Our therapist Estelle Franklin interviews our Founder Director, Aarathi Selvan, on her journey as a therapist – the challenges, the hopes and the joy, of it all. The intention for holding this conversation is to really get to know a therapist’s journey and to understand what comes in the way or what contributes towards the therapists leading the way they do.
Before we jump into the questions here’s a little about Aarathi Selvan: She is a licensed clinical psychologist and a National Certified Counselor in the USA. She is also a supervisor, teacher and Founder Director at Pause for Perspective. Additionally, she is trained in Mindfulness at the Ottawa Mindfulness Clinic, Canada; in Trauma at the Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapies; in spiritual modalities of psychotherapy at the Association of Spirituality and Psychotherapy, New York and many other trainings.
Here is some insight on Aarathi Selvans journey as a therapist.
What has led you to choose psychology and get into the profession of being a therapist?
Here, Aarathi Selvan walks down the memory lane. For her the journey of becoming a psychologist began at the end of her 10th grade. What was being taught in a very typical school environment was something she wasn’t able to connect with. She had also experienced bullying, social pressure and peer pressure from the school environment which made it very difficult to like school. One of the things that allowed her to explore the question ‘what I want to do with my life?’ was her father’s support and encouragement. By the time her father sat with her and asked her what she wanted to do at the end of her 10th grade, she was already someone who was quite introspective, who questioned everything from a very existential approach. Hence, she spent most of her formative years in school really reflecting on questions like ‘who am I?’ and ‘what is human life?’.
At the time when she was exploring, there was no access to the internet as we do now. Hence, books and relatives were her main source of information regarding her career in counselling. The more she researched, the more she got curious about psychology. This curiosity led her to earn her Bachelor’s, Master’s and MPhil in psychology.
How long has it been since you have been practicing as a psychotherapist and if there were breaks during your practice? If so, then what brought you back?
After finishing her second Masters in 2009, Aarathi Selvan returned to India and has been practicing since then. She recalls the reason she left India was because there wasn’t an understanding of a licensing procedure, a body that would hold psychologists in space, and to get a more streamlined experience.
On returning she discovered that RCI (Rehabilitation Counseling of India) was present as the licensing body for Clinical Psychologists. However, there was still no licensing body for counselors like her, but she had already started working with another person from the same field, who had also returned to India from the US.
Gradually she decided to earn an MPhil in Clinical Psychology to be licensed as it felt important to have one and to be part of a fraternity that has some structure, to be able take calls within that structure which can help support the kind of vision she had.
Here, she shares her experience while completing her MPhil.
“So I started my MPhil, which is a 2 year program, and midway through the first year I got pregnant. At that time I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue to work after I delivered. So, I took a one year sabbatical. It was something that wasn’t done before in an MPhil Clinical Psychology program”, she says.
She describes the one year sabbatical that she took when her daughter was born as “the most amazing period of my life”. She started to learn more about mindfulness, practicing mindfulness. “I think it comes to you, as a parent, because your child often teaches you how to be present in the moment, hence I began to learn more about mindfulness in that one year.”
She got trained with Lynette from the Ottawa Mindfulness Clinic during that period and went back to complete her MPhil. However, “to the horror of my HoD” she got pregnant again. But she finished her MPhil and continued to practice since then. A year after her son was born, she began Pause for Perspective, starting out as an individual and has now grown as a team of 18 practitioners. So, her breaks looked more like the sabbatical breaks which she wanted to take for her children.
What is your stance or your style as a therapist?
She mentions how over a decade and a half her style of work, of understanding people and their lives, and her own life, has definitely evolved, “Like wine my style has sort of aged with time, becoming sweeter with time”. We at Pause for Perspective, are now social justice and transformational justice based. We also practice mindfulness as our frame but also hold narrative practices within our frame. Over the years we have been trained in several modalities like solution focused pre-therapies and the Master’s training in CBT. We are also queer informed, queer affirmative practices informed.
“At the crux of it all, what is important for me is to look at how the system is present in people’s life and how the systems of oppression take away from people their agency and how in spite of that people are always responding. I think that is the premise through which we see people’s lives. It is important for me to stay connected in an embodied way in this journey of understanding ways in which we are privileged and in some ways in which we are marginalized”.
Were there any struggles that came along your way of being a therapist and if there were bad days where clients left the session being unhappy? Is there anything you did from your side for the betterment of sessions?
When asked about her struggles, Aarathi Selvan says that there are two kinds of struggles that come to mind. She says that as therapists there are so many struggles, so many challenges that every day offers. During her Master’s program, the struggle for her has been to uncover and peel away ideas and blind spots that have not served her well in understanding herself and the people around her in general. She had to deconstruct who she was because of her location access as a cis person or an upper caste or class person and this is the challenge she visits and revisits. Having to grapple with some of the differences and looking to be informed on how to stay present with the lives of those that are different from hers has been a challenge and continues to be a challenge.
“I have a personality where I tend to get very passionate and even upset because of things and as much as that helps me hold space for the people that I see, unfortunately, sometimes it has also been the very thing that has come in the way of relationships with people”.
As a team now, at Pause for Perspective, we are constantly looking at social justice, and how privilege and power play into the spaces that we see people.
Have you ever, during your journeys a therapist, felt like giving up your role as a therapist and if you had, how did you persevere through your calling?
Here she admits that there were times where she had moments of complete hopelessness, moments where she just wanted to lie on a patch of grass and stare at the sky and do nothing. She says that it is due to the difficult work that therapists end up doing sometimes. The biggest challenge and the biggest spaces of hopelessness she felt had been when questions like ‘Is this enough?’, ‘Am I doing enough?’ and ‘Is my work enough?’, kept coming up. She says that she has never actually questioned whether she wants to be a therapist or not as a result but has felt like not doing anything sometime.
“I think what pulls me out is like there is a presence of hope inside that I chance upon, especially when I am in therapy. So as much as we think we are helpless, i think a lot of my experiences have been that the people that come to see me have helped me tremendously to continue to keep hope and keep going”.
Our ideology at Pause for Perspective is that the individuals are not regarded as the problem, but the multiple layers of the system which they live in, which might be influencing the way an individual functions, is regarded as an issue. Listen to our therapist, Estelle, as she examines the life of a therapist, their struggles and what motivates and keeps them going, in “A Therapist Journey” in our podcast ‘A Little More Closer’, which is a series of conversations where our therapists talk about issues or problems faced from a systematic lens and not from a very individual lens.