Story Telling - To Yourself!
"I am always at a loss as to how much to believe the stories I tell myself!" said Washington Irving. How true! While we may not be great story tellers like our ancestors of the yore, we are adept at telling stories to ourselves - and negative ones at that. There is a constant chatter in our minds and if you step back and analyze these thoughts, you can see a familiar pattern. Most of it would be repeating things that you need to do (doing nothing about it and increasing your tension!), and a lot of it would be some "scripts" that you are playing out repeatedly. It could be some perceived injustice done to you in the past or how the world is unfair to you or how you were denied opportunities to grow and the list is endless. Unfortunately, by repeating the same thing over and over again, we perpetuate these stories thereby making them more and more real. This is a self-fulfilling prophesy.
Cheri Huber said "That voice inside your head is not the voice of God. It sounds like it thinks it is!". The worst critic you will ever encounter is the one who lives inside your mind. The way you talk to yourself has a profound impact on your emotional state and the resultant behaviour. For example, when you make a mistake, consider the tone of voice you use when you talk to yourself. We never say "Great, it has been a good learning experience!" Instead, it invariably would be "You, stupid idiot, you really screwed up this time" or "You will never learn" or words to that effect! Most of it would be critical or angry or sarcastic or even resigned. This is one of the primary reasons for low self-esteem, globalizing local events leading to depression etc.
In corporate life, it is next to impossible to avoid people who come up and say "Why does this always keep happening to me?" or "People only hurt me" etc time and again. There is lot of self talk going on in their minds and by repeating them time and again, it impacts their behaviour and the way people perceive them. Hence it is important that such negative self talk and scripts are avoided and rephrased so that we do not manifest circumstances that would fulfill our script!
I am sure all of you have seen "The Lion King". It is a brilliant movie. The lion cub "Simba" leaves the forest and lives with a meerkat and warthog - Timon and Pumbaa. It lives a carefree life of "hakuna matata" meaning "no worries". It starts to think and behave like other animals with which it is associated forgetting its true nature. Then Rafiki, the wise monkey adviser to Simba's father tricks him saying that his father is alive and takes him to a pond. Simba sees his father's apparition in the sky which tells him that Simba was born to rule and that he must take his pride of place among the lions. This changes Simba and he later claims the kingdom which is rightfully his.
Do we see parallels between this story and our life - at least I see a lot of truth in this narration. We do not rightfully understand who we are, nor the world around us - primarily because we are constantly running the "wrong scripts". All we have to do then is to rewrite the faulty script just as Simba did. Is that possible - yes it is. Is it easy - maybe not? But remember that "One of the greatest of all principles is that men can do what they think they can do!"
How and when do we get our "Rafiki", the wise one?
Mr. Ganesh Nerur
My Experiences with Transference and Counter-transference
I would like to begin this short write-up with a disclaimer: these are mere reflections based on my personal experiences, and are in no way to be construed as a valid and reliable resource of information on these subjects. This is because the thoughts expressed in this article are based on a statistically insignificant sample size of clients in the therapeutic setting over a relatively short period of time.
Although I have been in the field for over six years now, I have branched off as an independent consultant only in the last year-and-a-half. I work predominantly with children and adolescents, but I do get to work with the occasional adult. Also, in the course of handling children, I am required to meet with and counsel the parents as well. I am providing this background to set the stage for what I am about to share.
In every case I have handled so far, transference from the client has been an inevitable part of the rapport-building phase. In the beginning, any kind of transference was a big red flag to me. I would immediately begin to wonder if I must refer the client out. When the cognitive dissonance in my own mind became too much to bear, I started to delve deeper into the concept of transference, how it operates, why it happens, and what can be done about it.
Here is what I learnt: Transference describes a situation where the feelings, desires, and expectations of one person are redirected and applied to another person. Most commonly, transference refers to a therapeutic setting, where a person in therapy may apply certain feelings or emotions toward the therapist. Many clients see the therapist as an authority figure of some significance from their own lives. This is natural, and unconscious, because as a race, we are programmed to behave in this way. Learning theory talks about associative learning - where the human mind makes automatic connections between new information, and the existing schema in the database of the brain. This is exactly what happens when we see new people. We immediately categorize them based on the people we already know.
When I work with children, the most common form of transference I have observed is maternal transference, where a child automatically ascribes a motherly role to me. When I am clearly aware of this, and handle it gently in therapy, establishing firm boundaries without compromising on the trust and openness within the relationship, things go well. The child begins to differentiate quickly, and accepts the limitations laid down within the therapeutic setting, gaining insight and working through emotional difficulties.
I have come to realize the importance of this differentiation early on in therapy because if I don't handle this as soon as I identify it, it often leads to emotional dependency, and this is counter-productive to therapy. When this happens, the child will make frequent phone calls, seek my approval, and refuse to comply with parental requests, insisting that I get involved with every small decision. I have made my fair share of this mistake before learning to recognize maternal transference for what it is, and handle it effectively. I don't claim to be an expert at this, though. Far from it! There have been instances where I have taken the principle of unconditional acceptance too far, and inadvertently allowed my own feelings to enter the situation, too, thus resulting in a counter-transference taking place. [For the benefit of the uninitiated, let me mention here that “counter-transference” occurs when a therapist engages with the client at an emotional level.]
What saved me from making serious blunders was a rock-solid supervisor, who always kept me grounded, reminding me of the dangers of "omnipotence". In simple terms, what this means is, she would tell me not to try and play God. She would tell me not to try to save the world by rescuing the children who came to me, because what they needed was not a rescuer, but an empathic therapist who could contain their emotions in a non-judgmental way. I learnt the difference between acceptance and approval from my supervisor, too. Many beginning therapists I know struggle with this. Here is a simple example to demonstrate this conflict:
When a child tells me that she cheated on a test, acceptance would mean remaining non-directive about this revelation, focusing on what the child felt about this, and what it means to the child, without moralizing the situation or offering a lecture on values and principles. Approval, on the other hand, would be to encourage the child to go on with this behavior by explicitly stating, "Oh, that's OK!" Unconditionally accepting the situation without making the child feel judged requires tact and a high degree of self-awareness. My own beliefs play an important role in determining my reaction too. I have learnt that I can never "fake" it, because if I do, I won't "make" it with the child. Authenticity and honestly within the therapeutic relationship are the key to success. I had to work a great deal on myself and my own emotional baggage to get to this point, where I am able to deal with transference in 80% of the cases, without allowing it to escalate it to the point of counter-transference.
There are still some cases, where I am unable to remain completely detached, because it hits too close to home. For example, when a 10-year-old boy comes in with complaints of being bullied at school, my maternal instincts may kick in unconsciously because I have a 10-year-old boy myself. If I allow myself to start operating from a "motherly" space, I no longer remain an effective therapist. What this child requires is an objective therapist who can help him work through his feelings, then educate him about the bully triangle, and eventually train him in assertiveness skills. If I allow counter-transference to take over, I would only be focusing on being protective and nurturing, and this is not going to empower the child in any way!
Moving on to adult clients, I have seen transference taking place with adults too. I once had a client who was a young widower. He started to see his wife in me. This was a sticky situation, and no amount of tactful handling helped. In the end, I had to refer him out to a co-therapist after honestly explaining to him that I can no longer be effective in helping him with his problems.
Recently, I also came across some interesting material about "Transference-based Psychotherapy". This is something I would like to explore, and I welcome my co-counselors reading this also to research this topic more. My winding comments in this regard would be:
- It is important for every therapist and practicing counselor to read up and learn as much about transference and counter-transference.
- What is more important is to develop sufficient self-awareness and honestly to be able to acknowledge the presence of counter-transference wherever it crops up, and to work on it.
Mrs. Mina Dilip
Existential Positive Psychology
Positive Psychology (PP) is the scientific study of optimal human functioning and what makes life worth living. In other words, it is the psychology of the characteristics, conditions and processes which lead to flourishing. Initially when it was launched about a decade ago, it distanced itself from other branches of psychology. However, it has its roots in the works of William James in the late 19th century, and humanistic psychology in the mid 20th century. It also borrows from the ancient philosophers such as Aristotle and Plato. As a science it focuses on discovering the empirical evidence for thriving.
PP originated from the University of Pennsylvania in the USA. The founders are psychology professors Martin Seligman, who is well known for his pioneering work on learned helplessness and later on learned optimism, and Mihalay Csikszentmihalyi best known for his work "Flow: The psychology of optimal experience." The PP movement began in 1998 and since then new research articles and books on the subject have been written. The vast majority of psychology studies carried over the past 40 years have focused on the negative side of life such as anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, PTSD etc. PP redresses this imbalance by focusing on the human traits and circumstances which lead to thriving. The field is still holding sway over the researchers as is evident from the number of research papers, articles, bogs etc., that are being published over the past decade or so.
