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Source: Femina Girl July 2006

Summary: “Most Psychologists in India are quacks!” Harsh words from a candid psychotherapist. So, is the profession really in such a sorry state? Or is Varkha Chulani just having a bout of rivalry? We went on a fact finding quest to figure ou what lurks in the mind of a psychotherapist.


Psychologly basically involves learning how to treat emotionally disturbed individuals. So then, what makes a psychologist’s practice different from that of a counselor’s or a psychiatrist’s?
A lot of people don’t know the difference between a psychologist’s and a psychiatrist’s job profile. A psychiatrist usually does his/her MBBS and then goes into an MD with a specialization in psychiatry, where he/she believes that emotional disturbance is a result of chemical imbalances in the body. A psychologist, on the other hand, believes that the cause of emotional disturbance is largely attitudinal – due to the faulty ideas or attitudes that a person has learnt. He/she believes that the result of emotional disturbance in us nice neurotics is faulty thinking.

There is no difference between a therapist, a psychologist and a counselor. Except that most psychologists from our universities are not trained in counseling, because we don’t have anyone to train them. Most of our restricted training is in administering tests.

You’ve specialized in Rational Behavior EmotiveTherapy. Why exactly did you choose this particular field?

In my junior college. I chose psychology as one of my subjects because I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. Strangely. I did extremely well in my psychology paper and so I opted for it in my B.A. Then I went into my MA programme, chose clinical psychology as my field, and that was for me the most crucial turning point, because during this year I met Professor Phadke who had come to give us a two-day workshop on the theory. And after those two days. I realized that I really needed to learn therapy.

So, I wrote to Dr Albert Ellis – the founder of the theory, and asked him if I could study under Mr. Phadke, who’s the only Asian to have a Fellow and Supervisory degree, since I didn’t have the funds to go to America. He agreed. And that’s how I did my advance certification. I had to keep sending a lot of taped sessions to the US. And finally, two years ago. I went there for my Associate Fellow and Supervisory in Rational Behaviour Emotive Therapy. Now I am allowed to teach this theory to other psychiatrists. I’m a qualified representative of the Albert Ellis Institute.

Since psychology deals with matters of the mind, don’t you think this field leaves a lot of room for quacks?
Absolutely! And they are a dime a dozen. Today, everyone’s calling themselves counselors. People are doing B Com degrees, registering in colleges that offer one-year diploma course, and calling themselves behavioral scientists. They use fancy jargon, but they don’t know their work. And we’re in such a sorry state that even psychologists don’t know their work.

Erm, how does one find a good shrink then?
The first thing you need to do is ask the person for their qualifications. Check from where he/she done his/her training. Don’t feel ashamed and believe that the person is going to feel hurt. If that’s the case, then so be it! It’s better that he/she’s hurt rather than your are, having gone through 10 sessions of some mumbo-jumbo nonsense, which could possibly harm you in the long run. Also, one could go to a hospital. A hospital would never employ someone who’s not qualified.

Does going to a shrink actually help people solve their problems, or is better to talk the problem out with a friend/family member/etc?
If it’s an untrained shrink then he/she is as good as a friend. What I’d suggest is that a person check out what he/she’s got in therapy and compares it to what they got from a friend. If it is the same, then don’t go back. Why are you wasting your time, hard-earned money and energy to go back to a session when a friend can help you out in the same way? I would hope as a professional, I give the patient something that no other person can give. Obviously, because I’m the specialist, others are not!

What are the various other avenues a psychologist can get into besides therapy?
There are plenty of avenues like writing books, columns, and talk shows, counseling at schools and even at offices. For example, I’m attached to El Dupont. My job here involves psychotherapy at the work-place. If India is to grow as a global economy. We need to put the individuals in that economy in order. We need to make people more efficient at their jobs! Most people are at times so caught up and pre-occupied with their emotional problems that they’re not totally attentive at work. So yes, I think psychotherapy is surely gaining precedence in the corporate sector.

Do you ever get tired or stressed out listening to other people’s problems all day long?
I do get exhausted at the end of the day. But then, I have my releases. Music is one of my relaxations. I gym a lot. I go out dancing. I give myself a break! I don’t get stressed. I love my work, so there really is no question of stress.

Well, does a shrink need the services another shrink at the end of the day or at any point in their career?
We do recommend that psychologists undergo some amount of therapy themselves before they start working with other people, because the assumption is that if you yourself are a victim of idiotic ideas how the hell are you going to help someone else!!!

What kind of educational qualification does one need to be a psychologist?
Ideally, you need a psychotherapy degree. Unfortunately, India doesn’t offer it. But there are institutes abroad that teach it. There are 330 schools of psychotherapy. I am specialist in one. And I believe that today, everyone should arm themselves with extra specialization. Because, like it or not, today is the era of specialization!

How different is the theory (that you learn in college) from the reality of actually meeting a patient?
There is a saying: Practice without theory is lame. Theory without practice is blind. People are doing both! They don’t know their theory, and they just jump into practice. I would say that 9 out of 10 psychologists are doing that. The hit-and-miss, trial-and-error kind of therapy is happening nowadays. Some of it works, most of it doesn’t. We need sound theory before we can get into a frame to put our theory into practice. There is nothing like experience. But experience without any sound knowledge is not going to take you anywhere.

Obviously you can’t go up to people and tell them they need a shrink. So then, how does one go about getting patients?
Well, I’ve only got patients through word of mouth. You start, you make an impact somewhere, somebody benefits immensely from what you’ve done, and he/she recommends you to someone else. For me, that’s the best way. You don’t need networking, marketing, sucking up to people or giving cuts.

How lucrative is this profession in India?
Not very. We still have shame. We still have complexes. There’s still the connotation that only mad people seek help. There’s still lot of stigma attached to going to a psychologist. We definitely have a long way to go.

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