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Therapy: Still Taboo?

Binge eating, overconsumption of sugar, nicotine, spirits and engaging in highly risky behaviour – to term them better, psychologists call this an escapist attitude; an escape from accepting that one needs the right mental health guidance.  So, what stops people from seeking the help they need? What is the need to cover up psychological wounds through ways that are ultimately unhealthy for a human mind? Dr Thoraiya Kanafani, a clinical psychologist in Human Relations Institute and Clinics (HRIC) and a senior lecturer in psychology at Middlesex University, gives us an insight that answers these questions.

Video Edited by Arjun Radeesh
Interviewed by Anusuya Subramanian

In her interview, Dr Thoraiya Kanafani specifically explains what goes on during a session of therapy. She says: “The difference between what people think therapy is what it actually is, is that we don’t give advice,”. One is guided into finding their own answers through a path of self-understanding and self-discovery. Therapy is a slow yet steady process, that addresses not only the difficulties that lie on the surface but also the underlying root of the problem, that is why it opens various new paradigms of possibilities when dealing with any situation.

Photo credits: Unsplash

However functional that idea sounds, there are a few practical obstacles that a student requiring therapy might come across. This may include the cost of therapy, stigmatising attitudes from friends and peers, and traditional family mindsets that stand against the concept of attending therapy. Unfortunately, it is these implications that lead to students adopting unhealthy coping mechanisms that often prove to be self-destructive to a certain extent, like smoking excessively for example.

With the presence of a stigmatising attitude towards therapy, students unfortunately find themselves feeling reluctant to seek help as they fear being labelled as “weak” or “crazy”, either by others or themselves. Along with these implications from peers, there is a more complex problem that arises with the presence of traditional mindsets. These have been passed down from generations to generations in certain families. This includes the idea of “just getting over things”, by simply accepting reality for what it is. As simple as that sounds, Dr Thoraiya says it isn’t as realistic as it sounds and that certain traditions need to be abandoned to maintain your mental health.  Although quite a tricky road to pave, this can be resolved with the help of something psychologists call ‘psychoeducation’; The act of educating oneself and those around them about the importance of mental health and its therapeutic processes. This can be done by-

1-Initiating an open communication and talking about the importance of maintaining a certain peace of mind with the help of a professional.

2- Making them understand how therapy isn’t a “cry for help”, but in fact a bold movement to implement positive and healthy changes in one’s life.

3-Fully believing that therapy is nothing to be ashamed of and that it is only an extra tool that makes the process of self-reflection easier.

4-Understanding that investing a little time, energy and money into one’s inner peace and happiness, isn’t an act of vanity but one of sanity.

Photo credits: Unsplash

A few students were asked their views on therapy and the degree to how supportive their families would be if they found themselves in a situation wherein, they require therapy. Following are some of the responses.

“I feel if I wanted to go for therapy, it might only be when I live alone on my accords. Because of my parent’s unawareness to what therapy actually is, my desire to go for therapy might be wound up to an “It’s all in your head” situation. They, of course, might give me ways and methods through which I can make myself feel better, for example, letting me go out for a walk, letting me take a nap or letting me hang out with my friends, but the idea of therapy might be something they’d classify as a last resort, as in, if nothing else works, then therapy might come into play. I personally feel, with moving times, therapy should be considered as important as an appointment with normal doctors in the hospitals after all the mind is a part of us too and it too can get sick right?” – Makena Gupta, 2nd year Marketing student

“If this test can help me understand my flaws or the problem within myself, I do say that my parent will support me for this. Alternatively, if I feel everything around me and my life is going well, still my parents would approve it. Because we feel therapy is a must, no matter the situation.” -Adhvaidh Sudheer Kumar, 2nd-year Business Management Student

“My parents would be quite supportive of it. At first, it would be a shock to them if I said “hey I’m seeing a therapist” because I don’t really talk about my emotions and feelings that open to them, but eventually they’ll open up to the idea and be supportive of it” –Joanne D’Souza, 2nd-year Psychology Student

“Therapy I think is taboo in some households because many of our older generations have been brought up with the practice to not having to share things that aren’t necessary to talk about outside the family, meaning age gaps and mindsets can also play a huge role, certain things can be tough to communicate and as for my family, If I had to go or ask them if I can go for therapy, I think their obvious first reaction to that would be “what’s the problem?” and after explaining the issue if it’s really needed I think they’d support it based on how serious the situation of my mental and emotional state is.” -Kiara Ann Susan, 3rd-year Graphic Designs Student

In terms of finances, therapy may often seem too expensive for students, therefore Dr Thoraiya advice is to look for mental health centres that offer therapy at a reduced price or for free.

1-The Middlesex University has a psychologist on board who is always ready to listen to students.

2-The university also has a wellness support group that arranges meetings every Tuesdays and holds various talks and panel discussions on taking care of one’s mental health.

3-With the recent outbreak of the COVID’19 virus and the shutting down of university campuses, Middlesex University’s centre of academic services (CAS) provides an online platform for students to reach out to counsellors and academic specialists at times of discomfort and academic stress.

4- The Lighthouse Arabia Dubai, provides Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) to address sudden jolts of panic attacks and depression.

5- Free Seminars and social meetups are provided at the Illuminations centre, Dubai.

Ultimately one must remember that we as human beings are unique, or at least that’s what Scott Peck said in his book, ‘The road less travelled’. We differ from other animals by having the capacity to do the unnatural until it becomes natural. The biggest of these unnatural feats is the act of seeking help and the act of accepting our downfalls and weaknesses. Therefore, getting the right kind of help from the right professional has a solid impact not only during times of difficulties but also has an impact in the long run when things work out smoothly for an individual. The idea of therapy aims at emotional stability and a balance in one’s thought processes and behaviour.

Although it may be hard to physically go to therapy during this pandemic, or afford it, remember to reach out to someone and talk to them. Whether it is friends, family or followers on social media accounts. If talking is not your forte, journaling might help you reflect.

With the profound awareness of mental health over the last few years, should therapy still be taboo?

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