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2022.07.28 如何在不谈论你的感受的情况下进行治疗

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How to go to therapy without talking about your feelings
Two Chinese psychologists talk about divorce, stockpiling and crying into your mask

Jul 28th 2022



By Alice Su

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Chuan He
I was born in Ningxia province, where the goji berries are grown. I studied psychology at medical school. But in the late 1980s, when I graduated, people thought psychologists were only for lunatics. It was shameful to see one – if you worked in that field, you starved. I taught medical ethics for six years, then I started a business. Potatoes grow naturally on Ningxia’s high plateau, but it’s so remote that many rot. My company imported starch-making machines, and for almost 20 years we sold potato starch for cooking. It was exhausting. In the second half of my life I remembered my original dream to be a therapist. So in 2013 I started my training in Shanghai.

Yun Juan
I’m from Wuhan, born and raised. I had some misconceptions about psychology at first. I thought therapists were like dustbins for people’s problems. That wasn’t for me. My ideas changed when I became a Christian. I was making hospital visits and realised that talking was a way to help people, so I started training in 2009. I was thankful for that when the pandemic came.

The virus first appeared in Wuhan, which locked down in 2020 just before Chinese new year. We usually celebrate with our families, but that year I was alone with my daughter; my husband and parents were locked down in other parts of the city. We knew so little then, we were afraid even to open the windows. The city was silent and dark. No cars, no sounds, just the garish new year’s gala playing on tv all bright colours and laughter. It hurt my eyes. In my 58 years, I had never felt that kind of loneliness.

But soon we were busy. My daughter went out to volunteer and I started providing therapy online. There was a woman, nearly 70, whose husband had been infected and taken to a quarantine facility. She was panicking. She threw everything that belonged to him outside. She’d call me in a sweat – it was winter, but her clothes would be soaked. I’d say, “Listen to my voice.” I’d tell her to lie on the bed or sit down. I’d teach her to breathe.

You can’t limit sessions like that to 50 minutes. You stay with people on the phone or computer, sometimes for the whole afternoon. You ask them to think of a happy memory, a time they felt safe. Sometimes they fall asleep, and that’s good. Or you help them cry, and that’s good, too.

Chuan He
Some of my patients were surprisingly happy when the lockdown began. There was a couple and the husband had had an affair. The wife was in pain, thinking, should I fight with my spouse, avoid him, or let myself go numb? Then suddenly they were inside together for months, forced to face their relationship. Things actually improved.

Other couples struggled. One of my clients is a high-performing businessman. At first he was OK, busy in his study all day. But after the fourth, fifth week of lockdown, work annoyed him and he started yelling at his wife and kids. He didn’t want to get up in the morning; he napped at lunch and then played mahjong and watched videos on his phone until 3am. He felt powerless and started to ask: What am I working for? What is this life for? Is there still meaning? That is depression. He needed a professional to tell him: “You’ve met something unprecedented. This is a stress response. It doesn’t mean you’ll always be like this.”

It’s like we’re all strings on an instrument that has been wound too tight

We dealt with many crises. I met one man whose parents had both been sent to hospital and he couldn’t reach them. He and his siblings were begging for help in every direction, but their money and connections had no effect. He was spiralling: When would it all end? What if they died? I helped him realise that his fear of what might happen was hurting him more than the reality of his parents being in hospital.

To be honest, I felt anxious and helpless, too. I remember thinking about whether to eat my last egg or save it for the next day, and then asking, why are we locked up, why must we fight for food? How could this be happening in Shanghai? Such questions fill you with anger, but what can you do as an ordinary person? So you drop the anger and go to the next stage: sorrow.

Many of my clients don’t live in Shanghai – they prefer talking to someone far away, because they worry that a local therapist would leak their stories. I often see common themes. Many Chinese are afraid of two things: negative feelings and shame. Often, if a grandparent dies when the child isn’t there, parents don’t tell them about it until later. The parents don’t want to “disturb” their children with bad news. They can’t allow them to be sad. So they deny their children the chance to say goodbye, which creates a deep sense of loss. The child needs help to reconstruct the scene and say what they feel.

There’s an idea that family harmony is more important than anything. I had a couple who’d already been divorced for half a year but didn’t tell anyone because they’d lose face. So they didn’t turn up to family get-togethers; they’d pretend to be on business trips. I’ve seen parents who divorced when their child was in primary school and tried to keep that secret until they were in high school. Of course, the kids always know. You’re performing for your child, but they know. Actually, you’re lying to your child. You think it’s a form of protection, but the child will have no sense of security. They feel deceived.

As a therapist, it’s against my ethics to encourage people to stay married or get divorced. When a case ends in divorce, that doesn’t mean therapy didn’t work. The two people come out with clearer minds. They understand what happened in the past 10 or 20 years and what kind of life they want to live. But both society and the courts here encourage couples to stay together. Many women absorb that pressure. They feel if they’re divorced, they’ve failed, they’re bad at marriage. So I try to give them courage. I tell them it’s not shameful to be honest.

