Lindy and Robert J. Lifton, Beyond Invisible Walls, the Psychological Legacy of Soviet Trauma, East European Therapists and Their Patients (New York: Brunner-Routledge, 2001).

3. Center for Church-Psychology Collaboration, no title, 11 February 2003, from http://www.wheaton.edu/psychology/CCPC/easterneurope.htm.

4. Zbigniew Rybarczyk, personal communication, 2003.

5. M. Bobgan and D. Bobgan, Psychoheresy: The Psychological Seduction of Christianity (Santa Barbara, CA: East Gate Publishers, 1987); E. Bulkley, Why Christians Can't Trust Psychology (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1993); John MacArthur, Our Sufficiency in Christ (Dallas, TX: Word Publishing, 1991); Mark Harris, "Toward an Understanding of Russian Baptist Counseling," Portland, OR, 1996, 20 February 2003, from http://currah.info/www.harris/russian_baptist_counseling.pdf; Igor Kon and James Riordan, Sex and Russian Society (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1993).

6. Harris, "Understanding."

7. Lindy and Lifton, Invisible Walls; Brent M. Ellens, Mark R. McMinn, Linda L. Lake, Matthew M. Hardy, and Elizabeth J. Hayen, "A Preliminary Assessment of Mental Heath Needs Faced by Religious Leaders in Eastern Europe," Journal of Psychology and Theology 28 (No. 1, 2000), 54-63; Steven R. Chapman, "Collectivism in the Russian World View and Its Implications for Christian Ministry," East-West Church & Ministry Report 6 (Fall, 1998), 12-14; Harris, "Understanding."

8. J. Mark Halstead, "Moral and Spiritual Education in Russia," Cambridge Journal of Education (No. 3, 1994), 423-28; David J. Krus, Edward A. Nelson, and James M. Webb, "Changes in Crime Rates and Family-Related Values in Selected East European Countries," Psychological Reports 81 (No. 3, Part 1, 1997), 747-51; A. I. Antonov, "Depopulation and Family Failure in Russia," The Family in America 15 (No. 7, 2001), 1-6; V. Shkolnikov, F. Mesle, and J. Vallin, "Health Crisis in Russia: Recent Trends in Life Expectancy and Causes of Death from 1970 to 1993," Population (Nos. 4-5, 1995), 907-44; Eileen O'Connor, "Russia Struggles with Health Crisis," CNN/Health, 15 February 2000, from http://www.cnn.com/2000/HEALTH/02/14/Russia.health/; Rod Usher, "Ivan the III, Post-Soviet Trauma," Time Europe 155 (21 February 2000), from http://www.time.com/Europe; Igor V. Bestuzheva-Lada, "What Is To Be Done With Higher Education?," Russian Education Society 43 (No. 3, 2001), 28-35; Nina V. Belyakova, "Supporting Families of Alcoholics," East-West Church & Ministry Report 6 (Winter 1998), 7; Martin Bobak, Martin McKee, Rose Richard, and Michael Marmot, "Alcohol Consumption in a National Sample of the Russian Population," Addiction 94 (No. 6, 1999), 857-66; Curtis, Russia; World Health Organization, "AIDS--Dramatic Surge in Ex-Soviet Union," Bulletin of the World Health Organization 79 (No. 1, 2001), 78; Sharon Horne, "Domestic Violence in Russia," American Psychologist 54 (No. 1, 1999), 55-61.

9. Lindy and Lifton, Invisible Walls; Geert H. Hofstede, Culture's Consequences: International Differences in Work-Related Values (Beverly Hills, CA: Sage, 1980); Alexander Naumov and Shelia M. Puffer,"Measuring Russian Culture Using Hofstede's Dimensions," Applied Psychology 49 (No. 4, 2000), 709-19; World Health Organization,"Highlights on Health in the Russian Federation," WHO Epidemiology, Statistics and Health Unit (Copenhagen, Denmark, 1999).

10. S. P. Richards and A. E. Bergin, A Spiritual Strategy of Counseling and Psychotherapy (Washington, DC: APA, 1997); Ellens and McMinn,"Preliminary Assessment," 54-63.

