Interview: Ljubov Dzuzhynska
Spartak Subbota is a Ukrainian psychiatrist, psychotherapist, adviser to the Minister of Health of Ukraine, a candidate of psychological sciences, a Doctor of Philosophy, a specialist in cognitive-behavioral therapy, the scientific director of the Institute of Cognitive Modeling, and a psychotherapist of the Security Service of Ukraine.
If you could switch gender for 24h, what would you do with the given time?
I wouldn’t. Because then there is a high probability that I would fall on a monthly cycle, and why should I want to suffer?
What if it wasn’t the monthly cycle?
Then there is a probability that I would be unattractive.
What if you were an attractive woman?
I still wouldn’t want to because then men would harass me. There is not a single reason why I would want to switch genders. Most women would like to be in a man’s body for a while, at least for a day. And most men would not want to. Besides, nothing prevents me from touching my own chest as it is.
What film, cartoon, or book reality would you like to exist in for a while?
“Song of the Sea”. It’s a Scandinavian cartoon based on Scandinavian mythology.
What are the pros and cons of your work?
Cons – most experts in the field don’t make a good living out of it.
Pros – just like in any other work field. If you like your work and you enjoy it then you feel its importance. You feel like you’re doing something worthy. I believe that, in general, those who work in the health sector should feel that they are doing something important.
What do you think you would be doing instead?
It’s hard to say. Instead of medicine or psychiatry?
I would be a pathologist.
And if not the field of medicine?
I don’t know, become a woman? If not medicine, then perhaps I would be an engineer, although I’m not that good at it.
What’s it like to be young in your industry?
There are pros and cons. I’ll start with the cons, because not all of our people are open to something new and they believe that if you are young, then you must be inexperienced. Pros: I still have a lot of time to do what I want to. Having time is an advantage.
Do you remember your first patient?
Was it a special experience for you?
No, it wasn’t. There was no excitement, surprisingly. I was more nervous when I applied to med school and passed my exams. Although even back then I barely felt nervous.
Every person has a void deep inside. How would you describe yours?
Like a moral void or economical?
Maybe a burnout. But no, I don’t have that. I don’t really think about that stuff.
What superpower would you like to have?
The ability to manipulate matter at the quantum level. Then I can read people’s thoughts, teleport, live forever, or die when I see fit. Or dissolve into the universe. I could pretty much do anything.
How would your eternity look like then?
Like everyone’s, only I wouldn’t be burdened by time.
Yet if everyone grew old and died and you would remain youthful, wouldn’t that be upsetting?
I get bored either way. But that does not mean that I possess some kind of superpower. It wouldn’t affect the sensations I experience and everything else. And again, I would be able to stop it all and dissolve at any moment.
If you had to choose between sex and psychoanalysis, then what would you give up?
And I would be able to change my occupation? So both psychology and psychiatry? That is, I will have to abstain from both?
I would give up scientific work. Well, I wouldn’t be able to work properly with my patients in that case, especially with female patients, because I wouldn’t be unbiased.
If you would return 10,20,100, 50, 1000 years ago with the knowledge that you have now, would you like to change the course of history?
I don’t know if I would be able to, but I would definitely try my best.
What moment would you want to change?
You know, I wouldn’t go back in time at all. I even thought about it, but I don’t know which century I would like to go to. The past was full of diseases, and it was likely that you could die from having a sore throat, so I’m not big on going back in time. Even if I could invent penicillin, I would still not go there. Perhaps, if I actually had to, then I would go to the times of Freud and give him some notes. Like, for example, things that are actually not relevant in psychoanalysis, things that with the development of the psychology of the ego described the work of the psyche very well.
Why did you initially choose this career?
Medicine has some kind of power over a person and at the same time, it is also a noble pursuit. Generally speaking, no one will say: “You save lives, you are greedy.” That is if you decide to help people in any way, be it health, finances, or something else, you feel better a priori. You feel significant. It reinforces your sense of self-worth.
At the same time, it’s an interesting area to work, despite it being not well-studied.
If you had the chance to talk with a historical figure, or even a fictional character, who would it be and why?
With Hannibal Lecter from the TV series, not from the film. I like him more in the series because the essence of his work is revealed in detail. He is a psychiatrist and at the same time he is productive in psychotherapy, he is a good specialist and I like that in his portrayal. That is, he is moderately prudent. I like his approach and I lack that in my own approach to work.
What do you like the most about working with patients?
Them getting better.
But it’s not always the case.
It depends on what we’re talking about. In the case of psychiatry, then getting better is never the case. In the case of diseases, psychoses are very specific. For example, you can’t cure schizophrenia. Psychiatry can suppress the symptoms, but it does not rid of them. So, I will answer further from the perspective of psychotherapy:
I like it when people begin to realize that what they thought to be true was actually wrong, and knowing that their life can become more constructive as a result. When you explain very simple things to people, give examples, when you ask reasonable questions, it greatly changes their attitude towards life. You can both direct the patient or do the exact opposite, which is also a case in psychiatry.
