Prasanna Counselling Centre, Bengaluru Helping those in distress

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By Pramod Kumar

It is a scientific fact that depression causes most of the diseases. It is found more among women than men. But instead of seeking medical advice, most of the people believe that mental disorders are due to the influence of evil spirits, which sometimes complicates the problem. The fact is that mental disorders develop due to chemical reactions in the brain and they all are curable. What is needed is right approach and proper guidance to the victims and their family members. 

It was with this objective that some workers in Bengaluru started helping the persons in distress about 30 years back under the banner of Prasanna Counselling Centre. Today, it is the most trusted counselling centre in Karnataka to which even the psychiatrists from National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) and many other reputed doctors refer their patients for counselling and rehabilitation. The patients there are provided guidance by experts free of cost. About 40 to 50 patients visit the centre everyday. Thousands and thousands of people suffering from mental disorders have been benefited through this centre so far. 

The centre is run by Hindu Seva Pratishtana, a social organisation established in 1980 with the objective of training social workers in specific fields of social service. It was basically a brainchild of the late Ajit Kumar, the then Prant Pracharak of Karnataka who had the quality to motivate workers to attempt the things, which they thought they might not have done. It was with this thought process that a training programme in counselling for lay-counsellors came into existence. He granted the task of co-coordinator to Smt MC Pankaja, an experienced teacher and trained lay-counsellor, who has been successfully looking after the centre till now. 

As a result of increasing industrialisation and complexities of life, people are confronted with varieties of mental problems. The unceasing trend towards urbanisation has multiplied such problems. The accelerated pace of change in life and situations, the range of novel situations available and the wide and diverse options developed with the aim of bringing greater happiness to human beings have ultimately snatched the very sheet anchor of contentment and happy living conditions to a very great extent. Now-a-days because of the creation of nuclear families the security and advantage offered by undivided families are also not available and people thus find themselves in a very strange situation. Some people manage their problems by virtue of their age, experience and wisdom acquired through the years. Often they take the help of friends and relatives in resolving the crisis. Occasionally, they may land in complex situations wherein a standard solution may not be forthcoming. Any delay or a wrong solution may worsen the situation and increase their pain. In such a situation even the evolved counsellors with sensitiveness find themselves no longer technically adequate to tackle the problem of the present age. This was the prime motivation for the Hindu Seva Pratishtana to start the training centre for counselling and also to create a model pilot-counselling centre. 

"Since, it was the first of its kind experiment in the country by a social organisation, many questions were confronted by the Centre right from the day one. The prime questions arose included whether the non-professional help should be provided to people or not. Can skills acquired over the years of training be transformed by a professional to non-professional workers efficiently? Will the quality of work not suffer? But the solution was found. Since a priest, a grandmother, an uncle and friends-all these people from time immemorial offer help to their beloved ones without any legal restraint, it was felt that the help by non-professionals need not be such a controversial issue and the project was started," informed Smt MC Pankaja while talking to Organiser in New Delhi. 

According to Pankajakka, as Smt MC Pankaja is popularly called, the first training programme in counselling was launched on September 15, 1980. The first batch of 16 persons was trained for a period of three months. Twelve of these volunteers were given practical training in counselling through case presentation for a period of one year. Since the trainee counsellors had very little opportunity to meet and counsel the clients in their natural settings, it was realised that a counselling centre should be set up to provide practical training to the trainees. Thus, the first counselling centre was inaugurated on December 19, 1981, by Dr GG Prabhu, Professor and Head of Department of Psychology, NIMHANS, at Shankarmutt, Parallel Road in Bengaluru and the late Ajit Kumar named it as Prasanna Counselling Centre because individuals who come to the Centre with prapannathe (distress) leave it with prasannathe (happiness). 

Since then the Centre has been serving the patients six days of the week. Right from the beginning the service is free for all. Doctors are very regular in attending the patients without expecting anything from the Centre. All the six days, there is one MD psychiatrist from NIMHANS at the Centre. "Our councellors try to find whether it is a psychological, mental, social, domestic, marital or solactical problem. Afterwards, we refer the patient to a specialist with brief history. We keep a close watch over the treatment and the recovery of the patient," pointed out Pankajakka. 

A teacher for 31 years, a suicide prevention volunteer for 15 years working in a hospital, Pankajakka is now a very popular lady in Bengaluru. People from all walks of life invite her and her team to conduct workshops for their teachers. But she does not leave the Centre even for a single day. At present, she is 78, but she looks after the Centre with full vigour. She has been honoured by many organisations for her outstanding work in this field. 

Whenever foreigners visit NIMHANS in Bengaluru, they also visit the Prasanna Counselling Centre. "Whenever the NIMHANS people conduct any workshop they send their trainees for internship to the Centre. Bangalore University also sends its MSW and MSc students for internship to the Centre. Christ College too sends its students for practical training. Our Centre is a very good practical training centre in Bengaluru. Live cases are there and a trainee learns much more at the Centre," said Pankajakka. The Centre helps individuals solve their problems themselves. Normally five to ten sittings are required to fully cure a problem. 

The Centre presently runs four projects-Prasanna Counselling Centre, Training Programme for Counsellors, Child Guidance Clinic and School Mental Health Programme for Teachers. Under the training programme for counsellors, presently the 37th batch of 65 students is under training. The Child Guidance Clinic, started in 2004, works on Saturdays. A retired professor of NIMHANS, Prof Malvika Kapoor and some other special educators look after the clinic. Children’s problems like hyper-activity, dyslexia, bedwetting, learning disabilities are dealt with at the Centre. This clinic too has treated thousands of children so far. Normally, teachers are not always able to identify the problems of the children in schools. The Centre gives them training as to how to identify problems of children, manage them at the school level or refer them to a clinic. 

A branch of the Centre has been started at Malleswaram some years back. With 30 years of hard work with total commitment, today the Prasanna Counselling Centre has made some impact on the sister voluntary organisa-tions. People on responsible posts have visited the Centre and by making good remarks they have encouraged the workers. One more achievement of the Centre is eradication of misconceptions prevalent in the society regarding patients of mental disorders, mental hospitals and mental health professionals. Misconceptions make the life of a mentally-ill patient miserable and keep him away from available modern facilities. 

Now a branch of the Centre has been working in Delhi for the last one year. It is run by Sewa Bharati Delhi near Udasin Ashram in Aaram Bagh. Psychiatrists and psychologists from Sir Gangaram Hospital, Deendayal Upadhyaya Hospital and Maharaja Agrasen Hospital are rendering free services at the Centre. Many leading psychologists and trained counsellors have also associated themselves with the Centre. "Sick people have started visiting the Centre and we try to find solution to their problems with the help of experts free of cost. Apart from daily counselling, we have also started a training programme for counsellors and presently 40 persons are being imparted the training in Delhi. Regular training classes are conducted by leading psychiatrists twice a month," informed Smt Pragya Parande, coordinator of Delhi Centre. A four-day training programme was conducted in Delhi from July 30 in which Pankjakka and Shri Dilip Patel, an expert in training, specially came to Delhi and imparted training to the trainees. Hindi edition of the textbook, A Manual on Counselling for Lay-Counsellors, was also released by Kshetra Sewa Pramukh Shrinivas Murti, Delhi Sewa Pramukh Shri Ajay Kumar, Pankajakka and others.

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