Newhouse (2005) explained that “historically, the traumas that befell Russians and Russian Jews were so overwhelming, and strictures on personal expression so unrelenting, that people kept their emotional and psychological pain to themselves and presented a stoic front” (p. 705). He goes on to explain that disclosing personal pain and family problems was often seen as a betrayal to the family system, even if the disclosure is made to a mental health professional. Additionally, although emotional pain and difficulties in adjusting to life in the Former Soviet Union were so prevalent among its citizens (Smith, 1990), talking about this pain was regarded as a sign of weakness, as well as a dangerous statement against the political system. Clearly then, the Former Soviet Union was not a place where psychotherapy was often utilized and valued (Leipzig, 2006), a belief system that may be difficult to disown even after immigration.
Yet studies indicate that immigration, particularly from a totalitarian, repressive society such as the Former Soviet Union, can be a traumatic process, frequently leading to family dissolution, problems with separation and individuation, and mental illness of various kinds (Beckerman & Corbett, 2008; Hsu, Davies & Hansen, 2004; Markowitz, 2003). Likewise, epidemiological studies have documented relatively high levels of depression in different primary care settings in this immigrant group, as compared to the community samples (Hoeper et al., 1979; Katon, 1987). Yet when these immigrants do find themselves in a crisis, usually having to do with a family member’s illness or a child’s problems or a somatic manifestation of their psychiatric distress, they will, though reluctantly, seek the help of a therapist (Newhouse, 2005). It may be crucial then for mental health professional treating this population to understand their historical reluctance to disclose personal information, and be able to provide the patient with “a combination of solid credentials, personal warmth, and a proactive approach” (Newhouse, p. 701).
*A portion of this blog post was taken from Manevich, I. (2010). The Changing Patterns of Self-Disclosure in Soviet Immigrants.