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Walking towards hope

R Sriram Srinivas, who has multiple disabilities—mental retardation and spastic diplegia—takes a breather during his yoga session at home. P Settu, his yoga therapist, who has been teaching Sriram two years now, says that Sriram used to be inattentive and restless, but now follows instructions well and has mellowed down significantly.  



Images and text by Naveen P M

Walking towards hope (2/9)

M Vanitha, Sriram's teacher, helps Sriram wear his dance apparel before the start of the 'World Differently Abled Day Cultural Programme' at Don Guanella Special School in Chennai. Due to Sriram's condition, simple tasks such as putting on clothes can become a chore and he often ends up needing some assistance. 


Walking towards hope (3/9)

Sriram rides his bicycle—fitted with a custom-made backrest—flanked by special education teacher, G V Arumugam. Arumugam has known Sriram for 15 years and was initially hired to teach him basic reading and writing skills. On Sriram's parents' request, he started to assist Sriram in walking and then taught him how to ride a bicycle so he could improve his muscle tone. 

Read Sriram's story here


Walking towards hope (4/9)

R Devi helps Sriram read a clock at Sai Sri Ram Training Centre. Sriram has difficulty reading and writing even basic words, and has a hard time grasping universal concepts such as time, date, and money. Devi is Sriram's favorite teacher. Sai Sri Ram Training Centre has eight students with special needs, two teachers, and a domestic help. The school functions from 10 am to 3 pm and keeps the students busy with a plethora of activities such as coloring, computer games, and yoga.


Walking towards hope (5/9)

M R Karthik, physical trainer, subjects Sriram to one of the many "balancing exercises" to improve his balance and correct his "scissor gait". Karthik has been training Sriram for the last two years. "In the beginning, Sriram could hardly stand for a minute on his own and displayed a lot of traits commonly seen in persons with Intellectual Disability (ID), such as lack of eye contact, droning, drooling...," says Karthik.

Read Sriram's story here


Walking towards hope (6/9)

Sriram and his classmates from Sai Sri Ram Training Centre perform to a medley of Bollywood songs at the 'World Differently Abled Day Cultural Programme' held in Don Guanella Special School, Chennai. P Dharani Kumar, a professional choreographer, composed the dance moves for this performance. He visits the school every weekend to teach dance to these students. "Sriram usually has trouble recollecting and executing my dance moves but he stepped his game up through some spontaneous moves," he said. 

Read Sriram's story here

Walking towards hope (7/9)

Sriram is ecstatic after receiving a silver medal for the Standing Long Jump event. His driver, D Alvin (right), and Sriram's mother, R Vanitha, gather around to congratulate him, at the Special Olympics Sports Meet held on YMCA Grounds, Chennai. Sriram shares a special bond with Alvin and the two can often be seen engaging in healthy banter. 


Walking towards hope (8/9)

Sriram does a lap of backstroke at The League Club, Chennai. His parents introduced him to swimming at the age of seven after a doctor suggested hydropathy as treatment. Sriram has been training under U Sathish Kumar, swim coach for children with special needs, for one year now. Sriram won four gold medals in as many events at two swim meets for para-athletes held last year in Tamil Nadu.


Walking towards hope (9/9)

Dr J Paul Devasagayam, Area Director, Special Olympics Bharat, Tamil Nadu, reviews Sriram Srinivas's progress with his mother, R Vanitha, during one of their monthly meetings at his 100-square-foot office in Purasawalkam, Chennai.


What are the rules of engagement between a client and a therapist?

Following ethical guidelines works for both the therapist and the client
Shabari Bhattacharya

If you are a person who is considering starting the counseling journey, a good start would be to check the background of your counselor which in turn will help you assess the ethical guidelines that your counselor follows. Good counseling can help clients deal with almost any issue, but unethical counseling has the potential to do more harm than good.

What are ethics in counseling?

