Counseling centers are appearing in China for the first time to offer confidential advice to Chinese frustrated by problems ranging from family disputes and conflicts at work to homosexuality. For decades during Mao Zedong's radical rule, Chinese officials treated personal problems as political or class-related, offering counseling in the form of Marxist ``thought reform'' and ``heart to heart'' talks. Psychology was banned as ``bourgeois.''

Today, Chinese badly need professional help to cope with the pressures of social change and the competition emerging with a market-oriented economy, said Gao Zixiu, a Beijing social worker.

Mr. Gao is director of Beijing's newly established ``trust and comfort association,'' one of the first organizations offering Chinese free, confidential advice on a broad range of social problems.

``Today, people have a lot of anxieties,'' said Gao. ``We help them untie the knots in their hearts.''

When people come seeking help, volunteer counselors first offer them cups of warm water in small, tidy rooms overlooking willow trees and a lake. While listening to peoples' troubles, counselors take no notes. Strict confidentiality is the rule. Chinese cities have also recently established centers for suicide prevention, student counseling, and psychotherapy, Gao said.

``I am confident that many more of these organizations will emerge,'' Gao said. ``The masses have a great need.''

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