Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Psychotherapy and Healing: The Twain Shall Meet …….

First published in Just Let Go, a magazine released at the World Congress for Regression Therapies (WCRT-6), in September 2017

Psychological Counselling and Healing both use techniques that are very diverse, and on the surface, there seems to be no common ground. Psychology is a social science, it scientifically studies human behaviour, creates postulates about what drives normal V/s abnormal behaviour, and comes up with theories about the same. Based on this, various therapeutic interventions have been developed by psychologists over the years, to help clients deal with issues and problems. Right from Freudian psychoanalysis, to Rogerian person-centred therapy, to the currently more popular REBT and CBT, all these therapeutic interventions have been developed after years of research by some of the best psychologists our era has ever produced. Their efficacy has been proved over the years, and it takes years and years of rigorous training and certification to be able to practice these therapies.

The mental illness model is a bio-psycho-social one. In other words, it posits that mental illness is caused by a combination of biological (neurochemical, electrical, hormonal, or structural abnormalities), genetic, psychological (personality and temperament) and environmental (family dynamics, society, peers) factors.

Healing, on the other hand, is based on a very different approach. Healing works on things that may not be immediately and tangibly measurable scientifically. Many (though not all) healing modalities are based on the energy or chakra model (Reiki, Pranic Healing, Crystal Healing, Aromatherapy, Flower Remedies) or variations of the same. Healers work intuitively, psychotherapists are trained to work scientifically. Healers deal with the intangible (aura, energy, soul, spirit), therapists on the tangible (behaviours, responses, cognitions and beliefs). While every healing modality has its own conceptual framework, primarily it works on the mind-body-soul inter-relationship.

Coming from a background of Clinical Psychology, the world of ‘healing’ seemed like an unreal one. When I first started working with clients, I was armed with (or so I thought) all the various therapeutic tools and interventions to help them work on their issues and problems. My journey was initially a very fulfilling and satisfying one. As the years progressed though, I felt the need to equip myself with more tools. The more I engaged with clients, understood their issues and held their hand as they walked their often painful paths toward recovery, I felt I needed to do more. There were things I sensed that no therapeutic model or theory could explain.

My journey to seek for more tools, more ways to help clients led me to various healing modalities – hypnotherapy to begin with, and later, Reiki, crystals and so forth. Today, I still retain my conceptual bio-psycho-social training and approach and use this to remain grounded and keep my clients grounded. But I also do not hesitate to use my intuition, my ‘gut’ and my innate sense of what needs to be done in the moment with the client to make sure I am able to help them to the best of my abilities.

Essentially, my journey has taught me this: while classical psychotherapy and healing may seem like two ends of a spectrum, they are both driven by the same goal – that of helping clients overcome issues and arrive at a higher level of functioning. While we have some exceptionally effective psychotherapists, and some amazing healers in this world, combining the two approaches can bring benefits to the client that are priceless. Helping clients transcend their blocks and difficulties, while at the same time keeping them grounded in the current reality of their situation, is a feat that can easily and repeatedly be achieved through this combined approach.

Thus, healers and psychotherapists have much to learn from each other. Healers can learn the art of listening without judgement, the ability to maintain objectivity and give empathy, the ability to refrain from giving advice, challenge irrational thoughts, use confrontation wisely and empower clients do fight their own battles from psychologists. Psychologists on the other hand, would benefit immensely by learning to at times simply ‘be’ with the client in the therapy, learn to trust their gut and sixth sense, at times go with that sense and provide a soothing, healing space for the clients for their healing to take place. Instead of seeing each other as adversaries, if we learn to accept the best from every healing modality and integrate  it in our work with clients, we would have achieved what we all set out to do in this journey – help ease the path for people in pain.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Limits to Goodness

Goodness is the only investment that never fails
-        Henry David Thoreau

Goodness is a virtue that is highly valued in our society. ‘Be good’ tells every mother to her child as he sets off for school, ‘do good’ is what we always hear great people say. It is no surprise then that we all aspire to become ‘good’ human beings. And we all like to believe that we are good human beings.

In a book I recently read, the protagonist was faced with a tricky situation in her life. Mulling over this, she realised that ‘there are limits to her goodness. She could have gone through her entire life without knowing these limits.’

Limits to goodness? This phrase made me sit up straight and start thinking …… what does that mean? The more I thought, the more it slowly started making sense to me, and made me wonder: what are the limits to my goodness? Do I know them? I believe myself to be a morally upright, ethically sound, and essentially good person. But just how far does my goodness go? Do I know it? If I am faced with a very real dilemma between what is the right and good thing to do, would I do that right and good thing even if it meant doing irremediable damage to a loved one?