Ethics are the general guidelines governing counseling practice that serve the dual purpose of protecting both the client and the counselor. These rules try to protect the client from any potential harm that could come from the counseling process. Often the source of the potential harm is not clear to the client. For example:

  • Why should a counselor inviting the client home be a problem?
  • Why shouldn’t counselors and clients be friends?
  • Why shouldn’t the counselor attend the client’s family get-togethers?
  • Why can’t the client give the counselor gifts in appreciation for a good relationship?
  • Why can’t a counseling session happen in a café?

The answers to these questions are not always obvious. It is important to understand that counselors have power in the relationship, although they may try to mitigate their influence. As clients, we are vulnerable because we share our most difficult feelings, memories and weaknesses with the counselor. Without this, the counseling process cannot be effective, and yet counselors are human beings too with the same human needs as anyone else. As human beings we like to feel needed, appreciated, loved and wish that our contributions are appreciated. When these needs are not met in other aspects of the counselor’s life, these needs may find themselves inserted into the counseling process which has the potential to divert the attention away from the clients’ needs in a way that isn’t obvious to the client.

For example, clients often share relational fears in counseling. The counseling relationship is unique, in that the counselor shares relatively little about themselves, but listens attentively to the client’s concerns and fears. This process of active listening forms the basis of talk therapy. It is common and natural that the client would feel a connection with a person focusing wholly on them, which is not the norm in life. This often leads to wanting to know more about the counselor in other contexts. Ethically a counselor should in such situations maintain appropriate boundaries, and contain the relationship within the counseling space. This involves being careful about self-disclosures and not seeing the client outside of the counseling sessions.

Unfortunately, if the counselor’s own needs for friendship or connectedness are not being met then it is possible that the counselor will share personal information, or try to meet the client in social situations. Meeting clients outside of counseling changes the relationship, while endangering the client. The counselor-client relationship is naturally skewed in terms of power. The client cannot know as much about the counselor as the counselor does about the client, opening up possibilities for manipulation and harm.  

Ethical guidelines also protect the counselor’s interests in counseling by defining the limits of the counseling relationship. They serve to help the counselor decide when there is a safety risk to the client, and when further support may be needed. Commonly discussed safety risks to the client may include the client’s suicidality, potential child abuse, or the desire to harm others.  Counselors need to take social, legal and environmental factors into account when making decisions to protect the client’s wellbeing. Other less obvious risks to the counselor involve basic counseling norms. Should a counselor see a client in his or her home? If a client cannot afford to pay what should they be charged? If you know of the client socially should you see them as a therapist? These are some examples of grey areas that most counseling organizations have ethical guidelines for to protect both the counselor and the client.

These guidelinesis protects the counselor from having to make the decisions on their own without support. Ideally, if professional decisions are made with the support of preexisting ethical guidelines, the counselor can fall back on support from fellow professionals when a judgment call made in the counseling room is called into question.

As a rule of thumb, if something feels uncomfortable in counseling, the client should trust their feelings and seek clarification from the counselor. If the concerns are not addressed, consulting another counselor or counseling organization may help to bring clarification to the process. Although it may be difficult, common counseling ethical guidelines also talk about how to seek support in times when the client may have an issue with the counselor.

Unfortunately for a potential client in India, there is no parent body or licensing authority to certify counselors and ensure that all individuals who call themselves counselors follow a common ethical practice. It falls on the training organization to follow a set of ethical guidelines that their trainees then adhere to. There are few laws that apply to counseling as a profession, and as a result, the responsibility of the client when seeking therapy is to check the training of the person offering counseling services It becomes the responsibility of the client to do a background check on the training of the person offering counseling services). Also the words counseling or counselor are used loosely and often counselors, perhaps with good intentions, claim certification without disclosing where the certification may have been obtained.

From a client’s point of view, it would be helpful to find out where the counselor has been trained, the kind of training received and the ethical guidelines that the counselor is adhering to. This would help the client to establish that their interests are being looked after to the best of the profession’s ability.

Shabari Bhattacharya is counselor and trainer with Parivarthan Counseling Training and Research Centre. 


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