What does this line feel like?
You don’t really feel the line. During therapy, I don’t think of accidentally destroying a person’s life. In therapy, you are simply trying to understand what the person is talking about, understand his symptoms, and try to build a constructive work-frame. Everything else occurs step by step and it either works or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t – you change the strategy.
Is there one thing that you think everyone should do at least once in their lives?
And before that?
Complete the process of puberty, get an education, read books. One should do a lot of things but if I had to pick one thing – at least once doubt whether your biological inheritance would be a healthy one. At least once.
Is there something particular you would really like to do in life, be it realistic or not?
In terms of reality, I’m fine with how things are. Overall I have everything that I want. Do I want to achieve huge success? Of course, I do, but I’m already on the path of achieving it. If I achieve it the easy way then I won’t appreciate it. So, sooner or later, or rather later than sooner, I will reach my goals. In terms of something unrealistic… I would like to teleport at least once. I would not teleport far, just outside the wall would be fine. It must be a strange sensation. Like those weird feelings you get when you’re on a rollercoaster or driving a car very fast. Or the feeling you get in the elevator when you feel as if your intestines are at the level of your throat.
Is there something you are most proud of?
That I am wise enough not to destroy my body.
When did you realize the importance of that?
When I was a kid.
What piece of advice would you give to the leader of our country?
Not to become the leader of our country haha.
We’re talking about the president, right?
Well, a leader and a president are different things. Being a leader involves leadership, leading the rest to a common goal. I wouldn’t give any advice because it won’t change anything.
And if you were president?
I wouldn’t. But eradicating corruption would be my goal.
With a death penalty?
Haha no, but I would take severe action. I have a number of friends who work in different structures and who are good specialists in their fields. We all share a similar opinion that if you really want to, then you can eradicate everything. I recently talked to my boss and he explained to me how it all works, how it all happens. I absolutely agree with him that it really is possible to eradicate corruption, but it all depends on the person. If a person has the necessary connections and does everything that is required, things will work out.
If you were part of the SpaceX program of colonizing Mars, what would you miss the most about Earth?
I just don’t quite understand what the living conditions are on Mars. There wouldn’t be access to nature as we know it. Although I don’t care that much right now about being in nature, I feel great being home. I can’t say that I like to walk very much. But I am sure that if I had been indoors for a long time, I would have the desire to go out for a walk.
Is there something that you hate?
Yes, there is. Injustice probably. No one likes injustice.
Do you try to be just?
I try to but it’s not always the case.
Could you share some stories behind your tattoos?
I don’t have any so there is no answer to that question. I just wanted to get some and I did. It took a little while and my tattoo artist is my friend and we just chose some drawings, and some he drew himself. That’s pretty much it.
Could you describe your first sex experience with a name of a book, film, or song?
Just like with the case of the first film I watched or the first book I read – I barely remember. It was all incomprehensible to me and the first sex was incomprehensible as well. I did not quite understand what was required of me.
There’s this film by Yorgos Lanthimos ‘The Lobster’, where single people are meant to find a partner in 45 days, and if they don’t, they must choose an animal to transform into. Which animal would you choose?
A pig because a pig’s orgasm lasts about an hour.
What’s wrong with modern society?
Nothing is wrong. It’s all how it’s supposed to be. There are always flaws in each generation. We are used to hearing what each generation will say to the next generation: “In my time things were better.”
Nothing has changed since the old times. There were always flaws and people were always unhappy. But now, generally speaking, we are living in the best time in human history.
Do you think that fighting for one’s beliefs may go too far in the modern world?
It’s always been that way. In the dark ages, torture on the basis of religion was in excess and people were burned just for the color of their eyes, in later times Black people had suffered on the basis of someone’s beliefs.
What death penalty method would you choose if it were introduced in the country?
Not to say that I am the most humane person, but I would choose a humane death.
Even for murderers?
First of all, a death penalty is overall a bad strategy, but if it were introduced here then it should be death by lethal injection. That’s how it is in the USA. It’s quite scary because they gradually inject different substances into a person right until you watch the last dose. It’s a scary experience.
What interests you outside of work?
Video games. I wish I had more time to play though.
Would you want to take an actual part in any game?
God of War II. I would be Kratos – roam around and kill gods haha.
What do people tend to over-complicate?
Everything. People complicate everything.
Is there a way not to?
I don’t have advice for that and if I did, then I would tell people not to be so indifferent.
What do you think love is?
A set of chemical reactions.
Then love does not exist because by definition, what we feel is just a specific reaction of the body.
What are your thoughts on kids?
I don’t have any.