PP deals with well-being and happiness. Happiness, from ancient times, has been classified into Hedonic well-being and Eudaimonic well-being. The former refers to the happiness you get from feeling pleasure in the moment while the later is a broad term used by positive psychologists to refer to the happiness we gain from meaning and purpose in our lives, fulfilling our potential and feeling that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. These definitions have their own pitfalls and the positive psychologists had a number of reservations about them. Hence they went ahead and defined a new term "Subjective Well-Being (SWB)" which is expressed in the following formula:
SWB = Satisfaction with life + Positive Emotion - negative Emotion
Quite simple, right?
Just to give an idea of PP and its components, we can briefly look at the PP model of well-being postulated by Martin Seligman. It is defined as the PERMA model where
P - Positive Emotion - the experience of positive mood and feelings that are uplifting
E - Engagement - well-being you get from being totally absorbed in the task in hand
R - Relationships - Good, supportive and caring inter-personal connections are essential
M - Meaning - provides a stable foundation and sense of direction in life.
A - Accomplishment - includes everything from achievement, success and mastery at the highest level possible to progress towards goals and competence
However, there emerged another school of thought that felt the PP ignored the black reality of human existence. They also saw that Existential Psychology (EP) with its focus on death anxiety, meaninglessness and alienation is dark, because it does not focus on the joy of living. PP without existential insights and phenomenological analysis is full of adolescent exuberance but lacking depth. EP without rigorous research on human strengths and positive affects is full of wisdom but lacking in youthful vitality. Therefore it makes sense to bring the two domains of psychology together resulting in Existential Positive Psychology (EPP).
EPP is a natural amalgam between PP and EP. The EPP psychologists, led by Dr. Paul Wong, discuss these 6 ultimate questions about human existence which deserves psychological investigation.
1. Who am I? - What defines me? Who am I when everything is stripped away from me and I am reduced to a naked lonely soul? Is there anything unique and special about me?
2. How can I be happy? - Why am I bored? Why am I so dissatisfied with life? What is the good life? Why is happiness so illusive? Is this all there is to life?
3. What should I do with my life? - How should I then live? How could I live in a way that my life counts for something? What is my calling? To what should I devote the rest of my life?
4. How do I make the right choices? - How do I know that I am making the right decisions regarding career and relationships? How can I tell right from wrong? What do I know what is the responsible thing to do in complex situations with conflicting moral standards?
5. Where do I belong? - Why do I feel so alone in the world? Why don't I feel at home in this planet Earth? Where is my home? Where do I belong? How do I develop deep and meaningful relationships? Where can I find acceptance?
6. What is the point of striving when life is so short? - Why should I struggle when life is transient and fragile? What is the point in building something only to see it swallowed up by death?
All of these questions are related to the human quest for existential understanding. It is the spirit of asking tough questions and rejecting pre-packaged easy answers that characterizes existential psychology. EPP is open to insights, wisdoms and research on all aspects of human existence from all sources regardless of the paradigm of knowledge claims, thus providing a richer research agenda. In short, EPP broadens the definition of PP as "the qualitative and quantitative study of what enables people to survive and flourish individually and collectively in the totality of life circumstances" What qualifies EPP as positive psychology is its emphasis on the uniquely human capacities for resilience and positive change.
1. Positive Psychology - A practical Guide - By Bridget Grenville-Cleave
PLAY - Children's fundamental need denied
When I asked Keerthana, a class 9 student, "What do you want?" she replied with tears in her eyes:
- "I want to play. All my classmates study and play. But however hard I work, I am not able to find time to play. I wish I could play. But I don't have friends".
- "I am asked to go from one class to the other. I don't have a break. I just don't wish to study. All that my parents want me to do is Study, Study, and Study. They don't allow me to play"
- They are high achievers, often setting very high standards for themselves and pushing themselves too hard.
- They tend to be perfectionists, insisting that everything they do or say is just right. They take themselves very seriously and often find it difficult to accept defeat or acknowledge criticism.
- They are highly organized and structured.
- They are cautious decision-makers with a very high regard for moral values.
- They can be very rigid.
- Being domineering.
- Becoming overly critical of the younger brother’s failures.
- These children become insecure by nature.
- Later-born male children are also relatively laid back and easy-going.
- They like to bend the rules. That is not to say that they lack a moral fiber, but rather, to say they are not rigid about values and principles like their older sibling.
- Many boys, who are younger of two brothers, turn into impulsive decision-makers.
- They may also be relatively more aggressive and rebellious.
- The older sister, in many families, assumes the role of a second mother. This could be due to social and cultural beliefs or parental conditioning. Some psychologists believe that the reason behind this could be an inherent urge to nurture, which nature has bestowed upon females of all species.
- The older sister may also become a “moral police” to her younger sibling, especially during the teen years.
- She may be less academically-oriented than her older sister.
- She is more creative and likes off-beat activities.
- She resists structure and is highly spontaneous.
- She may also harbor a hidden resentment about being second, especially in families where hand-me-downs are common.
- The older brother becomes the self-proclaimed ‘protector’ of his sister.
- The older brother also often becomes controlling or manipulative, depending on parental attitudes and reactions.
- Middle children are good negotiators and peace-makers. They often grow up settling disputes between the oldest and youngest siblings.
- They often feel neglected, left out and inferior.
- However, these same feelings tend to make them extremely independent, and develop in them certain coping skills that stand them in good stead throughout their lives.
- Organize our thinking
- Plan our actions carefully
- Identify potential flaws in our approach
- Identify weaknesses in our plans and create corrective actions
- Identify strength and opportunities to improve success
- Concentrate our efforts on the vital few objectives
- Save time, money and energy by avoiding confusion and mistakes
- Time Management
- Stress Management
- Work-life balance
- Inter-personal relations
- In perceiver - Attitudes, motives, interests, experience and expectations
- In situations - Time, work setting / Social setting
- In the target - Novelty, motion, sound, size, background, proximity and similarity
- Be present - being alert, ware, attentive and live in reality
- Be in the present - not to live in past glory nor to carry old baggage, forget the bad / bitter experiences
- Present yourself - At the right time, in the right way, express capabilities and also present yourself in a balanced and composed way
- Yesterday is history; Tomorrow is mystery; that is why today is called "Present" - a gift - Let us live it... enjoy it.
- Spend quality time with your children
- Infuse confidence and positive attitude in them
- Be good listeners and patiently listen to all their detailed narrations
- Make your home an emotionally safe place for your children
- Give them independence and encourage their thoughts and ideas
- Guide them to choose their higher education and career
- Do not thrust your unfulfilled aspirations on your children
- Do not unduly keep worrying about their future
- Make a promise to yourself
- To stay committed - find a running community / a mentor / a coach.
- Hydrate yourself well
- Sleep adequately
- Enjoy the endorphins
- Some days will be very challenging and you might miss your workout, don't sweat over it - get back to it, as soon as you can!
- Hang out with positive, like-minded friends
- Compete only with Yourself
- Don't worry about timing
- Stay injury free
- Motivate others around you too
These are samples of what many children feel about their studies and the way they are forced to do.
Parents on the other hand feel play is a luxury which their children need to give up "in order to cope with studies to face this competitive world". Even if the students score 1% less their life "will be lost". It is also regarded as a waste of time. A comment "ask him to play; he will play for hours together. But studies..... Just doesn't apply his mind." This is the dialogue most of the parents give, regardless of what class the child is studying.
All work and no play makes children become dull .Let us look at what play means to a child.
Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth. Play also offers an ideal opportunity for parents to engage fully with their children. Despite the benefits derived from play for both children and parents, time for free play has been markedly reduced for some children.
Play is so important to optimal child development that it has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child. This birthright is challenged by forces including child labor and exploitation practices, war and neighbourhood violence, and the limited resources available to children living in poverty. However, even those children who are fortunate enough to have abundant available resources and who live in relative peace may not be receiving the full benefits of play. Many of these children are being raised in an increasingly hurried and pressured style that may limit the protective benefits they would gain from child-driven play. Let us briefly look at benefits of play:
1. Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength.
2. Play is important to healthy brain development.
3. It is through play that children at a very early age engage and interact in the world around them.
4. Play allows children to create and explore a world they can master, conquering their fears while practicing adult roles, sometimes in conjunction with other children or adult caregivers.
5. As they master their world, play helps children develop new competencies that lead to enhanced confidence and the resiliency they will need to face future challenges.
6. Undirected play allows children to learn how to work in groups, to share, to negotiate, to resolve conflicts, and to learn self-advocacy skills.
7. Through play, children learn to make friends, one of the important things in life.
8. When play is allowed to be child driven, children practice decision-making skills, move at their own pace, discover their own areas of interest, and ultimately engage fully in the passions they wish to pursue.
9. In contrast to passive entertainment, play builds active, healthy bodies. In fact, it has been suggested that encouraging unstructured play may be an exceptional way to increase physical activity levels in children, which is one important strategy in the resolution of the obesity epidemic.
10. Play is a simple joy that is a cherished part of childhood.
As counsellors we need to become champions of making play possible for children. I have started instructing one hour physical play as a mandatory requirement for bringing the children to the path of balanced adjustment. For the parents, I suggest to them to use it as a bargaining tool and for the children, play becomes a reward for work.