Yun Juan
Many families have problems with in-laws, especially when one member of the couple was raised by grandparents while their parents migrated to the city for work. One woman I treated struggled with her mother-in-law. Her mother hadn’t been around. Now she had someone who could finally be her mother, but she didn’t know how to build a relationship as an adult. When her mother-in-law said something critical or nagging – “Aiya! You did this wrong. You are slow!” – the wife reverted to childhood. She didn’t want to live with her mother-in-law anymore. This harmed her relationship with her husband, who was worried about his wife but wasn’t willing to cross his mother. And the in-laws would never come to therapy.

The older generation doesn’t understand. They lived through so many crises, and say things like: “You’ve had it too easy. If you could eat bitterness like us, you’d be fine.” My own mother was a child during the second world war. Her parents left the village to join the war effort with the nationalists. When the Cultural Revolution began, my mother’s family was marked as counter-revolutionary. The Red Guards would barge in to hold “struggle sessions” against her parents, breaking things, screaming at them and putting up posters denouncing their ideological crimes. Of course my mother was affected. Throughout her life she tried to join the Communist Party to prove she was a good citizen, but was never allowed to. That’s why she married my father: he was from a peasant family, which was considered good because Maoist ideology elevated the peasantry.

My mum always cites a saying: “If you made a mistake, fix it; if you didn’t, take the punishment as a warning.” I hate that. It’s what innocent people told themselves to survive that era. If they were attacked, they’d say: “It’s fine, I deserve it.” My mother treated me the same way. If my brother did something wrong, she’d discipline me, too. I had to be strong and self-sufficient. These things sit like a glacier between us. They also distorted my relationship with my husband. Before I had therapy, I became defensive easily. Because even my mum would never help me, I didn’t trust anyone. There was a distance in all my relationships.

My parents have always kept their supplies stocked up. My father buys too much, freezes it and fills an entire storage cupboard. He can never have enough. The two of them are constantly preparing “for war, for famine, for the people”, as they said in Mao’s time. They’re waiting for the moment when they lose everything. My parent’s generation passed this fear and numbness on to us, and we passed it on to our children.

Chuan He
After the Mao era, many people my age began to emigrate, get a Western education and express themselves differently. But in much of China, especially in the villages, people still live in the same, inward-looking way. In the past we were a suppressed people in a suppressed culture. Now we are an anxious people in an anxious culture. The years of reform brought super-fast development. Too fast. Our material lives reached a certain level, but our internal lives, our culture and our spirit couldn’t catch up. Everyone wants to get rich, everyone wants a big house, everyone wants their kids to go to good schools. You’re afraid to fall behind. Every day you’re rushing, but you don’t know what you’re rushing for.

Yun Juan
Did it get better after the lockdown was lifted? For so long everyone had one thought: I must live. Yet when the city opened, we felt not relief, but fatigue. I see clients in person now, but not their whole faces. Sometimes they cry until their whole mask is soaked, but they’re afraid to take it off.

And it isn’t over yet. Right now we are doing pcr tests every 72 hours. The community workers walk the streets with bullhorns shouting at us to test. If your neighbourhood has positive cases, guards come to the front door and lock you in. When you see someone who isn’t wearing a mask, you back away. When you forget to wear one, your heart clenches. It’s like we’re all strings on an instrument that has been wound too tight.

If anyone tries to bring up what happened under lockdown, someone else will cut in: “Forget about it. Let’s ganbei, drink up! Cheers that we’re alive!” People say everyone has been through the same thing, so why talk about it? But it’s also because of the government – they don’t want you to discuss negative things.

Even our happiness can’t be expressed. So what about unhappiness?

I volunteered as a therapist during the Shanghai lockdown, and out of nowhere, during lunch one day, I started crying. I was sitting in a restaurant with people staring at me. I thought, watch me if you want. I can’t control it. I’m sad now and I’m just going to cry.

As an ordinary person in China, self-reflection hurts, because you have no say. If you come to Wuhan, you’ll see the streets overflowing at night. Everyone is out eating, drinking, partying. When the cases come, the government closes everything down. We sleep in our offices, we prepare for “war”. When the cases go, we eat and drink again. How can we keep living like this, so mindlessly?

Chuan He
Everyone is expected to look calm and flat on the outside. We are not expressive or effusive. In the past, there was a saying that women should “smile without showing your teeth”. When I was younger, in my high-school photos, I looked like I was 40 years old. Women cannot speak loudly, cannot show their teeth, must sit and stand the right way. We are shrunken in and folded over – even our happiness can’t be expressed. So what about unhappiness?

