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Tuesday, May 24, 2016
Aasra featured in The article on counsellors opting for therapy was featured in this Sunday DNA.
To deal with the stress of others and that in their own lives, counsellors themselves go in for counselling and have found ways to relax, finds out Ornella D'Souza
A counsellor is like a pit clients pay-by-the-hour to pour their trepidations into. For the client, the process is cathartic. For the counsellor, a continous pile-on. Aside a patient ear, other concerns – cases where no prescribed move for the client appear to working or worse, noticing symptoms of a psychological issue creeping in themselves, are other stress-inducing situations. At such times, it is advisable for therapists to seek therapy, experts observe.
Student counsellor, Fr Terence Quadros of St Xavier's College, Mumbai, puts it bluntly. "It's not the 'counsellor' who goes in for therapy, it's the 'person'. Those who need therapy, must be wise enough to go in for it. I've visited a counsellor as and when I've needed to."
This act of consulting a fellow medical professional is akin to doctors asking for a second opinion on cases that befuddle, feels psychiatrist and psychotherapist Avinash DeSouza. "While it's true I may have an extra understanding of the human mind, but if I'm not feeling okay, I have to accept that I need treatment. A psychologically disturbed individual is in no position to counsel."
Sadia Raval, founder and chief psychologist, Inner Space, a counselling centre, says she has reduced her clientele from six to just three or four a day. "Sometimes it can be too much. You're always handling unhappy and distressed people. It's not one case that shakes you up, but cases over a period of time. You can be working hard and have a lot going on in your personal life, too. It's important to take some space out to nourish."
But listening to clients for years, the process must feel familiar, even borderline mechanical? Johnson Thomas, director of AASRA, a 24-hour helpline for the suicidal and emotionally disturbed, says that after 17 years of taking such calls, "you know what the caller is going to say and how to react", a certain amount of fear on how the caller might perceive his efforts, still remains, "You need to be calm, practical and think on your toes. Sometimes, it's taken me two hours to get the caller out of that state of mind." AASRA's counsellors sometimes handle 15-20 calls between a five-hour shift. To tackle such stress, AASRA has a process wherein the counsellor 'vents' to the coordinator everyday. "If the experience still weighs on their mind, the counsellor comes back and talks about it."
Clinical psychologist and hypnotherapist Suchismita Bose cautions how psychologists have gone through depression and even committed suicide. So it's not always easy to keep an outsider's perspective on where you are going wrong. "To draw an analogy, the best heart surgeon is not going to operate upon himself. The same for a psychologist. Just because the issues are intangible doesn't mean you can resolve them yourself. If you deal with your issues better, you can help clients better."
Bose insists that the novice must understand what it means to be in the client's chair, a trait which universities abroad make compulsory for students to imbibe. "So if the need arises later, it feels normal to be counselled." But in India, ego and societal pressure stand in the way of seeking help. "We are yet to reach the stage where clients will not assume my knowledge on the subject to be any lesser if I tell them I will go and seek help from a therapist if the need arises."
But exposing one's fears before another professional should be taught in college. According to special educator and psychotherapist Mimansa Popat, the existing course-structure in India is more exam oriented and less about personal growth. "Counsellors feel, 'if I've got an A+ in my Masters, I'm a master in psychology'."
Fr Quadros says he doesn't feel burned out because he has ways of "chilling". "I garden, paint, write stories and poems, respond to emails, and sometimes just sleep."
DeSouza adds that he finds ways to stay passionate about his profession. "Just counselling clients is like an actor playing the same role every time. It's essential to read, write about what you do, teach, take breaks, listen to music, go for a movie… ." He draws attention to the gospel rule for doctors – the ability to switch off. "I may empathise with a patient, but ensure not to sympathise."
Bose stresses on activities that induce self-reflection. "Yoga lets out energies received from other people. Also, an hour of not talking to anybody in the morning. Peer-therapy, two-three counsellors meet to discuss cases or personal issues, is becoming increasingly popular." Popat discloses she seeks therapy sometimes, three to four times a year. "And deep breathing alternate week with a therapist."