Time as an opening into the subjective world of another human being: Interview with Elena Kazakina

Oksana Senyk
Jul 31, 2016 · 21 min read
During the 1st International Conference on Time Perspective in Coimbra

Time Talks: International Time Perspective Network editorial interview series

In this series we bring you individual stories about the members of the International Time Perspective Network. These stories delve into what these members are passionate about, how they bring their ideas to life, and what role time perspective plays in their lives.

We hope that you’ll be inspired by the many aspects of time in this interview series. Please share our fascination and join the dialogue! Our next meeting will take place in Copenhagen, Denmark: 15–19 August, 2016. Celebrating Time.

International Time Perspective Network | Diversity of Approaches, Unity of Passion


The Argentinian psychiatrist Salvador Minuchin, one of the pioneers in family therapy and communication processes, once said that his success was partly due to the fact that he had a limited English vocabulary when he moved to the United Stated. He had to keep it simple.

When I first met Elena I was reminded of this little tale. Not because of her English, but because Elena has something powerful over her beyond words. She is a warm and caring person, and I immediately felt comfortable being with her. She is someone you want to share your story with. There is nothing complicated about talking to her. I remember walking through Coimbra, Portugal with Elena and her husband on a warm summer night. We could have walked and talked for hours, because there was so much to share.

Elena is a counselor who found her own way in time psychology, long before time perspective theory in the current form existed. She combines traditional Russian theory with American and European insights. I have seen her grow in her role as one of the pioneers in time perspective and therapy. Elena dares to ask questions, with a friendly and respectful smile. It is a great pleasure that Elena was willing to answer our questions.

Elena Kazakina will talk about her ideas with us in Copenhagen and she will be doing a family therapy session as co-therapist with Phil Zimbardo in a live experiment.

~Wessel van Beek


Dear Elena, you were interested in the role of time in human psyche long before the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory (1999) and later our TP network were developed. What was in time perspective theory? What was attractive for you as a clinician? There is so much more…

Indeed, there is so much more…Initially I used temporal variables not because of my deep interest in time but in the service of investigating other phenomena, such as temperament, self-actualization and actors’ creativity.

My training in psychology in Russia was completed at the Saint Petersburg (then Leningrad) State University and my very first research project used reaction time as one of the manifestation of an individual’s temperament. This construct, by the way, is so important yet often overlooked in psychotherapy.

In my thesis there I used the Personal Orientation Inventory ( POI) to measure self-actualization (Shostrom, 1968). One of the two major scales of the POI, is Time Competence, an ability to tie the personal past and the future to the present and to see temporal frames as meaningfully connected.

Actually, I was the first one who translated the POI from English into Russian. Seeing the significance of the interconnectedness of time periods for a highly functioning person influenced my further thinking. In fact, I utilized this scale years later in my doctoral dissertation on Time Perspective at Columbia University.

Also in Russia I looked at perceptual distortions of short time intervals as indicators of emotional involvement in the activity at hand. I had a fascinating job in the Laboratory of Psychology of Actors Creativity in the Saint Petersburg State Institute for Theatre, Music and Cinematography. Our task was to help in incredibly competitive process of auditions with supplemental objective methods. So along with the tests on imagination and expressivity, I developed a technique to assess the genuine interest in the very process of acting.

The optimal distortion of time duration during the actor’s exercise was found in applicants who enjoyed the process of acting and tended “ to be carried away”. This inclination of an adult personality to be carried away yet remain mostly on task was conceptualized as one of the childlike qualities of actor ’s creativity necessary for success in the performing arts.

‘Human emotions and event horizon’ by Helen Kholin

My understanding of such temporal phenomena was very handy in my future clinical work. For example, when I was consulting in the nursing home and rehabilitation center in New York some conflicts between nurses and residents were based on the subjective distortions of time duration. When my patients waited for a nurse to come with a pill, the waiting time was eternity whereas for the overwhelmed nurses it felt quick and rushed.

However, my interest in the personal experience of time, “lived time”, as one’s relation to individual past, present and future — was entirely American born and emigration “conceived”. I left Russia in 1989 before the Berlin Wall fell and was not even sure whether I would and could become a psychologist again.

