In our last article, Mental Health is Political: Therapists answer Questions, therapists at Pause for Perspective answered some of the questions regarding mental health and the political structures that affect it. We discussed in detail with the experts about how our trauma is a response to the system we’re living in; and how easily this can be ignored. Those interesting perspectives got us thinking: does the body have any role in it? I mean, if we say that mental health is political and that this affects us, it should show up in our body as well, right? What we found was a treasure trove of answers for questions that most of us had but never knew how to ask. The body is always giving us cues as to what we’re feeling, but we do not know how to listen to it. This time, we asked therapists at Pause to throw some light on the role of the body in this.
Here’s what they had to say!
Question: How does the body figure in all this work?
Pooja Gupta kept it short and explained, “Body works in mysterious ways. It recognizes threat and sends you into the Flight, Fight, Freeze reactions to take care of yourself. It knows when something doesn’t feels like a threat to you. It’s standing up against threats in its own ways. Anxiety, depression, trauma symptoms are then acts of standing up against injustice. They’re body’s way of saying that our reality looks different. What we want is different.”
Varsha Vemula says, “Our society places way more importance on the way we look than necessary. It adds so much pressure on individuals specially women to look/act in a certain way. For a man to look fat is still okay compared to a woman being that way. Women are body shamed on a larger basis compared to men. A lot of things about not getting married, not looking attractive and healthy come into play for woman. I feel it’s the stigma associated to the terms. Describing someone as ‘healthy’ instead of ‘fat’ doesn’t change the way they are. We are implying the same thing in a different way. It’s the stigma associated around the term ‘fat’- that its not okay to be like that and look that way, that makes us use ‘healthy’. The stigma around these has to be eliminated rather than replacing them with other terms. They have to be seen merely as terms/ English words rather than placing an emphasis on it.”
Rafath Unnisa also adds in her expertise, “Body, as mindfulness taught me, is an anchor that constantly grounds our experiences and makes it possible for us to access them. By constantly checking in with our body and what we are experiencing in an embodied way makes it real and tangible. I feel that our bodies have deep wisdom which we often don’t give language to, and when we become aware of this and try to give language to our experience we also get closer to what’s actually happening and what we want for ourselves.”
Pooja Agarwal’s commented on what Pause for Perspective believes,
“As we always say at Pause for Perspective, the body is always responding and when we are able to listen in to it, our bodies store rich information on the injustice we face and the hopes we have. I’ve often had conversations with people I see about how they might notice tightness, discomfort in a particular situation and when we lean towards these sensations, it informs them that what’s happening in the situation is disrespectful to them, that something important to them is being erased/dismissed- this awareness allows for them make choices and move towards what truly is important for them. It becomes difficult to see the presence of dominant ideas and structures as they show up in our lives, because they’ve been normalised and we are often told that if we are feeling uncomfortable with something it’s because something is solely wrong with us,- so tuning into the body allows us to get closer to the knowing of when this is happening and honouring our body’s response allows us to care for ourselves. Our bodies also tell us when something we prefer is occurring- thus allowing us to hold on to those acts of care as well.”
Ruhi Sameena, psychotherapist at Pause, reported, “This my favorite bit, bearing witness to how are bodies are always responding and moving towards acknowledging in which way my body is responding is a huge enters point into the hopes one have for themselves as well as move into what do I prefer for my self? What’s working or not or how I wish to respond to the whatever is happening. I’ve found myself every now and then checking-in between the session with myself to see how my body is holding the information given via client admins use that to invite clients to notice what’s going in there bodies while having a certain conversation, I have clients reported saying that it feels safe and okay to feel what there are feeling in there bodies. Which I guess moves into holding space for each of bodies response to see how to move forward into the work.”
That question opens up an another view. Our bodies are like vessels which can hold our traumatic experiences. Mental Health has a capacity to show physical symptoms. When our mental health manifests itself in our physical health, the changes seen are obvious. So when we go to the doctor for increased blood pressure etc., chances are it could be our distress. Which brings us to another question:
QUESTION: What does diagnosis have to do with this? Is there a correlation?
Varsha Vemula says, “Most people often come to therapy to know about diagnosis-to know what’s wrong with them. While this can be a genuine concern sometimes,it does not always necessarily help the client. Oftentimes we have noticed that diagnosing/labeling people with any mental illness/disorder adds to theor distress even more. And we do not want to be here to judge them for their experiences and label them. And a person’s experiences largely have a correlation with different factors influencing their identity. A person living in a toxic environment might experience high levels of anxiety, sadness and hopelessness. It might not be right to label them with depression in such instances.”
Pooja Gupta raises another important view, “As previously mentioned, diagnosis symptoms exist for a reason. We don’t peek into the reasons before categorizing symptoms something as “healthy” and “unhealthy”. We see that they’re uncomfortable. And anything uncomfortable needs to be eradicated. What might happen if we used symptoms to inform us of what we need for ourselves?”
