An Army engineer wanted his only son to follow in his footsteps. The boy took up science in Class XI, but found he didn’t have an iota of love for engineering. Concealing his disinterest in science from his parents, the student, when he floundered in studies, reeled off excuses that he was unfairly marked in the exam and such like. “There was complete lack of effort on the child’s part. Ultimately he failed in Class XI,” says a former counsellor for the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE). Telephonic and face-to-face counselling ensued. The parents “didn’t meet reality.” The counsellor says she finally asked the parents to let the child study humanities. “He did very well in Class XII. He also did very well in college as a student of English literature.”
There are numerous children in India who require counselling for career selection, learning disorders, family troubles, study-related anxiety, stress, depression, aggression, adjustment problems, relationship issues, and whatnot.
This year, the CBSE expanded its annual examination counselling helpline to reach more students. The board added six cities — Bhopal, Nagpur, Bangalore, Guwahati, Baroda and Kollam to its list of 12 where it operates counselling centres. Other than CBSE, counselling providers and helplines are proliferating in the physical as well as virtual world. From well-equipped PhDs to the somewhat-qualified, people are jumping into the fray to cater to a swelling mass of the stressed, depressed, anxious and confused.
More and more Indians – both the old and new generation – are now willing to knock on a counsellor’s door. Dr Etishree Bhati, clinical psychologist (counsellor), Delhi Public School, RK Puram, who has been a CBSE counsellor, says that about “50 to 60 per cent of the people still think seeking counselling will stigmatise them.” However, she adds, many people are coming forward. “Now, children themselves make references.” And “now, parents admit and express problems they have at home. They ask for parenting tips to deal with different issues.” Says Aloka Bose, a senior PGT in biology at Birla Vidya Niketan, Delhi, who was a CBSE counsellor from 2003 to 2006, “Gone are the days when parenting was a natural skill. Today it’s a trained skill.” She points to the gulf between the two generations that can affect the course of a child’s life. “There’s a yawning gap between parents understanding of kids and children following the parents.”
Counsellors say that family and academic matters are often the root cause of the commotion in a child’s life. Dr Bhati says, “More than children, it’s often the parents who need counselling.” According to Nidhi Kaul, counsellor, Suncity School, Gurgaon, “Ninety-nine per cent of the time, there’s a family issue.”
Dr Monalisa Palit, a consultant clinical psychologist specialising in children and adolescents at VIMHANS, Delhi, says the modern lifestyle is giving rise to a huge need for counsellors’ intervention.
Says Bose, “I strongly feel this is an upcoming field. Counselling is one of the biggest accessory departments to routine education.” Adds Dr Amrita Singh, counsellor (senior wing), Birla Vidya Niketan, Delhi, “We are the first step. If a child needs therapy or medication, we refer him to a psychologist or psychiatrist, respectively.”
But in India, there are few training institutes offering specialisation in clinical child psychology. “You need to do a PhD to specialise in child psychology,” says Dr Palit, a PhD from Sydney University.
Bose says formal training is not very essential — and she is herself an example. “It’s good (to have a relevant qualification) but the skill to be a counsellor is inherent.”
And what are the skills and traits critical to make a career in this line? “You should have an inherent capacity to understand others, be a good balancer — understand the parents’ viewpoint and the child’s viewpoint. You should have far-sighted vision,” says Bose. She emphasises you should have “extreme sensitivity in your communication style. Dr Singh explains, “Respect the person who is coming to you. If you try to impose things, the communication is dropped.”
What's it about?