I have to say that for me cultural shocks that are attributed to cultural transition were to a large degree associated with time. In other words, my cultural adjustment was, in a way, punctuated by the jolts of temporal shocks. Nothing terrible, but when my children were invited to the party, an invitation would mention the time to leave; that was strangely insulting and utterly inconceivable…Or we would receive a call to reserve a place at the cemetery… And I could not come to any place without an appointment and who would believe that my voicemail would be listened to and my accent understood…The spontaneity of the Present with my friends’ unannounced visits was gone as well. When a Memorial Day came, the Memorial Day Sales would sound much louder on TV than the ceremonies honoring the veterans and the fallen. The faces of old people appeared of strange comfort; the fleeting features of their younger selves seemed to show through in their expressions. Past and present collided in them like in actors’ transformation: childlike qualities were retained in the mature and talented performers.

‘We live in the past’ by Helen Kholin

I asked myself: Could we carry our past into our present life while creating our meaningful future? Does positive adjustment to the American culture allow people to hold on to their past, present and future, rather than sacrifice one for another with the future dominating the time perspective as American societal norms seem to require? How do stress and wellbeing relate to the way our past, present and future are connected and balanced or disconnected and unbalanced?

These personal struggles fueled my “time passion” and even shaped the specific appeal of the investigation of all three time orientations simultaneously in the same group of people (Kazakina, 1999, 2012). I remain forever grateful to my academic advisor, the late professor Dr. Winthrop Adkins who encouraged me in the very beginning of my doctoral training in 1991 to develop this topic further for my dissertation. So as you see my fascination with temporal phenomena has not come from the theory but rather vice versa: I began to look for the theories trying to find answers to my personal experience of time.

I truly share a view that a person’s biography can be converted into theory (Ash, 1992). Also, I could not but observe that individuals’ struggle with changes, transitions, disruptions or contradictions around them can serve as a powerful catalyst for their temporal sensitivity. For example, Frederick Melges (1982) described the impact of his illness on his time study.

Isn’t it also remarkable that some of the most essential theories in psychology of time come from people who went through experience of emigration? Eugene Minkovski, the author of “Lived Time” (1933/1970), Kurt Lewin, Hans Loewald — one of the major psychoanalytic thinkers who emphasized the centrality of time in psychoanalysis and human life (1962/1980) — they all escaped persecution of Jews in their countries of origin. Minkovsky, in czarist Russia; Lewin and Loewald in Nazi Germany.

In the above authors as well as in the work of Cottle & Klineberg (1974) and Rappaport (1990) I found approaches that emphasized the coexistence and interrelationships of past, present and future. This advanced my thinking to include the variables of balance and continuity of TP in my study. I really responded to these theories on a personal level — it was almost like finding home.

To my frustration, however, most of the empirical work at that period would focus on one time orientation, most often the future or on a single temporal dimension ( e.g. extension-projection into the future or past). Those who studied the reminiscences for example, were not curious to see how their subjects saw the future and present. Too bad ZTPI was not available then!

I felt pretty isolated as a scholar and was elated when years later, already as a practicing psychologist, I ran into the seminal work of Zimbardo. This work contained a kindred theoretical spirit, new exciting concepts and ZTPI, a totally new measure to assess the entire time perspective. My discovery of the Time Perspective world which I joined in 2009 in Oslo was pretty amazing. It added a missing, critical piece into my professional life. It is truly exciting to be a part of our TP community!..

Oslo-2009: Time for work and time for relax

My inquiry in time perspective initially was somewhat independent from my development as a clinician. However, during my clinical internship and particularly while collecting data for my dissertation I had an opportunity to hear people talk about their past, present and future. I felt I had a privilege to touch the core of their selves; some fascinating and moving comments about time seemed to transcend research interview into Art as it portrays human spirit. Time concepts allowed me to find an opening into the subjective world of another human being that was invaluable for my clinical work.

In my own interview I provocatively stated that there is not and should not be something like time perspective therapy. What are your thoughts on this?