We all think we know ourselves, but every once in a while, Life throws up situations that stop us dead in our tracks, that make us question everything we have ever believed in. Situations that show us a side of ourselves that stuns, and at times, even shocks us. Is this me thinking like this, we ask ourselves.

By the time we are out of our teens, most of us have a fairly stable value system in place. There are things that are key priorities for us, goals that we wish to achieve, and the various means that we are willing to explore or use in order to achieve these goals. We go through most of our lives more or less using this value system implicitly or explicitly. Of course, there will be times when temptation will come our way, and there will be times when we will give in to temptation, abandon momentarily our values, and then do course correction. After all, most of us are mortals with mortal minds and mortal resolves, and we don’t always pass Life’s exams with flying colours. As long as we remain aware and open, we can assimilate these experiences without too much difficulty and keep moving forward in Life.

Consider Reena’s situation.

Reena has been a conscientious teacher for over 14 years. She prides herself on her integrity and uncompromising honesty, and has always instilled this in all the children she has taught over the years. One fine day, going through her husband’s computer looking for an important file, she finds irrefutable evidence that her husband has been embezzling funds from the organisation he works for, stealing away hard earned money of the company’s clients. Reena, who has never tolerated any student cheating in exams at school, is now wondering what to do? Her entire moral code recoils at what she has found out and were it anyone else, she knows she would have had no second thoughts turning in the person to the authorities. But this is her husband of 12 years, whom she loves with all her heart. What to do?

Her values and morals would tell her the right thing to do is to report him to the authorities.
But then, what about her responsibility toward her 6 year old child? Is it fair to deprive him of a father?
And what about her marriage? She has loved her husband and they share a good, strong marriage? Is it right to sacrifice everything for the sake of some abstract values?

What seems to me is that, most of us would like to be good. Some of us are almost always good The very notion of ‘goodness’ assumes being good to others. However, when being good to others comes in direct conflict with being good to someone very close to us, that is when our limits get tested. If Reena has to be true to her values and be good to her husband’s clients, then she has to turn her husband in, and then she is not being good to him. Is she? Isn’t she?

There clearly is no one right answer to such moral dilemmas. If you catch your loved one (a parent, a child, a spouse, a close friend) doing something wrong, immoral or bad, what happens to you? What would you do in such a situation? It is a good idea to ask this question to ourselves every once in a while. More than that; it is important not to judge the actions of any other person, for we have no idea what inner battles he or she has fought before doing or not doing certain things. And ….. never know when the tables will turn, and we will find ourselves face to face with the limits to our goodness.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Beat the Exam Blues

Climb every mountain
Ford every stream
Follow every rainbow
'Till you find your dream!

With just about a month left for the Boards to commence, it is now time to pull up your socks and give your everything to studies. Whether you have been studying sincerely all through the year, or you have just woken up in panic, if you manage this one month well, you will still come within reach of that goal that you have set for yourself. So let us look at how you can make the most of the time remaining with you.

  • ·     Revisit Your Goal: What is the target that you set for yourself at the beginning of the year? How close to it are you as of now? By now, you are well aware of the true state of your preparation. Is that goal (your desired percentage in the boards) still achievable? Do you need to lower it? Increase it? You need to push yourself just right in order to do your best. Under stretching or over stretching won’t help. So once again, revisit that goal and finalise it in your mind. Go by your own capabilities, and your current state of preparation. Don’t get influenced by friends and media.

  • ·     Aim to Surpass Yourself: This is the time to beat all your own past records and achievement, and do the best you possibly can. Stop comparing and competing with peers and competitors. It’s your future and your life you are working toward, so focus your thoughts and efforts on how best you can better your own past performance. Be your own benchmark. This will not only reduce your stress significantly, it will also free up mental space to focus on your studies. 

