Natasha Udensiva is a pioneering professional in the new Soviet society that has begun to publicly acknowledge some of its deep-seated family and social problems. She is one of a small but emerging group of psychologists in a nation where the field of psychology is in its infancy.

She and several of her colleagues were here this week as guests of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. On Monday evening, she talked with a number of local family therapists. Udensiva is a psychologist in private practice in Moscow, and she has a research grant from the Russian Academy of Science to study sexual stereotyping and problems of socialization among Soviet women.

Her talk had two recurring themes. One was how much Soviet women have in common with American women. The second was how much worse off they are because of the staggering economic problems they face and the acute, chronic housing shortage that forces generations of family members to live in the same apartment. A cycle of depression, despair and powerlessness pervades generations of Soviet women because they have so few choices about how to live, and where.

"We exist in another space," she said. "There are a lot of psychological problems because of that. We have very little physical space. There is no culture of privacy." The divorce rate is very high, she said, with marital breakups typically occurring in the first year of marriage, several years after a child has arrived, or after children have left home.

She described the typical life of a Soviet woman, whom she called Olga, from childhood. "She lives in a two-room flat with her mother, father and grandmother, who is a very important person in the family. Olga goes to kindergarten and her teacher shouted at her because she was inaccurate. She withdraws and refuses to communicate." The grandmother who is at home is her source of solace, but it also creates a situation in which grandmothers can manipulate grandchildren.

"Olga grows up 11 years in a prison regimen. In school they don't move, they sit straight, they can't talk to each other, they wear uniforms. A child does something wrong and teachers shame him or her in front of the others. The system provokes a stereotyped mind. It is more dangerous for girls because they want to behave in a socially desirable way. They want to be good girls. Olga can't think without the collective. She can't think for herself.

"A lot of young girls don't have professional aims. The main aim is to be married. They try to marry by 20." Although being married is prestigious, she said, there is a tremendous contradiction. During her research into how Soviet women view men, she said, "the main thing that came through was that Soviet women saw men as passive, selfish, infantile, irritable. There was no positive image."

By the time Olga is a young adult at a university, said Udensiva, "her mother and father begin to have their own problems. Perhaps the grandmother dies. The husband has taken a lover. He tells his wife. He doesn't want to leave home but he wants his separate life. Sometimes they divorce, sometimes not. It's a very hard time for them and a nightmare for Olga.

"A boyfriend falls in love with Olga. She likes him. She wants to escape from the awful relationship of her parents. She goes from one nightmare to another because her husband lives with his mother, {who} is jealous of the new wife. They also have a lot of problems. Unexpectedly Olga becomes pregnant. We have no birth control and most children are unplanned. She escapes to her work. At some point she will divorce. According to law, children must live with the mothers, not the fathers.

"One of the main problems of our women is they have no physical space and therefore they have no psychological space. To survive, a woman must have time for herself." Creative, professional women are the ones who fare best, she said. "The domestic life depresses. Those who only concentrate on family are worse. The main way for our women {to survive} is professional realization." Alcoholism and wife beating are common and the militia ignore it, saying it is a domestic problem, she said. The women's movement is "very small. There are some feminist writings," but no large-scale movement as has existed in the United States.

Udensiva says the Olgas she sees typically are between 30 and 40 years old. "She doesn't love anybody. She doesn't love herself. She doesn't have much motivation to live. I try to teach her to love herself, to be independent." But, she said, the image of the Soviet woman as tired and standing with bags in a long queue is "unfortunately true. We live in a very difficult situation."