Psychotherapy - To Sir With Love
by Rajendar Menen
There are few services more precious than to help raise a fallen human. Here, a counsellor talks about his profession
This bearded, bespectacled, portly gent is a much-sought-after man in the Western suburbs of Mumbai. All kinds of people seek him out – housewives, married couples, lovelorn teenagers, students, and white-collared professionals. Dr Ambrish Bhatt’s eminence comes from being a gifted counsellor. His commitment to help the lonely and angst-ridden is a blessing to multitudes in the city waiting to pour their hearts out. He thinks of them as friends to be helped, rather than as patients to be treated.
I am keen to know how he became a counsellor. Does it mean that he has no issues in life, and that he can give of himself so easily? To my sheer surprise, I am told that he has “been on the cross several times.” For instance, while pursuing his PhD in Chemistry, he was unable to cope with the pressure, and had to reach out to a counsellor.
“I realised that I had it within myself to resolve conflicts, by understanding and changing my beliefs about the world around. Working as a scientist, I saw many sad, depressed and worried people around me. I wanted to reach out to those in pain. Finally, at 40, I decided to make counselling my vocation. I trained in it, and took to it professionally. I guess I was born people-centric.”
Poor intrapersonal and interpersonal relationships, low self-esteem, faulty belief systems, emotional disharmony, anger, frustration and false expectations are some of the problems Dr Bhatt is usually called upon to deal with. “Normally, a person can handle the usual problems of life with social support, but sometimes, when one is emotionally overwhelmed, professional intervention is essential. Emotional problems also manifest physically, and can get dangerous. I respect those who need help, because somewhere deep down, they believe that life can be positive, constructive and fulfilling. That is why they reach out.”
He believes that the role of a counsellor involves being a friend, guide and confidant. However, he recognises that there are times when talking and listening alone will not help. “Sometimes, the brain chemistry is altered. In such cases, medication may be required to correct the imbalance,” he explains. Dr Bhatt has also been part of workshops to counsel the HIV/AIDS infected. “Families should be empathetic towards the problem, and not treat the sufferer with disdain. Disease is democratic. Anyone can fall sick.”
Working with students takes up most of his time. Peer pressure, competition and examination stress are the key issues that they have to battle with. He observes, “Parental expectations are huge. Students are pushed into opting for subjects they have no aptitude for. They do badly, and their self-worth goes for a toss. The family is upset, and the student feels unwanted. He/she then believes that suicide is the only way out of the mess.”
As a way of coping with this problem, Dr Bhatt suggests, “It is very important to have a healthy social support in family and friends. Open communication, caring, sharing, acceptance and empathy go a long way in making an individual feel secure and wanted.”
Over the last decade, Dr Bhatt has had several interesting cases. Once, a student walked into his room looking very agitated. “I made him sit down for a few minutes in complete silence. I then asked him how I could help. He looked at me sternly and replied, ‘Please do not ask any questions. I am going to commit suicide at 10 pm.’ I respected his words and kept silent. The student went through a gamut of emotions like anger, sadness, crying, anxiety, etc. After 20 minutes, I fetched some water and tea, and left him alone for five minutes. He had the tea, and sat looking around. After about half an hour, he got up to leave. He turned around and thanked me. I gave him my card, and asked him to call me up at 9.45 pm. He called up exactly at 9.45 p.m., and requested me to meet him again the next morning. He had decided against committing suicide, and there was no looking back. He is now doing well in life.”
Dr Bhatt also recalls the case of a young woman who walked in with a friend for a casual meeting. After a week, she rang up Dr Bhatt, and said that she wanted to speak to him alone. She arrived on time, and shared her story. At a family marriage, she had to perform some ritual for the groom who was her first cousin. During the function, she had bouts of crying, and blanked out. No one could figure out why it had happened. Gradually, she shared that the groom had tried to molest her during the summer holidays several years ago. She had confided in her parents too. Instead of comforting her, they had reprimanded her for making up stories. She then withdrew, and became hostile to her parents. The blacking out was a physical manifestation of her emotional trauma. After several counselling sessions, she is filled with forgiveness, carries no baggage, and is a successful professional today.
While his vocation involves helping others heal, Dr Bhatt himself isn’t immune to getting affected. He confesses, “As counsellors, we deal with raw emotional issues, and sometimes, it rubs onto us. It can get quite toxic. I recover with introspection, meditation, quality reading and prayer. Also, the greatest reward is having your client find meaning in a more fruitful life.”
In addition to counselling and mentoring, he also conducts workshops on stress management, interpersonal relationship building, communication, assertiveness, and integrated self-management. “I want to reach out to individuals, corporates, and society to help make life positive and peaceful.”