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“Some people believe that turning to a psychologist is tantamount to having serious psychological problems. I want to say that it’s just the opposite – turning to these services is one way to help you avoid problems,” says psychologist Yelena Akchalova. “Ordinary people can turn to a psychologist to solve their most common everyday worries – from relations with family and friends, to decision-making on life issues, resolving workplace conflicts, choosing a profession or finding one’s life mission. Psychologists can help when you feel uncomfortable or lonely. Traumas such as violence or humiliation, bereavement or divorce – they all require the attention of a specialist.”

Yelena has devoted herself to “helping professions” by having worked as a nurse and a social worker for 25 years. Within this time, she has helped a lot of people to overcome life's difficulties and gain and enjoy life again. She now works at the Youth Health Center in Almaty, where she provides much needed support to teenagers. The centre was established with support from the United Nations Population Fund and is based on the City Center for Human Reproduction.  

"Problems faced by adolescents are a bit different from the problems of adults. We all want to be understood, accepted and loved”, she says. “Teenagers, however, experience even tougher challenges. A teenager is a person who is neither a child, nor an adult. A lot of hormonal changes take place during this time. As a psychologist I help teenagers understand that these changes are normal and I help them to accept themselves for who they are.”

As Yelena says, there are some common features of boys and girls who come to see her.

“Speaking of girls, most often they come to me with questions about relationships. It happens that a girl finds it difficult to accept the fact that a young man might manipulate and put psychological pressure on her to have sex. If a girl has problems with self-esteem or doesn’t know how to set boundaries, she might end up doing something she didn’t really want to do. So, therapy can help in this situation. Through conversations with me, girls learn to accept themselves by finding good things in themselves, talking about their feelings and setting their borders", says the psychologist.


What about boys?

According to Yelena Akchalova, boys and young men also worry about their appearance and their relationships with their girlfriends and families. They come to seek help when they need to make the right decisions or choices.

“Guys want to know if a girl will like them or whether she will turn them down.  So, guys are also interested in relationships and just like the girls, they are afraid of being rejected.”

Questions of emotions, love and relationships are just the tip of the iceberg. According to Yelena, the topics of sex and other issues associated with it remains a taboo in our society. The therapist says that in this area there are lots of questions and very few answers.

"Most teenagers hear “it’s shameful”, so they stop asking and therefore don’t receive the right information. Mistakes made as a result of this can lead to bad health issues and even cost lives,” says Yelena.

A recent survey showed that about a third of teenagers interviewed aged 15-19 in Kazakhstan are sexually active. Moreover, a vast majority of all those who were interviewed - 91% -  didn’t have sufficient knowledge about HIV and AIDS. Almost half of the surveyed young people were unaware of the consequences of unsafe abortions and sexually transmitted infections.

Lack of sexuality education in schools and the fact that the topic of sex is a taboo at home creates a fertile ground for psychological problems and even neurosis.


So how can we help young people?

Yelena believes that the provision of psychological assistance for adolescents plays a key role in maintaining their health.

“It is natural that people feel awkward when they go to a therapist. Many feel embarrassed that they have to share their innermost secret. But these services are nothing to be afraid or feel ashamed of. Quite the opposite – visiting a psychologist is not a sign of problems, but a way to prevent them. What happens in this office, stays here. Confidentiality is one of the most important principles upheld by psychologists.”


Yelena works at the Youth Health Center at the address Torekulov Str., 73, Almaty. Adolescent gynaecologist, urologist, and andrologist work alongside Yelena in this Centre.