  •   Become More Efficient: From this moment on, it’s all about time management! Prioritise, schedule, organize, plan, detail out – the better you are able to schedule your day and the time available to you, the more you will achieve. I know, I know, ‘time management’ sounds easy, but how do you actually do it? Well, take one step at a time, and you will soon be there! Here are a few tips on how and where you can start working on Mission Time Management.

o   Plan! If you can create a comprehensive time table for the month you have with you, nothing like it! But if you are not someone who works as per time table, then try to plan at least week-wise, and have a sort of mini plan of what you want to achieve every day. This will help you remain abreast with how much you need to cover and at what pace.
o   Make Sure to Budget in Your Sleep. Don’t compromise on your sleep in this vital period. We all know that about 8 hours of sleep is what you need, and that is what I always recommend.
o   Create a Routine. Have fixed study time, depending on your own body clock and your most alert time periods. So if you are an early bird, plan to get up at a certain time every day. If you are a night owl, plan up to what time you will sit up every night. Having a fixed routine and schedule makes the process automatic and the brain then does not need to engage in when, how, at what time. Once these mundane things are taken care of, the brain can focus entirely on studies.
o   Pace Your Studying. All said and done, you have limited time available with you, so you can’t possibly spend forever on one topic. Before beginning on a topic or a chapter, decide how much time you will dedicate to it, and then pace yourself accordingly.
These are just some ways to manage time better. You can of course start with what works best for you.
  •  Focused Action: Studying randomly will not take you toward your goal. You now need to work in a focused manner. How much time to work on each subject / topic, what do you need to practice every day, how to revise, all this needs to be organised and planned. Concentrate on your weak areas. Is Math the devil for you? Are languages your downfall? Now is the time to tame these demons. Use your best or most alert time period to work on subjects that you find difficult. When tired or bored, yet when you know you need to still study more, take up your favourite subject. You can’t ignore your strengths. Many students focus entirely on their weaker subjects after the prelims, and as a result end up scoring lower than expected on their strong subjects. Don’t let that happen to you.

  • Use Positive Affirmations: Visualise yourself doing well and achieving your goal. Write down your goal statement in a simple, short, positively worded sentence and put it up in such a way that it is the first thing you see when you wake up and the last thing you see before going to bed. Remember to keep it simple and in the present tense. For example, ‘I put in my best efforts every day to reach my target’ instead of ‘I will put in ….’ Frame the sentence in a way that resonates best with you, that sounds perfect for you. Every time you find yourself getting distracted, repeat the affirmation to yourself.

  • ·        Practice Digital Detox: Detach yourself from all gadgets and technology – be it your mobiles, your I Pads, your laptops, or your Play Stations. Bid a temporary adieu to them from now till the time you finish your last paper. This is not to say that you should not enjoy any breaks. But let your breaks be non-digital. By all means, when tired and exhausted, listen to music, fool around with your siblings, exercise, go cycle or play a few minutes of ball. But avoid watching TV, going on that favourite YouTuber’s channel, or chatting on WhatsApp or SnapChat. A screen break is not a mental break. It continues to strain your eyes and your brain, and also opens up numerous mental hyperlinks.

  • ·    Take Care of Your Health: Or rather, allow your parents to! Make sure you are eating those veggies and downing that glass of milk without cribbing. A healthy, wholesome diet, a good night’s sleep, and some fresh air are what are going to keep your body healthy and vital. And we have all learnt that a sound body houses a sound mind.

Apart from these critical aspects, there are some other standard tips which you would have already heard ample number of times from teachers, parents, and relatives, but they are worth repeating:
  • ·         Put in at least 8 hours every day.
  • ·         Stop those coaching classes and now focus on self-study.
  • ·         Solve past papers to assess yourself and know where you need to work.
  • ·         Know your textbooks thoroughly.
  • ·         Practice Math and Grammar on a regular basis.

Most important of all, have believe in yourself! If you have confidence, and you put in your best, even sky is not the limit for you. So what are you waiting for? Get going, and climb this mountain, ford this stream and just beyond it, you will find your dream coming true!

Good Luck!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Dear Zindagi ……. A Therapist's Perspective