Along with guidance about parenting in the counselling sessions, counsellors can help parents explore how they can make play possible and regular in their child's life. The children require friends and space to play. These need to be the focus. Let not play become another coaching class with regimens etc.
For Keerthana, in the forthcoming sessions, we worked out a plan by which she could improve her study skills and made sure that her parent found a place safe for her to play. Today she has moved on to passing in all subjects and gets to play too!
Dr. Sumathi Narayanan
Help the Parents Grow up
When the girl walked out from my room I was left staring at the blank screen in front of me, with thoughts of what she had shared running through my mind, and my hands frozen unable to put them on to the document sheet in front of me. The force of the emotions this young girl shared left me frustrated, helpless and shaken, and perhaps for the first time in my career as a counsellor I wished I was somewhere else, anywhere but in a seat where I found I was unable to help this child who was only asking for a little space, to grow, to think on her own and just BE.
I remembered reading a book called the Price of Privilege, where the author speaks at length about the children of affluent background who are no less troubled, perhaps even more so, than the children lesser privileged. The parents, in their eagerness and anxiety to smoothen out the paths of their children towards glorified success that is determined and set by them, are not able to see beyond their noses. They refuse to see their children as individuals, with dreams of their own, with their own sense of self, and with minds that are capable of thinking on their own. So you have children who are given the best of things, total comfort at home, the latest of gadgets, pups to play with, flashy cars dropping them at coaching classes; in return for being the children they want them to be. The girl who came to see me and was unable to talk because she was so choked with emotion was the victim of vicarious gratification of her mother, who had been unable to pursue dance, so had fostered her dreams on her daughter. The daughter, fortunately for her, grew to like dance to the point of it becoming a passion; and now she was asked to curtail it all because she was at a crucial point in her academic career and could not afford to 'waste time' on dance classes. The teachers in her school too taunted the child, declaring she would never go far if she chose not to pay more attention to her marks which were not up to their expectations, and that dance as a career was never an option for 'girls from good families'.
How insensitive can we adults get? In spite of it all, the child refused to allow me access to her parents, saying they will be hurt if they know she has come to meet a counsellor. I told her it was impossible to counsel with one hand tied behind my back! But what she said got my gut: I don't want you to do anything; just you listening, and talking to you about my dance classes helped, she said with a wry smile. I felt my breath catch in my throat, and I was left seeing the blank screen on my laptop when she left the room. There was nothing I could record then. But I wish we could help such parents to understand that the children are not an extension of themselves; they need to pursue their dreams, however unambitious they might seem to be to them.
On one hand we talk about having our children be independent, self-sufficient and responsible; but on the other, we do not allow them to develop the life skills to be all this and more; Instead we are all but treating them like robots whose remote control is in our hands, and have a huge sense of achievement if we succeed in cloning them in our images.
When will we GROW UP?
Mrs. Mohana Narayanan
ANXIETY, DEPRESSION AND STRESS IN PARENTS OF CHILDREN WITH COMMUNICATION AND BEHAVIOURAL DISORDERS
Parenting, though a pleasurable task, is an arduous one at the best of times. That being so, raising child with communication and neurobehavioral disorders is a formidable task. Does raising such a child put additional burden on the parents - especially in terms of psychological disturbances including stress and anxiety beyond what a normal parent is subject to? This was the question that intrigued us as we took up this subject for a study.
As a part of the study, we identified 110 parents of children with communication impairment and behavioral disturbances as a sample for the study. Clinically these children wee diagnosed with Autism, ADHD, Developmental delay, delayed speech and language, MR, Learning disability and Cerebral Palsy. They were also provisionally diagnosed with communication disorders by neurologists in concurrence with the speech and Language pathologists and by the psychologist based on ICD 10 and DSM IV-R.
Parents were classified based on their age, gender, marital status, education, occupation, family income and number of children they had. After obtaining their consent, two self-report inventories – Depression Anxiety and Stress Scale (DASS) and Parental Stress Scale were administered to the parents.
We found that there existed a significant difference between parental occupation and depression. Housewives were more depressed, compared to others in different occupations. 60% Housewives had severe depression, 78.6 % Moderate depression, 41.7% Mild depression and only 29.3% were free from depression.
Similarly, there existed a significant difference between anxiety and number of children a parent had. Parents with 1 and 2 children showed more anxiety than parents with 3 or more children. 40% of parents with one child were normal, 58% mildly anxious, 36% moderately anxious, 55% with severe anxiety and 33% with very severe anxiety. Similarly, 59% of parents with two children were normal, 42% had mild, 57% moderate, 36% severe and 60% very severe levels of anxiety.
There was also significant difference existing between stress and age of Parents. Parents with Children between 2 - 6 years of age had more stress than others. 67% of such parents had very severe stress, 82 % severe stress, 57% moderate stress, 67% Mild stress and 52% free from stress. Females had more stress compared to Males. 67% Females had Very severe stress, 55% severe stress, 79% moderate stress, 50% mild stress and 25% free from stress. Housewives had more stress compared to working mothers. 60% of housewives had very severe stress, 36% severe stress, 79% moderate stress, 42% Mild stress and 29% free from stress.
There was a significant difference existing between Parental Stress and Parents' Occupation. Housewives had more parental stress compared to Working Mothers. 51% Housewives had moderate parental stress and 30% mild parental stress. However, there was no subject suffering from severe parental stress. Likewise, there was a significant difference existing between parental stress and number of children. Parents with 2 Children had more Parental stress than Parents with one and those with 3 or more Children. 59% of Parents with 2 children had moderate parental stress and 49% mild parental stress. However, there was no subject suffering from severe parental stress.
The results of the study clearly indicate that parents' occupation, their gender, number of children they have affect their psychological well being irrespective of the type of disability the child has, thus corroborating earlier studies in this regard. The mothers are more affected compared to fathers. Especially, unemployed mothers, with two or more Children, show high psychological distress. Gender differences in the children are noticed, resulting in worsening of the psychological problems of the mothers. The mothers (parents) showed improvement in their DASS scores and the Parental Stress Scale (PSS) scores after learning coping skills. Also, children were exposed to therapeutic and behavioural intervention techniques. The intervention by the psychologist showed improvement in the make-up of the Mothers.
Thus we can safely conclude that psychological care of parents of children with communication and behavioral disorders is very important and significant in order to benefit the improvement of the children. It is also obvious that psychologists play an important role in the management of neurological disorders.
Based on a research paper submitted by Mrs. Shanthi Kannan (Clinical Psychologist), Mr. V Chandra Mohan (Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology, Institute of Aerospace, Bengaluru) and Dr. Ramesh Kannan (Consultant Neurologist)
Mrs. Shanthi Kannan
Sexual Liberation: Perspectives of Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse
Working with survivors of any form of abuse in childhood is a very intense experience. When the abuse is sexual, and perpetrated by a significant authority figure in a person's life, it takes on immensely larger proportions. In my limited experience as a therapist so far, I have seen that experiencing sexual abuse, particularly incest, tends to skew an individual's perspectives and color the judgment and attitudes about sex negatively. This write-up offers a peek into some of the conversations I have had as a therapist with adult survivors of child sexual abuse. These conversations have had a tremendous personal impact on me too. Some of these reflections and musings have made me sit up and question my own attitudes, beliefs and values related to sex and sexuality, both, as a professional, and as a human being.
Invariably, sex and sexuality as topics of discussion are off-limits when therapy begins. The typical responses I get when I explore these areas in the initial sessions range from, "yuck," and "it is disgusting; I don't want to talk about it" to feigned nonchalance and blatant in-your-face flaunting of sexuality. As therapy progresses, I see subtle, yet powerful changes in each client. Each of them takes a different amount of time to get there, but eventually, they all do. And when they do, they are ready to explore their own sexuality, slowly, tentatively at first; then with bigger, bolder steps later.
One of my clients, who had been abused by her own father, had decided to "get back at him" by becoming overtly promiscuous, engaging in casual sex with strangers and even getting into trouble with the law. In the initial sessions, she used to walk in skimpily clad, with heavy make-up and artificial nails that looked scary rather than pretty. She used foul language, and often requested for permission to smoke in the therapy room. As therapy progressed, her dress sense changed. She went to see a psychiatrist who put her on rehab to help her with her tobacco addiction. In one of the later sessions, the topic of sexual liberation came up, and she said, "I used to think that sexual liberation was about flaunting my body by showing a lot of skin and sleeping around. But in the last few months, I have come to realize that it is about being free and uninhibited in my own skin. It is about loving my body and not feeling ashamed of having sexual needs and urges for myself. I am not an object designed to satisfy someone else’s sexual needs. I feel at this moment, that I am my own person, and I love myself, my body and my sexuality unconditionally now. I don’t need to show off my sexuality to prove a point to anyone. I realize that now. I am okay with being naked, and looking, really looking at myself without judgment or criticism. I am okay with all the scars, both physical and emotional. I accept my body the way it is. I accept myself." I had tears in my eyes that day. To witness this transformation was truly a gift.
