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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Rich Are Seeking Better Mental Health

APKurpatov talking to a patient during a taping of "We'll Solve Everything."
After 15 years of marriage, Valentina's world collapsed when her husband left her for a longtime mistress.

"Doctor, what am I to do?" the 41-year-old blonde asked her therapist, tears filling her eyes. "I don't want any other man, I want my own!"

The scene was not hidden behind closed doors. It was broadcast on a popular new television talk show that features a prominent psychologist giving real-life consultations to ordinary Russians -- a reflection of the nation's rising interest in psychotherapy.

While Soviet academics studied psychology as a pure science, experts say therapy was virtually nonexistent in the Soviet Union, a country where citizens were not encouraged to think and act as individuals. Meanwhile, the state routinely used psychiatry as a means of persecuting dissidents, proclaiming them mad and locking them in grim institutions. Even the term "psychoanalysis" was officially forbidden until the early 1990s, considered a "bourgeois" and dissident branch of psychology, said Olga Kvasova, a lecturer at Moscow State University's psychology department.

But that is changing. "We are seeing an increase in demand -- it is not yet a boom, but the trend is that its popularity is definitely on the rise," said Mikhail Labkovsky, a psychotherapist who hosts a talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.

Like other new trends here, therapy is almost exclusively the province of the rich. In Russia, where the average monthly salary equals some $300, most patients are well-off residents of big cities who can afford paying $20 to $100 per hour.

For the less well-heeled, there's "We'll Solve Everything" -- a new talk show on the Domashny channel hosted by Dr. Andrei Kurpatov, a 31-year-old psychotherapist who has authored more than 20 books on psychological problems and now counsels patients in a three-bedroom apartment in central Moscow -- under the bright gleam of television lights.

His patient Valentina, whose last name was not revealed, kept hoping to win her husband back. After he heard her out, Kurpatov gave Valentina a plate with two cucumbers, two tomatoes and a knife and instructed her, "Please make me a salad yesterday."

Valentina paused, then answered with a sigh: "No, doctor, yesterday's salad should have been made yesterday." She said she realized she needed to get over her failed marriage and begin a new life.

Kurpatov says that one point of his show is simply to "show that psychotherapy exists, that one can come and get help."

Even experts who criticize Kurpatov for sometimes lecturing his television patients on what to think and how to act -- something most psychologists frown upon -- acknowledge that his show helps educate Russians about the benefits of psychotherapy.

Tatyana Dmitriyeva, head of the country's chief psychiatric hospital, the Serbsky Institute -- which in Soviet times was infamous for diagnosing dissidents with schizophrenia -- said the new interest in psychological help was good news for a country that experienced tremendous economic and social hardship in the 1990s, leaving many suffering from depression.

While most people's grievances are largely universal, experts say Russians are more vulnerable to some problems, such as alcoholism and the related depression. Russia has one of the highest suicide rates in the world.

Kurpatov also said that many older Russians raised in Soviet society were reluctant to accept responsibility for their own destiny. "When Russians come to me they say, 'Doc, I have problems, please find me a husband! How come you aren't finding a husband for me?'" Kurpatov said. "Here we are trying to convey the idea of personal space, of personal responsibility for one's life and the decisions that you make."