Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Day 4 -- a symposium on Mental Health and Gender Violence

In partnership with the Schizophrenia Research Foundation (SCARF -, a symposium was held on Mental Health and Gender Violence. About 150 students and professionals from the fields of psychology, social work and counseling attended the seminar. The chairperson for the seminar was Dr. Sheela Julius, Head of the Department of Counseling Psychology from the Madras School of Social Work.

Participants were given a warm welcome from Dr. R. Thara, director of SCARF and Dr. Swarna from Prajnya.

The programme kicked off with Gender Violence – getting the basics right, a session by Anupama from Prajnya. She noted that violence is like the elephant in the room that everyone is trying to ignore and talked about the stigma and the challenges in addressing gender violence. She encouraged the young students to separate their professional assessment from their personal feelings. “We must go so far but if for whatever reason they refuse our help, we must not sit in judgement.”

The next session, “Violence at Home – Detection and Management”, was conducted by Dr. Shuba Kumar. She is a social scientist and co-founder of Samarth, a NGO that focuses on health research and training. In the seminar, she talked about the findings of her research study, Domestic violence and its mental health correlates in Indian women. The findings were published in the British Journal of Psychiatry. The study sample included about 10,000 women across various strata in seven different centres across India and the findings on the correlation between domestic violence and poor mental health was reviewed for the Domestic Violence Act (2005). The study provided substantive evidence of the need to classify domestic violence as a major health problem.

The third session, Mental Health correlates of violence, was conducted by Dr. Hema Tharoor, a psychiatrist at SCARF. She is a recipient of the Dr. TMA Pai Gold medal for Excellence in Medical Research and has extensive investigative experience in clinical drug trials. Dr. Hema talked about health and mental disorders arising from witnessing domestic violence. She gave an example of a student refusing to attend school because the child was a witness to bullying. Witnessing violence as a child can lead to trust issues and impair romantic relationship and emotional attachments. She said “violence was impossible to predict but risk can be assessed” and discussed vulnerabilities that might pre-dispose individuals to violence.

The final session, Counseling victims of violence, was conducted by psychotherapist Ravi Samuel, who has over 19 years of clinical experience. Mr Samuel is an external faculty member at the Institute for Psychotherapy & Management Sciences, Chennai and is an associate member of the Indian Psychiatric Society. He started the session by narrating two cases and asked the audience for their observations and impressions. He advised that counselors should not make assumptions without finding the complete history and to get an informed view. He said, “Violence is only one part of the relationship.... We need to know the relationship dynamics to aid the counseling process.” Counselors' own ideologies about violence will shape and impact the treatment paths, he noted and advised to not give common sense advice to patients. “Go beyond the violence to bring permanent solutions.”

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