I work for a start-up that’s trying to make counseling available online, therefore addressing the accessibility, affordability and stigma question, all at once. In the background research for this facility, in roping in experts, and in general as a training counselor, this question has often plagued me, “Isn’t therapy or counseling a western concept? How can we expect people to take to it?”
Sometimes, the question originated within me, as I saw the reluctance of people to come for counseling or pay for it, even when they could afford it. Most of the times, it was by concerned (and some mocking) friends and family.
To answer this question, for all of of us, I did some digging and here are a few pointers:
- We have adopted a lot of seemingly western concepts with great ease, allopathic medicine, the current governing systems and computers are a few good examples. Do you ask about a discount when you buy a laptop, because it’s a western concept?
- Indians have always been known for stories, and the need to tell about life’s dilemmas in eloquent ways in order to find solutions. The Jataka tales, Pancharatnas, and our epics are good examples of lengthy discussions done in order to understand and deal with the shades of grey in our lives.
- India is where Buddhism was born, and Buddha was known for his calm demeanor and talking to people in a logical, reflective way, which helped them change for the better. Counselors are not Buddha or Buddhists, but if conversing reflectively can help, then why would you use chemicals with side-effects instead?
- Counseling or therapy don’t have to be dull or pathological. There are strength-based approaches, group approaches, community psychology approaches (which use local rituals and indigenous patterns for healing) and therapy using art and creative forms.
In essence, we could do a lot if we would combine our knack and need for talking, story-telling and metaphors, with an organized system of healing like counseling, and by dropping the elite-western air.
We would have an approach which could address India’s alarming mental health situation without heavily relying on drugs. It would reduce crime rates, increase productivity. A preventive and curative approach, given we think of counseling as important to have reliable professionals and spaces for it, from the public health and government hospital space to the private sector.
The question is, do we want to? Will we?