Time concepts are not new in therapy neither in its theories nor in the consultation room. So I often question how I am really different from my colleagues who mention time in the course of session and what value my approach brings to treatment. I will explore the subject more in depth in my workshop in Copenhagen and also demonstrate how clinicians can capitalize on the implicit use of time in psychotherapy in general.

“When we name something it has power” — these words are attributed to activist Gloria Steinem. I believe time perspective psychotherapy as a term can be used as the beginning of a conversation, to attract attention, to provoke.

I like to describe my work as “psychotherapy through the temporal lens” (Kazakina, 2014). The temporal focus in my work involves my keen and systematic awareness of past, present and future in the experience of my patients, myself and the therapy process as a live entity, with its own past, present, and future.That is broad enough to encompass different layers of time. I think you also use the term layers and are writing about it in your book — can’t wait to read it!

When I am with my patients I keep in mind temporal dimensions proved important in my research such as affective tone of time orientations, whether they are full or empty, extended or shrunk; connected or disconnected, balanced or unbalanced; and I am also fascinated to apply very useful aspects of time perspective that are developed by our TP community. For example, Zimbardo’s notions of temporal flexibility, hedonistic present and transcendent future; mindful present (Jonte Vowinckel), prenatal past (Wessel van Beek).

However, I would bring up temporal concepts very carefully. First, by using the language my patients use to describe their issues; and then gradually once I believe that the time language can resonate with their experience to enhance their awareness and overall help treatment. Also, my temporal lens is used within the context of my integrative psychotherapy approach which is informed by several theoretical perspectives. Most important are humanistic and psychodynamic and also some elements of the cognitive-behavioral approach.

There are differences and similarities in how TP Therapy is conceptualized in “Time Cure” (Zimbardo, Sword & Sword, 2012) or in future-directed therapy for major depression, (Vilhauer & Deepika, 2012). I am sure that at our conference in Copenhagen we will discover exciting new ways to use temporal phenomena in clinical settings. It would be great to continue a tradition of the Round Table “Time Perspective in a Consultation Room” that I conducted in Warsaw. It is really important to see who is doing what clinically with time concepts in counseling and therapy. May be we will be ready to have a society of TP clinicians. Will you join?

‘Time in our thoughts’ by Helen Kholin

I find it rather difficult to encourage colleagues to integrate time in their clinical work. What are your experiences with this and what can be done?

Before integrating any approach or method, my colleagues have to know that this approach does exist. I am at the stage of introduction of time concepts, describing TP community with our conferences and publications, sharing my TP clinical cases and recent writings. I do this with the hope to kindle their interest and excitement and also to receive their feedback on the usefulness of our approach.

Often my colleagues are fascinated to recognize their own “spontaneous” or implicit use of time concepts and also to see temporal underpinnings of the familiar clinical conditions, such as the urgency of now in many problems with impulse control, e.g., hypomania, attention deficit disorder. Recently, I attended a workshop on mindfulness to control weight loss and binge eating. Some interventions are strikingly temporal — I am going to discuss them at my workshop in Copenhagen. Nevertheless, I may also encounter some resistance to include time into consideration: as one of clinicians mentioned, “We become so committed to the language of one approach.”

I find it useful to link a new area of TP studies with the familiar names. Everyone knows about the Stanford Prison Experiment but becomes quite astonished to hear about Zimbardo’s role in the time research and TP community. My psychodynamically oriented colleagues keep Hans Loewald on a pedestal and become particularly interested to learn or to be reminded of his brilliant writings on time, which, by the way, should be a must-read for our TP scholars irrespective of their orientation.

The challenges are many. My “time presentations” to clinical audiences were well received, yet often the effects seemed fleeting. It was only if the format allowed for deeper after-talk exchange that temporal ideas seemed to stick. I discovered that steps to integrating time in therapy were easier to make if my colleagues were willing to read my writings, give me feedback and then freely notice temporal phenomena within the context of our ongoing communication about patients.

Everyone is so busy that I never take for granted when people make time to read about time! I have been fortunate to be a part of the peer consultation group where seasoned clinicians discuss challenging cases.

