The interactive session with Ms Mausami Bhansali and Mr Narendar Gautam took place in Laboratory 2 of Psychology Department as part of Positive Psychology Symposium. Ms Mausami Bhansali, a graduate from Tripura University and Mr Narendar Gautam, a graduate from Delhi University with social work experience are counselors at CanSupport, a non-profit organisation founded by Harmala Gupta that aims at providing palliative care to patients with cancer. Ms Bhansali has been working with CanSupport for 2 years while Mr Gautam has been a part of this initiative for 5 years now. This session was moderated by Ms Siksha Deepak, Associate Professor at the department.
The event started with an introduction of the students present, giving it an interactive touch from the very beginning. Many questions were asked by the students during the course of the discussion which were answered by the counselors. After a brief introduction about the two counselors, Mr Gautam asked the students what ‘palliative care’ is. “Palliative care”, he described, “was something that began when the doctors tell the patients to go home.” It aims at improving the quality of life for the patient and helps the family cope with the patient’s illness. Even though it is crucial at all stages – stage 4 as well as stage 1 – it is not very popular in the country, explained Mr Gautam. While it does not even exist in government hospitals, private hospitals offer it at high costs. He also spoke about how counselling is still considered a taboo in India and Indians pull themselves back when it comes to counselling even though it is important in various walks of life like education, career choices and illnesses. CanSupport, they explained focuses on patient’s mental health which suffers a lot as they undergo treatments and sometimes, even lose hope.
Then Ms Bhansali was asked about the ‘Spike Model’ which is a format used to break the news to the patient and the family. She explained how when the news about the illness is broken to the family and/or patient in a hurry or in a blunt manner, it can cause more stress. The spike model is usually used when the patient is not aware of their illness. Breaking the news is a painful process and even after years of experience, both the counselors still find it a hard thing to do. Mr Gautam then discussed a case about a lady he had dealt with earlier where she had no idea about the cancer that she had. He explained that sometimes it just dawns upon the patient that he/she might have cancer and that way, the doctors or the family members do not have to break the news.
While suffering from a terminal illness like cancer or seeing a loved one fight that battle is stressful, having to deal with patients every day and watching them die can also cause a lot of stress. So when asked how they deal with this stress, the counselors talked about the various techniques that they are taught during training and the ones they use at a personal level to cope with the stress that comes with the work they do. In order to start answering this question, Mr Gautam first asked the students what they do to deal with the stress caused by exams and he then used it to explain his own techniques like laughter therapy, picnics etc.. To explain an activity that the counselors do as part of their training, Mr Gautam asked the students about an experience that shook them, a question they are asked during training. Ms Bhansali explained her way of coping which included doing things she loved like gardening and listening to music along with attending the various classes organised by the NGO.
When asked about the focus of counselling for patients who have little or no hope, they explained how making the patients accept reality is the hardest part. To this, Mr Gautam added how it is important to talk about the achievements of the patient and how to get them to participate in improving their life. Ms Bhansali emphasized the importance of living in the moment and focusing on “now”. Another question asked was “When do you detach yourself and how?” To answer this, Mr Gautam talked about experience and training. He admitted that it was harder when dealing with young patients and there are times when it is hard to stay strong. At times like these, he explained, you need to take a break by either talking about other things or excusing yourself for some time. Ms Bhansali added “Routine makes you strong” and talked about how routine helps them maintain a professional attitude and empathize when required. “You need to switch on and off your emotions” added Mr Gautam.
The counselors then talked about the patients coming from diverse social backgrounds, with about 70% poor people and 30% rich or upper middle class people. They also discussed how the difference in terms of education, awareness and finance creates a difference and how even after all these differences, the emotions and symptoms are the same. Another topic that was touched upon was that of spirituality. Mr Gautam explained how spirituality is different from religious issues and how it is important to deal with it according to the situation.
Some of the last questions were about the problems faced by the counselors and the things they had learnt. Ms Bhansali explained how it was always difficult dealing with deaths while Mr Guatam talked about how it is difficult to explain to the patient that they understand their suffering without actually suffering. With the help of another case, Ms Bhansali tried to make the students understand the things she had learnt. Both the counselors talked about how each day, they learn how to live life, among other things, from the patients.
The discussion concluded with the idea that life should be looked at in a positive manner and it is important to maintain hope at all times. Before leaving, both the counselors were given a token of appreciation.
Reported By: Akshita Negi
Photo Credits: Harshita Bajaj