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Therapy - Answers to all your questions

This is a transcript of an interview with Ms. Supriya Kalbag, who is a counsellor at Parivarthan.

Parivarthan's helpline will be open from 1 pm to 10 pm, Monday to Friday for anyone who wishes to reach out and speak to a trained counsellor. Call 7676602602. Check out their website for more info:


Interviewer: What exactly is Parivarthan?

Supria: Parivarthan is a non-profit organization that works in the area of mental health and training. Parivarthan helps in training new counsellors. We have a program which trains counsellors and we also provides counselling services. We provide them for children, adolescents, young adults, geriatric population, couples, relationships that sort of thing.

Interviewer: what is mental health? I wanted to know from your experience, what do you define mental health as.

Supria: Well, I would say mental health is a place where you're able to regulate your emotions, you're able to engage with life to your fullest. You have intimacy in your relationships, you have excitement and energy to seek new experiences, adventure to live life to its fullest. That to me would translate to having good relationships, it would translate to having better life experiences, to have drive, to have resilience. Because life is going to throw us off sometimes and if you're in a decent place mentally, then you can bounce back up.

Interviewer: You have been working in Parivarthan for 6 years. So, not going into your clients but like six years means that you would have counselled a lot of people. From that can you tell teenagers that counselling does help regardless of what your problem is and it does get better?

Supria: As for if it does get better, I will answer that a little bit later, but, yes, counselling does help, mainly because of two reasons. Okay, one when you're caught in let's say a whirlpool, right? And all you all you can see is the swirling water around you. Whereas what counselling does bring is the bird's eye view. You know the council is looking at you, your life,your story through this vantage point. So, they're able to get a little more clarity mainly because of two reasons: one there is no emotional investment, this is a professional relationship and secondly because we're trained to hold, to contain, not necessarily to give advice but at least be a sounding board. And to see what are the ways forward, do you need further assessment, do you need treatment depending on what you bring in.

Does it always help ? It will help if the client wants to be helped. So the most important thing that I would tell adolescents or to parents of adolescents who bring their kids to us is that if your child is interested we'll make some headway. Because if this is your need rather than your child's need, they’re gonna sit here and give me politically correct answers and we'll achieve nothing out of it. So that's why I said we'll deal with that a little bit later.

Also there are some things that just counselling or therapy, which is just talk therapy, right. Psychotherapy is talk therapy, so there are some things if it's clinical then just therapy may not help. You may need assessment with a psychiatrist or somebody who's going to give you a different format to assist with the recovery.

Interviewer: I’ve heard this common statement where parents say they don't understand why teenagers even struggling with their mental health. Like why is it even a problem and why do you think they think that that way? Like what is the reason for their mindset.

Supria: Well, I wish I could read their minds, I don't know. But generically speaking I think it's also to… I mean I'm guessing because each parent is different and you know we all come with our own life experiences, our values, our belief systems and our cultures are different. And typically, in India were still in very nascent stages of understanding mental health, there is also a stigma attached to anything mental health. So, no parent really wants to think of their child as somebody with a label, right? So that possibly could be one of the reasons.

Also, I think… well I don't know about other parents. May I speak about myself as a parent?

Interviewer: Sure, go ahead.

Supria: Um it's been a while since I was an adolescent, right? And I remember my adolescence differently, but then the world around me was different. And if I'm going to keep one variable constant but change the other, which is the world around me, it's going to be difficult for my children to accept what's happening. So, for me to be able to understand that this is a new world I mean when we were growing up you know cyberbullying didn't exist. There was no concept of cyber. So that didn't exist in terms of liberation or in terms of how much information we had, was also limited. So I think to be able to understand that, is what the struggle maybe. A third thing is that you know, it's possible that you know it's during adolescence that a child is actually evolving into an individual in their own sphere They're no longer subsets of their parents. That's where the tussle starts a little bit.

Yeah, so I think that that could be one of the reasons that I like I said I wish I could speak on behalf of all parents, but I can’t.

Interviewer: Whenever I'm having a conversation with my friends I always ask them why don't you go to the school counsellor or anybody? And the common statement I hear is that “there's a very big age gap so how can they understand a teenager's problem when they're adults?”. So do you like agree with that, do you think because of the age gap they might they might not be so helpful?

Supria: My personal experience as a therapist says otherwise, because one, we’re trained to look at it from different perspectives, two, to change to be empathic and three we’re trained to be non-judgmental. So, each individual therapist is going to bring their own personality into the space but, would I generalize that they will not understand? No, I don't think that is really the situation. If anything, you bring the best of both worlds somebody's going to who's going to hold your space, hold your story and bring in a little bit of whatever wisdom psychologists and theories have given us, and no emotional involvement, so, it's not like you're going to disappoint the therapist. Like you may disappoint your parents and sometimes it's hard to say some things to your parents and not out of disrespect but it's just hard. So, yeah, my experience is different.

Interviewer: Another common question is "how can a help counsellor help me with what I'm going through?"

Supria: Like I said, by being there, creating a safe space where you can bring whatever you'd like to whatever you're scared to bring you know whatever is going on inside of you this is a safe space, it's a confidential space, it's a place of non-judgment. Um secondly, the counsellor or therapist can be a sounding board. Okay it can be a place for you to win. And the third thing is. it's also a place to start looking at how to keep you safe, what can you do, can you be proactive about something you know do, do you have questions of any sort that you can't take anywhere else?

