In Conversation with Mahika Sharma – Clinical Psychologist

Mahika Sharma is a Clinical Psychologist, practicing in New Delhi. She’s an alumni of Christ University, Bangalore and is completing her MPhil Clinical Psychology training from Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences (IHBAS), Delhi University. She believes in seeing people as humans first and prefers to look out for what might be maintaining one’s diagnosis as opposed to looking for a diagnosis. She uses a Person Centered approach in her therapy while using tools from other forms of therapy such as CBT or DBT or gestalt school for interventions in individual psychotherapy sessions.

As a therapist and a human she constantly endeavours to normalise conversations about mental health- being able to talk about it with equal ease and comfort as physical health or even the weather.

As and when she gets time through her practice she updates her Mindward Centre page on Instagram and Facebook. In the past, she has worked with organisations such as Escorts Hospital, Cheshire Home Delhi Unit and continues to consult with SOS children’s Village Adoption Program. She has also conducted various workshops on Stress management, smoking cessation, work-life balance, work-place bullying, gender sensitisation, sleeping wellness and so on with various corporates and institutes. 

Question – Why are young Indians reluctant to seek therapy?

Answer – On the contrary, young Indians are more active in seeking help as opposed to the older generations eg those above the age of 40 years since their concept of mental health is still associated with that of “mental” “psycho” or so severe that hospitalisation is needed. This is inevitable since in the past help was only sought when an individual’s condition was so deteriorated that it was no longer in family members hand and psychiatric intervention or institutionalisation was needed.

However nowadays youth are more aware of mental health related concerns and are in fact accepting of distressing emotions as opposed to suppressing them and seeing them as a sign of weakness.One thing that is likely to hold the youth back, especially those from 16 to 20 years is the finances. Having to pay Rs 2000 or more per session per week when they’re looking at what place sells the cheapest food and books is in contrast with their budgeted needs. 

Thankfully even professionals are becoming more aware and provide therapy at discounted rates for college going students. Hopefully having more reliable sources of intervention, who are budget friendly will only increase with time, further reducing the gap in help seeking. 

Question -Is what one talks about during a therapy session confidential?

Answer – Everything that a person shares with their therapist is Confidential. This includes their name, information about emergency contacts, their distressed, their deepest fears and secrets. As a therapist I do not have the right to share any information my client shares with me with anyone else. If there are instances that I believe discussing their concern with another professional or another family member may be helpful for our progress, even in that case I will not go ahead until my client is okay with it.

The limits of this confidentiality also extend to outside the therapy set up as well. If there is an instant that I run into my client somewhere socially, at a mall, gym or any other place, even in that case our therapeutic alliance will remain confidential. This means I would only acknowledge them only if they wish to acknowledge me and even that will be in a social capacity. 

The only time I do feel the need to break confidentiality is when I fear a person is at risk of Life. Risk of harming or ending their own life or someone else’s. This I let my clients know in the first session when we go over the confidentiality discussion because when one is at risk of life, then I am no longer able to trust their judgement for self care. Therefore in order to ensure their safety or safety of anyone they may be at risk of harming, then a family member or an emergency contact person is reached out to. 

Question -When should a person seek therapy? 

Answer – As and when they are ready for it. Usually when someone is in a state of distress, or has run out of their coping resources and/or not finding themselves to be functioning adequately in one or more areas of their life such as work, love, family, academics, emotional state and so on. Seeking help is a way to address their concerns and move towards a healthier change without remaining alone. And all of this with an unbiased trained professional who is there to give them their one hundred percent undivided attention. 

Question -What to do if you feel like a therapist is not right for you?

Answer – It’s sort of like a lock and key combination. It is extremely important to be at comfort with the person who is your therapist. This means feeling safe in their presence, unconditionally accepted, seeming genuine and facilitating towards growth. One may not always feel that way with one person. 

Sometimes a therapist’s approach may not be in compatibility with one’s style of thinking, their worldview or their coping style. This doesn’t mean either is right or wrong. I often encourage my clients to let me know if at any time they feel any form of discomfort with me. If I sense it I try to address it with them. It is okay to not find your answers or resolve or concerns in one space. So I believe it is okay to seek a second opinion, third, fourth or even a fifth one unless one stumbles across the right fit for them. 

