Why did you choose to become a counsellor?
As far as I remember, I’ve always been interested in talking to people and learning about their lives. I was sure that I wanted to a part of the health field from early on. As I started to study Psychology, my interest in and awareness about mental health grew. What expanded my view was also looking at mental health with a systemic (rather than an individual) lens. Of course, this took years and years of learning and even unlearning! I think could say that I became a therapist because I believed that this would give me an opportunity to look at human experience more closely, appreciate all its nuances, move out of/expand boxed categories (and labels) and build a richer understanding of it which would stem not only from my own but also others’ life stories. I hoped (and still continue to do so) that this would enable me to accompany people in their healing journey as a curious witness and gentle supporter.
What excites you about your work as a counsellor?
I see therapy as a collaborative process. I believe that people, no matter who they are and where they are from, have unique knowledges about life. Their own wisdom is what actually becomes the GPS in this journey called therapy. Whats the most exciting in any therapeutic journey for me hence, is when people are able to see that the problem story (which has been dominating their life and has brought in a lot of distress/struggle) is there surely but, might not be ’the’ only story of their life. As people explore and re-explore new meanings in therapy and are able to also notice the other strands in this multiverse of stories, I am motivated to watch them re-align with their values, re-construct their identity and re-create a sense of agency in their own lives. Appreciating people’s own learnings and perspectives also takes us towards collective/community healing which is grounded in lived experiences rather than understandings emerging only from ‘professionals’. This resonates highly with me as I hope that my practice and interactions with people are able to also contribute to research, especially when it comes to representating Indian voices in mental health narratives. What I additionally, admire about my work is also how I am constantly learning from people who consult with me. This reciprocity is what keeps my work spontaneous and enriching!
What do you hope for your clients to experience after their first session with you?
I realise how much weight and importance we all (therapists and people who consult with them) put on the first session. So many expectations (and questions!) come to be tied with it and I am always trying to be mindful of them. However, over the years I’ve learnt that therapy is a journey which takes time. The change people hope for might not be immediate. Hence, its possible to not find a ‘solution’ or a concrete ‘answer’ after the first therapy session. It even takes time to know if your therapist is the best fit for you or not! So my hope from the first session is to be able to co-create at least one (or more) point of resonance- something preferreable which can stay with the person and give them a sense of anchoring. This could be a topic we spoke about, a question addressed in the session, an expression which caught the person’s eye, a memory which came up for them or feelings they went through during the course of the conversation. Usually, this resonance can provide people with a sense of trust and comfort which motivates them to explore this therapeutic space, give it a chance and feel safe to come back to it again the next time. My attempt hence, in the first session is to be able to ‘hear’ and ‘see’ the person I am meeting, in ways which may leave them feeling like this conversation was meaningful for them and they’d like to do this again.
What would you wish to tell a client who is thinking about seeking counselling?
Seeking therapy or counselling or just thinking about the possibility of doing so can be very challenging. This becomes especially true when our surrounding context does not encourage us to do it. The stigma around therapy and mental health is real and therapy is very under-represented in our discourses! So how are you really supposed to know if you want it, if it will help, or what even happens in it?! So it’s okay to start therapy without completely knowing everything about it or even believing in it. You can test it out and see how you feel about it. It’s also okay to ask your therapist more about the process when you meet them. You may also have additional questions about their qualifications, training, fee, experience and ethics. It okay to even change your therapist midway or stop therapy completely if it does not seem helpful so its not like you are committing to something you won’t be able to get out of! What usually helps in these situations is to have an open conversation with your therapist and reach a point collaboratively. Additionally, your therapist is also a fellow human with their own limitations so there will be times you feel like they don’t get it or you don’t agree with what they are thinking - and its absolutely okay (and even important) to express that in a way which seems the most comfortable to you. Basically therapy is your space and you can absolutely use it the way you want to :)
Describe the relationship that you would wish to build with your client in counselling.
A therapuetic relationship based in respect, trust and compassion is what I strive for in my practice. As I’ve mentioned before, creating opportunities for collaboration becomes the key to be able to create the sense that it is the person (and not me at all) who is the expert in their life- because I don’t know what its like to be living their life and hence, must privilege their knowledges over mine. One of the most important ways in which I do this is by creating a space where people feel comfortable to tell me if I am wrong, if they aren’t feeling the way they had hoped or if my understanding of a situation is different from theirs. Hence, a safe space for not just sharing and reflections but also questions and disagreements. My role then is to be able to witness their experiences, ask questions so that their own wisdom becomes more visible and together discover ways in which they would want to move ahead.
