The mind managers

These professionals help people fight mental distress and understand behaviour-related issues


Thirty-six per cent of Indians suffer from depression, according to a 2011 World Health Organization study. Not many, however, seek professional help because of the stigma attached to it.

Lately, however, there has been a change in attitude. Actor Deepika Padukone, for one, has spoken about her struggle with the illness and how she overcame it.

We spoke to three counsellors, also referred to as therapists, who told us about the different techniques they use to evaluate mental health problems and help people deal with them.

Mimansa Popat, 51

Consultant special educator, psychotherapist and trainer, Prafulta Psychological Services and Ashray Counselling Centre, Mumbai

Mimansa Popat. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Mimansa Popat. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

Growing up in south Mumbai, Mimansa Popat was struck by the differences she saw around her. Her first introduction to a “different” world came as part of a school programme that required social service. “I worked at Asha Daan, Mother Teresa’s home, as part of a volunteer programme. I would see 13-year-old girls, pregnant and abandoned by their families, but happy in the home. That’s when I decided I would work with the marginalized,” says Popat. Popat’s father, a successful lawyer, tried to dissuade her. “‘You won’t have a car, my peon will earn more than you,’ he said. When that didn’t work, he threatened, ‘I won’t pay for your college unless you study law,’” she says.

How she got here: Popat graduated in political science and economics from St Xavier’s College, Mumbai, in 1988. She did her postgraduation in counselling from the Xavier’s Institute of Counselling in Mumbai (1993-94) and in special education from Mumbai’s SNDT Women’s University (2001-02). She also completed a degree in psychology through Madras University’s distance learning programme.

Work: All kinds of patients come to her at the Prafulta Psychological Services clinic. “You have the father with a Mercedes bringing his son, or even an auto driver,” says Popat. She also goes to the Ashray Counselling Centre, run by a private trust, in Colaba. She conducts training workshops for other counsellors and teachers and also counsels patients privately.

"A counsellor’s job is to help patients... solve problems on their own."-
Popat says women seek counselling more easily since they are more open to discussing their problems, but men are now beginning to come forward too. A counsellor’s job is to help patients make decisions for themselves and solve problems on their own.

Skill set: You should be willing to work on yourself. “Even today I go for debriefing to another professional. Keep yourself abreast of thoughts and developments by getting into training modules. This way you meet fellow counsellors and don’t work in isolation,” she says.

The biggest challenge: “The stigma attached to the mental health illness, especially earlier. Whether you had dyslexia or were emotionally upset, you were labelled crazy,” she says.

Proud of: Being able to become self-reliant. “I was dyslexic. I went through four schools. At one of them, I remember doing my math paper, coming back and saying, ‘I have done all the sums, I will get 100.’ The teacher then called my parents saying I had got zero in math and science. I have come a long way from that. Today, I train other counsellors and have over the years helped set up counselling centres and cells for special learning in so many schools,” she says.

Money matters: It can vary from Rs.500-5,000 for a session.

Anna Chandy, 52

Chairperson, TheLiveLoveLaugh Foundation, and transactional analysis practitioner, Bengaluru

“For the first 10 years of my professional life, I volunteered because nobody would pay,” says Anna Chandy, who was in the news recently when she was interviewed with her patient, actor Deepika Padukone. “I have been working in this field for three decades now. All these years, my extended family used to think, ‘What is this counselling?’ Now, they are impressed,” she says.

How she got here: Chandy completed her bachelor’s in child development from Bengaluru’s Mount Carmel College in 1984. She settled down to a conventional married life, with no thoughts of turning counsellor. In 1989, her husband’s younger brother had a nervous breakdown. He came to live with the couple, and Chandy became the primary caregiver. “I knew I needed to go out and get some training in order to look after my brother-in-law,” she says.

In 1993, Chandy joined a Bengaluru-based mental health organization called Vishwas and trained to be a counsellor. She turned out to be skilled at it and continued volunteering. By 1994, she had moved into supervisory and training positions at Vishwas.

“I had a tough childhood. There was conflict between my parents. I am also the survivor of abuse from a relative. I have worked through all of that and maybe that has made me a better counsellor,” says Chandy.

"There are all sorts of titles flying around. Like life coach. It sounds very stylish but who is a life coach?"-
When business process outsourcing firm Firstsource Solutions asked Chandy to join as a consultant counsellor in 2003, she realized she needed more formal training. She joined the firm but simultaneously started studying transactional analysis (TA) at Bangalore University (2003-06). TA is a theory in psychology that examines interactions, or “transactions”, between people.

