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    Khwaish Sharma

    “So I was sitting in the centre of the room and you and all the other doctors were around me and I took out a gun and shot you”, my 12 – year old client narrated her dream and requested me to “analyse” and “decode” it, in a hope that I might say something like “Dreams are not true, you didn’t mean it, I know you don’t want to kill me”. When we instead went on to collaboratively walk and work through it, listening for the absent but implicit in her interpretation gave us a whole new perspective about what it meant for her to be at the centre of the process in therapy, as she was surrounded by doctors in an inpatient ward who “told me what to do, when to sleep, what to eat, I was so scared to shoot them”. The agency in her voice highlighted the experience of freedom she felt through a collaborative stance
    that the narrative lens has introduced me to.

    Decolonising therapy in a country that was colonised for 200 years will be met with innumerable challenges, to say the least, but even now, for the majority of India, an astrologer, a faith healer or a religious ‘guru’ comes much before a therapist and that makes me wonder whether in an endeavor to be as ‘scientific’ and structuralist as possible, we are losing the culture, voice, and language our people speak. Having said so, I believe, narrative therapy with its emphasis on stories and narratives (Wingard, 2000) comes close to the culture of telling stories in India.

    After being acquainted with this cultural lens I often notice the influence of popular music in our country which occasionally ends with the singer questioning “who am I” to the protagonist at the cinema screens gazing far into space trying to find out where they have “lost the inner self”. Clients often come in and explain their goal in therapy is to know “ what is wrong with me” and through this meet ‘their real, true self” looking into the therapist’s eyes who would lead them to this ‘authentic self’. This therapist, with the DSM and a book on ‘Abnormal psychology” in one hand, and assessments characterizing people around a ‘norm’ in the other, like Mickey de Valda said, often seems like a keeper of “middle-class manners’ ensuring that the ‘decorum and normality’ of society is maintained. The alternative ethic that Narrative Therapy brings forth not only brings into attention the westernized understanding
    of what constitutes being in ‘order’ and what is a ‘dis-order’; but also puts back the agency and tools where they belong, by aiding people not only in the ‘treatment’ of the “disease” or disorder’ but in their ‘suffering’ by emphasizing folk and insider knowledge. I am reminded of a 13-year-old client, who expressed his complete dissatisfaction with the word ‘disorder’ at the end of ADHD and renamed it CMO: “Creative Multitasking Order”, where the last word stands for ‘order’.

    In my brief time as an assistant psychologist in England, I remember signing an agreement of confidentiality to not work with the family or engage with them for adult clients, ‘unless there is a threat to life’. In a communal and extended family culture like ours, I sometimes remember my supervisor’s voice who once told me ‘’There are limits to your profession”. In my work in my context, I sometimes feel that my client is not only the individual consulting us
    but also the entire universe of the client. To make the alliance meaningful, I find myself collaborating with schoolteachers, drama teachers, cousins, relatives, friends, partners, parents whoever clients want to invite, and that voice sometimes reminds me of the stark contrast and the necessity to contextualize and decolonize therapy in our culture.

    I have encountered how speaking more than one language by moving between an individual and collective voice opens space to collectivize the ‘problem’, distance oneself from it, and view it as social. A 12-year-old young girl who is determined to ‘sue and fight ED (Eating Disorder)’ discussed how ED is like a ‘police officer’ in an ‘Anne Hathaway’ voice in ‘young girls’ lives. We often speak about how the therapeutic conversations and the poems she writes are for ‘ all of us: young girls and womxn’, which enabled a shift to respond to this as a social issue. When she was discharged from an inpatient psychiatric ward, her mum gathered all the doctors to do an ‘ aarti’, (a religious Hindu ritual), which is something that marked a significant point in her journey against ED, the importance of which we discussed in length during our sessions. The ritual of the ‘aarti’ and the healing power of its’ flame for her led us to use some candles in the ceremony where she ‘sued’ ED.

    Additionally, through these externalized and collectivized conversations, people are unleashed from the restraints imposed by the policing of their own and others’ lives, something which happens automatically in an economy that thrives on people being unhappy with themselves. When this policing is made aware of, I feel the agency reflects in
    the sessions too, for example, when I used the word ‘self-harm’, my client asked me, “how can you use such a technical word” to another client especially scheduling and booking a session to celebrate her first anniversary of staying ‘clean’ or away from her ‘earlier coping mechanism: cutting’.

    I am also reminded of a 16-year-old I work with, who was telling me about the effects of suffering from the trauma of sexual abuse in Class 6 where she did not feel like studying and interacting with peers and how she “never tried to get better”. A few sessions later, while discussing how “better” is understood in different ways and unravelling her resistance she muttered something about a tree, an orchid tree she would ‘ talk to ’ about everything, and how her teachers were worried something was “wrong with her”. Her parents were called, and she was taken to the school counsellor and various other services for this “behavior”. I am shocked at how surviving in a traditional and abusive school system, the courage and openness to talk, to express, to be vulnerable to a tree, to something, to anything is
    considered ‘worrying’ but not the system which caused her immense trauma and abuse.

    This past year has found me going beyond understanding humans as driven by the ‘id’, genetics, or the ‘unconscious’ to culture, intentions, and relations being the most influential determinants of meaning. The visual which stays with me is instead of using a magnifying glass to find the root causes’ or ‘deficits’ in the ‘problem story’, I find myself viewing client’s stories through a ‘telescopic’ vision, looking ahead at the ‘strong, alternate story’, towards the intentions, hopes, dreams, and beliefs they want to stand for. To conclude, narrative therapy has ironically conditioned me to un- condition every notion I have ever had and never assume that I understand what the person means, so I unpack and co-create meaning with the client(s) at each step.

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