It’s high time that we stop stigmatizing visits to psychologists for counselling, says counsellor and trainer Deepti Srinivasan, the Director of ResilienceWorks. An alumnus of Bengaluru’s Christ University, Srinivasan also talks about the challenges facing the study of psychology in today’s day and age in a freewheeling chat with Education Post’s Tanay Kumar.
You did your schooling from an all-girls school. What’s your opinion on co-ed schools as opposed to gender-based schools?
The biggest advantage of co-ed schools is that it mimics the outside world environment and makes the transition easier. It can also help in building healthier relationships with the opposite gender. But unless there is active encouragement and normalization of cross-gender interaction, there may remain fear, awkwardness and lack of social skills in communicating with the opposite sex. Sexism and discrimination can also exist.
Same gender schools may help girls be more confident, explore different skills and options – academic and extracurricular. In fact, girls in mixed environments typically demonstrate lowered levels of self-esteem and motivation in Math and Science. Evidently, male engagement with traditionally female subjects improved notably in an all-boys environment. Same-gender schools are also likely to reduce the chances of selfconsciousness related to outward appearances, and distractions related to boy-girl relationships. The biggest drawback, however, is that those children often do not learn to relate with the opposite gender in a casual and healthy manner.
Your profile says that you are an “EAP & POSH Expert.” What does it mean?
Having completed my MSc in Counselling Psychology, I work in the field of EAP (employee assistance program) or corporate counselling, providing counselling, coaching and training for our client companies. The background in psychology also helps me in my work in the area of prevention of sexual harassment.
Some other branches of psychology include clinical, child, family and marriage, developmental, abnormal, social, sports, forensic etc.
The interesting thing about psychology is, that one can find its implementation in so many other areas as well – for example advertising, sales, social media, development of training programs, even design and construction.
Since completing your graduation in 2004, what changes have you seen in the study of psychology?
Psychology as a field is growing and developing and so should the construct of formal education in psychology. I was fortunate to study in a college and under guidance from teachers who always encouraged us to not just study the theory of psychology but focus on actual application of principles studied. It is heartening to see that more and more educational institutes are encouraging practical learning and application of skills by incorporating internships and practical, and even supervised counselling sessions rather than just focussing on theoretical learning.
Today, more research and studies are being done, especially in the areas of everyday stress and toxic environments and how they affect the mind and body as a whole. Mental health is discussed more and officially recognized by various bodies worldwide. However, there is still a view that separates the mind and the body. Many illnesses are psychosomatic and need to be looked at as a whole and more research needs to be done on the mind-body connection.
Many disciplines within the field have expanded, with new sub-disciplines, areas of research, and methodologies, for example, new research on media exposure and its effects on children. Understanding of gender has developed vastly as seen by changes in the new edition of the DSM5 in 2013.
What are some of the challenges that the study of psychology is facing in India?
Traditionally fields of Medicine, Engineering, Law, Finance, and IT are considered successful careers. But as much as mental health is paramount for everyone to lead healthy lives, it is still considered as a secondary choice.
Some of the problems are not unique to this field, such as the lack of focus on practical learning. We often find that freshers are lacking in skills and ability to implement theoretical knowledge. This can perhaps be changed if educational institutes focus more on practicumbased learning – roleplays, mock-sessions, internships, case discussions etc.
Another problem is that the teachers are themselves academicians with limited handson experience. This further exacerbates the difficulty in transitioning from theory to practice and from classrooms to counselling sessions.
Obviously, lack of funds or resources is a problem as well because it means lack of infrastructure and facilities like counselling rooms, observation rooms, recording equipment. Perhaps even access to books and journals in some cases.
Increased access to psychological practices through education and other interactive resources will help reduce the stigma and change the narrative. It will also be extremely helpful to begin education of mental health and psychology at the school level itself.
With regards to the stigma associated with taking psychological and psychiatric help in India, do you think things are slowly improving?
In India, there are still myths that surround psychology and counselling. In recent years, there have been a gradual improvement but still not sufficient. In fact, one of the few good things that emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic was the normalization of conversations around mental wellness. Events like World Mental Health day has also helped to propagate its importance in common people. Significant contributions have been made by celebrities to popularize topics like depression and mental health. Media coverage of celebrity suicides has also brought mental health into focus.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Mental Health Atlas, 2017, in India there is 1 mental health professional for 51,717 Indians. This includes psychiatrists, specialist doctors, mental health nurses, psychologists, social workers, occupational therapists, speech therapists and other paid mental health workers. Certainly, there is a need for mental health, but it is as yet largely unrecognized. As conversations about mental wellness increase, counselling and therapy become a part of everyday life, and thus employment opportunities will also increase in the field of psychology.
Please recommend some reading or viewing material for psychology students.
Well, there are many recommendations that I want to share but here are a few that I would highly recommend:
Viktor Frankl – Man’s Search for Meaning
Robert Sapolsky – Depression and Other Lectures (on YouTube)
Gabor Mate – Myth of Normal (trauma, illness and healing in a toxic culture) and When the Body Says No.