IN FOCUS As we observed the World Mental Health Day recently, the spotlight is on counsellors. But do counsellors practice what they preach? Neeraja Murthy talks to a few of them to know their point of view

When you are confused, plagued by doubts and negative thoughts or just want to give vent to your pent up emotions… the first person who comes to mind is a counsellor. Usually referred to as a balm providing solace to an agonised mind, they empathise, are sensitive to your feelings, are good listeners and communicate effectively so that you find your own solutions. ‘Talk to me' is the catch line they often use to draw distressed souls out of shells. As we observed the World Mental Health Day on October 10, the spotlight is on mental health care professionals including psychiatrists and counsellors. But have you ever wondered if counsellors practice what they preach? We spoke to a few counsellors to know their point of view.

“I am a relatively calm and collected person. My tolerance levels are very high. It is natural to get angry during some circumstances but I respond and not react to that situation which makes all the difference. A lay person might rave and rant about it but I will try to think logically about what can be done. When I practice what I preach, I am able to reach out to others better,” says noted counsellor Zenobia Rustomfram. While counsellors follow different methods to help people deal with life's challenges, their approach towards stress in their own lives is more or less the same.

Myriam is a twenty-something counsellor, who works with an international school in the city. Though she admits that she is just like any other youngster who ‘fights with her sister', she says, the way she deals with a situation after the fight is not the way the young usually react. “There are ups and downs in life and we are also human. Sometimes, you find yourself in an overwhelming situation and you know you are about to have an outburst. I talk to a group of colleagues and calm myself down. The advantage of being a counsellor is that you are aware of things. You analyse, understand people better and handle them in a much more effective way,” she says.

Motivational speaker Yandamuri Veerendranath has a different view. “Many of the present-day counsellors do not practice what they preach,” he states and continues, “Some counsellors have phobias and relationship problems and time management issues. Once I was travelling with a counsellor, who was tense that he is going to miss the train. I am not saying that counsellor should not have worries but the point is they have not been able to overcome it. ‘Cheppe vaadiki kooda neetulu vundali'” he says with a smile.

Another interesting thing is that a counsellor may be the best in the field but he/she will not counsel his or her own family members.

Ghar ki murgi daal barabar,” laughs Zenobia and explains, “Sometimes a child might have behaviour problems and as a parent you are not allowed to counsel as an outsider will be able to see the situation in a different way,” she says.

Agrees Afshan Jabeen, a dyslexia therapist, “When a family member needs counselling, it is emotionally disturbing for a counsellor. You love them so your objectivity goes off and you end up having a biased conversation,” she says. When a distant cousin of hers was suffering from post-delivery depression, she guided her to another counsellor. “I knew so much about her so I didn't want to counsel her,” she says.

As counsellors help people to deal with disappointments and frustrations, they find their own strengths and weaknesses to make their lives better.