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Plight of a Pagal Psychologist

This is time to renege on the ingrained but irrational ideas of academic and professional achievement by supporting the young talent to become counselors, psychotherapists, life coaches and psychologists.

By Hafsa Tahir | July 2022


As a mental health activist, I have heard horrid stories of many people who have had a bad experience with psychotherapy. Most people often criticize me for promoting psychotherapy which is by itself riddled with a plethora of serious issues, particularly in a country like Pakistan. Many disgruntled patients also express their displeasure over heavy fees of psychologists as well as their costly treatment. Though I fully understand and acknowledge the concerns raised by many people, I am here to show the flip side of the coin by pointing out our hypocrisy and double standards.

As a student of Clinical Psychology, I have witnessed many psychologists employing avoidance coping tactics, which in fact amounts to professional negligence. However, as things currently stand in this part of the world where most of the population is still deprived of basic needs, it comes as no surprise that we, in aggregate, are apathetic towards such a “trivial” matter as the scarcity of psychotherapists and mental health practitioners, let alone good ones.

While every problem has its own specific needs and solutions, there is one way-out that outsmarts them all: pursuing a Bachelors or Masters degree in Psychology or related mental health discipline.

In Economics, there is a simple rule of supply and demand. According to this ubiquitous rule, the price goes up when demand is greater than supply. For example, imagine a scenario when some two hundred consumers are offered with just two loaves of bread available in the market. In this sort of situation, bread is not sold but auctioned while the shortage consequently opens the door for incompetence, exploitation, corruption and different malpractices. The similar situation also applies to the prevailing state of psychotherapy in Pakistan.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) statistics, Pakistan had a total of 478 psychologists and 342 psychiatrists in 2010. As per the WHO, some 24 million Pakistanis are in need of help for various mental health issues while there are only 0.19 psychiatrists per 100,000 people in the country. This figure is still better than the number 'The News' reported in 2016 under the headline ‘50 million people with mental disorders in Pakistan.’ Putting it plainly, these statistics are quite alarming and worrying.

It is also important to note that these are just the reported numbers. With the stigma attached to mental health, we cannot be sure whether these numbers are accurate or not. In our social setting, when one starts a serious conversation about this matter, one comes to realize that the actual numbers could be way more than 50 million. In a country like Pakistan plagued by deep-rooted concerns of poverty, instability, inflation, sexism, human rights issues, and much more, it would not be wrong to assume that every other individual is in dire need of personal counseling, if not clinical psychotherapy. Hopelessness is inevitably prevalent here, which is both a cause and an underlying symptom of depression.

More's the pity, the country is not producing the required numbers of psychologists despite high demand and the lack of them is mostly attributable to our long-held disgust for social sciences. In a parochial society like ours, people are obsessed with becoming doctors and engineers and compel their children to pursue these careers only. A typical middle-aged mother in our society hungrily hunts for a “doctor bahu” for her boy, while boys are force-fed the idea that pursuing their career in the field of engineering will help them become the next Bill Gates. They are prophesied about their dismal future in other academic disciplines such as Arts, which is erroneously taken as a subject only meant for the academically worthless who cannot make it to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields. Inter alia, our kids are warned of the fact that “those who study psychology themselves become a psycho”.

It is not surprising that one comes across about 10 general physicians running their clinics on the same street or in small rooms of apartments, charging as low as Rs. 2,00 for each patient. On the contrary, it's more than a herculean task to find a professional psychologist next door or any kind of help available to assess, diagnose and treat psychological and mental health disorders.

How can we expect things to improve without encouraging young people to pursue their careers in clinical psychology? This is time to renege on the ingrained but irrational ideas of academic and professional achievement by supporting the young talent to become counselors, psychotherapists, life coaches and psychologists.

I firmly believe the first step we all need in this area is to react against this culturally-imbued stereotype and to renounce the use of the word “pagal” for those in need of clinical therapy as well as for those who are actively playing their part in the mitigation of mental health issues.

Hafsa Tahir has done her Masters in Clinical Psychology and is a Gold Medallist. She is currently serving as the President of Karachi University Debate Dialogue and Discussion Society, being the first ever female in the Society's history to become its president. Hafsa Tahir has won multiple awards for public speaking. Currently, she is associated with the Geo News English as a sub-editor, and can be reached at hafsatahir25@gmail.com

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