Interviews In Conversation With The Talking Compass: Expanding Mental Health Access

In Conversation With The Talking Compass: Expanding Mental Health Access

The Talking Compass is a platform that provides various services including counselling and coaching and is a mental health resource sharing space.

One of the best parts of being part of a digital intersectional feminist platform is that you are exposed to a variety of resources and work through online threads and links. In this piece, we spoke (virtually) with Scherezade Sanchita Siobhan, the founder of The Talking Compass.

The Talking Compass is a platform that provides various services including counselling and coaching. Scherezade is a practising psychologist and in this interview, we learn about the work The Talking Compass is doing and their plans for the future.

FII: What was your personal motivation behind setting up The Talking Compass?

Scherezade Sanchita Siobhan: I am a practising psychologist, therapist and wellness coach with approximately 14+ years of experience working with organisations, individuals and communities across a diverse split of human capability development as well as mental health initiatives. I wish to inculcate gender, sexuality, race and caste awareness into personal therapeutic practice and create a safe space particularly for those who might need counselling most but have the least possible access to it.

It is a safe, positive and healing stretch for individuals, communities and organizations to find compassionate, empathetic resources for counselling, therapy, self-realisation – both physically and digitally. We work with our clients as their compass, gently providing direction for their life’s journey.

FII: I’m curious about reach – are there specific cities where you serve clients/provide programs? Is it a big or a small team?

SSS: We are fairly new in terms of a more concerted effort to reach wider demographics because my own practice usually consists of a selected group of clients with whom I have been working for a significant amount of time. Our goals are threefold – provide therapeutic care and counselling services, create and share content for mental and emotional wellness, forge collaborations with like-minded groups, individuals and practice spaces to empower accessibility for mental health solutions in marginalized communities.

I am presently located in Mumbai but consistently nomadic. The client base we are counselling and working with is spread across various Indian cities as well as located internationally in the UK, US and Singapore. We decided early on to create a robust system for online counselling that allowed access for those people who couldn’t physically make themselves available.

In a lot of cases, people – particularly those impacted by trauma – experience social anxiety and may not be able to venture out of their homes for counselling from the word go, so we decided this year to provide the option of at-home counselling services focused at women and women-identified folks who need it most.

This is a flagship effort and we want to consolidate this further because this has become my own raison d’être. The team presently comprises me and a few collaborators who partner with me as per client requirements and needs. We intend to grow to at least half a dozen counsellors/therapists in the next 2 years.

Also Read: The Abyss of Mental Health: The Responsibilities of the Professional (Part 1)

FII: How do you see The Talking Compass as fitting in the mental health landscape in India?

SSS: One of the critical challenges with how mental health is treated in India is dismantling the taboos associated with “madness” as some form of otherworldly evil or a purely external entity. So much of this stems from social, cultural and ecological taboos.

In urban demographics, there is also a rising trend for cultivating overt dependency on medications or writing scripts within a half hour of meeting clients/patients. While we fully support pharmacological treatment for mental wellbeing, we also believe that therapeutic methods – those specifically rooted in counselling – which enable truly life-altering changes through cognitive, emotional, behaviourally mindful practices are utterly significant and should supplement a purely medication-oriented approach for people battling mental health challenges.

Another key component that shapes our practice is how we decolonize the territory of mental health – how we toggle between all that contributes to mental wellness inclusive of socio-cultural factors and how racism, casteism, anti-queerness, patriarchal structures of systemic oppression have significantly thwarted mental wellness for a huge percentage of our population in India and elsewhere.

Image Credit: The Talking Compass Facebook

FII: Based on your interaction with clients, partners and communities what do you see as the key challenges in providing effective mental health care in India?

SSS: The most common challenge is the consistency of treatment and inclusive treatment spaces which do not pander to commonly regressive and archaic tropes about mental illness. It is surprising that even some of the more established names within the psychiatric echelons tend to function with an unfortunate ignominy.

We need a greater normalization of mental health care – a ready acceptance of neurodiversity. It is easier for me to walk into a treatment facility for chronic spinal pain than find vulnerary facilities for my clinical depression. I don’t want to create a false equivalence between mental and physical health because I think each occupies its own specific strata of significance but here is something that has been swimming in my head for a while –

“A materialistic culture teaches its members that their value depends on what they produce, achieve, or consume rather than on their human beingness.”
– Gabor Maté, How to Build a Culture of Good Health

How do we go beyond treating people as production units is our foremost question and in answering that we would have successfully gone beyond purely diagnostic modes of mental health – to carving a truly necessary space where holistic care for the individual becomes cardinal. This really is the critical question we are attempting to fathom an answer for.

FII: TATVA is listed as a collaborator and we have previously profiled them and the work being done by then. Could you share a little about your collaboration with them?

SSS: TATVA is run by a fellow poet and psychologist Kripi Malviya who is also a dear friend. I participated in a poetry event with her in Goa about a year ago. Their residential model is rather singular and their foundation in existential psychotherapy is very relevant to our own practice models at The Talking Compass. We intend to conduct workshops and awareness programs in collaboration with them as well as breathe pulse into some uniquely designed residential programs that use expressive arts with humanistic and existential therapies.

FII: What plans do you have for 2018?

SSS: ‘Impact Sustainability’ is my key phrase for 2018. We have to go beyond the antecedent, the initial ripples and look at a continuous path for making counselling and therapy accessible for those who are in dire need. We want to dive deep as opposed to broad paddling.

We are going to focus on collaborations that allow us to work with those sections in society who are usually far removed from therapeutic care but need it – students in non-metropolitan cities, homemakers above the age of 40, senior citizens, new mothers, among others. Our approach is systematized steadiness and incorporating a non-pathologizing approach.

FII: Do you have any mental health resources that you would like to recommend to our readers?

SSS: Follow The Talking Compass on FB. I am not just saying this out of hubris but
we have a well-curated page that is an excellent mental health resource sharing space for anyone and everyone.

Also Read: The Abyss of Mental Health: The Responsibilities of the Professional (Part 2)

To learn more about The Talking Compass, check out their website.

Featured Image Credit: Facebook

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