This article originally appeared in The Friday Times Blogs in 2013.
by: Mahwash Ajaz.
I am often asked if I can read minds. Even palms, if the asker of the said question is particularly unaware . When patients come in the door, they ask, “So how much time will it take before everything is back to normal?” Or something like, “My neighbor says maybe it is the effect of jinns?”
When I am asked what I do for a living, snide old aunties remark, “Oh you talk for a living? I do that all day and no one pays ME!”
So there come moments wherein I rue the moment I decided to become a clinical psychologist in Pakistan.
As of 2012, Pakistanis are 179.2 million strong. Out of these millions, many require counseling. Out of these many, most will deny that they need counseling. And a handful of these millions will come forth and have the guts to drop the idea of being a doctor or engineer and attempt to study clinical psychology, a field that the world has just begun to get to know better.
The term ‘clinical psychology’ refers to the treatment, assessment, research and study of mental illnesses and disorders. A psychologist is trained to help a client/patient deal with personal distress and helps them cope with daily life stressors. Psychologists work within the parameters of schools, organizations, sports arenas, hospitals and even jails. They provide a variety of services including marital counseling, art therapy, grief counseling for trauma patients, personnel selection and are equipped to conduct research on various sides of human behavior.
Unfortunately Pakistanis do not yet understand the importance of counseling and psychology in their lives right now. As a trained psychologist, I often see trouble in many situations that can be alleviated simply if a psychologist is consulted. A lot of marriages could find better solutions with couples-therapy instead of biased aunties and uncles interfering with specific agendas. A lot of children could fare better in school if the stress on academics was reduced. A lot of grieving patients could find better outlets than quacks or faith healers (not that psychologists disallow clients/patients from speaking to or considering faith healers) if they could find an empathic listener instead of someone who gives them placebos. A lot of troubled teenagers could find hope in speaking to someone who doesn’t judge them based on how high their hormones are. A lot of young men would not be afraid of discussing their friendships and relationships thinking that ‘talking’ makes them less masculine. A lot of young women would open up to a psychologist if they were struggling with eating disorders or body image disorders. A lot of students would find solace in knowing that academia is not the sole judgment of who they are and how much they are capable of. Families could resolve conflicts effectively if they could have a facilitator who wouldn’t take sides but would have more tools to help differing individuals in coming together in harmony.
Psychologists are also negatively associated with the stereotype that the people who come to take their help are somehow weak and mentally unstable. While those who are mentally unstable do come for help, seeking a psychologist for self-development and figuring out your own strengths and weaknesses is not uncommon at all. In fact, many top-notch organizations employ the services of psychologists to conduct IQ tests, personality assessments and other evaluations for establishing better workplace conditions for their employees. Neither are the employers mad or under the influence of jinns nor are their employees. Neither are the teenagers, those recovering from trauma, those who are coping with stresses at work or in personal relationships.
Somehow all of our society’s emphasis is based on labeling and judgment. “Psycho hai!” (He/she’s crazy!) or “Dimaghi ilaaj chall raha tha!” (He/She was getting treated for mental illness!) are common parts of our conversation – especially if we want to tell people how evil the other person was.
It is exactly the kind of sentiment psychology and psychologists hope to avoid. It is exactly the kind of ideas that reduce an individual’s ability to deal with life and the many lemons it hands him or her. Instead of making lemonades, an individual who has been constantly forced to accept stigmas and labels and judgments, would probably eat those lemons with their peels and blame the indigestion on fate.
So talk to me, dear friend. Lend me your ears. Tell me your fears. Tell me what makes you tick. Tell me what makes you hope. Tell me what makes you cry and what makes you so angry you just can’t take it anymore. Talk to me about your life, your friends, your foes, your losses, your hopes.
Talk to me. Because I’m a counselor. And I am not a quack.