Dear Zindagi …….
          A Therapist's Perspective

Indian Cinema has matured over the years, and certain topics which were taboo, are openly and sensitively addressed through movies. Mental health has been one such topic which has always been shrouded in stigma, shame and embarrassment. Add to that, the depiction of mental illness in our mainstream cinema, has been less than sensitive, to put it mildly. Along came Tare Zameen Par, a few years back, a movie which boldly addressed the issue of Learning Disabilities. Other movies that addressed mental illness followed – My Name is Khan, Barfi, and so on.
Dear Zindagi is yet another bold and beautiful step forward in this direction. Bold, because it does not address mental illness. Rather, it takes a look at deep seated issues that each of us seemingly ‘normal’ people carry around us, how we allow these past patterns and issues to influence our behavior and decisions, and most importantly, how therapy is not just ‘for the crazy’! Beautiful, because of the sensitivity and poignancy with which it is written, directed, and executed by the lead actors.
The movie makers have done their research well. We see Kaira’s (Alia Bhatt) character emerging right from the outset – her restlessness, her constant search for something, her relationship issues, her problems with parents. Slowly how she moves toward therapy, her building trust on her therapist Dr. Jehangir Khan (SRK), the catharsis of her emotional trauma, and its resolution – all of this is depicted in a flowing manner.
The movie has many poignant moments, that, from a therapist’s point of view, do immense good for erasing the stigma associated with counseling and psychotherapy:
·      Kaira’s friend, openly stating that he has to leave for an appointment with his DD (Dimaag ka Doctor). On being asked, is he crazy, he counters, isn’t everyone a little crazy? Bravo!
·      Kaira asking this friend whether he is going for therapy to be able to tell the world that he is gay. Her friend’s reply, “No, it’s to be able to tell myself that I am gay.” So many of us find it hard to accept parts of ourselves, and so important it is to accept yourself before expecting the same from the world.
·      Kaira overhearing discussions from a mental awareness conference, where pertinent questions such as, “how do I know whether I need to go to a psychiatrist or a psychologist?”. So very pertinent, as many people are truly lost as to whom they need to see for their issues.
·      Kaira’s maid, expressing surprise that there are doctors that deal with your emotional issues and her statement, “then all of us need to visit such a doctor”, showing her wisdom and understanding.
·      Kaira’s initial awkwardness when she comes for her first session, she is almost about to bolt from there. How her guard is initially up, and how she presents her issue as that of her friend’s, and how eventually she lets her guard down and begins trusting the therapist.
·      The therapist’s use of stories and fables, in the initial stages of therapy, to get the client to see a difficult situation with sudden clarity. When he winds up his seemingly ridiculous story of Popatlal the mountaineer, with the conclusion, “sometimes we think we HAVE to choose a difficult path. But we very well have the choice to go for the easy one, especially when we don’t have the resources to deal with the difficult one”, it’s like an A-ha moment to Kaira. He doesn’t have to even relate it to her situation overtly, she does it all by herself. The very premise of therapy is clients can help themselves, all they need is a supportive environment. I felt this scene brought it out very beautifully. Armed with this knowledge, she takes the decision that she was struggling with at that point in time.
·      Often, we get bogged down by what we think people will think about us, and this stops us from leading our lives the way we want to. Dr. Jehangir’s innocuous question, “who are all these people who are watching you all the time” helps us see this angle as well. How he slowly guides Kaira to take steps toward self-love and self-acceptance is subtly but heart rendingly depicted.
·      Kaira’s final confrontation with her childhood trauma, and her resultant fears of abandonment. Years of practice have only gone on to show me that childhood traumas, whether real or perceived, remain frozen in our personalities, and guide and shape our decisions and behaviorus all the time. The way this happens with Kaira , how she finally faces it with an emotional showdown with her parents, and later, in the therapy session, is often, how things do happen in therapy. And when a client finally manages to break down the self-inflicted walls and shutters, and allows himself to fully experience those feelings, it is beautiful to watch the gradual dissolution of the client’s sorrow. Giving clients space at that time is all a therapist needs to do, and that is exactly what Dr. Jehangir does. He allows her to cry, vent, talk, without any intervention on his part.
·      It also brings out the issues of transference, when a client feels dependent on the therapist and may at times confuse this attachment for romantic feelings. The way he wards off this without compromising her dignity is a joy to watch.
·      And last, but not the least. Many times, when clients finish therapy, or a particularly difficult session, when the frozen emotions thaw and the real personality starts emerging, clients experience an immense sense of gratitude for the therapist. In that moment, many clients, regardless of gender, will want to give the therapist a hug. That is what Kaira spontaneously does at the end of her last session. For the way SRK has handled that hug, his expressions, his body language is so completely that of a therapist; for that alone, SRK, saat khoon maaf! I forgive you your Fan, your Happy New Year, your Ra One, just for that one scene!
Sure, the movie is not without its flaws. For instance, the way SRK analyses her trauma and concludes about how it has affected her, is not how a therapist would do. As I have said earlier, it is for the client to apply the learnings to his situation. Also, he does engage in a lot of advise giving, which again, a therapist would refrain from. Lastly, his unconventional means (taking sessions on a beach, on a bicycle) would probably not go down well with most therapists. But these flaws, I think, are forgivable under the name of cinematic license. On the whole, the movie does a fair amount of justice to the spirit of therapy, and for that alone, kudos to the entire team of Dear Zindagi!