Walking with the wounded in Kiev

ReachGlobal ministry helps fill Christian counseling void

Man sleeping on bench KievWhatever the causes of mental distress — family conflict, unemployment, the ghosts of communist oppression — Ukrainians are suffering a lot of it.

The problem is, in Ukraine, the ratio of people who are hurting to people who are qualified to help them makes even the odds of winning the lottery look good.

A January 2011 article in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry reported bluntly: “In Ukraine, primary care physicians have almost no training in the recognition and treatment of mental health problems, and outpatient psychiatric services of common mental disorders like depression are practically non-existent.”

To help address that void, ReachGlobal counselor Dennis Bowen, Psy.D., and his wife, Lydia, founded the Kiev Family & Counselor Training Team in 2009.

KFCT offers a two-year Christian counseling training program, plus an internship program that gives interns an average of 500 hours of supervised counseling experience before they see clients on their own. The ministry trains counselors at the layperson, pastoral and professional levels. It also prepares Ukrainian Christian leaders for family ministry in local churches through seminars conducted at churches and community centers.People talking Dennis apartment“The Soviet Union didn’t have Christian counselors, and there are a lot of hurting people out there,” says Bowen, 61. “The mental health system, the whole social service system, is not what we’re used to in the U.S., so services are very sparse.”

And because Soviet authorities often used psychiatry and psychology as tools of control, people tend not to trust what services the government does offer. So instead of getting help, people across this country of almost 46 million, languish in mental disorders and addictions:

  • Alcohol contributed to 40 percent of all deaths among Ukrainian men (and 22 percent of Ukrainian women) in 2007, according to a national study.
  • Almost 39 percent of men in Ukraine are classified as heavy drinkers, a 2002 study found.
  • About 80 percent of Ukrainian men have been regular smokers at one point in their lives – and 60 percent still are, according to a 2009 study.
  • Ukraine as a nation ranks 13th in the world in suicides per 100,000 people (21.2), right behind Russia (21.4).

Training the next generation of counselors 

KFCT has graduated 15 students since 2009 and currently has seven interns (three men and four women) practicing Christian counseling. Taking that approach helps pastors like KFCT intern Pavel Zalyzschuk connect biblical truth with the practical needs of people seeking his help.Dennis talking to students Kiev“I understand when a pastor gives only biblical advice, it’s not always helpful, because for many people, it’s hard to grasp,” says Zalyzschuk, 55, who has led two small village churches outside Kiev for 20 years. “What is really important is to listen to this person and understand his situation – where he is right now. And then, during this counseling, [I can] help this person to understand what the Bible tells. This is where I see the biggest results for me.”

While about 50 students have taken classes from KFCT, the ministry’s internship program is where would-be counselors get the experience they need to serve a full range of clients. For example, in addition to practicing with real clients and attending regular supervision sessions, interns learn how to administer and interpret tests such as the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI). Interns pay the equivalent of $12.50 a month to get the advanced training.

“We wanted to create something where they could have 500, 800 or more hours where they’re actually being supervised, kind of like a medical student on a rotation in their internship or residency,” Bowen says. “So when it’s time to have their first client, they’ve done this before, they know what to do. So it’s kind of on the American counselor training model.”

One of KFTC’s interns, Gennady Podgaisky, says that KFCT was exactly what he needed, because it gave him the flexibility to learn while applying what he learned to his ministry with street kids and their parents. The training has given him a better grasp on something he wants to do for the rest of his life – counseling people one-on-one.

“And of course this training helped me in expanding my understanding of people and approaches,” says Podgaisky, 46. “And it gave me tools – what to use, how to help those people. So it is a great place to learn and take it at your own pace and apply it.”

Expanding up and out

KFCT is putting the finishing touches on a 500-square-foot, three-room office that sits atop one of Kiev’s dozens of new apartment buildings – the result of years of fund-raising by the Bowens. The office allows KFCT’s staff of eight counselors and its interns to conduct their ministries from one location, as opposed to the smattering of coffee shops, park benches, living rooms and Sunday school rooms where they have been meeting clients.

The ministry has also spread to Zhitomir, a city of about 250,000 people 120 km from Kiev. The new counseling office is run by KFCT intern Viktorya Brzhezytskaya who uses it to counsel clients and run a parenting program called Make Parenting a Pleasure that draws 10 to 18 people three times a week. She hopes to have many counselors in Zhitomir working in an office much like the one in Kiev.

“We do also need counselors in Zhitomir, because those who trust me and those who are friends of mine have a need for counseling, and I cannot counsel them,” says Brzhezytskaya, a 32-year-old mother of two. “Usually I would send them here [to Kiev], but nobody came because it’s a long way to come here, and time-consuming.”

In the meantime, KFCT’s interns are learning to do Christian counseling in a country where counseling itself is a relatively new concept, according to Podgaisky says.

“Now through the center and through classes, we are expanding this approach,” Podgaisky says. “We are using the findings of psychology and [learning] how we can use this in service to the Lord and in service to people who are suffering and hurting — of course, pointing them to the Lord, but using some of the methods, which are helping people in these immediate steps.”

© 2012 EFCA. All rights reserved. ReachGlobal News is a division of EFCA-ReachGlobal.

What You Can Do


Support the work of the Bowens and the Kiev Family Counseling Training Team at the EFCA  online giving page.


  • Pray for the Bowens’ modular training program classes coming up in the fall in Kyiv (Intro to Christian Counseling and Solution Focused Brief Therapy) and in Zhitomir (Marriage & Family Ministry).
  • Pray for Dennis as he presents Assessment for Counselors, part II at the College of Theology & Education in Chisinau, Moldova.
  • Pray for the teachers and counselors at KFCT as they take on more and more of the leadership & decision making with the center.

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