In their overall enthusiastic response, they emphasized the importance of a more accessible language, “lighter” theory and more, more clinical cases and vignettes. I definitely underestimated that “temporal dialect” had to be better translated to a sophisticated audience that is not familiar with this language.

‘Everytime I don’t have time’ by Helen Kholin

Therefore it is particularly heartwarming to hear from colleagues, “I saw a patient and I thought of you,” and realizing that they thought of time perspective. This could result in taking a slightly different course of actions in session whether in regard to understanding a case or in remarks to a client. It is especially exciting and rewarding to me to have some of my colleagues take time ideas further and see temporal dimensions in life and work, in a way becoming a little bit infected by my temporal bug!

What more can be done? A more systematic and aggressive dissemination of knowledge. We can learn from Phil Zimbardo. And of course we must learn to write about time in therapy in a more concise way that can be captivating and easy to read yet retaining scholarly accuracy. Also, the format of ongoing discussion is extremely beneficial. To start a blog, to write a newsletter for a local or national psychological association…

This is hard to balance with other competing realities of my life — my clinical practice, four generations of my dear family, incredible art and culture of New York and my love to dress up and go out!

This is why our TP Conferences and intellectual exchange with time psychologists become a precious priority and a treat. Our informal in-depth discussions in the beautiful courtyard of Coimbra University during our Ist International TP Conference in 2012 became a cherished memory that fuels my current work, communications with colleagues and anticipation of Copenhagen.

Lights & shadows of Coimbra-2012

There is a big difference between American and (Eastern) European tradition in psychotherapy. Was it possible for you to maintain your Russian perspective, or did you become the cognitive therapists everyone else became?

I was not trained as a clinician in Russia. I specialized in Developmental Psychology and Psychology of Individual Differences. The Leningrad school of thought in psychology was famous for the emphasis on bringing together biological, cognitive and social aspects of individual development throughout all phases of life. I would say that my “Russian perspective” definitely includes a serious consideration of a person’s temperament, and the interaction among interests, motivation and abilities. Also, during my studies in Russia I was fortunate to be exposed to the concept of self actualization ( Maslow, 1970). I was completely taken by the ideas of Humanistic psychology which had a very special resonance in the former Soviet Union. The emphasis on the uniqueness and value of each individual was like a breath of freedom. And in my clinical work it stayed with me forever forming my “gut personality theory”.

When I came to the USA, I soon became determined to obtain training in counseling and psychotherapy which was not available in Russia in real depth and especially on the doctoral level. I feel so fortunate to have been admitted to the Department of Counseling and Clinical Psychology at Columbia University. I found a kindred spirit and continuity with my background in psychology because of the program’s focus on the entire life cycle including adulthood and aging, as well as concentration on the challenges of the normal development, and not only psychopathology. This resonated deeply with my desire to learn how to help people alleviate their psychological suffering and bring the sense of meaning and purpose in their lives, enhancing their well-being and self-actualization.

I feel very lucky that my doctoral program provided a broad spectrum of theoretical orientations with the predominance of psychodynamic approach yet accepting eclectic, flexile, depending on clients needs, integrative perspective. So I have not become a “cognitive therapist”, although I use cognitive and behavioral concepts and techniques when it is beneficial for my clients. In my clinical work I am greatly guided by psychodynamic Self Psychology of Hans Kohut with its focus on the empathic understanding as a curative factor. I have fascinating cases to share during my workshop in Copenhagen to highlight how we can be more effective in therapy.

I want to discuss a case with you. I have a young adult in therapy and he keeps telling me there is no such a thing as a future for him, his fate has been sealed when he and his girlfriend split up. What would a time psychologist add to what we have been doing for 20 or 30 years already?

As a time psychologist, and I truly like this term, I would add my temporal lens in working with this young man, magnifying the coordinates of the past, present and future in his experience and in the therapy process.

This young man is insisting that he has no future. Without any attempts to dissuade him I would carefully explore his metaphor that his “fate has been sealed”. It is the entrance into his present, with all its emotions and thoughts, that immediately leads us to his past and future. This also helps the patient to feel understood and facilitates our working alliance.

