Counseling Uzbek-speaking clients and others from the ex-Soviet Central Asian region is not something I planned for when I started my career in the mental health and social services arena more than twenty years ago. a course in miracles, this is the work that I have primarily been doing for the past twelve years – and I thoroughly enjoy it, even in the moments of therapeutic-cultural impasse.
I am not an ethnic Uzbek. I have, however, traveled extensively throughout Central Asia on more than one occasion and had the opportunity to learn the Uzbek language to a functional degree, along with other languages of Central Asia including Tajik, Judaic Bukhori, Afghan Dari, and some Turkmen.
As a good social worker, I was repeatedly taught to “meet the client where the client is at.” To this day, that is still a mantra in most graduate social work schools and departments. If you want to be able to meet Central Asian clients in their psycho-social environ, you have to be willing to question some assumptions about the order of things – that is, if you grew up within the cultural backdrop of the contemporary Western world.
Many of the issues and themes that most psychotherapists likely encounter in their work with clients often take on a deeper understanding when it comes to working with Uzbek-speaking and other Central Asian clients, and especially with men. Issues of communication, relational engagement, emotional regulation – not to mention other traditional mental health concerns – will require the clinician to process Western theories of behavioral change via the prism of historical adaptation and cultural sedimentation. This work is intrinsically dynamic as it carries a dialectic all its own; the interplay between Western rationality along with an appreciation of Eastern sensibilities.
Working with Uzbek-speaking clients as a psychotherapist/counselor will demand nothing short of therapeutic and personal authenticity. It also requires a good amount of creativity and comfortability in translating concepts of therapeutic/behavioral change into “culturally appropriate” and linguistically relevant words, phrases, and ideas that resonate with the heart and collective conscious of the (ex)Soviet Central Asian body collective.
The work will also require a good amount of patience and ability to engage in truly client-centered counseling of the pure Rogerian kind – not that of vacuous sloganeering made popular by regulatory bodies removed from the intricacies of psychotherapeutic interchange. True client-centered counseling is actually well-suited for the Central Asian client who wants to change, but does not quite have the current emotional vocabulary to set forth a positive behavioral change. This is where we can help, and the place from which I usually offer my help. I believe it is a benefit that I have an affinity with the mountain ranges, environmental sensations, and pace of the (ex)Soviet Central Asian heart.
Understanding modern-day problems and issues of relational engagement, “work-life balance”, adjustment, and acculturation takes on a unique flavoring for the clinician who is situated in the West – and working with Uzbek-speaking and other clients hailing from the (ex) Soviet regions of Central Asia, the Caucuses (Kafkaz), and other parts. Both the traditions of Western psychotherapeutic schools of thought along with the wisdom of the ancient Orient have much to offer the clinician seeking to facilitate truly adaptive change for clients living and loving in these spaces in between.
“Living bodies are qualified to conceive mentally grasped things only by and through certain powers that are put within them.” Bakhtiar, Laleh. (2013). Avicenna on the Science of the Soul. Chicago IL: Great Books of the Islamic World.