How I Became A Counsellor: My Personal Journey

When I was in college and told people that I am studying Psychology, almost everyone assumed that my life is a breeze because “Psychology is such an interesting subject” and no one can get bored learning things about the “mind” and the “soul”. At that time, I restricted myself to just rolling my eyes – any student of Psychology (a first year at Junior College or Degree College level) who has shed tears when trying to study topics like biological bases of behaviour, sensation and perception, memory etc. will laugh at the sheer naivety of those statements, more so because, before enrolling for the course, they too harboured similar delusions!

It was in tenth standard that I read Sidney Sheldon’s book “Tell Me Your Dreams” based on dissociative identity disorder (popularly known as multiple personality disorder), and I was so intrigued by the story and the process of therapy described that I knew I just had to study Psychology! To add to my interest-levels was the whole plethora of fascinating personality quizzes (not the dumb ones that are there on Facebook today, but ones that are equally irrelevant and far from reality – of course I did not know this back then!) and other concepts from pop psychology.

When I finally started studying Psychology, I realized how far from reality my assumptions actually were. However, like the carrot dangling from a stick, I kept believing that the deeper I delved into the field and overcame the initial boring hurdles of these dry concepts, it would get better. Perseverance is rewarding, remember? But by the time I entered third year in degree-college, I was just so grateful to have enrolled for a triple-major-degree program because I just could not wait to break up with Psychology! There were points of time when I just wanted to give up studying the subject and do something else…

I actually applied and got selected for a Masters in Mass Communication program from a reputed college in Pune, and I had good scores to enrol for any MBA program from reputed universities, but somehow, it did not feel light.

Many people ask me what made me choose counselling as a profession, and while I wish my answer could be more noble and inspiring (“I want to make a difference to the world”, “I want to help people” etc.), the truth is that my reasons behind choosing to do my Masters in Counselling from TISS, Mumbai were not exactly ones that others would term “sensible”…
First, I felt that my chapter with Bangalore needed to come to a close – in my three years of undergraduate-degree, I really felt that my experience of living in Bangalore had reached a point of saturation (for a variety of reasons). I wanted to explore a new city, a new place, and I could not bear to think of spending two more years of my life bargaining with auto-rickshaw-drivers or worrying about attendance (Christites reading this will know what I am talking about!).
Second, the results for TISS, Mumbai were one of the earliest to be declared. If I accepted the offer, it meant I would have at least two months to just relax and chill while my friends would still be scrambling around for admissions.
Third, I had many friends in Mumbai and I had always dreamed of living in the City of Dreams, so more than the course, it was the city that I chose.
Lastly, since I was already not feeling comfortable about studying Mass Communication (Believe me when I say this: the interview I gave for that course was so disastrously horrible that not only did it make me question my self-worth and if journalism and media is even a suitable career-option for me, but on knowing that I had been selected, it only made me question the quality of the course that was being offered – I actually remember telling my near and dear ones – dismissing it with humour because that’s something I often do – “If I got selected for that course despite that interview, the quality of students must have been really horrible!” – Sounds horrible, doesn’t it?), and I had no clue what my other options were, I just decided to leave it to the Mighty Gods and take a chance…and I am so glad I did.

It was in TISS, Mumbai that I really fell in love with Psychology and its various aspects. My counselling program allowed me to not just learn new, relevant things in the field of Psychology, it gave me a chance through its fieldwork placements to work with diverse populations and understand and get a first-hand experience of challenges in the world of mental health. It also helped me to develop on a personal level making me see the mirror and identify challenges and limiting beliefs that I carry and need to overcome. It also made me realize that learning is lifelong, and we need to constantly update ourselves to deliver our best at a professional and personal level.

The journey wasn’t easy. I remember so many times on-campus when I felt that I just did not belong, that I had no clue what I was doing, and whether I was even meant to be there. My friends were my biggest support-systems then and they ensured I get through those bouts of doubt and misery. There were good days and not-so-good ones. I remember especially feeling nervous and scared during my initial days of fieldwork at an observation home as I was so under-confident about working with children in conflict with law. I remember feeling so frightened on my first day of internship at a special school for children with labels like autism and ADHD – what if I messed up? But it got better. As I enhanced my skills, my confidence got a boost and, today, with my hand on my heart I can say that I love what I do and I cannot imagine doing anything else with my life.

In this journey of over a decade, among various other roles, I have also had the fortune of being a teacher, an educator and a supervisor for students in Psychology. The first thing all of them say when I ask them what made them take up Psychology – “Ma’am, I find it rather interesting!” – and as time passes, I see them go through different levels of disillusionment. I remember a First Year student in eleventh standard asking me, “Ma’am, when will we come to the interesting bits – like laboratory experiments, criminal behaviour and such?” Sadly, she is not the first one to think this question. Neither will she be the last.

And while this is not limited to Psychology alone, and is true for all subjects, it is imperative for students to do a thorough research before deciding on what is it that they want to study or choose. Google may not always have the answer. Ask people in the field about their job – what is it that they do? Ask people in college if they enjoy what they are studying and if the course matches their expectation-levels – also ask them to specify what are the expectations they originally had from the course. You don’t want to turn up for a Psychology class expecting props like bells, food, electric shocks or to greet a friendly dog in a laboratory and have your expectations dashed to the ground by only learning theory, statistics and observations in your usual classroom.

Always remember: in the end, it all works out. Things fall into place. If someone had told me when I was in college that I would end up being a mental health practitioner, I would have laughed at that thought. Today, that is my reality. It is alright to plan and it is absolutely okay if the plans don’t work out. It’s okay if you go with the flow. Things unfold at their own pace and trust that it will all come together – all the puzzle-pieces are there, slowly aligning themselves and coming together to help you uncover and live your purpose at the right time, right place. But until it all makes complete sense, be at peace with the missing pieces. Sometimes, feeling lost is the key to reaching where you are destined to be. Enjoy the lost feeling while it lasts, trusting the Universe all along that you will be found!

Cheers to the journey towards finding yourself! I hope it is filled with amazing moments and pleasant memories!

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