The goal is to help this young man to reframe the image of his future, to open it up, to experience its attractive pull and see again its possibilities. However, we have to meet this patient where he is, not where you or I want him to be. This is where time perspective can be especially helpful.

I would stay longer in his present to clarify his other possible concerns (e.g., poor sleep, trouble concentrating) that may inform the short-term therapy goals. This is a very cautious step to make into his future. I would be also assessing if there is any imminent risk of harm to self or others. To make an accurate prediction is always a challenging future oriented task for any therapist. However, a time psychologist is able to make its temporal dimension explicit for patient as a tool of self-awareness and projection into the near future.

At the first glance, the patient’s current TP is characterized by fatalistic present and “antepression” — suppression of unpleasant anticipations of future (Cottle & Klineberg, 1974). What about his views of his past? His splitup with his girlfriend may dominate his present and color not only his image of the future, but also his memories of the positive and negative aspects of his past.

Also, as with many significant events, their breakup has its own before and after. What exactly happened? Did he see it coming? It is essential to explore what his girlfriend meant to him by defining what she brought into his life. What future with her he has lost — or maybe it was the eternal present? What part of his own self he sees as being gone after their splitup?

Together with the patient, we are extending further into his past to understand his earlier attachments and find out how he dealt with the losses and changes prior to this relationship. We would also clarify how he envisioned his future before he met his girlfriend. In fact, we are reconstructing and exploring his several time perspectives to discover his strengths and weakness in coping with changes.

Time language usually helps patients gain insight in how they carry adaptive and maladaptive patterns of reactions from the past to the present and into the future. It is important to monitor how our own experiences of past losses and changes may affect our reactions to the patient. As treatment unfolds his experience of the “sealed fate” will reveal his fears and what he may be hiding from in the present when he says he has no future. We would also elicit the strong points in his values, interests, abilities, ambitions and interpersonal struggles and take them from the past to his present. My use of the word “we” emphasizes how in the collaborative present of the therapy sessions, this young man becomes an active investigator of his own past, present and future. We are talking about temporal dimensions of his self-awareness and his observing ego. This helps to solidify his sense of self and begin create a new meaning and sense of purpose.

‘No time, no life, no love’ by Helen Kholin

So we are talking about various time perspectives that work almost simultaneously in the consultation room: Past, present and future of this young man’s relationship with his girlfriend, temporal frames of his life prior to their meeting. We investigate past, present and future of the therapy process and therapist’s experience. Imagine a Russian nesting stackable doll, Matryoshka, that contains several smaller dolls one inside another like layers of time perspectives. Of course it is a very static image of time, but it serves to point out different time perspectives that can be employed in therapy to facilitate treatment outcome. Ultimately a new time perspective may emerge, in which past, present and future are accessible, connected and engaged as needed to move through life’s challenges.

What kind of research do we need to further develop the clinical part of time perspective theory? How would you spend a research grant if Zimbardo would win the lottery?

Oh, my lottery bias will be definitely tested here!…But let’s start spending the lottery money!

In my dual role as a clinician-scholar, I would boost developments in the unifying time perspective theory. I would finance a “Time Perspective Sabbatical Project” to integrate various time theories as well as numerous TP studies into a unifying theory of psychological time. This project could be carried out by a team of time scholars along with a couple of specialists from the formal branches of knowledge, like physics and mathematics. They may help to formalize the time perspective theory in order to capture the accumulation of knowledge in time psychology. This Sabbatical Team may help to build bridges from the earlier research to the current ZTPQ era and beyond.

I would also like to fund a project that may help to create a good research environment. “Time Perspective Newsletter” can be very instrumental in keeping up with current research and developing new ideas, particularly if you work not in academic but clinical setting. This newsletter may include interesting current references to time in culture and society. And also the information on fascinating events and conferences that involve time and temporal dimensions. I am extremely grateful to Nicolas Fieulaine who is informing us about some of the exciting opportunities. It would be great to have a follow-up on these events which are often impossible to attend and also collect the feedback of those who attended. Sounds like we need a little centralized body that can also build bridges with other scholarly communities that focus on time, e.g., the International Society for the Study of Time. Anna Sircova wears many hats and accomplishes an unbelievable amount of work. These centralized functions of unification, information, coordination and enlightenment would be nicely compensated from this grant.