The firm employed many youngsters, who were open to talking about their problems, and Chandy’s office was always full.

Today, Chandy works with companies like Mahindra Retail, Titan and Intel as a consulting counsellor, sees patients privately and trains young counsellors in Bengaluru.  

Work: People of all ages come to Chandy. “A majority of my patients are males, often at senior positions in their profession,” says Chandy. “Sometimes it’s depression (‘I have everything, why am I not happy?’), sometimes a feeling of being ‘stuck’ (‘Why am I not being able to do better?’). Counselling can help tackle such feelings by exploring where they come from,” says Chandy.

At other times, Chandy has review sessions with peers, often on Skype. “As a counsellor, you have to constantly work on yourself, so talking to a peer who can change you in your assumptions and attitudes is necessary.”

Once a month, Chandy travels to Mumbai for meetings of the TheLiveLoveLaugh Foundation, set up by Padukone to raise awareness about mental health issues.

Skill set: Empathize and be non-judgemental. “If someone says, ‘I am having an affair’, I don’t hear it as having an affair because that term itself is highly moralistic. I hear it as ‘some needs of mine are not being met’, therefore something is happening.”

The biggest challenge: There is no regulation in this country in terms of minimum qualifications or certification. You can just put up a board saying “therapist” or “counsellor” after doing a course or training for 10-15 hours, she says. “There are all sorts of titles flying around. Like life coach. It sounds stylish but who is a life coach?” she asks.

Proud of: “In March, I was invited by (management consulting firm) Accenture to address a group of 3,000 students in Pune on my journey from a housewife to a confident counsellor. My journey has been about transformation,” she says.

Money matters: Experienced counsellors can charge Rs.1,000-6,000 per hour. Annual income could be in the range of Rs.50 lakh or more.

Piyali Misquitta , 26

Consultant clinical psychologist, mindCraft and BYL Nair Charitable Hospital, Mumbai

Piyali Misquitta. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Piyali Misquitta. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

When Piyali Misquitta was in class VIII, her father sent her for a “career test” to check her strengths and areas of interest. The test, administered by a psychologist, did help Misquitta discover what she wanted to do, but perhaps not in the way it was intended to. “I sat there and thought, ‘This is what I want to do. I want to be the psychologist doing those tests’,” she says.

Misquitta’s father is a psychiatrist who worked with the Indian Air Force. As a schoolgirl, she often used to wait outside his office so he could accompany her home. “I would hear the ends of conversations, as his patients walked out. My father never underestimated my capacity to understand, and would explain how ‘depression was not just being sad, but being sad for long’. So I realized from a very early age that mental problems are not blown out of proportion or invented. They require special help and skills to deal with,” she says.

How she got here: Misquitta graduated in psychology from St Xavier’s College, Mumbai, in 2010, and followed this up with a master’s degree in clinical psychology from Mumbai’s SNDT University in 2012.

She also got a postgraduation diploma in counselling psychology from Xavier’s Institute of Counselling in 2013.

Her first job was as a counsellor at St Mary’s Multipurpose High School in Vashi (2012-13).

A year later, she moved to the BYL Nair Charitable Hospital as a clinical psychologist at their Centre for Learning Disabilities.

Work: At BYL Nair hospital’s Learning Disabilities Clinic, appointments have to be made through schools, primarily government-run schools, months in advance.

"You are constantly dealing with negativity, so in that sense it is very important to have your support system in place."-
Misquitta works three days a week at the clinic, from 9am-5pm. In the evenings, and on other days, she heads to mindCraft, a mental health centre in Bandra.

“It’s hectic work—tests like the Woodcock-Johnson test—which identifies the strengths and weaknesses in cognitive abilities—that have to be administered, are complicated ones,” she says.

Misquitta says more women seek counselling, for relationships, anxiety and depression. “Men come in too, mainly when they feel something is seriously wrong,” she says.

Skill set: An analytical mind to see the different parts of the person and put them together.

The biggest challenge: The work can be emotionally draining. “You are constantly dealing with negativity, so in that sense it is very important to have your support system in place. It’s a profession where a lot of people burn out soon,” she says.

Proud of: “Having patients ask for me specifically at mindCraft. I have been able to build a private practice and it’s not an opportunity many people of my age and experience level get.”

Money matters: Rs.2.5-5 lakh a year.

Every month, we explore a profession through the lives of three executives at different stages in their careers.

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