Psychologists/Counselors are trained to provide psycho-social services in a clinic type setup where one has the privilege of controlling some aspects of their external environment. However, most trainings neither account for nor train one to provide these services within the dynamic nature of the community setting. Thus, when providing services to clients in the community setting one has to unlearn parts of one’s training yet retain a majority of the skills learned. This process of filtered unlearning can be quite challenging.
As I began my work in the community, perhaps the first thing I unlearned was the idea that people would naturally access the services I provide. The field showed me that I would have to go to the people with my services and encourage them to access it. However, this was also where I encountered my first challenge – a lack of understanding of psychosocial services and a dismissal for the need of the same. During my initial sessions, a majority of my clients told me ‘humme toh koi dikat hi nahi hai, hume kuch madat ki jarurat nahi hai’ (We don’t have any problems, we don’t need help), ‘kya baat karne hai, sabh theek hai, koi baat karne ke vajje hi nahi hai’ (What do we talk about? Everything is fine. There is no reason to talk). Hence, our first few sessions would often focus on clarifying my role as a counselor, the idea of counseling and its possible benefits.
However, in spite of the reiteration of my role as a counselor, numerous times my role and its associated responsibilities were often confused with that of the caseworker. Several times during the session, the conversation shifts from psychosocial concerns to case-related questions. Thus, it is a continuous challenge to calmly reiterate one’s role and its capacity while gently renavigating the conversation to their original psychosocial concern. Renavigation of the conversation may not always work. In some situations, the casework may significantly be affecting the client and in such situations it is essential to stay with the client’s emotions. For example, Niharika* was overwhelmed with feelings of anger and self-doubt when her sister’s restoration was delayed by one week due to a delay in filing of the Probation Officers’ report. Niharika also had several questions about the process of restoration in the wake of this delay. Thus, my session had a significant focus on casework. During the session, I assisted Niharika in processing her feelings and attempted to answer some of her queries regarding the process of casework. However, the subsequent sessions with her focused on her other psych-social concerns. Thus, while working in the community, it becomes essential to balance casework related queries and yet focus on exploring other psycho-social concerns that the client might have and is willing to share.
However, in some situations, distracting elements in the environment may prevent the client from participating in the session. Varalika* showed some hesitancy in opening up to me. However, in one session, Varalika shared one of her fears and I initiated a discussion about the same. Although, Varalika seemed receptive to the discussion before she had an opportunity to reply she was interrupted by a family member calling out to her. Subsequently, Varalika did not seem receptive to any conversation initiated by me. Thus, it is a continuous struggle to find a safe space in the community for clients to express themselves – unhindered and uninhibited. These situational elements and distractions tend to hinder the client’s expression as well as build unconscious resistance in the relationship between the counselor and the client.
Over the course of a few months, I have realized that although the counseling process is much slower in the community, it does take place. Eventually, as one adapts to the dynamic nature of the community, so does the client. Gradually, the clients begin to develop an understanding of the counselor’s position and identify their own safe spaces where they could comfortably express themselves.
While working in the community, a key rule that one has to understand is that they are more than a counselor and to work effectively in the community, one must work with the challenges rather than against them.
*names changed to protect the identity