TINA MASAI, 27, a counselling psychologist, says just like people seek treatment for heart diseases and other conditions, they shouldn’t be ashamed to seek help for mental problems. She spoke to NAOMI MRUTTU
What kind of training is involved in becoming a psychologist?
One has to pursue a degree in Psychology. This could be followed by a specialisation (masters or doctorate) in whatever field of psychology such as clinical, counselling, organisational or consumer psychology.
What are the key personality traits or qualities you need to succeed in your profession?
Empathy, unconditional positive regard and good listening skills. You also have to be inquisitive, patient, tolerant and non-judgemental. You have to be resourceful, analytical and open-minded because human behaviour is at times perplexing.
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In Kenya, there has been a stigma around seeking professional help for mental or emotional health issues. Has this changed?
I don’t think it has completely changed, but I believe it has improved. I still get clients who think if their friends or family find out they are receiving psychological treatment, they will be seen as crazy, mad or freaks.
What would you tell Kenyans battling with difficulties including stress, depression, self-esteem and relationship issues?
I would encourage people to seek help for mental health issues and not be ashamed about it. We would feel little shame seeking help for a heart problem, but a healthy heart requires a healthy mind for optimal function. There are numerous studies that link depression with heart disease, high blood pressure and anxiety. In the traditional setup, there were social systems that served the function we (counselling psychologists) currently do. Challenges were faced communally. Sadly, our society today is disintegrated and these systems are no longer there or are less effective.
What do you find most challenging about your job?
The fact that I cannot help everyone, and this is for different reasons. Some is due to the severity of their condition and lack of social support outside of healthcare. For some, it is the level of the psychologist’s skill, which comes with experience. I have learnt to reconcile this by doing the best with those I can help.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I am always amazed and amused by the countless stories I hear. It is true that Africans are great storytellers.
What are some of the techniques you employ to treat your patients?
The main school of therapy I use is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which involves incorporating how our thoughts and feelings affect our actions. This form of therapy allows me to teach the clients healthier thinking patterns and help them learn and exercise positive behaviours so as to improve their overall well-being. I also give my clients assignments to work on, which we review in the subsequent session.
I sometimes incorporate creative arts and crafts like art therapy. I even once incorporated origami into therapy with a teenage client.
How do you manage to detach yourself from your client’s issues and avoid getting stressed by them?
I keep it simple. I do not carry work home; literally and figuratively. I try my best to do what I can at work and do the rest the following day.
What code of ethics binds trained psychologists in the way they treat their patients?
Our strongest principle is ‘First Do No Harm’. In this, all we strive to do has to be in the best interest of the client. We also adhere to confidentiality unless by the client’s consent, but this has a few exceptions. We would be legally required to disclose should we have a valid reason to believe the client intends to harm themselves or others.
There are also limits to what are known as dual relationships — relationships that extend beyond the therapeutic relationship.
Are there affordable options for patients seeking mental health treatment or is it currently a preserve of the elite?
I believe there are. I think a time is coming when psychotherapy will not be seen as elitist, but as a necessary resource for the society to achieve mental health. I think the assumption that therapy is expensive is still part of the stigma associated with mental health. Fortunately, medical covers are increasingly catering for mental healthcare, which is making treatment more available. I think the challenge is upon organisations and us as practitioners to increase the level of awareness on the importance of mental treatments.