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Alexander Badkhen, MD

Director of Education and Training programs and Cofounder of the Harmony Institute in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Cofounder of the Annual Conference on Conflict resolution.
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Alexander Badkhen, MD

Harmony Institute: An Innovative Role in Russian Psychology

The Institute for Psychotherapy and Counseling HARMONY is a center for psychological treatment, training, and research in St. Petersburg, Russia. Its principles are those of humanistic and existential psychology. HARMONY was founded in July 1988 and was one of the first independent, non-government psychological service organizations in the Soviet Union. Its innovative role in the new Russian psychology has gained the center respect throughout the former Soviet Union.

"The mission of the HARMONY Institute is to support people in expressing their uniqueness, to help them live in harmony with themselves, with others, and with the world. "We believe that changes in a small group of people can contribute to major shifts in a society. At the same time we view changes in a small group as connected to the individual changes of its members. We trust that psychotherapy is capable of enhancing all these changes. From this perspective of personal and social interconnectedness, therapy is not only a tool for psychological help and change, but is also instrumental in bringing about social transformations. We are aware of our professional potential as well as our personal responsibility to promote humanistic values and make our world a better place to live."

Our staff of more than 40 professional psychologists and therapists provides comprehensive psychotherapeutic services to St. Petersburg residents. HARMONY also operates a 24-hour free-of-charge hotline and free services for parents and children. In addition, the institute offers emergency crisis intervention services for children and teen-agers, and outpatient programs for families with autistic children.


Training and Education programs are the main focus of HARMONY's activity. During almost 15 years of existence our staff has conducted more than 500 workshops and training seminars in more than 60 cities throughout Russia and the former Soviet Republics, providing training for counselors, psychotherapists and educators. We also sponsored hundreds of workshops, conducted by trainers from the USA, Canada, and Western Europe, in St. Petersburg, Russia. HARMONY is one of the main centers that coordinates and trains professionals for hotline and emergency services: The institute has trained staff and assisted creation of more than 170 of Russia's nearly 300 phone crisis lines and drop-in centers. It is one of the founders and sponsors of the Russian Association of Telephonic Emergency Services.

Before going into more details about HARMONY I'd like to describe the general context in which it was founded. For decades the primary concern of Soviet theorists in psychotherapy has been "ideological purity," i.e: conforming to materialistic ideas and limiting the influence of "hostile" theories and practices. Psychotherapy was used essentially as a tool for "re-forming" patients and correcting "wrong" behavior. The requirements for professional work, therefore, were formal techniques. The concept of internal human experience and humane therapeutic relationship were notably missing. It was out of the need for learning in this field—promoting and teaching humanistic psychology—that HARMONY Institute was founded by a group of friends and colleagues.

With years of experience we began to understand that, in Russia, our work served not only a psychological but also a social task. Paraphrasing Choguam Trungpa, who noted years ago that "Buddhism will come to the West as a psychology," it is possible to say that humanistic/existential psychology is coming to Russia as a power for social change.

Here are the words of one of our students emphasizing the special social role and importance of our Institute in contemporary Russia:

"You Americans think we are free now, you think we are building a new market society, that independence is now here. It is impossible to say that it starts like that. It is a process. In the beginning, what is important in order to become free? People have to experience this freedom inside themselves. Everyone has to become free at first. But history has examples where people have had to learn to be free. One of the very famous examples is when Moses was leading his people for forty years in the desert. Because in order to gain new values you need time. Of course I don't want us to spend forty years traveling in the desert and just look to the new generations in the future. I want to be learning now."

In 1995, HARMONY Institute started its largest training project: The International School for Psychotherapy, Counseling, and Group Leadership - a three-year comprehensive (1200 hours) post-graduate professional training program for doctors, psychologists, and teachers in Humanistic/Existential/Spiritual Psychology. The International School is the outcome of a joint effort between the institute and the Transcultural Network for Global Psychology and Education (TCN). TCN was founded in June 1990 at the Concord Institute in Concord, Massachusetts, by an international group of educators and psychologists. Its purpose: to support international, professional exchange in these two fields generally, and specifically with colleagues in Russia and Lithuania with whom this group had already worked. The TCN, from that time to the present, contributed to the development of the International School by sending teachers and curricula, helping to raise funds, and publishing materials for use in the program. It also certified the graduates of the program together with the Concord Institute (USA). A third organization, the Uniterra Foundation (USA), joined these two as the receiver of funds to support this collaborative work.