Interviewer: a lot of teenagers keep their feelings to themselves and they don't think that's a problem. So there's a common question- “what's the problem if I just keep everything to myself and not tell anybody about what I'm going through?”. So, what's the issue with that?

Supria: Well, hard to understand what the entirety of that issue could be. But one thing I can tell you is that how much can you hold in? I'm sure there's a finite capacity, right? And then there will be that last draw last straw, that breaks the back. We don't want to reach that stage, yeah? You want to arrest it before you get to that space.

Interviewer: So I think I want to explain this question a bit - the question is “how and when should I know that I should reach out to professional help?”. I think what's really confusing as a teenager is that sometimes you get anxious for something but you don't know if that's anxiety sometimes you feel sad but you don't know it's depression. It's like we don't know what the mental illness is for us to decide whether we’re going through it or not. So, when do we know that we should seek out professional help?

Supria: Okay. So, what you're trying to say is you don't know if this is just life or if it’s something more clinical and something more serious. Um I'm going to give you a completely different perspective, I'm going to tell you, you don't have to have something serious to go to the therapist. It's okay to go to a therapist and say “hey you know what I have a success story today”.

So, if something's bothering you, even if it's in the moment right It's just a flutter and not anxiety, go ahead, use that space if it's available to you, talk to somebody right? It'll help to keep it contained.

Interviewer: So, can we say we can look at counselling like it's just somebody to go and talk to, and not “you need to be fixed, that's why you're going to them.”?

Supria: Absolutely not. A counsellor is not a God, they can’t fix you.

Interviewer: The other question I had in mind, is that we spoke about stigma, so what do you think are a few steps that people can take in order to break that stigma. What do you think would actually break it?

Supria: I think India is just on the threshold now, but you know just openness, talking about, it normalizing not being okay, or to stop glamorizing and really uh turning into this stoic “I'm strong, I can take it all” attitude. You know, rather than putting that kind of behaviour on a pedestal to just accept that we are vulnerable beings but that doesn't make us in any way flawed.

And I think in a large way I think you know a lot of you know Bollywood actresses and actors, and you know people coming forth and actually encouraging, they're coming out with their own stories, about what has happened. And I think that's helping to normalize it. So, really just if all of us start accepting that “you know, what I have the cold.”, it's no big deal to have a cold. I mean, just look at the first wave of COVID and look at the third wave, there is so much less stigma attached to whatever is happening. Everybody's saying “Yeah you know, it's something that's happening.”. Is it fun? No, no way, we still have to be careful but there's no stigma attached to it anymore. In the first week people wanted to hide, people didn't want anybody to know, they had a COVID patient in their house. It’s exactly the same thing

Interviewer: Do you think it would really be helpful if schools started having open counselling sessions with teenagers?. Like if teachers make it a more open place where teenagers could come and talk about their problems. Do you think that would be helpful? Like educating them.

Supria: Absolutely, it would help. Teachers have a role to play and one of the most important things about a counselling relationship is the lack of duality in that relationship. So, if I'm your counsellor I'm only your counsellor, I'm not going to be your friend, I'm not going to be a teacher, I'm not going to be a parent, nothing. So, to that extent segregating it from the teachers would help, but yes, for the teachers also to be aware and to be made aware of what are the signs and symptoms that they should watch out for. And then direct you, point you in the right direction. Go get help from a therapist or you know I think schools anyways have counsellors now.

Group therapy for adults it is a very well, well-known thing. So, if that works- it depends on the setting really, it really depends on the settings and some settings it's a big success but if the group is not cohesive it can lead to further bullying or you know there could some children who are more coy, who will not speak up. So, it's very important to form that group in a cohesive manner. If that happens, then yes, it's a brilliant thing to do.

Interviewer: From your experience, can you say or would you like to say anything for teenagers like generalized teenagers who are currently struggling with their mental health?

Supria: Get up, get help. There is no stigma to it and help is available very easily now, Parivarthan themselves runs a helpline. So, we work I think 1 o'clock in the afternoon or 11 o'clock in the morning to 10PM in the evening. It's a free helpline, it's a confidential helpline, which means we won't even ask you your name if you don't want to tell us. But, you're speaking to trained therapists who can then tell you that- you know either you get that small interaction for half an hour which helps you and if it's something deeper they can actually tell you that “hey, you know what, you need more help keep you safe.”

Interviewer: I just wanted to know like why would do you enjoy about counselling or why did you start counselling?

Supria: Okay. So, I started counselling very late in my life. I did my MBA, did 10 years of regular corporate work and it was only at the age of 38 that I went back to college and studied.

So, I went back and it was… it was just very interesting to me, right from the get go to study about the human psyche, about what motivates us, what keeps us contained. It always was a little bit of a riddle to me as to how the same circumstance the same trigger affects different people differently. I mean everybody seems to take it differently. It was also of interest to me to understand or try to understand “are we born the way we are or is there scope to change?”. Are we pre-programmed and is this what we have to live with?

Interviewer: Have you gotten an answer for that?

Supria: Yes and no. There's some things that you know, it's the classical nurture versus nature. So yes, there's some things that we are pre-programmed towards but a lot of things are behavioural, they’re skills, which means you can change and you can learn and you can adapt. But sometimes we're just not aware of the fact that we can change.

Transcript written by: Jashmitha

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