From my experience the words “psychoanalysis” and “psychotherapy” are unknown to most of Hong Kong people. At the beginning this was a bit surprising for me, unexpected. I could have never imagined that in a big city like Hong Kong, people simply have never heard of psychoanalysis or Sigmund Freud; In Italy, in Europe, in North and South America most of the people have a general understanding of psycho-analysis/therapy/logy, whatever they may think about it. Also thanks to literature and cinema, most of the people are familiar with the figure of the psychoanalyst, even though they might not know the difference between psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, psychology and psychiatry, or they may have no interest to any of these.
|Sigmund Freud well entered the collective imaginary
If we analyze well, also psychoanalysis was a product of its time; the “invention” of psychoanalysis was probably possible as evolution of a discourse, and because the society already cultivated similar figures before. One hundred or more years ago, before any form of psycho-technique was invented, people used to have some other kind of referrals: the shaman or the magician in the ancient time. Or more recently the medical doctor (the man of science, the person who held the knowledge), the priest (the spiritual confessor, the one deputed not only to listen but also in charge of absolving), and the teacher (educated and respected, possessed the knowledge and was able to suggest how to relate with others, wise). As to say that modern analysts or therapists only fill a role which belonged to some others before, a position in a discourse determined by a specific cultural tradition.
|The dispositive of confession share some interesting similarity with psychotherapy
But I have been wondering: in Chinese culture, and in Hong Kong, is there anything similar? Who could fill this role? Who are the referrals for people in need of some support, is there anyone external to the family?
Apparently Hong Kong has not yet developed such culture; counselors, psychologists and therapists are not many, and only few of them lead a private practice. The general opinion among people is that counseling is for those people who have “mental problems”, meaning something severe; on the other side even many professionals such as social workers find hard to understand a practice that is based only on the speech. Hong Kong people apparently do not believe on the efficacy of word, and in most cases they do not share our need to talk. What is surprising to me is that I haven’t found in Hong Kong any other traditional figure (not even teachers) that might replace or even recall the figure of the counselor. Hong Kong people really show a radically different attitude toward the word, with all the consequences of the case.
Apparently, the only term that met some fortune is counseling, which is quite interesting in my opinion. I believe it is not a case that such definition met more consensus than other, as it probably matches something of the local culture. What exactly? Is it maybe because in Chinese culture the two most prominent figures are the wise and the master? And what do the wise and the master do? They possess the knowledge, they are “arrived”, they have learnt how to deal with their desires, with their symptoms; they have (apparently) eliminated or controlled the unconscious, and are now ready to teach. Teaching to good scholars, who never question what they say. This is more or less the ideal supporting the conception of counseling, and the symbolic position (within the discourse) that the counselor is expected to maintain.
|despite their name, confucian "Dialogues" seem more one way monologues
And how is “counseling” translated in Chinese? In Italian and in English counseling is quite a broad definition, referring to general advices, counsels, deliberations, thoughts. It comes from the Latin consilium, meaning "plan, opinion". A counselor, or a consultant, can be any professional giving advice in different fields, particularly in law. Someone “who knows”, someone who has a knowledge, and from whose position should provide precise answers and advices.
Interestingly for Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan three different translations of counseling are being used:
Mainly used in Mainland China, it refers to the idea of “asking, making questions” to some expert. It may refer to different kind of consultations, not only within the psychological field
Commonly used in Hong Kong it expresses the attitude of “giving guidelines, advices”. It also implies a discipline master, someone who can indicate the way; in a broader meaning, can be a counselor for students in an academic context.
咨商 Zī shāng
Used in Taiwan, it refers more generally to a discussion, for example to a business discussion. Differently from the first two terms, this definition seems to recall a more fair relation, in which no one is the master.
|three wise men
Then, not only we see that the meanings associated to counseling are quite broad and can apply to different fields; interestingly we also see that the one more popular in Mainland China clearly refers to the act of making questions to someone, to a master; and we know that when a question is addressed to someone, there we have a dialogue rather a conversation. Indeed a dialogue implies question and answer, and it’s finalized to exchange information, while a conversation not necessarily has a clear and explicit goal. For what concern Hong Kong, here the term chosen expresses even more clearly what the outcomes of the process should be and who should provide them. Counseling is not just the process of making questions; here in Hong Kong counseling becomes precisely producing advices, guidelines, instructions, and answers.
A linguistic analysis like this can tell us something about the premises founding one discourse; not surprisingly the same difference that we find between the three translations also reflect the different grade of reception of psychoanalysis in the three places. Given these premises (which deserve further investigation, and we will come back later) it is quite understandable why psychoanalysis has found some opening in Taiwan, why it is attracting some interest in Mainland China, and why it is still foreigner to the Hong Kong culture.