Rafath Unnisa talks about her experience with diagnosing clients. She says, “Diagnosis, for me at least, is a very risky territory. I do acknowledge the importance of having a clinical stance and knowing the clinical/medical aspects of mental health which guides our interventions but I cannot ignore the fact that diagnosis is based on the notion of ‘deviating from the norm’ and also the knowledge that it is the privileged society who is deciding what is the norm and how much is deviation or how little is normal. It’s important for me to notice my intention with diagnosis as a therapist and what sort of an impact it might be having on the client. So yeah, there is definitely a correlation between the fact that mental health is political and diagnosis. Because diagnosis decides whom to consider normal or fit and whom to exclude from this, this again leads to structural oppression and also a lot of mental distress.”
“Yes, diagnosis can further marginalise people by defining their distress as a static reflection of who they are as an individual and negates the presence of socio-cultural and political factors that impact them.” Pooja Agarwal adds. “This is not to say that diagnosis doesn’t hold any significance, when looked at with care and with awareness of context, I have seen that diagnosis helps people find language for what they are experiencing, it also helps them access help and support in the way they need. For me, it’s been important to be aware of both these aspects and stay present to this conflict of how diagnosis can be of help and also can be oppressive- only when staying in this awareness have I been able to find ways to co- create with the person their meaning of a diagnosis given to them so that it becomes something that empowers rather than disenfranchises.”
Ruhi Sameena shares her experience with diagnosis, and how clients often ask what their diagnosis is. However, as mentioned previously, diagnosis is a tricky path to tread on.
She says, “There are ways in which diagnosis can help and sometimes becomes marginalized and oppressive as well for an individual. The stand that a therapist can take is to look into how an individual is responding holding the context one is in. Time and again I have been in places where clients have been asking why diagnosis is important for them to know. It’s important to navigate these conversations with clients to see what is there meaning making of the label been given”
So now that we are aware of the fact that diagnosis can have a correlation with mental health being political, we look for ways to make ourselves feel better. Let’s take a look at how self-compassion comes up in therapy.
Question: How does self-compassion come up in conversations? How do we set the intention for it using mindfulness in our daily lives?
“Self compassion is a very important part of therapy at Pause For Perspective,” says Varsha Vemuala. “We are living it capitalistic times where we are expected to be productive and highly efficient ‘all’ the time. And we don’t cut ourselves some slack and show compassion towards ourselves. We are brought up in a way which says something is wrong if you’re not okay. You ‘need’ to be doing great at ‘all times’. She continues and adds, “Which makes us feel worthless if we’re not doing what we are supposed to do. It is important that we have compassion towards ourselves and what we feel. Intention towards it can be set by being more mindful of our experiences and feelings in our everyday life and having our way of showing compassion to self. It can be any statement that you can say to self (e.g, I’m doing the best I can, I’m enough) or any act like hugging yourself to show kindness and compassion towards self.”
Rafath Unnisa shares her views. She says, “As a therapist who is partially guided by the an ideology that roots itself in mindfulness, I see self-compassion constantly showing up in my therapy room. A lot of my conversations with my clients are intentionally aimed towards the goal of discovering inner wisdom and moving toward self-compassion. Somehow the contextual and political angle of mental health places a lot of criticism and hate within the individual for not conforming or resisting to the structures in place. And having conversations about this makes it possible for the client to see how much of their distress is contextual, I feel this opens up space for self-compassion and also makes them more mindful of how these things sneak into our daily lives.”
Pooja Agarwal reaffirms her faith in the works she does as a therapist. She says, “I believe that this work in itself is one of cultivating self-compassion- in truly witnessing ones experience for what it is, in recognizing how our bodies are responding, in identifying how systems and single stories impact us and make us isolated from our own true intentions from ourselves, in also witnessing and discovering the ways in which we have continued to live by our hopes(because this is also always occurring)- these conversations lead to leaning towards ourselves with kindness and gentleness. The person and me are both holding compassion as we journey in these conversations in this way. Setting an intention daily to turn to ourselves with compassion by using mindfulness can simply look like taking moments to check in with our breath, our body- taking a breath, placing a hand over a part of the body that feels discomfort, taking a breath when needed, listening to what we might need and allowing ourselves that.”
Pause for Perspective firmly roots itself in the principals of mindfulness, and self-compassion. And therapists at Pause believe that mental health is political and work for the inclusion of minority groups in mental health spaces using mindfulness and helping individuals cultivate for themselves a sense of self-love and kindness for oneself. We hope that this answers some of your questions and piques your interest in how we pursue therapy in our space.
Pause for Perspective is a patriarchy deconstructing and a queer affirmative organization that offers mental health services, assessments and mindfulness sessions. We offer online sessions and work all week (even Sundays!) Message us on Instagram or Twitter to book a session!
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