Gaurav Deka is a general physician and a clinical psychotherapist practising in Delhi who insists on looking at mental health issues such as depression as more than a clinical disease to be only treated with medicines. He also talks about overcoming homophobia while in medical school and his hopes for a future where AI will have high prominence
Tell us a little about your childhood. Were you always interested in understanding human relationships
A: When I look back, I can recollect that I was extremely sensitive as a child. I would cry at the drop of a hat. My relatives and cousins used the word dheela (softy) for me as they felt that my parents were over protective and always apprehensive that someone might do something to their son. As a result, I turned out to be a hypersensitive and gloomy kid – atleast that was the hypothesis. I could feel others’ pain and sadness, be it a childhood friend losing his pet dog at six or my grandmother cooking kheer for me in the kitchen even with her jaundice inflicted body.
I knew I could feel sad for them, and I could identify that feeling as ‘sadness’. I also remember how as a child I was watching a 90s movie one day, (Dil starring Amir Khan and Madhuri Dixit) with my mother and grandmother. There’s a scene where Amir Khan falls from a cart-lift of a building, and what I particularly remember is crying over it for the whole evening. Not because the scene scared me and made me aware of the idea of death as a child, but it just made me sad to think what will happen to this fallen, injured man and what will happen to this girl who loves this man so much! These could be thought as small inconsequential childhood memories, albeit silly, but I feel that the cornerstone of my sense of empathy and sensitivity towards understanding and realizing human suffering and grief was laid long back.
When did you decide to study human psychology..? What was your experience in the initial years of college. You had mentioned a professor who wanted to ‘cure’ you of your ‘sexual orientation’?
A: Irrespective of the experiences and realizations I mentioned above, I didn’t quite know that I was supposed to study psychology. I am still unsure by the way, if studying human psychology is imperative in order to alleviate and heal human suffering and distress. I went ahead and studied the closest available discipline – medicine. It was during my MBBS that I found myself falling into an insidious and monstrous depression which lasted for more than five years. While I became close to understanding how the human brain works, my understanding of the mind still remained incomplete. I used to visit a couple of therapists in Guwahati during those days, and I found that talking did help – in some way or the other. While I took medication for my condition for quite a long time, today I feel that all of it was not absolutely necessary. Therapists in Guwahati are not intervention based. It’s mostly free associative and talking that they do. And simple counseling or cognitive work has its own limitations.
Post my MBBS, while I went ahead and studied psychodynamic psychotherapy, the real ‘education’ happened when I studied regression work. My education abroad and Regression therapy helped me in realizing that psychotherapy too can be a completely intervention based model, much like surgery or physics. And that’s what brought clarity to me and to the kind of work I always wanted to do.
It was actually one of my CBT therapists who had suggested that I go to the garden and smell flowers so that I could imbibe feminine energy and hang calendars of bikini clad models in my room so that I could begin to feel attracted to the opposite sex and things could be corrected. Even in college, almost all my colleagues discriminated against me for I was open about my sexuality and orientation and sidelined me because they thought I was a weirdo! Every single person in medical school including most of my professors were homophobic.
Mental health is still not widely discussed in India (other than sparingly on social media) and mentally ill patients do not receive due consideration and treatment. Is this scenario going to see any change in the coming years..? Your thoughts on this cycle of exclusion.
In a city like Delhi or Mumbai there is still some amount of accessibility and support system when it comes to reaching out to a professional (person or set up) when it comes to addressing mental and emotional health issues, but in a city like Guwahati, there’s just too much work that remains. The first point of contact is always a psychiatrist. As a medical doctor myself, while I do feel that medications are important, what I am worried about is their overuse, abuse and the misdiagnosis that happens when it comes to mental health. In the US, every second person suffering from clinical depression is on prozac or a benzodiazepine, and the situation in India too is no different of late. People don’t get to talk, discuss or explore ways of understanding their psyche and emotional landscape in any other way. And that’s what we all need to worry about. In the coming years, I do hope for a change, but for various reasons including the absolute lack of awareness and the absence of faith on a holistic system of healing (other than just medication) makes it difficult for people to recognize, acknowledge and work with their issues
You believe in following ‘an integrative and holistic approach’ for the complete well-being of your patients. Would you elaborate on this? Does this mean that treating the mentally-ill is more than prescribing medicines..?
As I have mentioned previously, my entire struggle has been to educate clients and patients coming to me about a world of possibilities that is beyond medicine and in adjunct with it at the same time. This is not to disqualify or exclude the benefits of pharmacological compounds in treating organic disorders like schizophrenia or bipolar. But yes, there are so many other interventions and procedures that can be used not only to help and cure psychological ailments, but also physical and physiological. Cases of breast cancer, PCOD, and multiple sclerosis have also been healed through processes like regression therapy, deep tissue memory process, family constellation, inner child integration therapy, et al. And all of these are alternative models and systems of working with the mentally, the emotionally and the physically ill. I personally believe that every disease begins as a ‘thought’. Be it something as deadly as leukemia or be it common cold. And that healing both is possible if we follow a set of procedures that not only treats the body, but the mind and spirit too.
Tell us a little about your area of expertise: Past Life Regression. How can one hope to be benefitted by it..?
Past Life Regression Therapy, commonly known as PLRT is a relatively new form of work when it comes to transpersonal psychotherapy. At the same time, PLRT is only a part of Regression Therapy. Regression Therapy is as old as time, for the word ‘regression’ simply means going back in time. And why do we need to go back in time? Because all those parts of us that are ‘unhealed’ today must have an origin and that origin is inevitably in the past. In Regression therapy, we go back in time to firstly figure out the origin of the presenting problem or the issue that a client/patient comes with. Once we reach the origin, we work with it and heal it. But why can’t we heal the same things by being in the present? Why do we at all need to regress? That’s because as humans we are never actually in the present. We are either concerned about what lies ahead in the future or what happened to us in the past. The present day “I” is mostly missing all the time. At the same time, we are logical beings. We have to feel, process, analyze and talk and describe about our experiences in order to move through them and finally let them go. Hence Regression therapy as a process helps – in moving through those feelings of the past, by catharsis and by healing the origin, and finally by allowing the negative past to leave our body and system, so that the present day personality can be healthy and be in charge.
What are your hopes for the future..?
I often feel that with Artificial Intelligence gaining momentum and emergence in every field, the trajectory of work fields that require a high degree of emotional-intelligence will certainly go up. Psychotherapy is evolving and growing day by day. Newer and newer forms of interdisciplinary methods are being explored and created. So, yes, the future of therapy and mental health practices and interventions is on the rise as I see today.
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