Till a few months ago, school teacher Arpita Narayan found it difficult to deal with life. She was convinced her 10-year-old marriage was falling apart. Her two children, aged seven and five, were becoming increasingly demanding. And then there was work…“I felt like a robot,” Arpita says. “I was doing everything mechanically. Nothing was making sense. I had no time for myself. There were so many day-to-day issues I needed to talk about but my husband was never interested. Besides, he was so busy that I felt completely ignored. I knew I needed help, but I didn’t know where to find it.”
It took a random conversation in the school staff room for Arpita to find help. And that help came from a rather unexpected quarter. The Internet.
Click your way
We’re not new to the many ways the Internet has changed our lives. But what’s new is the way the Internet can help us deal with our personal lives. Or at least, offer us access to the people who can help us through personal problems and crises.
We’ve all heard of psychologists and counsellors, true. But finding our way to them has seldom been easy, particularly because most of us tend to believe that a problem has to be really bad for us to find a counsellor, make an appointment and submit to professional help.
Which is where websites like transformlifestyles.com, happycouples.in and merilife.com come in.
“Earlier, people wrote to agony aunt columns in magazines and newspapers to sort out a crisis. Now they do the same on the Net,” says Dr Geetanjali Sharma who launched transformlifestyle.com about three years ago.
A psychologist and marriage and relationship counsellor, Sharma says she was moved by the effort people made to reach out for help. “My clients included people from all over the country, even Indians settled abroad who wanted help from home,” she says. “So many people need help! I realised the first step to helping them was to make their access to us easier. So a website where they could get help at the click of a mouse or a phone call seemed like a good idea.”
It is a good idea, as Arpita confirms. Though sceptical, she called the helpline after logging on to the site. “They gave me a convenient time to phone and speak to an expert,” she says. “And when I called, within minutes, I was pouring out my life to a very empathetic voice I had neither known, nor heard before. All I knew was, she was listening, understanding. By the time the conversation ended, I felt much lighter. There was a clarity of perspective.”
Private, keep out
Aside from offering easy access to experts, a relationship counselling website helps in two ways. In the first place, the fact that you don’t meet the expert face to face often means that you feel released of any inhibitions you may have when it comes to talking about your personal life. As lawyer Shantanu Mehra, discovered when he signed up at happycouples.in.
“My wife and I were incompatible on the most basic of issues,” he says. “We just couldn’t understand each other, but we didn’t want to give up on each other either. But I didn’t want to go to a marriage counsellor and spend hours in his or her office, badmouthing my wife and hearing the same from her about me. Also, the thought of discussing bedroom details with a stranger, even a counsellor, face to face was embarrassing.”
Which was where the website helped. Mehra and his wife registered individually. She discussed her issues with the expert on the phone, he listed his on email. “We also asked for legal advice just in case things got worse,” says Mehra. “But a few sessions later, things didn’t seem so bad. We both made the effort to understand each other and also appreciated each other’s efforts to do the same. After about six sessions each, we decided to go on a holiday – which turned out to be better than our honeymoon!”
The couple is still working on their marriage, but are happier now. “Not only about our relationship, but also because there are no embarrassing moments, even between the two of us,” says Mehra. “Our problems will always remain very private.”
Online and out
Aditi Srivastava quit a well paying corporate job to start merilife.com, an exclusive relationship counselling site that offers counselling to begin with, but also legal and medical advice should the couple agree to disagree and finally part.
“Talking to a neutral party has always borne fruit,” says Srivastava about her website. “This is because the fear of exposure and the fear of vulnerability are the worst fears, particularly if you’re already in a delicate situation.”
There isn’t a soul on earth who isn’t afraid of putting herself or himself at an emotional disadvantage, so talking about very personal issues even to a counsellor is generally something we’d do only as a last resort.
“Extremely sensitive people may react adversely in tense situations,” continues Srivastava. “So when you are guaranteed anonymity and complete privacy even from the neutral party, the inhibitions are dropped almost instantly and the healing process is much faster.”
Which leads us to the second way in which virtual guidance helps. As we’ve all found, inhibitions are very easily dropped in online interactions. And if you select the email option for your counselling sessions, chances are you will truly bare your soul.
“A lot of people are unable to express themselves by speaking about what they feel,” says Geetanjali Sharma. “So writing mails is a good option for them. It’s like writing your innermost feelings in a personal diary. Which gives the expert enough material to understand a patient and respond accordingly.”