By Tanushree Sen.
With some therapists handling up to 50 calls a day and heading into a burnout, 2021 turned out to be the year counsellors needed counselling
Covid brought health into focus. Not just physical health, but mental health too. And if we’ve managed to be on an even keel, it’s thanks to the many, many mental health professionals who have held our hands and our heads. Roseline Gomes, a professor of psychology at Jyoti Nivas College, is a counsellor, educator, and freelance mental health consultant as well. In her 10 years of practice, Gomes saw her client list double during the pandemic. Earlier, she would speak to seven to nine clients for roughly four to six hours a day, but in the last year, that has increased to 14 hours (15 to 18 calls) a day. This naturally took its toll on Gomes and she has now stopped taking extreme cases and is only counselling college students. “In the washroom, I would sometimes sit, blank, listening to the sound of the running water, and ask: what’s next?”
She says her supervisor helped her immensely to get out of that headspace. She also took up breathing exercises, walking and started keeping a gratitude journal. “Every morning, there are affirmations that I tell myself. My research on positive psychology helped me control my thinking.”
Srishti Banerjee, a queer-affirmative counselling psychologist, who focuses on counselling for the LGBTQIA+ community says that at one point she was getting over 100 requests for counselling in a month. She saw burnout coming when she started to feel irritable, especially towards her partner. “One day I woke up not wanting to see my clients. That’s when I realised I needed to pause. And so, I decided to just take a week off. Getting some fresh air in the evening, painting, ordering some dessert on a busy day – these go a long way in keeping myself positive,” she says.
For the last 11 years, Priyanka Pradeep Siddheshwar has been working with the differently challenged at her clinic in JP Nagar. She says, “It’s hardest doing sessions during my menstrual cycle. I had to deal with my body pain and fluctuating hormones while attending to the mental health of my clients. I had to take a break and reorganise my calendar. But it helped me in setting a structure and I’ve never been this organised before,” says Pradeep.
For Sana Rubiyana, a counselling psychologist at Fortis The Woman, grief counselling has been the most challenging bit for her. “From four hours before the pandemic to eight to nine hours during the pandemic, I would take about 50 to 60 calls a day from the helpline. It is more challenging to implement self-help practices yourself than preaching to your clients. Fortunately, I worked on myself with art therapy, painting, read self-help books, indulge in relaxation techniques, deep breathing, regular walking and talking to my social network.”
Srimoyee Roy, a therapist and a leadership trainer, says she stopped taking clients for a month last year during the first wave. “I was feeling very overwhelmed and the whole uncertainty of covid was making me very anxious. I started going for therapy, a regular affair to date. Meditation, writing down my feelings, doing mandala drawings, being grateful – these help in staying positive. I also watch a lot of TV shows, and funny videos, and read a lot.”
Dr Mamta Jain, a professional counsellor, dealt with the loss of her mother to covid in mid-May. “I had 22 of my family members admitted all at once. Losing my mother wasn’t easy; she was a cancer survivor and fought till the very last. The nights weren’t easy for me, and I would think about how to help people, especially the kids. I was also going through pre-menopause at the time, so the hormonal changes weren’t easy for me. But gradually, with time, I learnt to come out of it,” she says.
Richa Singh, Co-Founder and CEO, YourDOST, one of the largest emotional and mental wellness platforms in India, says they have seen a 120 per cent rise in the number of sessions in Bengaluru since the pandemic. “The major reasons were a fall in work-life balance, relationship and marital adjustment issues and fall in confidence and self-esteem.” When counsellors could not take on a client, they recommended them to a fellow counsellor or postponed a session by a week or a few days, depending on the severity of the client’s needs. But it’s a reprieve, to return and reset, oneself and others.