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With love from Freud

A TALL, bespectacled man with a Freudian beard and imposing presence, Dr. P. M. Mathew Vellore, at 70, carries with him a zest and vitality uncommon among men of his age. Forty years back, when psychology as an academic study was not popular as it is today, P. M. Mathew ventured to study the subject with the aim of pursuing the career of a clinical psychologist.

Today, Dr. Mathew is, arguably, the most popular psychologist in Kerala. He is a voracious reader and a prolific writer who has penned more than 15 books. Apart from being a columnist, he has worked as Chief Editor of `Manashasthram' (a popular journal of psychology in Malayalam) and `Kudumba Jeevitham'. He is also on TV, offering advice on shows. P. M. Mathew has the gift of rendering complex ideas in a simple and captivating format. His popularity as a writer and columnist, to a large extent, rests on this ability.

P. M. Mathew is not a conservative, dogmatic therapist. His mind is ever open to novel ideas that challenge and even provoke.

What motivated you to pursue this career?

"Recently, while on a visit to my ancestral home at Karipuzha, I found an old diary, written when I was young. On the first page, below a self-portrait, I had entered my name as `Dr. P. M. Mathew, psychologist'. One of my boyhood fantasies was to visualize myself as a psychologist. I admit that there is a guiding principle that decides man's destiny. Like a painting or a symphony, there is a decipherable pattern that slowly evolves and completes itself through time".

You've been dealing with mentally disturbed people, neurotics and psychotics, for over 40 years. How have they affected you in shaping your vision of life?

"Well, in a way, they have helped me more than I have helped them. They have made me reflect on myself. I am indebted to them. Meeting people with delusions, fantasies and distorted perception of reality, a sensitive therapist will be motivated, sooner or later, to seek the real. My perception is that there is something, which can be called `basic Being' - I mean something that has no qualities or attributes. That is the real self. Generally, we all carry within ourselves `multiple selves' or `role selves'. An affectionate husband has to take on the role of an assertive boss or that of a loving father or a dutiful son. In a single life, we play many roles. There are two types of people - the task-oriented and the defence-oriented. The so-called `normal people' are task-oriented and they succeed in bringing these multiple selves to a state of harmony and integration. Neurotics and psychotics are defence-oriented. Unable to adapt to what seems to them a hostile and threatening world, they withdraw into their inner world and exhibit symptoms, which, for them, act as defence. Either you adapt and fight the world in order to survive or you flee it and inwardly stagnate."

Then, what is mental health to you?

The answer is quick and sharp.

"To me, psychology is the study of one's real self. Mental health consists in being consciously aware of what is happening around you and inside you and in the ability to abide in the here and now."

At a time when the social psyche itself seems to be sick, what advice have you for parents?

"Parents have a crucial role to play in enhancing the psychological well-being of their children. Children are like mirrors in which parents can see themselves as they are. As far as possible, parents should shed rigid assumptions, prejudices and should create an atmosphere of mutual trust. Parents should not be unnecessarily dogmatic, they have to be democratic. However, reasonable assertion is necessary and beyond a wholesome discipline, they should be gentle and co-operative to their children".

How do you analyse yourself?

"An ordinary man with strengths and failings. It is said that psychologists in the evening of their lives start resembling their patients. At times, like many, I'm a little crazy, but I enjoy it. And I am certain that my greatest strength lies within me, as in all, in the power and glory of my real Self." .


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