Why did you choose to become a counsellor?
While I’d like to have a more linear origin story, therapy found me gently, in pockets, at times when I was trying to integrate my educational training in the field of psychology with my capacity to be interested and invested in people’s stories. My own time spent in therapy helped me understand the process’s nuances and scope and I chose to build on this skill to be able to offer it professionally.
What excites you about your work as a counsellor?
Located in the Global South, I was taught how to offer therapy from a Western lens. And I noticed myself feeling incomplete in the training and in my body as I was trying to work with individuals. Some years later, through a lot of intentional searching and effort, I found my voice in therapy and learnt that I am excited to hold space for people as they notice, learn, unlearn and unpack ideas they’ve known as ‘given’ and ‘unchangeable’. I’m excited at the prospect of gently unpacking systems’ capacities to facilitate or interrupt growth and building spaces for collective care and responsibility.
What do you hope for your clients to experience after their first session with you?
I’m hoping that the people I work with feel able to ‘come as they are’. Sometimes they may have had an experience (s) of therapy before or come with ideas of what it might be. I’m open to them bringing questions, hopes, ideas and anything else that is alive for them. After our first session, my hope would be for them to carry the knowledge that this is a relational process that does so much more than ‘address some issues’. And that it is slow and gentle and will honor their space, knowledges, skills and safety as we go along. I invite people to document, in any way they are called to, anything they find interesting, important or something they’d like to sit with after our session as a way to stay in contact between meetings.
What would you wish to tell a client who is thinking about seeking counselling?
My experience has been that therapy is often sought to try and work with a specific issue or set of issues. And given time, money, intensity of distress and other variables, it can carry a sense of urgency to be centered in our conversations. And this can feel like a lot of pressure to ‘get to the root of something’ and ‘fix it’ soon. Therapy, is a slow, intentional process that shouldn’t re traumatize you or require long, linear narrations of ‘life history’ followed by an ‘expert’ psychologists’ tips and solutions. I would urge them to imagine therapy as an exploration, as a space of ‘not knowing’. One that may leave them with feelings of frustration and heaviness sometimes. Therapy should take care to make the space inclusive, be mindful of social location and position, build safety as opposed to declare that it is a ‘safe space’ and work toward reinvigorating your spirit and self in the ways YOU see as important to you.
Describe the relationship that you would wish to build with your client in counselling.
I like to invite lightness into my therapy sessions. I’m keen to learn who the person is in front of me, their hopes and dreams, the things they cherish, their unique skills and bodies of knowledges. I encourage the person to get creative in the way they want to bring information and stories into the room. That could look like writing, pieces of music, movement, art, silence or anything else. Additionally, if we are meeting online, I like to learn a bit about whether they see that as a safe, uninterrupted space to speak from, any concerns around data and the internet etc. I also name my social position and how the possible intersections that contribute to my identity, may offer me some privileges and how I try to not let that shroud someone else’s reality.
In your counselling work so far, what has been your greatest learning from your clients?
People’s ability to hold multiplicities and nuance in a world that pushes for polarities is the single most inspiring experience for me to witness and hold in therapy spaces.
That people are extraordinarily knowledgeable in their lives. And are constantly responding to and resisting difficult things in their lives. That ideas, hopes, values and intentions survive in the most unique or difficult circumstances and have guided them in their lives. That I am a co- researcher at best in that journey.
What are some of your strengths as a counsellor that you value and appreciate?
Hard work :) I see myself as preparing, documenting, sharing and really seeking to build and sustain a relationship with the person in front of me. And that hard work isn’t limited to sessions. In a field such as this in India, I find it even more important to learn, study and build accountability amongst practitioners, as there aren’t existing systems that hold counseling practitioners accountable for possible harm. I also like that I bring lightness to our session and offer several alternatives to spoken word for people in our work together. Lastly, I am in work for myself with therapy and supervision in addition to not overextending myself through the week. I acknowledge the emotional resources that this field requires and do things that nourish and sustain that to be available to people.
What are some of the things you like to do in your free time?
I sing with a band, in my city of stay :) Performances with the band are very exciting to me. I am also interested in attending exhibitions, flea markets, community and live events in the city. I deeply enjoy traveling and try to do that as often as possible. I have started to be more interested in cooking and also have found my love for reading again. I share space with a cat and I enjoy playing with him.
What are the areas of concern you address in counselling? Do you work with specific populations?
I have spent a large part of my professional career working with persons between the ages of 13 - 40. In our work, I find that I have largely worked with people’s concerns in relationships with different people in their lives and their experiences of distress at having social injustices imposed on them. A lot of my work touches upon the evolving world and its worries - all the way from larger issues like the pandemic and climate change to specific ways in which someone’s access to employment, education, connections etc. are interrupted. I don’t attach myself to clinical/ medicalized understandings of a problem. So, I’m open to working with whatever is alive for someone. Areas I do need some more training in and I’m not as confident about is if someone is in a difficult relationship with substances - that may be described as dependance or addiction.
What is the therapeutic approach you use? How would you describe it to someone who wants to consult you for therapy?
My approach likes to understand the way you accord meaning to something. That priorities your life experiences as data over clinical and medical understandings of diagnoses like depression, anxiety etc. I bring in a lens that seeks to locate the problem outside of the individual in society. Similarly, we have many parts of us that are in constant movement. Some get prioritized sometimes, some feel difficult and are kept away. Some find it hard to co exist. I seek acquaintance with all parts of you and what information they may hold. My training and interest in work impacts the way I see myself as trained but not an ‘expert’ in matters of human behavior and action. I work toward learning and keeping the cultural context of a person’s location in mind and work from there.
How do you make your therapeutic practice a safe and affirmative space for queer and trans* folx?
I identify as queer and while I have access to literature and lived experiences, for me, safety and affirmation in a therapeutic context is broader. It is a constant process of examining, unlearning, asking and staying close to the ideas of being ‘queer affirmative’, as opposed to limiting it to the use of right pronouns and language. Can I recognize and work on my biases and ‘knowns’? Can I acknowledge when I may not be trained or adequately resourced to support a queer or trans person?
The Quote Vani Subramaniam Resonates With
I know I'm no doctor but if I was guessing I'd say it was just growing pains
And painful as growing is we can't forget it's our ticket to taking the reins
And we'll all be okay, we'll be okay
Dusty Trails written by Jessica Wolfe / Holly Proctor. (Song)