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By Sushama Kirtikar -

Brimming with fresh insights and awareness, I have just returned from a visit to India. Specific encounters left lasting impressions on me, folded with anomalies and fascinating tidbits of information.

A visit to the Indian School of Business (ISB) in Hyderabad unveiled intriguing facts about the utilization of counseling services in India. Zinobia Rustumfram, a counselor for ISB, vehemently asserted that many of the erudite and intelligent students of this elite and renowned university were ‘emotionally stunted’ and in grave need of counseling. She noted a disturbing life skills’ deficiency. Students fared brilliantly in their academic careers but lagged behind flagrantly in decision-making skills relating to their personal lives.

Sushama Kirtikar
Yet, there is an overriding reluctance to accept any need for counseling services. Both she and her colleague have to struggle to promote the use of their services to the student body. Once, they walk in the door, they are more apt to continue unhesitatingly.

A telling conversation with a counselor from the Bandra Campus Counseling Center (BCCC) of National College in Mumbai had traces of the same echo. Aparna Vyavaharkar counsels four colleges: law, engineering, commerce and arts. The foot in the door tends to be related to career and academic problems. Deftly, she is able to steer students to the root cause of their disturbance, which often bears flavors of values’ conflict with parents, decision making dilemmas and relationship problems. She gets a large audience of more than 100 participants when she holds general workshops such as conflict management but finds it a struggle to promote the use of counseling services.

The ISB counseling office was “tossed around like a football” shunted from one corner of a building to another. The BCCC office is currently tucked away under a stairwell, almost as an after thought. Mental health service in India continues to be relegated to secondary/ancillary service status, not primary/essential. This is similar to the treatment it receives in the U.S.

I heard a dichotomy of both an eagerness to get psychological help and a wariness about being seen entering a counseling office. I heard an ardency to reach out for help when in crisis and a mulishness to deny the existence of a problem. The parities with the Indian American community here are plenty. But what stood out for me was the much greater openness with which the general public in India is embracing counseling services, slowly tearing away the antique stigma that has stuck on for ages.

One keen observation was that structured activities tend to have a larger appeal. So, keeping in step with the preferred mode of connecting, I ask you, the residents of West Central Florida: What particular topics of interest would you like to see presented? Would you be willing to attend workshops on mental health related subjects? Please write or call with your suggestions, so that I may begin the process of presenting a series of group activities and discussion forums. It is time for our community to awake from its stupor and generate holistic wellness.

Sushama Kirtikar, a licensed mental health counselor, can be reached at (813) 264-7114 or (727) 586-0626, or e-mail at

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