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Clinical Psychologist Ridhima Sharma describes her pre-COVID days with simplicity: waking up, practicing breathing exercises, sipping on warm water and reaching her workplace by 10:00 am for rounds of meetings and therapy sessions, which would all wrap up by around 5:00 pm.
Once COVID struck, Sharma's fixed routine went for a toss: a lot of her work at the not-for-profit mental health organization HASI is dependent on a timetable of carefully structured appointments.
Clients would sometimes delay virtual appointments, creating the risk of these time-sensitive slots blurring into each other, and driving people to seek help became a challenge within itself.
"One of the roles of being a therapist is not just to take therapy, but also to keep this fact in check that people need to be motivated, and somehow they have to be brought to therapy,” Sharma said. “In the cultural context that we live in, mental health is still a stigma, so a major part of our job is also to make sure that we create a space that actually motivates people to come."
As an art-based therapist, Sharma depends on a physical space that allows an exchange of energies to create connections at an emotional level – something that isn’t fully compatible in a video call.
“There is no set protocol: sometimes you have to pick it up from the moment, sometimes you have to pick up the metaphors, the cues from the moment itself, and somehow the virtual space takes that away from you," Sharma explains.
A lot of Sharma’s work involves creating access to therapy for people who couldn’t otherwise afford it, a significant part of which is dependent on proximity to clients – only 27 percent of households in India have access to the internet, according to a survey by Learning Spiral.
“I have to be cognizant of the fact that the client I'm dealing with, maybe they don't have access to the material that is required,” Sharma said. "If I want a person to do something with a blank paper and a set of watercolors, what if the person doesn't have access to them?"(cont..)