Yet how can one raise a healthy member of society without traumatizing him or her? Is that even possible?
Trauma is inevitable. It might be a fixation on something. It might not be as destructive, but it will definitely be there. Even the most basic symbolic castration is traumatizing – it occurs during the stage of the child’s psychosexual development when the child is essentially separated from the mother. Any separation is still a microtrauma. There are traumas that cause harm, but there are also traumas that are beneficial. It’s just like stress. There are two types of stress: distress, which is harmful, and eustress, which is good for you.
Could you share a funny story from your own childhood?
My childhood was quite boring so not many stories to tell. There was a story with parents though. We had a small dog, it was ugly and furry. I didn’t like that dog very much. But my parents loved the dog and on one day it disappeared from the house. So instead of telling me that the dog died or was run over by a vehicle, they told me that homeless people ate it. I have to ask my parents why they said that. Her name was Yasha and I clearly remember my parents saying: “Yasha was eaten by homeless people and now we are getting a new dog.” It was funny because I knew it wasn’t true. I knew that homeless people don’t eat dogs. That was when I was in 2nd grade, so I was 6 years old.
Maybe they wanted you to stay away from homeless people?
No, I actually communicated with homeless people rather closely, they influenced me in a good way. By the way, my first inclination towards scientific knowledge was all thanks to homeless people. It so happened that in those days homeless people were by no means stupid. Many of them were professors or people who had a status in the scientific world, some of those who I spoke to were physicists. During my childhood, everyone had the habit of climbing construction sites. I don’t know if kids are into that sort of thing now, but back then it was normal. You’d get a broken Rhodiola and try and make a unit out of it. So the homeless gave me advice on that and they looked for broken equipment and gave it to me. So I had long discussions with them and they told me all those things about physics, astrophysics and it was so fascinating. So thanks to the homeless I’ve decided to pursue sciences.
Who is or was your biggest teacher in life?
Yes, Andrey Stepanov. He was my tutor. I studied at the Kyiv Military Lyceum. He was a teacher there and he told me a lot about mental health. He did not teach me much, but he definitely motivated me. Most likely he passed away since.
What books would you recommend reading?
There is a book “50 Discoveries in the Field of Psychology” – it’s really cool. It’s a thick book and it contains a lot of interesting discoveries and in general, the book is very interesting and popular. It explains various interesting points. Or I also like Richard Dawkins’ book, “The Selfish Gene”.
What about a documentary?
“Through the Wormhole”. Yet it’s rather a series of films.
Could you share a story from your practice as a psychologist, one that you can openly talk about?
Some time ago, there was a case when two different people came in and I did not know that they were married. At first, the woman came and said that she had problems of a specific nature, that she wanted to inflict physical harm on him. She didn’t know why. You see, no one comes to therapy and says: “You know, I really like to psychologically harm people.” Usually, people think that they don’t inflict pain, but rather that they are the ones who receive it. Yet, in this case, it was physical harm. So a man came a week later and I realized that these two people were close to one another. He said: “My wife constantly manages to injure me and keeps saying that it’s accidental, for example, she recently cut me with a kitchen knife. The wound wasn’t deep and she apologized, that is, it’s clear that she didn’t intend to kill me. Yet she constantly does stuff like that, she would hit me with cutlery or hit me with a door”. It turned out that this woman wanted to harm her husband for the simple reason that if she does, she will feel regret afterward and this would prove her love for him. She didn’t see any other alternatives to prove her love other than that, because her husband is never at home and always works too much, thus she creates conditions that prevent him from going to work. Instead, he has to stay home with her and treat his wounds. The husband did not understand the reason behind all this and she couldn’t explain it herself. They’ve asked for a couple’s therapy session which we did. I’ve discovered that the woman loves her husband deeply but due to her childhood experiences, she constantly fears that he will abandon her. She injures the man so that he stays with her at home. They later came to a consensus. It was a very interesting case.
Tell us about your serial killer related advisory work.
My boss found out that I was interested in the subject. He once gave me some information when they were still very closely involved in the activity. To be more precise, my boss’s colleague in a voluntary-compulsory form talked with me about this topic. How did it begin? I was sent to the Svyatoshinsky department and on the very first day I was presented with a number of cases and we had an agreement that I could work as an advisor if they needed my input. Since then, they periodically invite me to work on specific cases.
What is the investigation system of serial killers like in Ukraine?