Another client, who had suffered abuse at the hands of an uncle for years, had become reticent and withdrawn. She had stopped laughing. When she first came to see me, she had attempted suicide for the third time. Her self esteem was practically non-existent and she saw herself as a burden on her family. She had been recently divorced on the grounds of sexual incompatibility. She called herself "frigid". After several months of intensive therapy, she began to take tentative baby-steps towards exploring her sexuality. The first thing she confessed was having inappropriate sexual feelings towards her own brother. The burden of guilt was so heavy that she was choking on her own words. Several more weeks of intensive person-centric therapy followed, and recently, she said, "I don’t believe that I am bad or rotten anymore. I deserve to be happy too. And I deserve to experience physical pleasure too." That was the first time she had spoken about this on her own accord. She then went on to say, "I always thought it was my fault. And I felt undesirable because he (the uncle) always criticized my body. But now, I am beginning to realize that his words were not true. I am not ugly. I may not be beautiful, but I am not disgusting, the way he made me out to be." It was a start. However, I knew we still had a long way to go. But in my eyes, this was a form of liberation too - freedom from her own demons, which now allowed her to begin her journey of self-discovery.
Yet another client had experienced a traumatic episode of abuse at the hands of a same-sex friend, and her basic faith in humanity was on shaky grounds. She said tearfully, "I knew it was unsafe to be with boys, but I never thought a girl would do this to me!" For her, sexual identity and orientation were huge stumbling blocks. She was scared to even begin to explore her own thoughts and feelings about these aspects of herself. So for a while, we concentrated on everything else. It was like the classic "don't talk about the white elephant in the room". She intellectualized everything, rationalized all that was possible to rationalize and used logic and reason relentlessly to find the answers she was seeking. I went with the flow. I knew that pushing her would make her clam up. So I stayed with the plan, never once bringing up the white elephant. Then one fine day, she huffed in, and announced, "Okay, so I am gay. So what!" She had expected some form of chastisement, some scolding, perhaps. But when all she got was quiet, unconditional acceptance, she broke down. And then, the flood gates opened. She was finally ready. We worked through layers of defenses together, explored her core beliefs, examined her childhood and her teen years, and finally reached the point in time when the abuse occurred. When we went over it, various dimensions emerged. She started to reevaluate everything she believed in, and finally, she said, "Ah. I feel liberated. It is as if I have set myself free from my own self-imposed prison!" When the topic turned to sexual liberation (as I invariably ensure it does), she said, "I think sexual liberation is the ability to accept who we really are, sexually. At least to me, accepting that I am homosexual has truly set me free. Yes, what happened was bad. That was abuse because there was no explicit consent from my end, and I was only thirteen. Who knows, maybe I led her on, or maybe at some level, she sensed it. And given a choice, I would erase that part of my life. Having said that, I think I am now ready to let myself relax into who I really am, without any guilt. This isn't about her. It isn't even about what she did to me. I know deep down that I enjoyed it. Talking to you about it was hard, but I am glad that I did. I don't feel any shame now in admitting that I am attracted to other women. Perhaps I am bisexual, who knows. I am open to exploring that too!"
With each story, comes so much pain. Once the outpouring happens, there is a sense of relief, and a quiet preparedness to embark on a long and arduous journey of healing. There is always some amount of transference, which I have found conducive to effective therapy. Working with clients and guiding them through the therapeutic stages of ventilation, pre-contemplation, contemplation and finally, change is a tremendously rewarding experience, which makes me look forward to each day as a new and brilliant opportunity to touch yet another life, to attempt to heal yet another hurting heart.
Mrs. Mina Dilip
World Mental Health Day
'I don't feel good at all. I don't feel like anyone at home loves me or cares for me. I catch myself crying and being sad most of the time these days. I don't like to go back home. I am always compared to my sister, she is the preferred one. My mum loves her and ignores me. I don't feel like living anymore'.
'I have terrible anger issues and yes I physically abuse my wife, that is because she cannot keep her mouth shut and she has an acid tongue, she instigates me to fight with her. My mother died because of her neglect. She can be in touch with her siblings but I should not take care of mine'.
'My husband is an alcoholic. We are very different people; our different religions have created so many issues between us. I come from a very good and a cultured family. I thought I could make this work. He is suspicious of me, checks my messages all the time. Living with him is terrible. We fight all the time. I wish I could turn back the clock'.
These are a few examples of the kind of cases that come to me as a professional psychological counselor. Client and patients seek relief and help, vent out their deepest, darkest, look out for coping skills, new awareness of their situation and eventual empowerment with a counselor.
The clients are reflective of a society that you and I belong to.
10th October is being celebrated as World Mental Health Day every year - a day dedicated to global mental health education, awareness and advocacy. This year's theme is 'Dignity in Mental Health - Psychological and Mental Health First Aid for all'.
Research states that one in every four adults experiences mental health difficulties at one time or another but may receive little or no help when in need. The reasons for this are many. Many people believe that mental illness and associated conditions are rare and that it only "happens to others." Families unfortunately are not prepared to cope, understand, and acknowledge that their loved one/s could be suffering from a mental illness. Denial of the situation makes it even more difficult. Cultural, religious beliefs, education, status, superstitions and social norms, impact one's judgment and do not allow them to seek help actively. Mental illness can be emotionally trying, and can make one feel vulnerable to the opinions and judgments of others.
If you can relate to this and think you or someone you know may have a psychological or an emotional problem, please seek help. There is hope.
We need to become aware, contribute and help the mentally ill break away from the shackles, tags and the stigma that they face as individuals, the shame that their families go through and also their 'reputation' that precedes them at their work place. A mental illness is a disease that causes mild to severe disturbances (depending on its degree and intensity) in thought and/or behavior, resulting in an inability to cope with life's ordinary demands and routines. There are more than 200 classified forms of mental illnesses. Mental illness, in our culture, is regarded as a psychiatric disorder. The stigma and discrimination attached adds to the suffering of the patient, client and also makes it impossible for the person many times to seek timely guidance, help, assistance, assessment and medication. The individual is looked at badly, socially isolated, not cared for, alienated; called 'nuts', 'crazy', even 'mad', and in severe cases also institutionalized.
Mental illnesses may be caused by a reaction to environmental stresses, genetic factors, biochemical imbalances, or a combination of these. It may be related to excessive stress / a trigger due to a particular situation or series of events, trauma in early childhood and/or physical, verbal, emotional and sexual abuse. It can also be a secondary diagnosis with any other primary illness like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, untimely loss of a loved one and so on.
It is therefore imperative to pay attention to sudden changes in our thoughts and behaviors. Symptoms may include changes in mood, personality, personal habits and/or social withdrawal, confused thinking, prolonged sadness or irritability, feelings of extreme highs and lows, excessive fears, worries and anxieties, changes in eating or sleeping habits, strong feelings of anger, strange thoughts (delusions/hallucinations), inability to cope with activities of daily living, suicidal ideation, substance abuse and so on.
Help is available and with proper care and treatment many individuals learn to cope and recover from a mental illness and/or emotional disorder. Early identification and intervention is of essence.
The illness is many a times curable and treatable (as in the case of depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, increased fear etc...) and many other conditions are manageable (bipolar, schizophrenia, autism etc.)
A psychiatrist assesses, evaluates and diagnoses the disorder/condition. Therapy, counseling support, psychiatric medication, social interventions, support system leverage, group therapy, peer support, self-help groups, mentoring, sports, music and art therapy etc., are some treatment options.
Seeking counseling is beneficial for both the individual with mental illness and the family members. A mental health professional can help suggest ways to cope and better understand your loved one's illness.
Being physically and emotionally healthy helps you help others. There is hope for recovery and with treatment many people with mental illness return to a productive and a fulfilling life.
"sarve bhavantu sukhinah, sarve santu niramayah"
Mrs. Nandini Raman
Two simple words that are often taken for granted, implicitly understood and explicitly ignored. We say a careless thanks to the barista at Starbucks while running out with our coffee, a quick wave of the hand to the courteous driver who let us cut in, and a gratuitous nod to the individual who holds the door open for us. These habitual moments of gratitude are fleeting; they come and go without our conscious attention. It is indeed unfortunate that their transitory nature undermines the significance of the thankful moment, where the depth of gratitude is easily diluted and disregarded within a moment’s notice. Saying thank you then becomes a matter of habit, a mindless action that happens without conscious thought, engaged emotion, or attentive behavior.
When we say thank you, do we really mean it? Are we thinking about what we are expressing? Are we feeling the words reverberate inside, unfurling a deeper emotional understanding? What happens when we don’t even bother to say thank you? Why do we forget the magic words when someone or something is truly deserving of being thanked? We don’t openly thank our partners for supporting us, our mothers for healing our wounds, or our friends for holding our hands. We don’t thank our body for regenerating despite our abuse, our mind for functioning despite our tyrannical overworking, or our heart for beating despite our exhaustion. What happens then?