In your counselling work so far, what has been your greatest learning from your clients?
That no problem is perfect and all problems have exceptions! Even though problems come into our lives and challenge us, (making us feel all sorts of things from distressed to overwhelmed to even hopeless), each and everyone of us has our own unique set of ways in which we respond to and may even resist these problems. But these problems (almost like the invisibility cloak from Harry Potter) hide these responses away from us, not allowing us to see them, remember them and focus on them at all! Additionally, all these problems exist within our social + political + cultural context. So there are many factors which contribute to the existence and impact of these problems on our lives. Looking at these problems hence, as separate from people allows them to know more about the times when the problem is either absent or perhaps less strong and modify their current relationship with that problem, if they would want to. So my hope then becomes to look for ways in which people can rediscover their responses, think about what skills are being used in them and hence, re-align with some of the values which guide them in life.
What are some of your strengths as a counsellor that you value and appreciate?
I really appreciate my ability to ask and not assume. Rather than interpreting people’s experiences, I am more interested in knowing their own meaning-making of them. Skills which I rely on to be able to do this are listening to what people are saying to me (rather attaching my own inferences to them), asking questions which aid the person to move closer to reducing the influence of problems by re-discovering their (or even forming newer) skills, commitments, purposes, and hence, bringing in a sense of healing and informing their future actions. My interest in making therapy about the person and not me is something I value greatly. This helps me in keeping the space open for feedback, accepting that I can be wrong and incorporating suggested changes in the process. My ethics around maintaining confidentiality, safety and respect really help me to make my practice empowering and meaningful. My belief that problems aren’t located within individuals but rather, are result of systems or structures which shape and govern our lives is also what I keep circling back to in order to open the possibility of looking at mental health as a collective responsibility!
What are some of the things you like to do in your free time?
Reading, spending time with my friends, catching up on new movies/shows and playing with dogs! Oh, and I love trying different food combos which are considered weird by others but I think are totally fab :D
What are the areas of concern you address in counselling? Do you work with specific populations?
I currently work with children, adolescents and adults (young and middle aged). I have an experience in working with anxiety, relationship conflicts, socio-emotional difficulties, challenges with executive functioning (attention, time-management, emotional regulation and organisation), challenges with parenting, trauma, impact of childhood expereinces, identity, body image issues, managing life stressors/transitions, grief and loss. Additionally, I have worked extensively with neurodivergent individuals. My hope is to be able to also go back to group work which I have enjoyed and learnt immensely from in the past.
What is the therapeutic approach you use? How would you describe it to someone who wants to consult you for therapy?
My practice is informed greatly by narrative, humanistic and social justice lenses. This essentially means that my practice is non-blaming which places people as experts, appreciates (and attempts to promote) their unique meaning-making, acknowledges the impact of intersectionality (various social categorisations such as gender, caste, language, financial background, etc overlapping with each other to create advantages and disadvantages in our lives and influencing our sense of ‘identity’) and is anti-oppressive (acknowledging that oppressive systems such as patriarchy, capitalism, heteronormativity, ableism, casteism, adherence to neurotypical ways of being, etc result in structural/systemic inequalities and discrimination). I use an eclectic approach in my sessions to keep that collaborative and check in with might seems the most meaningful to the person.
How do you make your therapeutic practice a safe and affirmative space for queer and trans* folx?
I would again go back to my belief of asking and not assuming. So what I’d move towards is firstly checking in with queer and trans people about what affirming would essentially mean for them. This encourages us to really represent voices from these communities in order to give them a respectful space in the dominant discourse. Ways in which I keep myself informed of their opinion is by attending seminars/conferences, reading literature and interacting in spaces which have people who identify with these communities come in and share their views. Over the years, what I’ve also been helped to understand is that along with accepting the existence of different identities (and the subsequent appreciation of the wonderful diversity it offers!), affirmative practices also attempt to recognise and actively acknowledge the additional structural inequalities, oppression and challenges faced by the people belonging to these communities which impact their mental health and overall life experiences.
The Quote Aditi Sharma Resonates With
Every time we ask a question, we're generating a possible version of a life.