50 years ago, we had never heard of "counseling".
Because it was an integral part of the way we lived. Where not just the family but extended family took interest in you and were available to give advice, when you asked. Not as any kind of special thing, but as a part of life. Deviations in behaviour , health changes, influences of friends, scholastic shortfalls, et al were quietly noted, and solutions tried. A kind of seamless continuous counseling, without calling it that.
Today, things are expensive, there is competition in every sphere because the population outnumbers the resources. Families have tended towards being nuclear, and unlike my childhood, there are fewer people a child can turn to. Tolerance has gone for a toss, violence has increased in all spheres, and education has almost become a business. Women are at the forefront in many spheres, but attitudes of society have not been able to keep up with the speed. And so, when some worrisome change or shortfall is noted in a member of a family, one approaches a "counselor".
The first concerns a young girl in eighth grade, who was an excellent swimmer, gregarious and fun loving, with lots of friends and a stable family; but she took her time making new friends and basically opening up to anyone she didn't know. Her school announced the facility of a counselor visit on a regular basis, and for some reason, all the kids in the class, were scheduled for a one on one with the counselor lady. A few days later, the girl's mother gets a note asking her to see the counselor.
Serious faces, looking at bulleted points on a paper, the mother was told, that the girl was averse to answering, she kept to herself, etc etc , and was showing signs of depression, and needed therapy. The mother's jaw dropped. She disagreed completely with the lady. If there was anyone who was opposite of depressed , it was her daughter. The daughter tended to be instinctive and open in her reactions to things, and tended not to go into a shell at all. She probably didn't open up and feel comfortable with someone who was asking her questions which she thought were irrelevant. The mother returned home, forgot all about the counselor lady , and the daughter has never had a depressed day in her life. It is worth noting that the counselor lady , shortly thereafter, went on to register for a doctorate in her subject.
The second story is about a mother who noticed her daughter facing scholastic/learning problems in high school. Things went from bad to worse, in a system, that was designed to make smart students smarter, and the rest of them be damned. The mother went to meet the headmistress who was a very enlightened lady. The headmistress asked for a few days to look into this perceived problem, and to be able to get input from the various teachers. Turned out that she had a problem with mathematics and physics etc. The headmistress asked the mother if the family had any compulsion about making the child do maths. The mother said , no, they did not. And they were then advised Open Schooling via the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS Board) which has been around for 25 years, as a Government Initiative. The daughter was evaluated, and she did her matriculation/plus twos etc in an excellent manner, choosing liberal arts and commerce and computer subjects. She has no problem with need based math, and he went on to do a Bachelors in Arts and today works as an animator.
And so today, one must differentiate between good and bad counseling. Counseling is not something you go for, for shoving your own responsibility on some one else. A certain degree in a certain subject does not make you a counselor. It has to be watered and strengthened , with lots of empathy, communication excellence, painstaking listening ability, and an understanding of the roots of the person who is coming for counseling. Sometimes , it helps if someone anonymously listens to your problem, instead of face to face. And this is where helplines and call lines come into the picture. Where folks are waiting to listen talk, and give you helpful information, guidance and encouragement.
And this brings me to the latest ongoing field action project initiated at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, which is the first School of Social Work to have started in India, and even today, remains a center of excellence.
iCALL (initiating Concern for All)
iCALL is a helpline set up bearing in mind the the scarcity of mental health services and paucity of trained and supervised professionals which have been fundamental barriers in the progress of the spread of mental health services in India.
Given the fact that cell phones have reached today, where electricity, health care,drinking water and paved roads have not, it makes sense to have immediate, anonymous, non-judgmental and confidential support available to someone who is troubled. It is also possible that those seeking help could be guided to professional knowledge and service resources in their area.
These helplines are handled by Masters qualified psychologists who work full time with iCall, and have undergone special training.
What kind of problems are these folks equipped to handle ? iCall's counselors are equipped to deal with a wide range of issues ranging from relationship issues, marital discord, domestic violence, sexual violence, exam related anxiety, substance abuse and deaddiction, phobias, depression, loneliness, suicidal ideation, stress at the workplace, LGBT issues etc.
Those wishing to contact, iCALL can be reached at 022-25563291 from Monday to Saturday between 11AM and 10PM. They can also be reached on mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
iCALL will soon be 24/7 accessible and will have a national access number.
Someone I know, one of their star prize winning old students, is leading this effort at his alma mater. I wish this effort great success and may it bring a lot of succour to troubled minds.....