Saying thank you is held with due respect by the minority who know genuine gratitude is important, but it is quickly pushed aside by the majority who are impervious to the significance of expressing it. Yes, sometimes it might seem unnecessary, a little redundant, and you wonder if you really have to thank your driver for getting you to your destination, or the boy at the supermarket for bagging your groceries. You might think- do I really have to say thanks to someone who is just doing their job? Is there any value left in repeatedly saying thank you as part of our daily routine? On the other hand, there are also graver moments where the absence of gratitude is painfully obvious and acutely felt, giving rise to uncomfortable and wounding personal situations. There could be hurt feelings, disappointed expectations, and diminished opinions that result from a loss of appreciation, a lack of recognition, and a deficit of thankfulness. If lack of gratitude can increase negativity and curb positivity, then isn’t it important to say thank you, in moments both small and big?
Numerous studies have shown the positive impact of being a grateful person; embodying a gratuitous disposition and practicing thankfulness in our lives increase our personal levels of compassion, empathy, and kindness while enhancing the quality of interconnectedness between ourselves and our loved ones. Being grateful results in us being more optimistic, helpful, generous, forgiving, and ultimately more joyous within ourselves and in our relationships. Research has also shown that there are positive physiological changes when we practice gratitude, such as stronger immune systems, less aches and pains, lower blood pressure, and better sleep. When we are genuinely grateful, we celebrate the present moment by blocking negative emotions and focusing on the positives. Genuine gratitude involves conscious thought, focused feeling, and a mindful action. When the act of gratitude becomes a mindless concept, we lose the genuine essence of thankfulness and therefore diminish the positive consequences of practicing gratitude.
There is a fine line between practiced gratitude and genuine gratefulness. It is so easy to stick to our tunes, play deaf to the music of the world, and carry on as if we are the only ones who matter in our lives. Why give thanks when we don’t have a moment to spare to even acknowledge the gratitude we should be feeling? Somewhere deep inside of us it is quietly lurking, but we just can’t be bothered to haul it to the surface and actually enunciate the thank you’s out loud? Have we really become so lazy; so self-absorbed?
It is a mixed bag, but I have no mixed feelings about it. Saying thank you is a must. It is a must to say thank you to someone doing their job (more so when it is in service to you). It is a must to give thanks to your loved ones, who are watching you, helping you, supporting you, and forever providing a shoulder to lean on. It is a must to thank your family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and fellow citizens anytime they assist you, be it big or small.
Give credit where it’s due, even if you have to give it again and again. Acknowledge, appreciate, and voice your gratitude. Be grateful for your blessings, your accomplishments, and your good times. Be thankful for what you have and what you love. Say thanks even if you don’t receive any in return. Give recognition when it’s due, and even when it’s almost-due. Be genuine with your gratitude; your thankful thoughts should translate to your grateful words, and your gratitude should then echo inside and stimulate your senses and emotions. If you are really thankful, you will feel it, deep inside of you.
It sounds all a little overstated, but don’t underestimate the power of expressing gratitude. It is not just about having manners. It is about genuinely feeling thankful and expressing that feeling of thankfulness to the giving world around us. When we say thank you, we make somebody else smile. They feel recognized. They feel appreciated. They feel good. We have reached out, just a tiny bit, and figuratively given them a pat on the back. You saying thanks made them happy, maybe just for that second, for a few minutes after, or for a couple of hours. Or maybe it made their day. The point is, saying thank you can warm not just the recipient’s heart, but also lighten your own spirit. It has a positive cyclical effect – thank you, you’re welcome – allowing one good deed to effectuate another equally good gesture, creating a happy vibration between the two.
It is something so small, and yet so magnanimous in its spread. It helps you, it helps others. So, why not say THANK YOU?
Mrs. Sindhuja Manohar
The Surprising Client
The first appointment in my clinic saw a last minute cancellation. I decided to catch up on some long pending paper work and mails. Barely half an hour into my work and the clerk in the front office came into my cabin, saying the 11.30 appointment was cancelled too, and that the client’s husband reported that she had taken some tablets and was fast asleep and hence would not be able to come on time. Silently cursing a wasted slot again, I was about to start on another mail when suddenly my assistant burst into my room saying the client was sitting outside the clinic looking very lost and wobbly on her feet. I rushed out, and asked her to come in. She walked in holding my hand. “I have taken all the medicines the doctor has given me... and I have walked from Perungudi. I want a job”, she stated. I wondered why she would want a job when she has eaten an entire sheet of anti-depressants, but then logic does not work with a person who is in a state of utter distress! I managed to calm her down, all the while my mind working furiously at alternatives. The doctor in the clinic was away for half a day. I had no means of contacting him. Do I call a doctor to take her to a hospital? How lethal would the dose have been She kept falling on the desk in a stupor and I kept talking to her, keeping her awake. I sent the clerk to buy salt, and managed to talk her into drinking the salt water, to induce vomiting. Meanwhile, I called her husband, who came in a while later. By then the lady had calmed down, and was feeling tired and washed out.
I spoke to the husband, came to know of some sketchy details of the case, and I urged him to wait, see the doctor before going back with her. What happened later is immaterial to the story. What made me document this is to understand how important it is for us counselors to think on our feet. She had been referred to me as a BPD patient, but she was in no state to be counseled. The husband was at the end of his tether, as these constant threats at self-harm had been a long-standing issue. He was unwilling to take her back home, and wanted to know what could be the legal implications. His fear came from her constant threats of suicide, and that they would get into trouble with the law as she threatened would happen. He was also very disturbed about the impact these actions were having on their young children. Now as a counsellor, it was outside the purview of my practice to give him any help there. I could at most give him the number of a legal professional. After meeting the doctor, we managed to convince him that sending her away at this point was not going to help anyone, and we would need to speak to her a week or so later, and convince her that she needed a break, and send her to her parents’ place.
This kind of personality disorder cases are a lifetime struggle for any counsellor. The treatment is symptomatic, and the prognosis very poor. In spite of it all however, we need to continue to try and work with them, if not for them, for the support the family would need in handling such patients. The husband needed support in handling her, and also providing a more conducive environment for the children to grow up in. The only way he saw out of the situation was a separation. How he would go about it and the emotional trauma that would follow was something that he could not even begin to fathom. I am sure he will come back again, but with a lot of other issues, than just chasing his wife who had walked to the clinic, in search of a job!
Mrs. Mohana Narayanan
The Impact of Siblings on Personality
Personality refers to the complete set of behaviors, thoughts, feelings, reactions as well as physical and mental characteristics of an individual. From time immemorial, psychologists have been trying to identify the exact determinants of personality.
While some argue that personality is genetically acquired, others believe that the environment shapes our personality. This argument is often referred to as the ‘nature vs. nurture’ debate. In this context, it is interesting to note that research has indicated a strong relationship between personality and the absence or presence of siblings of either or both sexes. This article lists some of the personality traits that can be linked to different sibling relationships.
An important factor to be considered when examining personality traits is the birth order of the individual. Different cultures handle their children differently, but a universal fact is that the arrival of the second child often marks the “dethroning” of the first-born. This often leads to conflicts and sibling rivalry. Depending on how parents handle the situation and the individual nature of the children, certain general traits emerge and become lasting personality characteristics.
Let us now trace some commonly found characteristics in people, based on their birth order and the presence or absence of siblings.
First-born boys and girls (and single children)
Regardless of gender, first-born children often share these personality traits:
These traits are applicable to an only child, too. This is because single children are invariably the first-borns.
When there are two boys
Normally, older boys display the traits mentioned above, while younger boys often turn out to be completely opposite in nature. The reason behind this can be traced all the way back to Darwin’s theory about ‘Survival of the fittest’. Survival is a basic human instinct. When a second-born male child perceives a threat in the form of a high-achieving, super-performing older brother, his natural reaction is to rebel. Such rebellion is the child’s way of vying for parental attention. As the older brother is in the parents’ good books, the younger one chooses the opposite end of the spectrum in an attempt to make a niche for himself in the family.
The older brother
With the arrival of a little baby boy in the family, the older male child feels ‘dethroned’ and suddenly neglected. Additionally, parental expectations also become unreasonable, as parents decide that their older son is now ready to “take care of” his sibling. This can lead to resentment, and if not resolved, can evolve into certain lasting personality traits such as:
The younger brother
In a hostile environment where the older brother is trying to regain the position that he perceives as lost, the younger child feels threatened. In many families with two boys, the younger boy becomes the instigator of fights, and blames the older brother for it. Over time, certain traits become ingrained in the younger brother, as listed below:
When there are two girls
Research has indicated a strong connection between first-born girl children and their younger sisters in terms of temperament and interests.The older sister
While all the characteristics of first-borns apply to the older girl child, there are some specific traits that emerge with the arrival of a female sibling.
The younger sister
The younger sister often displays the following personality characteristics:
When there is one boy and one girl
Many people believe that a family is complete when there is one boy and one girl child in it. As idealistic as this may sound, the dynamics within each family determine their personality as adults.
