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A day in the mind of the psychologist
(China Daily)
Updated: 2004-11-26 08:36

Wen Yaojie felt confused and disturbed when she worked as a family planning worker in Weiyang District of Xi'an, capital of Northwest China's Shaanxi Province.

She frequently encountered domestic violence and suicide while making her village rounds.

Sympathy aside, she felt she could do nothing to help relieve the women from their bitter experiences.

So she turned to psychology books for help and so started her devotion to her new career as a psychologist and running a mental health service centre for women and children.

Since the centre opened last year, Wen has been able to recruit some 57 part-time volunteering professionals and raise some 200,000 yuan (US$24,183) from the municipal government.

She says she is trying to make up for her childhood and for the village women she had met and worked with in her previous career.

Psychological journey

When Wen began to study psychology, she started to read books, signed herself up at correspondence schools, and went to attend all kinds of psychology training courses.

In 2001, Wen, already in her 40s, entered Peking University to study applied psychology. She dug out all she had saved, about 60,000 for tuition fees.

During her studies, Wen reflected on her own childhood and her work in the villages.

In her early childhood, she suffered from an illness featuring excessively high amount of bile pigment in the blood, which doctors believed might cause neurological damage.

As a result, her family believed the illness had resulted in her average academic performance. By comparison, her sister and brother were both excellent students at school.

"One time, my class took a group photo and I did not show up. But no one ever noticed," recalled Wen.

She felt she had lived in a world of neglect at home and school.

When she went to middle school, her sense of inferiority had grown even stronger. At one time, she felt her life was useless. She even thought of suicide, she admitted.

After Wen took up the job with the district government she started to realize her own value.

Over the years, she learnt more about the sufferings of the rural women when she stayed in villages, and a survey she used also showed that 23 per cent of the rural women had various mental illnesses.

She also found domestic violence and other problems the women suffered were deeply buried in their unhappy childhood, too.

When she obtained her master's degree in psychology, Wen said she felt she had never been so confident and clear about what she wanted to do.

With support from the district government, she was able to set up the psychological consultation centre for women and children last year.

Giving care

Initially, Wen was the only worker in the centre. There was just one office and one computer with a psychoanalysis system.

In the first few months, Wen was mainly conducting psychological consultation for women with depression.

One day Wen received a strange visitor sent by her colleagues from the municipal government.

She was Li Li, in her 40s and a government official. She had just made a suicide attempt, standing on top of a 12-floor building and preparing to jump off. Fortunately, her colleagues rescued her.

They had a good talk during the two hours of consultation. When Li was leaving, there even appeared smile on her face. She also made an appointment for another consultation.

However, when the appointed time came, Li did not show up.

That night, lying in her bed, Wen had an ill feeling. So she got up and went to Li's home.

When Wen entered, Li and her 16-year-old son were preparing to commit suicide by taking a large bottle of sleeping potion. It was a sleepless night. The two women sat together and talked a lot.

Wen did not detail Li's mental problems, as it is her duty to protect her patient's privacy. But she did say that the next day, she contacted Li's husband working in Beijing, and told him his wife had serious depression and needed his help.

Li's husband was quite regretful for not paying enough attention to the changes in his wife's emotions and behaviour, Wen said.

Under his attentive care, Li quickly recovered.

Wen's work won her popularity. The Xi'an municipal government started to pay attention to public mental health and appropriated 200,000 yuan (US$24,000) for the development of Wen's centre.

A whole floor of the Weiyang District family planning association office building was vacated for her use. Based on Wen's design, the centre has three consultation rooms, one treatment room, one children's potential development room, and also the office for the volunteers.

She also began to recruit volunteers on conditions that they have a happy family life, enjoy a fairly good income and also possess psychological consultant qualifications. The 57 volunteers now working at the centre part-time are teachers, professors and doctors.

They often go down into villages and communities to give lectures - often attracting audiences numbering hundreds.

In Weiyang District, the rural population makes up the majority.

Wen says reasons why people suffer from depression are deeply rooted in tradition.

Family education

Many parents still resort to the old mode of raising their young - criticizing and beating them when they make mistakes.

The lack of communications between the adults and their children have contributed partly to the high percentage of the adolescent crimes in the district.

Most of the women who come to her complain about the problems of their children, she said. They are angry but helpless to understand the behaviour of their children. Some hate learning at school, some indulge themselves on the Internet all day long, and others seek lovers too early.

"It has been common in China that parents never think of their own problems when their children make mistakes," she said. "But most of the time, it is the family environment that leads to the children's bad behaviour."

Wen and her colleagues now try to persuade the parents to learn about a new kind of family education mode, encouraging interaction and understanding among family members.

"It was very difficult to change the mindset of these people at first, because Chinese parents tend to look on their children as their own belongings, and never treat them as independent individuals," she said.

"Worse still is the parents who always believe they understand their children best. Actually they do not."

She talks about a boy who had not stepped out of the door for a year. Few remembered him ever smile during those days.

Later he was sent to a psychiatric hospital by his parents, but the doctors found him mentally healthy.

The despairing parents took their child to Wen's centre. At first, the boy refused to receive any psychological consultation.

Ten minutes passed after Wen talked to him, the boy opened up to her.

A year earlier when he was preparing for the upcoming middle school graduation examination when his teacher had a talk with him, trying to persuade him to fake an illness and give up the exams.

Sensing the teacher's distrust and discrimination against him, the boy told Wen that he decided to hide himself at home.

After knowing what lay to the boy's mental trouble, Wen encouraged him to believe he was not inferior to any of his classmate.

Now the boy is studying at a technical school.

"In a phone call, he told me that he finally found himself a person of value," said Wen.

For many who have come to the centre for consultation and seek help, Wen and her colleagues would give them a bookmark with vivid words of encouragement and their contact number.

"I hope that when women and children need mental help or encounter difficulties they can not shake off, they know that there are a group of kind and patient psychological consulting volunteers ready to help," said Wen.

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