The school has more than one hundred thirty currently enrolled students. These students come from all parts of Russia as well as from St. Petersburg, some traveling from former republics such as Moldova and Ukraine. The students are medical doctors, psychologists, and teachers, and this last year there were also several university professors enrolled in the program. All recognize that the experiential and skill-based curriculum in humanistic/existential psychology is providing an educational experience quite unique in Russia—one which is not available within the academic, state educational system. Graduates are now working in public schools, hospitals, orphanages, and private psychological centers, as well as teaching at universities in St. Petersburg, Kiev, the Ural, and Siberia. A year ago HARMONY established a new branch of the school in Chelyabinsk (Siberia). Using its expertise the school's faculty published a book, "Mastery in Psychological Counseling," in 2002.

Among the institutional endorsers of the school are: St. Petersburg State University (Russia), Russian Independent Psychiatric Association, Association for Humanistic Psychology (USA), Antioch University (Seattle, USA), Common Bond Institute (USA), Concord Institute (USA), Helen Dowling Institute for Biopsychosocial Medicine (Holland), Union Institute (USA), National Center for Adolescent and Child Psychiatry, and Oslo State University (Norway).

In recognition of the quality of its Education Programs, in 1996 HARMONY was accepted as a full member at the Consortium for Diversified Psychological Programs (USA).


Since the early 90s, HARMONY's staff worked with Chernobyl's rescuers and in 1995, in collaboration with Olympia Institute (USA), they conducted, in St. Petersburg (Russia), a one year training program on trauma work. For several years following, it was difficult to find sponsors to help support this important work. Finally, three years ago, the Soros Foundation awarded us several grants to create programs for trauma work in an area of Southern Russia, near the Chechen border.

In the framework of these programs HARMONY's faculty worked to help train professionals, currently working in and around the region of Chechnya, to enable them to conduct post-traumatic stress (PTSD) treatment with people living in the area, including local civilians, members of the military, police, rescue and medical services, people who had fled Chechnya now living in refugee camps, and the Russians to whose homeland the refugees had come. The programs included training to help professionals to then train volunteers to provide trauma treatment, and established a resource center for training in post-traumatic stress work in Novocherkassk. The resource center will support the large number of people who are willing to help. Due to the level of atrocity that has been committed over the last years in the conflict in Chechnya, the trauma in this region is wide and deep. With the support of the Soros Foundation, HARMONY Institute published a handbook on trauma work and providing a supervision program. This handbook is distributed free of charge to those who work with trauma.

During the last year of the program HARMONY teams traveled to four cities in the region of Chechnya (Rostov, Makhachkala, Vladkavkaz and Stavropol) to provide supervision, and to teach local "helping professionals" self-care skills. This step was designed for those helping professionals who were currently working with people with PTSD, but who didn't have skills and/or the opportunity to get professional and personal support. We hope that these projects, comparatively small as they are, will be used as models for future development of post-traumatic stress services in this troubled part of the world.

On May 17-18, 2002, with Soros Foundation support, HARMONY organized an All-Russian Conference on War and Trauma, which brought together almost a hundred participants. We were trying to reach several goals: Firstly, we wanted to emphasize the topic to attract the attention of the state and the public. Secondly, we wanted to establish a space for dialogue between the professionals belonging to different fields and institutions: sociologists, psychologists, medical doctors, conflict resolution specialists, and law enforcement. Thirdly, this was an attempt to bring together professionals and the public (representatives of various associations and human rights organizations), so they could see and hear each other. This was an exciting and difficult meeting. A bulletin on that conference was published in November, 2002, by HARMONY Institute, with Soros Foundation support. With all the pain happening in the world these days, our work seems even more important, and we hope that bulletin on the War and Trauma conference will help us to share our information and experience.


