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    AvatarJyothi Ravichandran

    “Miss, can I tell in Tamil?”

    I attempt to reflect on the notions of post-structuralist and post-colonial philosophies and practices of psychotherapy through my experiences working in a community (school) setting and private consultations with adolescents and young adults. There have always been palpable tensions between the traditional and personal within the clinical space. Neuroses are because of tensions between polarities; between what is expected, what is and what could be. The emancipatory power of Narrative Practices makes the meaning making of these tensions and preferred identities transparent to both the consultant and the consulting. The full import of the ways in which this allows us as mental health professionals to shift the needle on public discourse is like a clarion call to and into action. The widely accessible philosophy of finding cultural ways of healing allow us to internalise the principles of such therapies from other contexts.

    The idea of double consciousness, for example, is applicable to any oppressor-oppressed context. Akinyela’s stunning paper brought about so many encounters I have had in my work with what I’ll call the ‘Gaze’. A group of 10 year olds in an English-medium classroom experiencing a sense of elation and confidence in themselves that they turned against children down the same corridor in the same Government school but in a Tamil-medium classroom. The stunning complicity of well-meaning public and social sector workers in propagating ideas and practices of European industry and accordingly forcing the hegemony of the curriculum as it is practiced now is sobering to face up to. In our Tree of Life sessions in the classroom, it is amazing how the same children who have chastised their Tamil-medium peers dropped the coloniser’s tongue quickly and adopted Tamil to speak lovingly, excitedly and poignantly of their histories, where they come from, who they adore in life, what qualities they find admirable and what dreams they have for their lives. To hear the politics of resisting poverty in Tamil-laced, audacious articulation of future plans and goals of children touched all of us with renewed commitment to ensure spaces where they can own their own language, hear stories of resistance and becoming, and access their life in an intimate tongue.

    The colonisation of the curriculum and indeed the objectives of a school in this culture weigh on me with a discomfort that I’m looking forward to exploring with the system with over the next few years. On a more immediate note, I feel impelled to collect rituals of healing practices in the homes, villages and histories of our students’ families and honouring them with the active participation of students and teachers in developing classroom practices like the call and response as one of the many ways of disciplining/welcoming back a child/celebrating achievements, etc. The possibilities of integrating Narrative techniques of reflection and getting in touch with socio-cultural, political and economic histories of children in curriculum is also massive, like the use of principles of time lines and genograms in Literature or Social Science. This direction of thinking requires research, learning, planning and careful implementation but at this time, it is an important place to start in our work to level the power wielded by colonialism in the classroom, making knowledge particular and yet universal.

    In the context of resisting beauty ideals set by her family, one of the young people I work with vehemently declared she does not appreciate comments on how clear her skin is looking, saying it makes her so sensitive to the fact that this aunt will probably be tracking what she called her “skin-deep” qualities, making it at once upsetting that an adolescent is refusing compliments and yet heartening that she refuses compliments that she suspects derive from the male gaze even if they were delivered by a female agent. This immediately led to a session where she was able to explore the tricks such Expectations (to have clear skin) play on her relationship with her own body, eating and relating with others.

    I had not heard a clear, political voice in psychotherapy until I came across community mental health and Narrative Practices. I am very grateful to have a whetting stone for my moral compass and active political engagement with my work and Narrative Practices have sharpened my commitment to unearth rather than prescribe. The oft quoted Lilla Watson comes to mind, my liberation as a therapist, social worker and educator, now seems tied up with all those who fight to make education better and alleviate the scourge of poverty in small, sure, acts of resistance and resonance.

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