It’s freezing at 4AM on Christmas eve. I am 4, my sister 8. We are both standing in the cold; she is holding tight to the ration card that would allow us to buy 1 liter of milk, our weekly allowance. The line is curbing behind the store, but luckily we got here early enough to be amongst the first 10 people in line. My parents are each standing in separate lines waiting for the bread and meat stores to open.
If you ask me what my first memory is, funny enough it usually involves “tovarasul”, our comrade, our communist president. But it was not all that bad; after all, we were in the same boat and humor helped us get through…up until the revolution that is. I was 8 when it happened and I clearly remember the tanks strolling down the boulevard trying to find their next target; I also remember the gun fires, the dead bodies laying naked on the ground downtown Bucharest, waiting to be identified and given a proper burial; I remember watching on TV the execution of our president and his wife by a handful of men that kept missing their target, making it all too painful to watch. Finally, I recall the vivid memories we could not erase about all the blood and death. We all had dreams of a better life, but after the revolution was over, all we were left with was PTSD. To make matters worse, the psychiatric staff was undertrained to deal with all this, and the sigma mental health carried made us all shut down, afraid that we may lose friends, jobs, and our lives. I am not writing this to victimize anyone, in the end we are a strong people and gradually, managed to get by; but I want the world to know that we came a long way and although Eastern European countries may be poorer than others, calling them “third-world countries” or “underdeveloped” does really not do them justice.
At the time of my college graduation in 2004, there were no counseling programs within the university. Psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers –if you want to count the latter group since they were not (Are?) doing any counseling- were the only helping professions; no counselors in sights. Therapy was performed mostly by psychiatrists who had no time restraints (my sessions would usually last for about 2 hours), no boundaries (physical), and practicing using a code of ethics older than they have been around.
All that has come to an end. Actually this is the reason why I am writing this article today. I am really proud of my people, of my country. I am happy because mental health counseling is probably one of those areas that nobody used to pay attention to, or else “they’ll think you’re crazy”. I was so happy upon learning that counseling is starting to spread its wings in my home country. The people sure need it! Some of you probably wonder why I am writing about a place so far away from here; how does that affect you? Why should you care? I look at it as a victory for counseling…to get in a place where it simply seemed impossible to get. Our profession is spreading to territories we hear almost nothing about. So, I am writing to tell you about my commitment to advocate for our profession; I am writing you to let you know that if you care and want to advance our profession and help the people who have little to no access to counseling services, you can take it upon yourself to make a difference. I am here to tell you that counseling is getting there, wherever there may be.
Diana C. Pitaru is a counselor-in-training, and a student at Walden University. Her theoretical interests are in Gestalt, Art, and Narrative therapy while focusing on multicultural issues and eating disorders.