By Dr. Minnu R Bhonsle
To counter declining emotional health of humanity, the stigma attached to counselling needs to be removed and an awareness is to be created about the need and availability of help
Statistics show that the rate of psychological disturbances leading to suicide, homicide, marital breakdown, alcoholism, drug abuse, etc. is increasing at an alarming rate all over the world. It would seem that as the material comforts of life are increasing due to the scientific explosion, mental health is deteriorating. Mental health is achieved when man is completely psychologically mature or self-actualised, and psychological disturbances are nothing but a failure of such development.
According to a National Mental Health Programme document, about 20-30 million Indians are in need of some form of mental health care. Every year 2,50,000 new cases are reported. But these figures do not include the thousands of others who may be suffering in silence without access to help.
With timely intervention and proper care, at least 60 per cent of these disturbed people can recover completely and at least 70 per cent can avoid chronic illness and disability. A large number of people can be helped merely by listening empathetically and actively, thus establishing a caring human interaction, which makes the disturbed individual open to exploring, understanding and changing something in himself to solve his problem. This is called personal counselling.
Personal counselling has never been more needed than it is today. There is an urgent need to rescue toxic and failing relationships, the relationship of man with himself, relationships within families, between neighbours, between communities and even countries, before we self-destruct as a human race.
Obsessed with, and doing so much to increase the life span of human beings, have we ever given thought to the quality of life we lead? Physical well-being and health is given the highest priority with newer drugs flooding the market everyday. Has anyone ever thought as much about emotional well-being and mental health?
The WHO has declared that the emotional health of humanity is declining, that cases of depression, nervous anxiety and psychosomatic disorders are on the rise, and that family doctors should look for signs in their patients that would indicate the need for counselling.
There is an invisible stigma attached to counselling, wherein general practitioners hesitate to refer cases for personal counselling, fearing that the patients may take offence. Denial of the need for therapy only compounds the problem, for if there is anything worse than having a problem, it is denying that you have one. Timely intervention of counselling can avert many a disaster.
Besides removal of the stigma of counselling and correct referrals by family, friends and family doctors, what is required is to create an awareness for the dire need of counselling, and the awareness of the availability of such help. For this the support of general practitioners, social workers, other members of the helping professions and above all, the media, is extremely important. In fact, the WHO theme for the year 2001-2002 is ‘Stop Exclusion—Dare to Care.’
While the requirement is far greater, India does not have even 3,000 qualified counsellors. Therefore, it becomes our endeavour to teach basic counselling skills to as many people as possible, through training programmes in personal counselling.
If, during these times of stress, competition and low frustration tolerance, the disturbed individual is able to find immediate help in his family, social or work environment in the form of an empathetic and caring listener who will give him a ‘hand up’, many disasters can be averted. He can then subsequently be referred to a professional counsellor.
There is an urgent need for establishing meaningful human interaction between people. The fast-paced, highly competitive urban world, the break up of the joint family system, increase in the number of women working outside the house, single child norm, etc., means that a friend in need is even more required today. If we can increase the number of such ‘friends’ who ‘dare to care’, the rate of disturbed individuals becoming chronically-ill and disabled will most definitely reduce.
There are several misconceptions about the nature and intention of counselling and therapy. Many people believe that the purpose of therapy is to talk about the person’s problems, rather than devising active means of solving those problems. It is not talk that is important, but action.
For successful therapy, certain essential conditions need to be fulfilled:
Identifying something as a problem: Many people who are unfulfilled, and even seem to suffer, are in denial about having a problem.
Accepting the possibility that something can be done: Many people admit having problems but feel that that’s the way they are and that nothing can be done about it.
Expressing a desire to change: Many people say they have problems, even acknowledge the possibility of change, but seem uninterested in changing.
A willingness to make an effort and do whatever it takes to change: This is crucial in distinguishing people who change from those who don’t, and this is what finally determines the success or failure of counselling.
The fact is that psychological growth and emotional re-education, like any other form of learning and development, calls for active participation from the learner. The one being counselled needs to BE committed, DO whatever it takes, and as a result, HAVE what he wants.
Thus the objective of counselling and therapy is to get the counsellee to understand that the locus of control is in him, to take responsibility for his contribution to his situation, and to thus get him to fully participate in his own healing and work towards a harmonious life.
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