When the first-born is a boy
Again, social conditioning may account for some of these traits in older male children with younger sisters.
When the first-born is a girl
First-born girl children with a younger male sibling share most of their personality traits with first-born girls with a younger female sibling.When there are more than two children
When there are three or more children in a family, the characteristics of first-borns listed above are applicable to the oldest brother or sister. The youngest children demonstrate characteristics of the younger siblings listed above. However, when there are exactly three children, the middle child develops certain unique characteristics which are detailed below:
It's important to remember that these are all general trends, and the birth-order and sibling-relationships theory can be completely turned on its head depending on age gap, family circumstances and a child's experiences in early life.
Mrs. Mina Dilip
I was born with three older sisters and have been married for over 30 years. These ladies, who have had a great influence in my life, gave me the impression that selecting their clothes was a simple affair. My wife selects her dresses in a jiffy and my immediate elder sister pushes my limits of patience a bit - that is about it. Then imagine my surprise when my niece called me from the US and asked me to talk to her "tailor" on 5th for an appointment to meet him. Well, amused as I was, I did call the "tailor" on 5th evening and he graciously agreed to meet us on the next day evening. He was very polite and sounded sophisticated. He rattled off an address in Alwarpet, Chennai which I was not familiar. When I enquired about the route, he asked me a plain question" Will you be coming by car or scooter?" Knowing Alwarpet and its by lanes, I would have preferred a scooter but considering the "US" niece, I said I would be coming in my car. He respectfully added that I cannot drive my car into his street! When I further quizzed him about the route, he asked me "Are you on WhatsApp?" A "tailor" asking me this - I was dumbfounded. Once I responded in the affirmative, I got his directions in a minute.
The next day I set out with my niece following his directions meticulously. During the course of the drive, my niece told me that the "tailor" was Joy and he was also a dancer! We reached a place where I parked my car and then went looking out for Joy walking into those lanes. Forget my car; I could not have driven my scooter there. Then I called him as I was going in circles and he came out of an even narrower lane and called me waving at me. I saw him and with great trepidation entered his "shop".
An American, after his first visit to India, once said, "India is like a snake holding its own tail. The head is in the 21st century and its tail in the 17th!" Well, I could now understand what he meant. Joy's place, though in the midst of a noisy and crowded by lane, was tastefully decorated. I could see the sign "J O Y Boutique" with the tag line "Clothes that speak!" I never knew clothes could speak. The lighting bulbs were covered with tastefully designed bamboo coverings, with the partitions to the tailoring area decorated using jute screens. There were stacks of stitched clothes neatly packed and waiting to be delivered to customers. I was impressed. He certainly had taste.
We introduced ourselves and he was a very pleasant man, may be in his forties, I guessed. He was smartly dressed in a shorts and a kurta - perhaps a designer one. He spoke impeccable English. My niece wanted to stitch a few blouses and had brought one for measurement that had a few glitches. He wanted her to wear it and point out the defects. As she went about her business, I, the compulsory conversationalist, started a dialogue with Joy. What I heard in the next 10 minutes left me astounded.
Joy was a Bharathanatiyam dancer from the Kalashetra School of dance. He had performed in many countries and had been to the US also several times. Once, a few years ago, while performing in Sri Lanka, he fell off a trampoline and hurt himself very badly and was almost paralyzed neck downwards. He suffered from what is medically termed "quadriparesis" He had to be airlifted to Chennai and was in a hospital for close to three months. He was in rehabilitation for over 2 years and slowly regained strength in his limbs. Though dance was his first love, he could not go back again. Hence he started his own boutique designing women's clothes.
The psychologist in me popped up the question "Were you not depressed?" He replied with a gentle smile "Yes, at times, but I did not allow it to get the better of me. My family and close friends supported me to the hilt. But for their love and the Grace of Lord, I would not have made it. I don't dwell on the past but am grateful that I am back and doing my best for my customers". I had tears in my eyes, as here I was seeing a man who was dealt a cruel blow by fate and there he was resilient, strong and cheerful as anyone can be. Hats off to you Joy, I told him. I was reminded of Rudyard Kipling's beautiful poem "If you can keep your head...you'll be a Man my son!" I rarely get to meet people like Joy. More often than not, I meet people who crib about small things - how life is unfair to them. As he went back into the tailoring area, I could see him walk with a very slight drag of his leg - remarkable mobility for a man who probably would not have even walked!
My niece gave instructions and then gave about 6 or 7 blouse pieces for stitching. Then I saw Joy, the master designer at work. For each of the blouses he sketched on a notebook a new design based on the fabric colour and patterns. This was sheer magic for a person like me who cannot even draw a straight line for all the money in the world. Within no time he completed the designs and then I knew this "tailor" was no ordinary "tailor". He was a master craftsman who really brought "Joy" to his customers. And Joy is a classic example living the adage "The ultimate measure of man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of trials and tribulations!"
May your good work continue, Joy! God bless you.
You can know more about Joy and work in his FB page (yes he has a FB page as well!):
As I took leave of him, two things became apparent - clothes do speak and stitching women's clothes is after all no ordinary matter!
4 P's FOR EMOTIONAL HEALTH
There is no one in this world who does not want peace of mind. It has been the constant search of man for ages. Here is my take on this ubiquitous problem that seems to defy any easy solution!
In my view, a simple formula for peace of mind can be enunciated as follows:
Peace of mind = Pre-planning+ Prioritization + Perceptions + Present
It sounds pretty simple and straight forward, right? While the first two relate to our external activities, the second two components relate to our state of mind. Let us see the nuances behind each of these components briefly.Pre-planning:
As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure. The late American president Eisenhower said, "Plans are nothing; planning is everything!" And all of us have heard this saying "Those who fail to plan, plan to fail!" How true, yet we hardly spend time planning for any activity. A little planning of resources, time, finance and maintaining a "To Do" list are proactive approaches, which lead to efficient management of time; improve agility besides saving us from avoidable embarrassments!
In his best-selling book, "Goals! How to get everything you want - faster than your ever thought possible", Brian Tracy, one of the motivational Gurus of the current era, shares the formula for success along with the 7 advantages of proper planning. They are:
While our plans are subject to change, hopefully it is the act of planning that provides some stability and a foundation to propel our way forward.
Once, the pre-panning is completed, we are pretty much clear on the way forward as the framework is ready for implementation. However, before jumping into implementation, a key activity needs to be performed. And that is prioritization! While all of us know what Priority means, we hardly think about it or apply it in our day to day lives. We are so busy caught up in a myriad of activities, planned or otherwise, that we hardly apply this component effectively.
As a principle, it means doing first things first. As a process, it means evaluating a list of items and arranging them in an order of their importance and urgency. Once we understand this, bring it into our awareness and execute it to our best possible judgment, then it automatically takes care of the following key elements that disturbs our peace of mind:
With these elements taken care of, there is a distinct possibility that our peace of mind is enhanced significantly.
The third component perception means the way in which something is understood or interpreted, the inputs primarily being through our senses. While this sounds pretty uncomplicated, it has its own pitfalls. Unfortunately we don't see things as they are but instead superimpose our state of mind on the perception to see things as we are! There are a number of factors that influence our perceptions and some of them include:
For example, in the picture below the radiating lines influence our perception of the parallel lines!
The radiating lines distort our perception of the parallel lines, which appear slightly bent though they are straight lines! Hence perhaps the adage "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder!" Thus perception is not a deception but a misconception which at times may also lead to new and creative ideas. Hence we need to be aware of our perception and interpretations to view reality really objectively. This would help us to remove some of our misconceptions that may disturb our peace of mind!
The word is so powerful that there are different ways of looking at it.
Peace of mind has multitude of definitions, perhaps as many as the number of people in this world. In whatever way you perceive it, it may still elude you like the slippery eel. There are no guarantees in life but if these four important components are taken care of, I am convinced that they would certainly enhance one's peace of mind enormously.
Picking up the phone and making a counseling appointment: an action that is both distressing and intriguing, anxiety-provoking but necessary, and anticipative yet worryingly indeterminable. As a recently minted counseling psychologist who is teeming with passionate enthusiasm for the therapeutic work I do, I am honored when a new client walks in and says, "I have a problem, and I need some help".
I know it took a lot out of them to make the appointment to come and see me. In an increasingly ostentatious world where admitting any personal setback, flaw, or deficit is considered shameful and weak, the very submission of a personal difficulty to a total stranger takes a big step of courage and a large dose of humility. We are taught to wear protective shields, armor ourselves against emotional weakness, and cloak our inner fears, worries, and dysfunctionalities. But what happens when we decide to put down the mask, stop role playing the bravado, set aside the ego, and admit that we need some help? To step into the clinic and sit down face to face with the counselor in the hopes of rectifying deeply personal conflicts is an experience similar to sitting on the rocky edge of your personal precipice and then taking a great leap of faith into an indecipherable unknown. You hope against hope that your therapist will throw you a rescuing lifeline as you take a tentative step forward. And it is downright terrifying, but more and more individuals are resolutely crossing the threshold from their private space and into the therapeutic bubble and simply hoping for a satisfying resolution at the end of it all.