Question -How to help someone who wishes to seek therapy but is worried about the stigma attached to it?

Answer – I would want to remind them to address the stigma first. If we look at it closely, stigma is associated with being perceived as weak or lacking in something or the good old “mental” “psycho” “pagal” reputation. What maintained this stigma in the past is denying of emotional experiences as normal and logical. In addition one only went to a professional when their condition was severe that it could no longer be hidden or managed by self or family members only. So help seeking was automatically associated with a severe mental illness.

This is no longer the case. We now know that help seeking is in fact a healthy coping mechanism. It reminds us we are not alone in our suffering. When faced with fears of such stigma such as what will people think or am I so weak- I remind people as humans we all have limited coping mechanisms and we are bound to run out of them from time to time. In addition if what people think continues to remain a reason for concern, I do remind them that the people they fear are not the ones suffering. It is you, the person who is in distress. And chances are when you’ve adequately resolved through concerns with your therapist your coping and tolerance for such opinions is only going to be healthier. Currently they are stuck with their problems and the fear of what people will think. Post therapy, their problems will have been dealt with and what people think will no longer be as distressing as how they feared it to be in the past. 

Question -What do you do to stop your mental health from deteriorating?

Answer – As a therapist it’s important I keep a check on my mental health as well. If I’m having a hard time concentrating, If I’m in physical pain, emotionally distressed due to any reason it’s downright unethical of me to go ahead and have a session with my client because I’m not likely to give them my 100% attention. And therapy involves 100% attention and active listening. So if it happens I’m having an off day, or I am anxious due to a family emergency or for any reason I find I am not okay today I cancel or reschedule my sessions. 

In addition I am personally also in touch with a Psychiatrist whom I request to share their objective clinical opinion of my health with me. I have, in the past, sought help for myself when I was younger to address potential concerns even when it wasn’t mandated by my training. I realised during my training what a hypocrite I might be if I plan to make a profession out of this and I myself I’m not okay with seeking help. I also learnt it’s not easy to do so. It’s not easy to just simply get up and decide let’s just go see a therapist. I believe coming to that decision in itself is a process. Even today I remain open to it. I find that it’s time I might benefit from seeking help myself. I would go ahead and do that. 

In addition I’ve also personally developed a habit of becoming more okay with having conversations about my mental health, my distressed, fears, the good and the bad with my loved ones. Our mental health is as important as our physical health. If we are not embarrassed to talk about a headache or a fracture, then why be embarrassed to discuss some of our irrational fears or negative emotions. The more we do the more realise I’m not the only one going through this. 

Question -How long does it take for someone to heal?

Answer – Oh, I wish the answer to this would be as simply put as the question! Each person’s experience is different from another. Even if their emotional distress is the same such as pervasive sadness of mood or someone with anxiety. Two individuals with same distressed states will not have the same experiences or how they process that experience. 

Therefore someone may heal or resolve their distress within a day, another in a few weeks, some in a few months and some may take years. It would depend on to what extent are they cognisant of their concerns, to what extent are they in the state of readiness to address them, their level of comfort or discomfort with change. And add to this mix various other stressors such as job demands, family demands, political or geographic environment, financial resources and so on that are likely to impact one’s progress. 

I can say one thing with conviction- the moment a person decides to do something about their concerns, the battle is halfway won.

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5 thoughts on “In Conversation with Mahika Sharma – Clinical Psychologist

  1. One may look rational and sound with their mind but no one knows how things actually are .!!! Seeking aid for it is not a matter of shame

  2. Mental health awareness is important for those who are living with mental health issues and deserve care, understanding, compassion, healing, recovery, and fulfillment. And I think this interview can really help those in serious need. 👍

  3. Mental distress to anyone in any form is harmful because sometimes people might look fine outside but there is a lot stuck in his heads. We should always be at least kind to them since we don’t know how it is like to be in that place.

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