Yes, I had a therapist. And no, I didn't have a mental illness.
I first thought about approaching a therapist/counselor when I was doing my postgraduate degree in the US. I was going through a bad breakup, and job opportunities were scarce due to the recession. I made an appointment with a counselor at the university but backed out on the day of my appointment.
It was only in 2013 that I finally met a therapist. This was a requirement as part of a Creative Arts Therapy course I had enrolled for. I didn’t connect with the first therapist I met. So I approached another one, who I consulted for nearly a year.
Early this year, I decided to approach a therapist because of recurring patterns in life due to childhood trauma (I am a survivor of child sexual abuse), and questions on life and relationships. But I actually thought hard for at least a month before I made the appointment.
Last year, I was a part of a drama therapy group that comprised women who have had unwanted and unpleasant childhood sexual experiences.
My partner and close friends have been supportive about me seeing a therapist. Many friends are also appreciative about the fact that I have taken time to invest in self-care and my emotional wellbeing. On the other hand, I have also got quizzical expressions from some friends and colleagues. There have been times when I have suggested to friends and family members that they approach a therapist because of tough times they are going through. Some have been receptive to this and seen the value of seeing a therapist. Others have vehemently refused or dismissed it saying it’s not for them, or that they’ll figure out other ways to deal with their life situations.
There is a lot of taboo and several misconceptions when we talk about therapy. And though this is slowly changing, there is the issue of good or certified therapists. Many people call themselves counselors or therapists after a few months’ long program. I once met one such at a gathering who believed that women need to be submissive for relationships to work and, that this is what she tells her clients. A friend of mine was consulting a therapist for eight months, and she had such a bad experience that she decided to never again consult a therapist in India.
I think people will be more inclined to seeking therapy if we create more awareness about it. We alo need to have systems in place for certification or recognition of therapists.
I have often found solace when my friends have shared their stories and experiences. And I’m writing this so that I can share my experience with more people and reduce the taboo around therapy.
My experiences with therapy this year and the drama therapy group I was part of last year, have both been helpful. They have helped me understand myself better and have opened up new perspectives and dimensions to different life situations. Therapy has made me question my own beliefs and helped me be more empathetic to myself.
Different methods of therapy work for different people. For me, a combination of talk therapy with art and drama therapy has been powerful. I have also found group therapy to be effective for me.
When I have health problems, I initially take medicines or take rest to become better. If I don’t, I go to a doctor. I draw the same analogy in going to a therapist for my emotional and mental wellbeing.
Pooja Rao is an engineer by training and has worked in the development sector for more than seven years. She is a strong advocate for equal opportunities. She is currently working with Enable India in setting up India’s first online platform to mainstream livelihood opportunities for persons with disability.