In addition, I would fund a TP empirical initiative consistent with the research on evidence-based practice in psychology. A new hopeful trend in this movement is to include clinical observations and case studies to supplement randomized research (Greene, 2012). What could we do to understand better how time interventions work in therapy? One solution is to create clinical database by amassing cases in which treatment is informed by time concepts. Developing comprehensive parameters of the cases to reflect a reality of psychotherapy process (Greene, 2012) is going to be a challenge for TP practitioners and researchers.

And finally, there is my very subjective criterion of the “research we need”. Something you thought about but did not put quite together, yet the answers are terribly intriguing to you — personally, clinically and scholarly. Here is a most recent example. Ksenia Chistopolskaya with the great company of TP colleagues is trying to find out how meaningful present corresponds to different attitudes to death, connectedness to nature and perception of beauty.

‘Life is limited by time’ by Helen Kholin

You are going to do a family session together with Phil Zimbardo in Copenhagen. Can you tell us something about what you are expecting? You must be dead nervous to be on stage together with the grandfather of time perspective.

I was delighted and honored to receive the offer to do a family session with Philip Zimbardo. In my clinical practice I see couples and families who are characterized by what I call a “temporal mismatch”. I am hoping that on stage we may have a good dynamic with each other and the family members and also that the session will be so engrossing that it will take care of any anxious feeling!..

This event was presented in broad brushstrokes to me so a lot has to be thought out and finalized. I look forward to the final preparation for the Family Session on Stage because it may involve a very close collaboration with Phil, and other brilliant people who develop this project. Also, it is fascinating to find out whether it would be possible to create an intimacy and depth of a therapy session in front of the audience.

Family sessions can be pretty turbulent! What would be a proportion of planned and staged to improvised? I hope to engage the audience, and to make sure that the happening is entertaining, educational and brings new insights about family dynamic and temporal experience to all of us.

Thank you!


This interview is brought to you by:

Interviewers | members of the Integration of the Field thematic group

Wessel van Beek — an existential psychotherapist, who runs his own mental health care service in his home town in The Netherlands. One of the editors of the Time Perspective Theory book, he’s currently writing a chapter on Prenatal Past, and working on his book ‘Time in Psychotherapy and Training’. Wessel loves Nietzsche, Tom Waits and comics.

Illustration — all illustrations for this interview are a part of a bigger art-work by Russian-Danish artist Helen Kholin, which will be presented during the time perspective conference this August in Copenhagen. Helen is a participant of various exhibitions across Europe including Denmark, Russia, England, France, and Greece. Her work is inspired by the uniqueness in daily life. “Everything around us changes very quickly, and every day we change too. The color of the sky, arrangement of stars, forms of clouds. Every day, every morning, evening, night — are unique. Each person who we meet in our life — is unique. Each second, too, is unique and won’t repeat any more. Therefore I create various series of paintings and illustrations with history, the period of life, and reflect the unique moment The most important element for creating my paintings is time. It would be impossible without time. Everything would be impossible without time.” To read more about Helen Kholin and see more of her paintings please visit her webpage or Facebook.


Proof-readingNatalie Odisho, Twitter

Assistant editorOksana Senyk

Idea and realization Anna Sircova, Twitter @anna_bki


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Time Talks

Time Talks is the voice of the International Time Perspective Network. Do you want to learn more about Time? Take part in Celebrating Time: 3rd International Conference on Time Perspective, 15–19 August 2016, Copenhagen, Denmark

Oksana Senyk

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Time Talks

Time Talks is the voice of the International Time Perspective Network. Do you want to learn more about Time? Take part in Celebrating Time: 3rd International Conference on Time Perspective, 15–19 August 2016, Copenhagen, Denmark

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