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By Sushama Kirtikar -

There are several reasons our community is so reluctant to seek psychological help for themselves. Some of the roadblocks that I have perceived are listed below:

A collectivistic culture such as ours values maintaining group harmony over individual _expression of emotions, which is considered self-indulgence;

Patience, self-control and self-reliance are virtues that are extolled; going to someone for help is seen as a weakness;

A strong faith that mental distress can be combated by meditation, yoga or spiritual guidance alone often acts as a deterrent to seeking professional help;

There is a surprising lack of knowledge of the differences between psychiatrist (M.D. who does medication evaluations primarily) psychologist (Ph.D who does both therapy and testing) and counselor (M.A. who offers psychotherapy). A common misunderstanding is that going for psychological help means having to visit a psychiatrist and being placed on medication, which is not desired by many.

Sushama Kirtikar
There is a stigma attached to seeing a psychologist or counselor because of the misconception that it means “there is something wrong with me. People will think I am sick, crazy, weak or unworthy;”

Sometimes, the focus is on the individual rather than the context such as the marriage/family/environment. This puts undue burden on the individual to ‘heal’ him/herself without support from loved ones;

Often though, the onus of mental illness falls on the family. To even admit there is a problem within the family is shameful. There is tremendous pressure to keep family matters private and resolve them within the family. At the most, it is permissible to seek help of elders and other respected community members;

People find it more palatable to communicate their psychological disturbance through physical illness, which is socially acceptable. At best, practical issues such as vocational/educational problems can be discussed, not emotional/personal ones;

The profession of psychology is steeped in Western science with its penchant for controlled experiments and research studies. It allows little room for Eastern approaches and alternative healing practices that are energy based;

Western culture tends to over medicate and disregard socioeconomic struggles that contribute to psychological problems; hence, there is a strong distrust of American professionals;

There is a virulent, almost unshakable belief that non-Indian professionals will be biased, culturally insensitive or non understanding;

The therapist is regarded as an authority figure creating a status difference and hence not conducive to a congenial, trusting, therapeutic atmosphere;

Indians are pragmatic and want direct advice dispensed speedily. There is little patience for the painstaking process of learning to become an ‘expert’ of one’s own life and to find customized solutions to one’s problems. Such a process is perceived as ineptness or economic greed on the part of the therapist. After all, don’t you go to an accountant or a lawyer or a physician and are ‘told’ what to do or not to do? Why not here?

These are some of the arguments that have been heard from different sources. Next month, we shall look at arguments for seeking psychological help.

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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