Seeking counseling and psychotherapy has started to become a little more commonplace and a little less stigmatized in the recent past. It could be due to the rising knowledge amongst the public that going for counseling does not mean you are mentally ill, psychologically defective, or in the often quoted words, "have gone crazy". Perhaps our definitions of crazy are more varied, liberating, and in some ways, acceptable than they have been in the past. Or maybe it is simply because people now have grown the compassionate understanding that asking for help does not make you weaker or inferior, and instead helps you become stronger and more resilient. These subtle, and yet significant, changes in the appraisal of the work undertaken by psychologists, therapists, counselors, and social workers have allowed for a more positive reception of therapeutic endeavors and the overall counseling profession.
Counseling, as defined by the American Counseling Association, is "a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education, and career goals". Counseling Psychology, a specialty within professional psychology, focuses on personal and interpersonal functioning across various domains - organizational, vocational, educational, social, health-related, emotional, and developmental concerns - across the lifespan. Clinical attention is also given to diagnosing and treating mental illnesses and disorders as part of the overall counseling process. Various official institutions define counseling as a profession that guides individuals to improve their well-being by alleviating distress and maladjustment while resolving personal crises and increasing overall productive functioning. Counseling helps resolve a myriad of issues, ranging from depression, grief, anxiety, stress, and trauma, to addiction and substance abuse, eating disorders, relationship conflicts, marital discord, and many more.
The counseling relationship between therapist and client is confidential and collaborative in nature, where both parties explore issues, identify goals, and form potential solutions together within a safe therapeutic environment. The therapist plays a key role in building rapport and providing focused guidance, psycho-educational knowledge, and empathetic nonjudgmental support to effectively structure the counseling sessions in a way that assists the client to get to where he/she wants to be. The counseling process spotlights the significance of promoting healthy cognitive and behavioral change, strengthening self-esteem and self-worth, improving coping abilities and life skills, and ultimately increasing overall wellness and optimal functioning. The core of counseling is guided by a healing philosophy that celebrates and incorporates individual diversity while focusing on the prevention, development, and healthy adjustment to various life stressors during the individual's lifespan.
The beauty of counseling lies in the large assortment of approaches, theories, and interventions that can be used based on the customized necessity of the individual's issues. And the skill of a therapist lies in finding the best fit between the various evidence-based practices and the client's individual characteristics and presenting problem. Therapeutic interventions can be brief or long-term as well as insight-oriented and/or solution-focused. They are selected and customized from an umbrella of counseling therapies that include psychoanalytic, cognitive-behavioral, existential, and person-centered approaches, just to name a few. This list is not exhaustive, and therapists amalgamate various therapeutic approaches to shape their own personal counseling style that best meets the needs of their clients. Counseling is also offered in a variety of formats, such as individual counseling, couples counseling, family counseling, and group counseling.
Regardless of the counseling context, the supportive space in counseling provides the fertile ground for clients to gain a deeper understanding of their problems by exploring habitual patterns of thoughts and behaviors as well as the development of their personalities from childhood to now. The cornerstone of counseling is understanding that the therapist is not there to offer advice or answers; instead, the therapist is there to offer a safe, supportive, and genuine therapeutic experience that will allow the client to find their own answers. Clients are encouraged to introspect on their past, present, and future, while actively altering maladaptive thoughts, self-destructive behaviors, and negative emotions. Counseling guides individuals towards higher self-awareness and self-empowerment while increasing the overall quality of their lives. Armed with the newfound psychological knowledge and personal assessment of their own individual functioning, clients can take charge of their lives and live a more fulfilled, guided, and purposeful existence.
Instead of asking "Why Counseling?" maybe we should be asking "Why not counseling?"
Parenting - an arduous but enjoyable journey
A girl child faces a lot of challenges right from her childhood into late adolescence. As a counselor for girls, I am pleased to introduce my treble-H programme (Her-Health-Hygiene) as a part of my counseling. This will inculcate in them not only awareness about their health and hygiene but also empowers them to face the challenges of their personal and social life.
I strongly believe that this HHH programme will help them to learn about themselves and give them confidence during their adolescent period. It also provides them with the knowledge about the changes taking place in their body and also the courage to face the hurdles that come their way, especially during this period.
Unfortunately in our society girl children are stereotyped which makes it very difficult for them to face social challenges. It is not so in the case of boys. Therefore, it is essential that any programme of this nature should enable the girl child to understand her strengths, her relationships with peers in schools, social relationships in public and her relationships at home with her parents and siblings. It becomes a stepping stone for the child to develop self defense mechanism and self confidence in all their dealings.
The role of the mother in bringing up a girl child cannot be overemphasized. She has a special relationship with her girl child, maybe very different from the one a father has with his daughter. I believe that most of it is based on biological connection, most of which, I assume, we don't fully understand. As the girl child grows and matures, the biological mother plays a very important role in her development, formation of character traits including the attitudes. Mother, without doubt, is the primary source of comfort and care. The mother should spend quality time with the girl child to understand her emotional feelings. Most importantly, a mother should provide a fear free zone - devoid of judgment and reprimands - to enable the girl child to share everything with her. This would not only encourage the girl child to disclose everything to her mother but also would give the comfort to the child to discuss all her apprehensions, worries, fears and fantasies with her mother in a fear-free atmosphere. This, perhaps, is the least that a mother can do for a healthy and harmonious well being of her girl child.
Let us all join together in making this dream come true by creating a fear free atmosphere at home thereby providing a platform for more and more "Puthumai Pengal" - as Mahakavi Bharathiar said - to emerge. That is the crying need of our nation today.
HAPPIEST MOMENT IN MY PROFESSION AS A SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGIST!
GOOSEBUMPS!!! Every time I hear it from my school children. I am very proud to be working as a school psychologist. People always say, working with kids are the most challenging task, but I say, it is the loveliest thing on the earth and I always enjoy spending my time with kids. It's always easy to modify a child's behavior compared to the elders. Children are like wet clay, we can mold them into a good shape before it gets dried. They closely observe everything we do and talk. They also observe our behaviour closely. They always follow things based on how we behave and not on how we say it. So we always have to be very careful in what we say and how we behave and set a good example for their future minds.
It's been four years now, working as a school psychologist. When I first joined work, I was so excited and enthusiastic to work with kids and was very cautious in using the right words while talking, and how I behaved with them. Few days later, children began to meet me and asked many questions about me. They were always curious to know, to which religion I belonged to, which I never answered them till now!
Personally I hate that question as I am not biased based on it, nor do I ask anyone, as it is none of my business. I see people as people and not based on their religion.
Again my children kept asking the same question and they commented that one day I look like a Muslim, another day like a Christian and Hindu, so what is the real one? I didn't answer them at all and I just diverted them to some other topic. So later on, I decided to put the entire religious symbols together in one chart and I hung it on the wall of my room. So children kept coming to meet me and when they asked about my religion, I showed that chart and said EVERYTHING! And my religion is love!
Recently, after school reopened, I heard the same question from one of the children, I didn't answer. Surprisingly another kid answered it for me, "Hey stop it! Ms. Divya's religion is everything and GOD is one! And we shouldn't ask such questions to her or to anybody"! GOOSEBUMPS! Total happiness! I have influenced my children in a positive way! So being a Psychologist or a Counsellor or a Teacher or a Parent, or anyone else doesn't matter. In this scenario, BEING HUMAN without being polluted by unwanted thoughts is most important! Spread and teach good values especially in children. HAPPINESS will fill your life!
Counseling: Is thy name diversity?
My husband is high on analytics, data mining, projections, estimations and the like. He keeps encouraging me to put my case documentation to good use by identifying patterns and creating a preemptive list of possible problem areas to focus on. So, I took him up on it, and decided to do my own version of data mining.
When I started plotting significant parameters from the case histories of my clients, all I could see was diversity! I realized I was working with clients of all age groups, ranging from two years to seventy-two; they came from varied backgrounds, some even from other nationalities. They spoke different languages, ranging from Oriya and Telugu to Hebrew and Malay. They belonged to different social strata, and were engaged in varied professions. The referrals had come in from entirely different, unconnected sources.
I thought it was perhaps too early in the game for me to really start seeing any patterns. But I kept at it, and it paid off. Just yesterday, I had my first major breakthrough. Not like I found two clients who had similar problems, no. What I did was, I shifted my perspective. Instead of looking for similarities in their backgrounds and problems, I started sifting through the interventions I was using, and bingo! I hit the jackpot!
The elusive patterns I was looking for were right under my nose, I was just too focused on the wrong dimension. Looking at the kind of therapeutic methodologies adopted across clients, one thing stood out: No matter who they are, where they are from, what they do, what language they speak, which religion they follow or what identity they give themselves, they all universally experience the SAME emotions. And working from there, I also observed the following important patterns emerge:
a) In 80% of the child cases I have been handling, parenting sessions have been necessary. It all boils down to effective parenting!
b) In more than 90% of my adult cases, there were physical manifestations of emotional problems being encountered.
c) In ALL the cases (yes, I am talking about 100% of them), validation of feelings was critical in establishing rapport. Without that, no therapy could have been initiated.