A child counsellor provides counselling on a variety of problems and disorders, such as relationship issues, depression due to family issues, exam-related anxiety and learning difficulties such as dyslexia. S/he can also provide career guidance. Often these counsellors need to counsel parents, too, to address the root cause of a problem. Child counsellors also work in hospitals. They can practise independently, too
A counsellor’s average day at a school in NCR:
. 8.25 am: School starts. Give life skills class
. 9.05 am: Go for second life skills class
. 9.40 am: Break
. 9.55 am: Go for rounds in the school (the counsellor should be ‘visible’ to students). Meet teachers in staff room to their feedback on some students
. 10.30 am: Two life skills periods
. 11.40 am: Introductory sessions with a student
. 12.05 pm: Write a daily report
. 2 pm: Lunch
. 3-4.30 pm: Call up parents for appointments, follow-up discussions. Face-to-face session with a parent
. 4.45pm: Lights off for the day
. Normally, child counsellors in schools are in the TGT/ PGT pay bracket. A senior school counsellor, with an MA degree in psychology and a PG diploma in guidance and counselling, can draw about 17,000 a month.
. On average, a PGT-scale counsellor with a PG degree and three years’ experience can earn about Rs 25,000 to 30,000 a month in a big Delhi school.
. In a private hospital, a fresh clinical psychologist with an MPhil degree can make about Rs 30,000 a month. However, much depends on your expertise
. Excellent communication skills, especially listening
. Interpersonal skills
. Open mindedness and objectivity to deal with the child neutrally
. Ability to win trust to establish rapport with the client
. Sensitive and non-intrusive
. A strong sense of ethics
. A positive outlook
How do i get there?
Though you may opt for any subject combination at the plus-two level to be eligible for a Bachelor’s in psychology, it’s considered preferable to take science (physics, chemistry, biology) with psychology. (Some schools offer psychology in senior school.) After that do your graduation and Master’s in psychology and/or a PG diploma in guidance and counselling. For better career prospects, you may do MPhil/PhD. Those wanting to work with disabled children require a licence from Rehabilitation Council of India
Pros & Cons
Growing need for counselling in the country
Great joy in seeing a depressed soul walk out happy from your room (though not after just one session)
Job options still limited largely to big cities
In schools, you may have to step-in as substitute teacher
Initial salary is not high
There is a sea change in the caseload
A senior clinical psychologist talks about a counsellor’s role and the evolving trends in her field
When and how did you get into counselling?
When I was finishing my doctorate (in the UK), I decided that I wanted to work on mental health issues. DPS offered me an opportunity. It was a big school and I got to work at the root level, where we could catch them young, so children grow to be healthy adults. I am talking about a child’s mental well-being.
When I was a child and even in college, we didn’t have this facility available. Everybody said, ‘You will not get a job in India. The best job you can get is a lecturer’s.’ But I wanted to be on the application side.
While counselling, what’s the ultimate goal of the counsellor?
The objective is to understand the child’s behaviour and mind. The child will understand his behaviour and how to deal with it. I want to emphasise that counselling is not advice. The counsellor is not supposed to give do’s and don’ts. One tells the child the consequences of his behaviour; one has to make him skilful so he can understand and handle his behaviour.
What changes do you see of caseload and the kind of problems, since the time (1989/1990) you got associated with the Central Board of Secondary Education for counselling?
There has been a sea change. Earlier counselling carried a stigma. Parents were not open to it. Schools were not open to it. It was a closed-door thing. Now, children themselves make references whereas previously parents would take appointments and pull their child to a counsellor. Earlier many children didn’t want to be linked with someone. Someone would say, ‘I don’t want to sit with a girl/boy. How will I score 90 per cent?’ Now they want a boyfriend/girlfriend due to peer pressure. A pretty girl would say she wonders why a particular boy doesn’t look at her.
However, 50-60 per cent of the people still think seeking counselling will stigmatise them. They believe others would think maybe they are suffering from some abnormal behaviour, they are eccentric or they have some mental problem. Earlier, parents used to come in denial. They’d say, ‘My child can’t have this problem.’ They would think they were the best parents. Now, parents admit and express problems. They ask for parenting tips to deal with different issues. More than children, it’s often the parents who need counselling.
Is the counselling phenomenon still limited to big cities?
It is but it’s coming to towns as well.
Etishree Bhati, clinical psychologist (counsellor), Delhi Public School Interviewed by Rahat Bano