Monday, May 4, 2015

To get through, right counsel needs the right approach

Sitting in on an adolescent health sensitization session


The room buzzes with the chatter of young girls as they trickle in which is followed by the screeching of chairs as they are pulled and pushed. Psychologist Sangela Dorjee waits on the steps leading to the small stage for the girls to settle down. The counselling session under the state-sponsored school health programme for Class XI students at Paljor Namgyal Girls Secondary School is about to begin.
The Psychologist begins by explaining what ‘adolescence’ means; most of the girls in the room are aged between 17 to 19. From physical changes to changes in the functioning of the brain, everything is explained. Having laid the foundation for the session, Ms Dorjee then goes on to link adolescent behavior with all these changes.
“At this age you feel angry for the stupidest reasons, right? You have very strong feelings about almost everything. It’s the same with people - you will hate one person and adore another. ‘Malai tyo manchey ta mannai pardaina, tesko anuhar hernu man pardaina’ or ‘tyo naya keta kasto handsome cha, kasto man paryo’. That’s how it goes, isn’t it?”
The last few lines elicit a rousing response from the young audience. There are giggles everywhere. She then goes on to explain that parts of the teenage brain involved in emotional responses are fully online, even more active than in adults, while the parts of the brain involved in keeping emotional, impulsive responses in check are still awaiting maturity. The girls listen intently.
Next, she talks about how endorphins or the ‘feel good’ hormone is actively produced in teens which is why they feel invincible most times.
“When your elders tell you something most of you might be thinking ‘uff kay bhaneko holai, as if I don’t know’. You feel you know everything right? Somebody says let’s go to the riverside and all you can think of is the fun you will have. Kya majaa auncha is all you are thinking. When your parents don’t allow you to go, you become furious. Are your parents your enemies?”
Another bout of giggling follows.
Ms Dorjee now explains that the portion of the brain that evaluates risk or makes judgment calls is not fully formed in an adolescent which is why the thought of anything bad happening on a visit to the riverside fails to register effectively in a teenager’s mind.
The psychologist covers various other topics during the session like drug and alcohol addiction, depression, stress, menstruation, teenage pregnancy. The last one is a rising concern in Sikkim, which Ms Dorjee also confirms. Apart from conducting such counselling sessions in schools she also takes one-on-one sessions at the clinic at School Health Building, Room No 2, Pediatric Ward, STNM Hospital complex. She informs that there are many cases of teenage pregnancy in the state and many such cases have come to her. At this particular counselling session, she drives home the point very strongly with a real life example.
“There was a girl studying in class VIII who eloped with a class X boy. She soon became pregnant. The girl and the boy were studying in different schools. I had seen both of them during such counselling sessions. When the girl was pregnant I met her in one of the sessions and she was very happy. The boy’s family had accepted her and their marriage. The next year, I conducted a counselling session at the school where the girl was studying but I did not see her. I conducted a session at the school where the boy was studying and he was there. He was now studying in class XI. Do you know what this means? The girl is now at home taking care of her baby and has discontinued her studies. She now has no future while the future still holds promise for the boy who will complete his studies one day and find a job. Who do you think lost out in the end?”
“The girl” - the girls all reply in chorus.

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