I met Steve Olweean in 1991 in St. Petersburg, where he came as a part of an international professional exchange program organized by AHP. We became friends and, along with other colleagues, he invited me to visit him in the US in 1992; in July we all took part in AHP's 30th Annual Anniversary Conference in San Francisco. The conference's motto was "If Not Now, When?"—which immediately reminded me of the second part of the quotation: "If not you—who?"

A few days after the conference, sitting in Steve's kitchen in Climax, Michigan, the idea for a joint conference was born. Steve proposed the topic: International Conference on Conflict Resolution, and the theme, "Sharing Tools for Personal/Global Harmony." This definitely resonated with HARMONY Institute's name and mission; we decided at once that this conference would be held the following May in St. Petersburg and should be held annually. None of us had any experience in organizing International Conferences, but it was so very exciting.

Nine months later the First Annual Conference on Conflict Resolution took place in the town of Repino near St. Petersburg. Since that time we've held 10 conferences; the11th Annual International Conference will be held May, 8-18, 2003. Times have changed, and now we are having our conference at a beautiful palace by the Finnish Gulf near Petrodvoretz (Petergoff), which is a historical town just outside St. Petersburg, famous for its parks, fountains, and palaces—the former summer residence of the Tzar's family. 2003 is also the 300th Anniversary of the founding of St. Petersburg.

In order to achieve something together it is not enough just to come to one place and get close physically; it is necessary to create a common experience, to live it through in shared presence: all together we create a "microculture." This is the reason why we are holding the conference in a resort: all the participants can be together all the time—not only to work at the seminars or workshops but also to eat, laugh, and rest together. The program is very intense; it starts every day before breakfast and ends after 11 pm. It includes workshops and seminars, dialogue groups and panels, community building experiences and round tables, cultural program and meditations. The conference has become not only the place of exciting professional meetings, it has become an open space for dialogue, for connection—a nourishing field for personal and spiritual growth.

We designed the conference program to support the diversity of interests among participants. Our participants always have the option to choose between 5 or 6 activities, which are going on simultaneously. Participants come from different countries and from all continents. This brings a special cross-cultural richness to the conference. Each culture emphasizes some dimension of human existence, more or less ignoring others. Having representatives from all over the world, our conference's "microculture" becomes a microcosm of the world culture as a whole.

Once, I got an e-mail from someone in the US who had participated in one of our annual international conferences. Having Lithuanian ancestors she decided to go to Vilnius after St. Petersburg. She wrote: "Are you familiar with the dark bread of Lithuania? For many years I heard from my grandfather about the wonderful, life-sustaining bread of his youth. I tried making many varieties for my grandfather; he said they were good, but it wasn't the right bread. When our group reached Vilnius, we were to meet in the dining room. It took a while for the group to gather. For no apparent reason, I started to tear up. It took me about 20 minutes to realize that the dining room smelled just like my grandmother's kitchen, and I last sat in her kitchen some 25 years ago . . . What I'd like you to do, if possible find me a recipe . . . I've tried libraries, friends, the Internet, cook-books . . . Maybe somebody's grandmother or aunt . . . "

I need to say that I was very touched by that. Behind the desire for re-experiencing the taste of the bread, I saw a longing for something very dear, very deep—a longing for connection which had been lost long ago. And so I wanted to help. I called my friend in Vilnius, Lithuania, told her the story and asked her to get this recipe. A few days later my Lithuanian friend wrote me back: "The problem may be that one of the components of the bread one cannot buy—it is something which is usually left over every time the bread is made and which helps the fermentation to get started. I am not sure if it is possible to make this kind of bread without it."

There is an experience of a lost connection, which is beautifully described by Henry Thoreau: "I long ago lost a hound, a bay horse, and a turtle-dove, and am still on their trail. Many are the travelers I have spoken concerning them, describing their tracks and what calls they answered to. I have met one or two who had heard the hound, and the tramp of the horse, and even seen the dove disappear behind a cloud, and they seemed as anxious to recover them as if they had lost them themselves." True for each of us. Maybe because there are some missing connections for which we are searching—and which we may discover only together. Maybe this is the most important reason for us to come together.

Alexander Badkhen, MD


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Editors note:

Steve Olweean invites visitors to this segment to share their comments with us. Your insights about conflict resolution, compassion, cross cultural harmony and creative problem solving are important in creating a world of harmony and concilliation..

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