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China needs more soul savers
Mai DongChina Daily  Updated: 2005-05-21 06:58

A company manager becoming ill from depression because of the stress of his work.

A female intellectual too traumatized by a childhood rape to begin any new romance.

A farmer-turned-entreprenuer making so much money that he now is interested in nothing else.

A woman who lives in fear of her secret lesbianism one day being exposed.

And a police officer being gradually worn down from the daily contact he has with criminals and the underworld.

This is just a sample of the psychological problems people are suffering in China today, many of them living in the tall, faceless buildings in its cities. At least, according to a play whose curtain fell at Beijing's Capital Theatre on May 15.

Playwright, novelist and psychologist Bi Shumin claims to have seen them in her consulting sessions.

"Quiz of Your Secret," has sounded an alarm about Chinese souls shrouded in psychological pain.

During on-line conversations with members of the public, Zhu Rongxian, deputy of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, said 16 million Chinese belong to the "melancholia" group. She put them into three groups - the aged living in endless loneliness, young people tortured by heavy pressure from work or school, and married people constantly in fear of their partners straying.

There are too few psychologists in China to deal with these broken hearts and pining minds. One expert speaking at the Third Annual Meeting of Psychiatry and Psychological Consulting in the United States said there were 550 psychologists and psychiatrists to 1 million people in the USA - yet in China, there were no more than five.

Worse still, Professor Cong Zhong, psychologist at Peking University, regards psychological treatment as a privilege of the rich in today's China. If this is true, rescuing these tortured souls could be a difficult task.

The lack of psychologists has revealed itself not just in the lack of clinics, but also in many other parts of our daily lives.

Zhang Xiaoyan, a young anchor on Yunnan Television Station, died of a heart attack from long-term pressure at work. Her death has pricked the nerves of many famous anchors in China, and Xu Tao from Beijing Television Station suggested they should have access to psychologists on a regular basis.

Professional psychologists are also needed in schools and colleges. Most government-funded schools and colleges do have consultants, but many of them are school doctors or class counsellor-turned psychologists. They are considered unprofessional and pro-parents, so students often refuse to reveal their inner thoughts to them.

In residential communities, proper clinics would also be indispensable. According to Zhu Guangyu, deputy director of the Psychological Consultants Association of Harbin, many psychologists who have opened clinics in Harbin's residential communities do not have enough clinical experience. Their consultations are nothing more than small talk, which is why their businesses often fail.

China's psychology market seems to have a lot of potential, so why there are so few professionals attracted by this foreseeable profit? In fact, this is where the answer lies.

Consultations and psychoanalysis in China's State-owned hospitals are not fairly paid. In some Beijing-based hospitals, charges are levied as follows. For a 45-minute consultation, ordinary psychologists charge patients 30 yuan (US$ 3.6), while experts charge 60 yuan (US$ 7.3). Most of these psychologists have master's degrees, and they are providing a range of services to each individual patient, but they earn less than some college students, who work as part-time tutors.

Many have quit their jobs because the pricing of their services is too tightly controlled by the government which denies state-owned hospitals' freedom to charge patients according to the difficulties of the treatments. They have changed their professions to work as physicians, lecturers or human resource managers, and they work part-time listening to people's woes, simply to gather lecture materials.

To put an end to the brain drain of psychologists in state-owned hospitals, government has to allow them to charge more flexibly at what their service deserves - they could charge the complicated cases at market price, while charge the easily-solved cases at fairly low prices.

With a more flexible charge system, the profession can attract more talent.

The government should be the natural sponsor of related training programmes. Last year, Shanghai allocated more than 4 million yuan (US$ 0.5 million) to finance training programmes. The municipal government of Kelamayi, in West China's Xinjiang Autonomous Region, also funded a website educating people in psychology.

Universities should provide academic backup to help increase the number of professionals.

Deputy Liu Pengzhi proposed a bill at this year's Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, urging departments of psychology in normal colleges to enrol more students, while other colleges should add the faculty to its prospectus.

Short-term training programmes for people who have experience in dealing with human emotions is also very important. For example, by learning more psychological theories, class counsellors who are in close contact with young students will qualify to provide consultations for young students.

Consultations are specific services provided to meet the different needs of each individual patient. As such, they will never be cheap. Society is calling out for more volunteer psychologists, like those working in a psychological service centre in Beijing's Zhongshan Park, which offers help exclusively for the elderly, disabled and unemployed. The centre has been running for 17 years.

And finally, it's up to people to help those around them who they suspect may be in a little psychological trouble.

Deputy Zhu Rongxian had his own suggestions for a happy soul.

Be optimistic, then adversities are nothing. Be easily satisfied, then money, power and fame will not lead us astray. Be open-minded, then pressure will not build up.

(China Daily 05/21/2005 page4)

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