Picking A Counselor's Brain: An Interview with Daya Counselors
Why do you think a survivor should seek therapy?
The brain is like any other part of the body such that it can be broken and damaged. If you hit your arm hard enough, the bone will break and needs to be treated, the level of which changes depending on the severity of the break. There was nothing wrong with your arm in the first place, it was simply normally reacting to an abnormal amount of physical trauma, the response of which is breakage of the bone. Abuse operates in the same way for the brain - consistent psychological damage from an external source using various means meant to condition the brain into a submissive that can be controlled. Therapy then, like a cast for a broken bone, is tailored to address the irreversible scarring that comes from abuse and most of the time the individual who experiences the abuse likely is not even aware of the depth of the trauma they experienced and how it’s affected their functioning in the world. When someone is told they're worthless, through action or talk, over and over and over again – there comes a point where you start believing it. Therapy is meant to help disprove this notion, to revitalize that ability within survivors to know that they are in fact, worth it – that they are human and have every right to operate in the world as a human being. This is why I think survivors should seek therapy.
Is it possible to heal and recover from trauma? What are some of the techniques you use at Daya?
There’s a common misconception that therapy can help you forget about the traumatic event(s) as part of the healing process. The majority of my clients that have such statements are typically those who have experienced such a high level of distress that it becomes overwhelming and they begin to lose hope in a mentally stable, healthy future for themselves. Healing is possible for everyone but it does require hard work, patience, and often times external resources such as counseling. When working with communities where the collective is prioritized over the individual, it’s important to have therapies that can address the trauma in a manner that follows their cultural norms.
EMDR is a specialized therapy that is offered to Daya clients. EMDR is a psychotherapy approach that uses a variety of methods that create a bilateral stimulation to assist clients to heal from unwanted symptoms and emotional distress that are results of disturbing life experiences. Throughout the process, clients begin to understand the unconscious associations they've been making and oftentimes experience a rapid change from dysfunctional perception and physical arousal to a healthy emotional and physical state. So what may seem to be organic life-long depression may actually be caused by physiologically stored memories from childhood that have remained unprocessed. EMDR has been proven to be highly effective in treating trauma reactions and disorders (e.g. PTSD, somatic disorders, chronic pain, depression, anxiety, substance use disorders, sleep disorders). EMDR is especially helpful in working with South Asian clients because it mitigates the some of the barriers. It is a great alternative for clients who are resistant to talk therapy due to cultural norms or due to their own traumas.
We also use other techniques from different schools of therapy including exercises like body scans, meditation, grounding techniques to address thought spirals, role-playing, exaggeration exercises to explore bodily emotions, empty chair techniques, miracle questions, and a slew of other related exercises that supplement the client viewing themselves as a work in progress with core, strength-based principles.
Yes, I do. Mental health is not really a concept that’s taken as seriously as it should be in the South Asian community, because of this there is a lot of stigma surrounding mental health. A prime example of this is clinical depression is often seen as a form of weakness in South Asian households – this isn’t objectively true at all. Ignorance around what therapy is perpetuates ideas like ' it's only for crazy people', ' it's unnecessary', ' it's western' and further the shame around seeking therapy. The stigma of mental health services is terrifying enough for many to avoid seeking that kind of help that they might need – all because of societal messaging telling them that they are weak if they have mental health issues and weak if they need assistance to address them. Furthermore, in our culture people are often seen as selfish for focusing on yourself too much. But seeking therapy and wanting to live your life free from trauma is not selfish, it is self-care. In fact, in seeking therapy and working on your trauma and perceptions of the world, you ensure that you will not perpetuate the same trauma for future generations. And by doing so, you are taking care of the community's wellbeing.
Some of the other barriers that South Asian and other immigrant communities face are the cost of therapy, fear of working with agencies if they are in the country without legal immigration status, language barriers, etc. At Daya we mitigate these barriers by offering free counseling services to all our clients. Our counselors speak multiple South Asian languages and as much as possible try to connect with clients in their own language. And we work with clients irrespective of their immigration status. Our counselors are all culturally sensitive and competent which means that they understand the dynamics of South Asian cultures and clients do not have to explain why things are a certain way in their community, as is often the case with traditional counseling.
As a counselor, if there was one piece of advice you could give someone on the fence about therapy, what would it be?
To be open to trying out a session just once – think of it as sampling food or trying a product before you invest in it. It’s hard to say why therapy works for some or why it doesn’t for others – the best way to know if therapy (and a therapist) is right for you is to go in and try out a session. You’re not committing to being labeled a client, you’re not committing to being seen as ‘weak’ or unable to cope – you’re just trying out a product, sampling a flavor of life that you haven’t experienced yet.