Interview by Anobik Saha
Hi Prachi. Thanks for taking out the time to speak with us. Please tell our readers a little bit about yourself.
Hi Team Indspire! Thank you for your interest in featuring HopeNetwork.in and me on your portal. I’m thrilled! About me, I’m a Clinical Psychologist and Psychotherapist with an MPhil in Clinical Psychology. My areas of special interest include couples therapy, intimacy issues, alternative sexual lifestyles, anxiety disorders, and recovery from the trauma of emotional/sexual abuse and domestic violence. In my personal life, I am an Air Force wife married to a dashing pilot, mom to a wonderful 9 year old boy. I’m a voracious reader, a closet poet, and I love to travel, bake and solve crossword puzzles!
What is Hope Network all about?
I launched HopeNetwork.in in 2009 as the result of an idea that germinated in my mind sitting in my living room one day where I wanted to find a way to transcend location limitations and give people an option to access quality mental health help from anywhere without resorting to “agony aunt” columns on magazines and newspapers. I wanted people to be able to access long term and seamless therapy and counselling options.
So my husband, (who happens to be complete go-to guy for all tech!),created a simple website and we started initially as a free advice portal, just to test the waters. Within just a few days we knew we had found a very important avenue in mental health services. The response was tremendous and HopeNetwork.in was the first of its kind to offer that kind of help! So we fine-tuned the portal to let people know that they had an option to access a fully qualified and tech-savy therapist who could help them make long term life changes and help them beyond just a few questions.
Another very interesting aspect of our venture was that I started getting queries from therapists from all over the world if they could join hands with us because they had never seen anything like that before! That opened up a whole new world of possibilities for us and we got together with therapists from the UK, Israel, Netherlands etc who held sessions with clients over chat and Skype and poured in their expertise. Gradually people started realizing the benefits of therapy and the rest is history!
HopeNetwork.in prides itself on taking online psychotherapy beyond “fast food advice” and really provides long-therapy to clients to bring about lasting life changes.
We have had clients that have been with us for months, sometimes even a couple of years, because even after they have found a resolution for the original issue, they stick around for enriching their lives! And that’s what true psychotherapy is all about – not just problems, but enrichment even when there’s no problem!
Your academics and work experience are aligned completely. What gave you such clarity of purpose at an early age?
I don’t have a very “enlightening” answer to that one. All I know is that this is what I always wanted to do. Of course I didn’t know how things will shape up eventually, but I knew Psychology was where my heart, soul and mind was and every other choice that I explored, only served to bring more and more clarity towards that purpose.
I left home to go to a boarding school in 11th standard because they didn’t teach Psychology at that level anywhere in my city!
And from there, it was just one carefully selected step after another.
What do you think is the biggest reason that stops individuals from seeking mental health help in India?
We all know that the biggest reason is stigma. Counselling and psychological help is not a new concept. People have been going to their elders, mentors, and friends for ages for this kind of help and never hesitated. Ever since Psychology emerged as a discipline in 19th century, a lot of negative “mysticism” became attached to it and along with it the label of “mad” or “crazy”. So even though a discipline emerged where the practitioners dedicated their lives to studying human behavior and are much better equipped to help with life problems, people still have that handed-down mental image of men in white coats dealing with “crazy people fit to be chained” and they think “I’m not crazy! Why should I go to psychiatrist/psychologist?”
Is there a way to measure if people’s mental health has improved after using Hope Network’s services?
There are clients who have written back after finishing their therapy, after a gap of even years, to tell us how we impacted their lives, how they are still symptom free, how they are able to build healthy relationships. We post those bouquets from time to time on our social media with the clients’ permission and that’s all the proof we need to know that we are indeed making a difference to lives!
What are the common mental health issues faced by urban dwelling Indians?
The most common issues I have been observing are relationship conflict and depression arising out of work environments. Everything has become a race for the next big step and people are finding it hard to keep up – even in relationships. In relationships people are struggling between the assertion of autonomy and belongingness and are confused about which stand to take when.
What has been your biggest learning in over a decade of working in the field of clinical psychology? What are the common challenges you faced?
My biggest lesson has been that I never assume that I know enough to stop learning more! As much as my textbooks, my clients have been my biggest teachers – providing me challenges with their histories, symptoms and personalities. I firmly believe that even though we have theories and categories and standardized diagnoses, for a true psychotherapeutic resolution, each client needs to be looked at as a unique individual where those theories and categories have come together in a unique permutation and combination; and then use the standard modes of treatment in the best tailor made fashion for that particular individual.
The biggest challenge then, would be to make sure that as a therapist you resist the temptation to start stashing a new client into labelled boxes and not really HEAR his/her story. That’s what makes a difference between and ordinary therapist and an extraordinary one!
Where do you see Hope Network five years from now?
My vision for HopeNetwork.in has always been to make it a sanctuary for anyone looking for comfort and answers that can help him/her live a better life. I don’t want to create merely a problem solving platform, but a place where one day if you’re sitting at your desk and thinking “Man, I want more out of my life, my relationships!”, then HopeNetwork.in is your go-to place for an enriched fulfilling life!
As you are already pursuing your childhood dream, what advice do you have for our readers?
By advice I’m assuming you mean towards pursuing their childhood dream, right? The only advice I have is, don’t rush to find your dream. Give it time, go with the flow and let it evolve. As it takes shape, you will know how to get there and you will find the courage too. It’s alright even if you find it by the end of graduation.
But, more importantly, start thinking GOAL instead of DREAM because being humans, when we think dream, we tend to go beyond the realms of reality and practical logic.
Think instead about what is your life goal, what would you like to DO, rather than what you’d like to BE!
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