Yun Juan
In China we are used to instructing our bodies with our brains, telling ourselves what we should feel. We are always saying, don’t be scared, it doesn’t hurt, don’t be angry, forget about it. We don’t know that if you’re fearful, you should stand up and fight. If you’re angry, you should defend what has been violated. This is why I feel my work is meaningful. It can help us live more truthfully. We are all wearing masks with big smiles drawn on our faces. We should take them off.■

As told to Alice Su, senior China correspondent for The Economist. Both therapists’ names are pseudonyms. These interviews have been edited for clarity and brevity

You can read the rest of 1843 magazine’s weekly coverage here


This article appeared in the 1843 magazine section of the print edition under the headline "How to go to therapy without talking about your feelings"



作者:Alice Su











我的许多客户并不住在上海--他们更喜欢和远方的人交谈,因为他们担心本地的治疗师会泄露他们的故事。我经常看到共同的主题。许多中国人害怕两件事:负面情绪和羞耻。通常情况下,如果祖父母在孩子不在的时候去世,父母直到后来才会告诉他们这件事。父母不想用坏消息 "打扰 "他们的孩子。他们不能让他们伤心。所以他们不让孩子有机会说再见,这就造成了深深的失落感。孩子需要帮助来重建现场,说出他们的感受。



许多家庭都有婆媳关系问题,特别是当夫妻中的一方由祖父母抚养长大,而他们的父母则移居到城市工作的时候。我治疗过的一位妇女与她的婆婆争吵。她的母亲一直都不在身边。现在她终于有了一个可以做她母亲的人,但她不知道如何作为一个成年人建立关系。当她的婆婆说一些批评或唠叨的话--"Aiya! 你做错了。你太慢了!" - 妻子又回到了童年。她不想再和她的婆婆一起生活。这损害了她与丈夫的关系,丈夫担心妻子,但不愿意与母亲过不去。而公公婆婆也不会来治疗。

老一辈的人不理解。他们经历了那么多的危机,说了这样的话。"你过得太容易了。如果你能像我们一样吃苦,你就会好了"。我自己的母亲在第二次世界大战期间是个孩子。她的父母离开村子,与国民党人一起参加战争。文化大革命开始后,我母亲的家庭被标记为反革命。红卫兵会闯进来对她的父母举行 "斗争会议",砸东西,对他们大喊大叫,并张贴海报谴责他们的意识形态罪行。当然,我母亲也受到影响。在她的一生中,她试图加入共产党以证明她是一个好公民,但从未被允许。这就是她嫁给我父亲的原因:他来自一个农民家庭,这被认为是好事,因为毛泽东思想提升了农民的地位。

我妈妈总是引用一句话。"如果你犯了错,就改正它;如果你没犯错,就把惩罚当作警告"。我讨厌这句话。这是无辜的人们为了在那个时代生存而告诉自己的。如果他们受到攻击,他们会说 "没事,我活该。" 我母亲也是这样对待我的。如果我弟弟做错了事,她也会管教我。我必须变得坚强和自立。这些事情像冰川一样坐在我们之间。它们也扭曲了我和丈夫的关系。在我接受治疗之前,我很容易变得防备。因为即使是我妈妈也不会帮助我,我不相信任何人。我的所有关系都有距离。

我的父母总是把他们的物资储备起来。我父亲买了太多的东西,把它们冷冻起来,装满了整个储存柜。他永远不可能有足够的东西。他们两个人不断地准备 "为战争,为饥荒,为人民",正如他们在毛泽东时代所说的那样。他们在等待着失去一切的那一刻。我父母那一代人把这种恐惧和麻木传给了我们,我们又把它传给了我们的孩子。




如果有人试图提起禁闭时发生的事情,其他人就会插嘴。"别提了。让我们甘拜下风,喝个痛快! 干杯,我们还活着!" 人们说,每个人都经历过同样的事情,所以为什么要谈论它?但这也是因为政府的原因--他们不希望你讨论负面的东西。



作为中国的一个普通人,自我反省很痛苦,因为你没有发言权。如果你来到武汉,你会看到夜晚的街道上人满为患。大家都在外面吃喝玩乐,聚会。当案件发生时,政府会关闭一切。我们在办公室里睡觉,为 "战争 "做准备。当案件结束时,我们又吃又喝。我们怎么能一直这样生活下去,如此无意识地生活?

每个人都被要求在外表上看起来平静、平淡。我们不善于表达,也不善于流露。过去有一种说法,女人应该 "笑不露齿"。我年轻的时候,在我的高中照片中,我看起来像40岁。妇女不能大声说话,不能露出牙齿,必须以正确的方式坐和站。我们被缩在里面,被折叠起来--甚至我们的快乐也无法表达。那么,不快乐的事呢?


经济学人》杂志资深中国记者Alice Su获悉。两位治疗师的名字都是假名。这些采访已被编辑,以达到清晰和简洁的目的。



本文出现在1843年杂志印刷版的栏目中,标题为 "如何在不谈感情的情况下进行治疗"
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