As the second Covid wave wreaks havoc across the country, it has taken a massive toll on mental health. People on social media platforms are putting up posts offering counselling sessions and talk therapy, but the question is, are they even qualified to practice professional counselling or therapy?
After digging deep and screening through these mushrooming posts, News18 found that most of these posts are being put up by people who are either underqualified or not qualified to take counselling sessions or practice any form of therapy.
Itisha Nagar, a psychology professor at Delhi’s Kamla Nehru College says, “the second wave has been overwhelming, many people, especially the youth are under stress. To cater to the wellness of their mental health, one needs to be at least qualified in psychology, any kind of miscommunication or judgment can have ugly repercussions and make things worse for the person who needs help.”
Many from the fraternity of psychology agreed that social media cannot be the platform for counselling or therapy sessions. Where on one hand there are chances of an upsurge in cases of exploitation and breach of the confidentiality code, many working in the field feel that it will also tarnish the reputation of the fraternity.
Speaking of the repercussions of Divya Srivastava, a practicing Counselling Psychologist in Mumbai focused on the dark side of anonymous online platforms. “There is a high chance of a surge in cases of exploitation and breach of the confidentiality clause. We are coming across cases where people were either misguided or blatantly charged by platforms—and even if they want to do something about it, there is no one they can hold accountable”, she said.
Many psychologists are coming across patients approaching with severe clinical disorders such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. They say that one common factor triggering the severity amid patients in many cases map to misguidance from quack therapy.
Dr Jamuna Rajeswaran, Additional Professor and Head of Clinical Neuropsychology and Cognitive Psychology Unit at NIMHANS says “People are running rackets by posing as counsellors and psychologists. They are hiding behind new terms such as life coach and healers. It is problematic as even these so-called professionals do not understand their roles or the role pertaining to clinical psychology.”
Stigma related to mental health and lack of awareness regarding regulations and roles of psychologists, counsellors, and psychiatrists is being cited as the loophole leading to a surge in such practices. According to the Rehabilitation Council of India Act 1992, illegal practicing of therapy can lead to a year long imprisonment along with a fine of Rs 5,000. “The National Commission for Allied and Healthcare Professions Act 2020 and RCI Act 1992, amendment 2000, defines the professionals who can and cannot practice therapy or counselling,” says Dr Manoj Kumar Bajaj, General secretary of the Indian Association of Clinical Psychology.
Dr Manoj believes that if Covid related Mental health issues are not handled promptly with competent psychologists then there will be no way to prevent the rise in suicide rates due to pandemic as it may rise up to ten times by next year.
When asked what can be done to curb the malpractices, psychologists and counsellors told News18, that people can check the accountability of the person before approaching for help. On the regulatory body’s part, the cyber cell police must be involved to keep online portals and social media in check. Psychotherapist Zehra Mehdi suggests “If people want to help those in need, they should try mental health advocacy. It means they can either fund the therapy for someone who requires help or refer them to a certified professional who can help them.”