So, there! The analytics gave me insights that no formal training ever has. It's all about emotions. As a therapist, if I can tune into their emotions, half the battle is won. And that is a tip to all my fellow counselors and therapists - instead of getting caught up in the nitty-gritty details of their daily concerns, if we would shift focus to the larger picture and look for the feelings behind the problems - we may see a therapy plan taking shape on its own!
Creating a Fear free platform at Home
"There is no such thing as a Perfect Parent - be a real one" says Sue Atkins. Of course, it is easier said than done. Most of us try to be the "perfect" parent whatever we conceive of "perfect" to be. While parenting starts from the time a child is born till he / she becomes a responsible adult, I am focusing on the transition period of a child's life - which is primarily the adolescence - between the ages of 12 and 17.
This is the time when children undergo many changes - physical, psychological and physiological that are hard to understand for parents. Lack of proper understanding and guidance at this crucial juncture would lead many a child astray. It is the age when children feel like sharing all their thoughts, feelings, ideas and problems to someone. In the absence of that "someone" they bottle up these feelings that may lead to emotional problems and hinder their personality development.
Can the parents be that "someone" with whom children can share all their feelings in an environment of support, love and affection? Can we provide this safety valve and a solid platform for them to lean on? If such an environment is provided, I am sure the chances of their seeking other sources - including wrong ones many a time - for letting out their emotions would be reduced to a very large extent.
To create such a platform and enable children to feel emotionally secure, we need to do the following as a parent:
And finally, as parents, let us all remember what Kahlil Gibran said:
"Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love, but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
But seek not to make them like you.
For life not goes backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
As living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
And he bends you with His might
That His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness,
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
So He also loves the bow that is stable."
30th June 2016
Memoir of a Counselor
Every Strength has its corresponding challenge and Every challenge has its corresponding strength.
A Counselor's Guide to Overcoming Procrastination and Complacency!
(Ran My First 'Official' 5K Run in the Marina RunnerzChennai Marathon - 28th Feb 2016)
Into the New Year, I realized that the resolution I made was not yet working. It was my goal to focus on my health and fitness this year, and every time I discussed this with my friends, the first and final reply was... Go Running!
But me and Running - Seriously? Nah! Not possible! It was undoable - a huge 'block' in my head.
Yes to Yoga, Yes to meditation, Yes to walking - but running was certainly not for me!!
Strange is the power of the mind. But what does it really take to break a faulty belief?
On the 4th of Jan 2016 - I finally started training with a very small, humble running group in Besant Nagar. 2 sessions a week, of one hour each at 5 AM every Tuesday and Thursday. And a longer run every Sunday.
Prioritize and Discipline
For this I needed to wake up at 4 AM. Be ready and out by 4.30. Back by 6.30 in time to prepare the tiffin for school for my children, a take-away lunch for myself, and complete the regular household chores that followed. All this before 7 AM!
It was not only difficult but was also excruciating for the first 2 weeks, especially to jump out of bed in our Chennai winters.
The Voice Inside
The real secret. Always listen to that voice inside. If it's saying what you don't want to hear, be sure to turn it off, or change it till you hear it say, 'WAKE UP'. And once you're listening to that voice, your journey really begins.
From week 3, I found myself ensuring that I tucked myself in bed early - even before my kids in certain instances if needed, so that I got the rest my body and mind needed and I caught up on my sleep.
The days we didn't have training we would be given a home workout assignment that we needed to complete and record on the group 'WhatsApp' number to ensure personal responsibility and accountability.
Setting A Goal
Of course I couldn't run on day 1 - but I remember asking my trainer, 'What is the next event coming up that we can train for and set a goal?'' She was happy at my eagerness and said, "Yes - get ready - there is one coming up, at the end of February. Will ensure you run in that."
Mentor / Guide / Teamwork
My trainer, was very careful and gentle to slowly initiate me. She worked with me at my body fitness and readiness level - at my own pace. Her only agenda was to get us all fit and do it injury free.
And slowly the journey began - from basic walks, to brisk walks to slow jogging, walk and slow jog - alternate with 2 lamp posts - to the final event.
My continued dedication to myself is something I never thought of before this. The joy of reaching the finish line is a moment I will cherish forever. I did it. And it was not just the thrill of the run, but the process of finding the strength and the fun in the process, that made it all worthwhile.
If I can - You can too - Here's a check sheet ? See you at the Next Marathon!
30th June 2016
I settled down in my seat with my juice can and the tub of popcorn, waiting for the movie to start. I always like to catch the movie right from the beginning, including the advertisements and documentaries, though I may not watch them. I glanced around casually, wondering how full the theatre would soon be, and also idly commenting to my friend on the various people who were walking in.
A little boy said "excuse me" and I moved to let him pass. He had a satchel on his back, and he soon settled down two seats away from me. Thinking some accompanying adult would follow him, I sat with my legs stretched out in the aisle. But the movie soon started, and I found that the boy had settled down quite comfortably and was already attacking his tub of popcorn. I had thought for a moment that he may have come without his parent's knowledge. But there were no furtive glances around, he looked pretty comfortable, so I discounted that thought. The thought that he may have come unaccompanied crossed my mind, but I ridiculed the idea and started watching the movie, and soon was immersed in the storyline.
Sometime just before the intermission, I saw the boy again. The seat next to him was still empty. When the lights came on, I started talking to him. He told me his name, the class and the school he was in etc. When I asked him why he had come alone for the movie, he told me that his friends had gone for another movie in the same multiplex, but he wanted to see this one and so he was here alone.
Now, the movie was not exactly kid's stuff, and certainly not to be watched unsupervised. In fact, the certificate clearly said under parental guidance. Let alone the fact that the child is going home with unanswered questions about the movie, how neglectful could the parents get, sending a ten year old alone to a theater, where you have absolutely no idea who is going to be sitting next to you? Did they for a moment think about the possibility of harm befalling the child? He did not even carry a phone, for at the end of the movie, he asked me for mine, to call his dad to come and pick him up.
I was very uncomfortable with the whole incident; without really giving it a second thought, I picked up my phone, and called the number the child had called, and spoke to the father. I was prepared to be told to mind my own business, but I was in for a ruder shock. The father simply says that the boy was being very adamant about wanting to go for the movie, so they sent him. So tomorrow if the boy asks for the moon, they will buy off NASA? Or as an adolescent, he will have primal urges, they will allow him to have his way?
Now I know why society is on a downward slide. It's simply because we are not being responsible parents. We are only being good parents. We are not teaching children the difference between wants and needs. We are not teaching them delayed gratification; we are not teaching them impulse control. Result? Go ahead and break traffic signals, throw acid on people, because you do not get what you want, then and there, generally live life the way you are comfortable, and let the world go to the brink of destruction. What good is moral science lesson going to do, when parents are not able to follow the basic tenets of raising a child?
30th June 2016
Teaching the Teachers: My experience of working with school teachers across cities
As a play therapist, counselor and trainer, I get to work with almost every cross-section of society, ranging from school children and college students to parents and grandparents. Whenever I get an opportunity, however, I make sure that I work with teachers too. I prefer to address them in groups, because when I see them one-on-one, they invariably end up discussing their personal lives. My objective of working with large groups of teachers is to fulfill my basic purpose of making the lives of children better, albeit indirectly. After all, it does help to attack the source, right?
Today, teachers are a frustrated lot. They are over-worked, under-paid, frequently blamed and hardly appreciated. In my workshops, I begin with self-awareness and then move into more technical aspects of academic enhancement and classroom management. Almost always, I have at least half a dozen teachers becoming emotional and some of them even cry during the personal growth segment. When I validate their feelings of frustration, and address their stress levels, which are in the stratosphere, they connect with me instinctively. When I share examples from my own classroom sessions with students, I am accepted as one of them. Then, and only then do I get into training mode. Until then, I can be sure that they won't be receptive. So, teacher's training workshops are always part-therapy, part-training.
I also learn a great deal from my teacher training programs. So, it is always a two-way street. And I love working with teachers, because of several reasons. First, they are a mature crowd (and captive audience!), so I don't spend much time trying to grab their attention (unlike children's groups, where distraction is always high). Second, when they start opening up and sharing stories, I feel a subconscious connect with them, and it is indirectly therapeutic for me too. Third, I learn a lot about the techniques and methods they use in their own classrooms, and I often integrate that knowledge into my future programs, which makes my material that much richer, deeper and more comprehensive. Last, but not the least, at the end of each workshop, when they give me positive feedback, and tell me that they enjoyed my session, I get a high that is ineffable!
So, having addressed teachers of two schools in Coimbatore, and on my way to address the next set at a school in Chennai, I am still riding that high. All is well in my world - this is paradise on earth to the passionate trainer in me.
30th May, 2016