In general, the beginning seemed to be similar. The structure is generally alike, but technical support and the qualifications of the experts are not good enough. This is exactly the problem, consequently, an incompetent expert comes to the scene of the crime, interferes with the investigation, and alters the evidence. For example, a murder occurred in an apartment and the question they ask is, “What will you do?” The so-called expert says that the first thing he will do is enter the apartment and turn on the lights. You’re not supposed to touch any objects at a crime scene. You might as well make yourself some tea in the kitchen. Those investigating the crime scene can move the body, objects, murder weapons, and, in fact, destroy the evidence. traces. So because of such incompetent people, the work becomes disrupted. Sometimes you even have to go through a detective base and scan fingerprints of both the ones working the crime scene and the murderer. It greatly interferes with the investigation. We don’t have certain technical features like in America. Here, for example, sometimes there is a case that collected evidence, especially if it is biological, is placed in ordinary bags. If a quick examination is not carried out, the material will deconstruct and become useless for the investigation. There are a lot of such instances occurring and it is a big problem.
You’ve also noted that there are more murders happening in the country.
Let’s just say that we have closed cases. Our system does not work in a proper way so it’s way more difficult to catch a serial killer.
How would you escape the system if you were a serial killer or what would motivate you?
That’s not very ‘psychotherapy’ of me haha. Let’s then module a situation. Why would I kill in the first place? See, serial killings are most often committed on the basis of a sexual passion, even the cases without rape, these murders are still sexually driven. An alternative would be the visionaries – those who commit murders in a state of psychosis. Based on the motives, there are power-hungry people who like to suppress, then there are the hedonists who experience pleasure not only through suppressing but also from sexual violence. In other words, visionaries are psychotic. Given the entire list, which consists of more than six motives, if I were on the path of a serial killer then most likely it would stem from a certain ideology. As it did, for example, for the Zodiac killer. He did not rape his victims but acted out of a hunger for power. He wanted to show his power of outsmarting everyone. But I can’t imagine that I would be engaged in serial killings, it’s a very difficult thing to imagine. Yet it would not be motivated sexually or cause by a psychotic episode.
Is there a modern trend that annoys you?
It’s very fashionable to use drugs. It really is fashionable. That is, there is no need for it really and if one has time then there are plenty of fun things to do and ways to relax. Yet a fraction of youth prefers to use drugs.
And how do you relax?
I sleep. I wouldn’t say that I get exhausted all the time. Even work doesn’t tire me that much, I like to work. It’s all overall good.
Is there something you would like to change about your life?
Me height, I’d like to be taller. Or I’d like to have heterochromia, for one of my eyes to be brown. Other than that I don’t really know.
Well, for example, would you want to be born in a different country?
If I were born in a different country, then I wouldn’t be me. I am what I am because I was born here, among other factors. The circumstances that happened to me all led to who I am now. it would not be me. That is, I am who I am because I was born in this particular country and because of all the circumstances that happened to me.
What about in terms of opportunities that you would have, for instance, in the States?
I would rather go with Scandinavian countries.
What are your future plans?
To keep working and learning.
Is there an end game goal that you want to achieve?
It’s hard to say whether there is an ultimate goal. I feel like in a way I’ve already reached it, but I perceive it all differently. To have my won office and work as a psychotherapist? I already have that. I’m really fine with what I already have. It just takes time for it to gain momentum.
Is there a serial killer you would like to talk to in order to conduct research?
I’ve done that with a number of serial killers already.
What about those who are out of reach or who are long dead?
I would like to talk with those to whom there was no access at all: Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Damer, Edmund Kemper. It’s just that all these people are extremely intelligent. What would I ask? Well, I’d approach it like a typical psychiatric interview. I wouldn’t talk in the framework of the investigation, I would just want to see what kind of people they were. But only under the condition that they would be honest and not manipulative.
Do you have the most memorable patient?
I treat all of my patients as individuals and I don’t have favorites.
What about serial killers?
None either. They don’t interest me as individuals at all as a matter of fact. I’m not that interested in either.
Are there any significant people among your peers or teachers?
In the scientific field, I can name such personalities as Romanchuk, Rachevsky, and Maryana the Great – she is a colleague, a very strong psychoanalyst, and a scientist.
Is it difficult to work in Ukraine because of the stigma associated with psychotherapy?
No, it’s easy. That old way of thinking is disappearing. I haven’t encountered that sort of thing. I had a patient who told everyone at work that he has some minor head problems but he is seeing a therapist. In reality, he was fine, he just had a difficulty to adapt. He no longer needs to go to therapy. He may come in once or twice a month but only because he wants to and only if something minor comes up. So the stigma is fading.
What question would you like to be asked in an interview and what would you answer?
Currently, there are no questions that I would want to ask myself. The question about sex was amazing, of course. Both questions about sex were very strange. I suspected that I would one day be asked something of sorts like. Truth be told, I wouldn’t ask myself anything and I wouldn’t even be friends with myself.
If you would choose a song that would play every time you enter the room, what song would you choose?
The entire song would play? Mozart playing when you go to the toilet haha, one minute before the process. There is no such song, I would get sick of it quite fast. It’s like hearing an alarm clock. If that weren’t the case then maybe Epic Score – epic, instrumental music.