11. Igor Petrov, "Evangelical Seminary in Moscow: Proposal for Discussion," unpublished paper submitted to Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, IL, August 2002; "Poverty 'Great Depression' Sweeps Eastern Europe," CNN/Europe, retrieved 12 October 2000 at www.cnn.com.

12. Henriette W. Langdon, "Language Interpreters and Translators," ASHA Leader 7 (No. 6, 2002), 14-15.

13. David P. Bohn, "The Perspectives on Theological Education among Evangelical Church Leaders in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Russia," Ph.D. dissertation, Trinity International University, Deerfield, IL, 1997; U. Kim, Y. S. Park, and D. Park, "The Challenge of Cross-Cultural Psychology: The Role of the Indigenous Psychologist," Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology 31 (No. 1, 2000), 63-75.

14. Linda Eilers, "When Calvinist and Arminian Beliefs Collide: Facilitating Communication between North American Professors and Russian Bible Students," M.A. thesis, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 1998; Mark M. Leach, "Training Global Psychologists: An Introduction," International Journal of Intercultural Relations 21 (No. 2, 1997), 161-74.

15. Richards and Bergin, "Spiritual Strategy;" Ellens and McMinn, "Preliminary Assessment."

16. Bohn, "Perspectives;" Eilers, "When Calvinist and Arminian Beliefs Collide;" Mark Harris, "Historical Perspectives on the Evangelistic Theology and Methodology of Russian Baptists" (Portland, OR, 1999); Author, retrieved 20 February 2003 from http://currah.info/www/harris/Russian_baptist_counseling.pdf.

17. James R. Beck, "Values Tensions Between Evangelical Christians and Christian Counseling," Counseling and Values 41 (No. 2, 1997), 107-16; Harris, "Perspectives;" Mark Elliott, "Post-Soviet Protestant Theological Education: Come Of Age?," Asbury Theological Journal 54 (Fall, 1999), 37-40.

18. Beck, "Values Tensions;" John D. Carter and Bruce Narramore, The Integration of Psychology and Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1979); Gary R. Collins, Christian Counseling: A Comprehensive Guide, rev. ed. (Dallas: Word Books, 1988); Lawrence Crabb, Effective Biblical Counseling (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977); Rodney J. Hunter, "Spiritual Counsel," Christian Century 118 (No. 28, 2001), 20-25; David A. Powlison, "Does the Shoe Fit?," Journal of Biblical Counseling (Spring 2002), 2-15; Brian J. Zinnbauer and Kenneth I. Paragament, "Working with the Sacred: Four Approaches to Religious and Spiritual Issues in Counseling," Journal of Counseling and Development 78 (No. 2, 2002), 162-71.

19. Timothy E. Clinton and George W. Ohlschlager, Competent Christian Counseling (Colorado Springs, CO: Waterbrook, 2002).

20. Carter and Narramore.

21. Zinnbauer and Pargament, "Sacred."

22. Rimma Mesheryakova and Frank Clasquin, "Higher Education in Russia--A Foreign Literature Crisis," The Serials Librarian 30 (No. 1, 1996), 95-99; Bohn, "Theological Perspectives;" Jack Graves and Mark Noll, "Russian Protestant Theological Textbook Project," East-West Church & Ministry Report 4 (Fall 1996), 1-5; Petrov, "Proposal for Discussion."

23. Hale N. Tongren and Leo Hecht, "Recognizing Cultural Differences: Key to Successful U.S.-Russian Enterprises," Public Personnel Management 24 (No. 1, 1995), 1-16; Petrov, "Proposal for Discussion."

24. William Arbuckle Reid, "Curriculum as an Expression of National Identity," Journal of Curriculum and Supervision 15 (Winter 2000), 113-22; Clive Beck and Clare Kosnik, "Components of a Good Practicum Placement: Student Teacher Perceptions," Teacher Education Quarterly 29 (Spring 2002), 81-98; Harris, "Contextualized Education."

25. Mark R. Rosenzweig, "Continuity and Change in the Development of Psychology Around the World," American Psychologist 54 (No. 4, 1999), 252-59.

Dennis Bowen and D. Russell Bishop, "Training Pastoral Counselors in Russia," East-West Church & Ministry Report 12 (Spring 2004), 3-5.

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2004 East-West Church and Ministry Report
ISSN 1069-5664

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