The Russian Revival Project and Carl Jung

by KathleenDuffy

The Soviet era saw in-depth psychoanalysis banned in Russia. But since perestroika many Russians are using psychoanalysis to help them cope with the traumas of cultural change.

A fascinating documentary on BBC Radio 4 entitled, "To Russia with Jung",(1) has highlighted the work of The Russian Revival Project (RRP). For the last few years this charitable organisation has been sending experts in Jungian psychoanalysis into Russia to provide much-needed clinical training for Russian professionals..

But why have the Russians been unable to provide their own clinical expertise? The reasons are complex and compelling.

Psychoanalysis in the Soviet Era

'Depth' psychoanalysis accepts the unconscious as a valid entity to be considered in treatment of the patient.  Pioneering psychotherapists such as Sigmund Freud, William James and Carl Jung believed that exploring the hidden layers of the unconsious mind could lead the patient on the path to mental healing.

During most of the Russian Soviet era depth psychotherapy was banned. Hypnosis was the method favoured by the Soviet regime.  To greatly simplify,  hypnosis depended on a hierarchical physician-patient relationship which suited the political ideology of the state at the time.

This hadn't always been the case.  In what Eugene Raitkhel (2) describes as a 'brief period of revolutionary utopianism during the early 1920s' a broad variety of psychoanalytical approaches was acceptable. 

But under Stalin, Russia turned in on itself.  Enormous industrialisation projects and the  collectivisation of agriculture bought wth it a desire by Party leaders to eliminate what was regarded as the 'bourgeois professional' .  Looking inwards was seen as an individual act of self-indulgence, not condusive to the collective ideal.

Instead, Pavlov's reflex theory, together with hypnosis were heavily promoted.

Yet there was an underground movement.  Banned theoretical  books were photocopied in print so tiny that it was necessary to read them with a magnifying glass.  Knowledge was furtively sought, so desperate were these so-called 'bourgeois professionals' to ease the psychological suffering of their fellow citizens. 

Through this risky endeavour these books circulated amongst self-taught Russian therapists.

Psychoanalysis Comes In From The Cold

In the 1990s perestroika changed everything - Russian analysts not only had access to books, but began to eagerly develop their own institutes of psychoanalysis. 

However, there was a problem.  During the Soviet era there were, obviously, no opportunities for training in clinical practice.  During perestroika the Russians reached out to their Western colleagues and invited them to come to Russia to help them with training and the setting up of clinics. 

The result was the formation in  England in 1998 of The Russian Revival Project.  This was an officially recognised  programme of the International Association for Analytical Psychology (IAAP).  It enabled  a group of nineteen Jungian experts to travel from England to Russia on a shuttle basis  to train local psychotherapists and mental health professionals. 

The important point emphasised by The Russian Revival Project is that it was vitally important that the training programme had to be experienced in Russia. Apart from the fact that their Russian colleagues were challenged financially and couldn't travel abroad easily, Western practices had to be adapted to the peculiarities of Russian culture and not vice versa. The English learned a lot from their Russian colleagues.

Adapting Western Training Practices to Russian Needs


The Russian people suffered tremendously during the Soviet era and despite a new generation who have never experienced life during the Soviet era, the repercussions are still enormous.  The team of Western Jungian professionals had to learn to adapt.  Here are just some of the cultural differences that had to be acknowledged and addressed.

  1. Training had to be in Russian which meant the use of interpreters.  In a one-to-one training situation with a patient and an analyst, the use of an interpreter as a third party had to be handled sensitively. Patient confidentiality and trust could easily have been broken.
  2. Russia does not, like England, have a tradition of charitable giving either through corporations or fundraising. Because of this, Western attitudes to money and the relative ease of  raising  finances had to be sensitively borne in mind.
  3. In a nation which, until recently, had no freedom of speech  and where people still often live in crowded conditions, the idea of revealing your inner self can be perceived as an alien concept.
  4. Because of their history, the democratic electing of  leaders through secret ballot  for their self-governing groups is fraught with difficulties for the Russians.
  5. Western values are often treated with scepticism by Russian colleagues.  It has brought up many debates about the Western model in the Russian context.


Why Jung?

According to the BBC radio programme Jung has found acceptance amongst many Russians seeking help.

The reason could be that Jung's idea of the unconscious appeals to the concept of the 'Russian soul'.  The commentator points out that this might be a well-worn phrase, yet Jung's broad idea of the unconscious with its emphasis on things happening for a reason and the idea of the collective unconscious  arguably sits well with the Russian mind set.

In addition, the idea of the 'Self' has become increasingly important to people who have for so long been denied freedom of self-expression.

Jungian Analysis in Russia - The Situation Now

 This is a land where the weight of history is felt most strongly in inter-family conflicts.  There are elderly people who remember the suffering they experienced under the Soviet regime, there are the young who experienced the sudden changes of perestroika, and there is now a generation who experienced neither.  The results are that many people are in need of psychoanalytical support.

To this end, both The Russian Revival Project and their Russian trainee colleagues have worked extremely hard to ensure the successful completion of their Jungian dream. From the broadcast, it is obvious that it has been a steep learning curve for all involved.  But now, in 2013, after fifteen years of commuting to Russia on a regular basis, The Russian Revival Project  is about to hand over the reins to  their  Russian professionals. Jungian analysis is up and running in Russia.

On the banks of the River Neva is the Jung Institute of St Petersburg which this year is expected to be internationally recognised by the IAAP as a group of Jungian psychotherapists existing independently, but part of the outside world.  Similar programmes can be found in Moscow and others are  beginning all over Russia. 

This is a significant development - but most importantly, Russians now have access to analytical support where opening your mouth to speak about your inner self is no longer regarded as an act of betrayal, but a journey to healing.



  1. To Russia With Jung, BBC Radio 4, 17th September 2012.
  2. Abstract: Post-Soviet Placebos: Epistemology and Authority in Russian Treatments for Alcoholism  by Eurgene Raikhel. Published online, 5th December 2009.
  3. The Russian Revival Project website


Copyright: Kathleen Duffy


Items from the Soviet Era

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Updated: 05/27/2013, KathleenDuffy
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