Social Transformation Brings Chinese to Western-Style Talk Therapy

Confucian values such as keeping problems to oneself and venerating one’s ancestors are being challenged by a new trend in China that is sending more people to the therapist’s couch to solve their problems.

In an article* Friday, the LA Times wrote that drug manufacturer Pfizer has reported a 100 percent increase in Prozac sales in China over the last four years as Western psychology gains currency.

Human behavior research was shut down by Maoist policy in the 1960s and 70s, seen as a “as a remnant of bourgeois imperialism” said the article. But now, as cultural transformation gives rise to capitalism in a nation occupied largely by peasants, the need for healthy self-expression is challenging traditional notions.

Chinese psychologists cite social problems such as unemployment and corruption, along with common human concerns such as love and divorce, as the kind of trauma that are bringing more people to counselling.

This increased interest in probing the depths of the human psyche has led the Chinese government to implement licensing standards for therapists and is sending universities scrambling to build psychology departments. Some worry, though, that Western psychology may not be applicable to the Chinese personality.

“Personality is the basis for psychotherapy,” said Wang, a Peking University psychology professor. “But the Western personality theory cannot fit the Chinese people and the Chinese culture. People in different cultures think and act differently.”

In response, the government has created the Institute of Psychology to determine appropriate norms for the Chinese psyche. More young people are becoming interested in entering this profitable field, while many more are left out due to the relatively high costs of therapy.

* link updated 9/23/04

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