Curiosity began two years back, since the day I started long-term training in narrative ideas and practices in Kolkata with Ummeed. I was in the first batch of trainees in Kolkata and this was my first visit to Ummeed. I wanted to see how narrative ideas are being practiced in the soil, in the organization, our trainers were from. Traversing the ‘distance’ helped opening my eyes and mind to many possibilities. I felt like sharing with you some of my experiences and thoughts on observing the works, particularly of the mental health team at Ummeed.
‘Movement’ is the word that comes to my mind when I think of those days, a week of sitting behind the one-way mirror to observe live sessions, watching therapy session videos, being there at team meetings, participating in workshop, teaching sessions, narrative gathering, discussing with the therapist, eating together and not to forget the movement between the two buildings, Ummeed training centre and the clinic space. The days used to end going back to hotel room navigating Mumbai-traffic; tired body, but mind full of new thoughts and ideas! It seemed to me a ‘movement’ indeed at the level of resisting many dominant discourses and bringing changes slowly and sustainably, which is quite different from the mainstream understanding of movement.
There was life in the not-so-big rooms where they ‘play’, photos on the walls that speak, books on the racks that connect, colourful corridors where staffs, children, families meet and greet, and in the people who dare to try to make a difference.
It was heart-warming to see the therapist or developmental pediatrician playing with the child sitting on the floor, ‘dirtying’ their hands with sands and clay, unfortunately an uncommon scene in India. There were options, games, toys, different playmaterials, for one to choose. Often the children blow soap-water bubbles making it more fun. The friendliness, eagerness to help and flexibility perhaps also added to the humane approach.
The chairs in the therapy rooms were not designated separately for therapist and clients, which is rare to find in most of theclinical set ups, both Governmental and private, in our country. There was no table placed ‘centrally’ between the therapist and client and the sitting position and posture kept varying. In all the sessions I observed, irrespective of individual difference intherapy-style, narrative ideas were being practiced. I am not aware of any other organization in India where the whole mental health team follows narrative ideas in their works. The mental health work at Ummeed is led by a conviction in the power of narrative ideas. The observations helped me learn more and myconviction in the power of narrative practices only grew stronger.
Irrespective of the position in the organization, seniority, gender and experience, team members sit to discuss, agree, disagree, laugh, eat and move with the ideas. The work calendar gets filled with overlapping dots that might scare many like me. When I asked “how do you manage so much?”, somebody told me smiling, “O, it’s fun”. The enthusiasm in their efforts, one cannot miss.
One workshop on community mental health and healing with a group of young people, facilitated by two trainers at Ummeed,particularly touched me deeply. I experienced how the pain of marginalization, discrimination and violence experienced by people were validated and held, that lead to healing and generation of solidarity, but not to ignition of ‘fire’. I witnessed influential de-centered positioning in group work and it made me think of its relevance and possibilities in today’s time of violence.
I am thankful to the organization, and the people who put such effort and heart to keep the doors open for trainees like us to enter, observe and learn. Coming back home to Kolkata, one of the first visible things I tried at the clinic is that I pushed the table aside from the ‘centre’ in between me and the client and started afresh with renewed enthusiasm. Hope is to take the practice beyond the limitations of clinic and the dream is to have more and more people join the ‘movement’.
About the author –
Ujjaini Srimani is a mental health professional, a queer woman from a suburb of West Bengal, currently living in Kolkata. She struggled hard with finding meaning of life during the years of acquiring degrees, MBBS and MD in Psychiatry. The forcible focus on ‘career’ that time helped her survive the ‘heart-breaks’and secure the ‘position’, though. By the time she topped in her MD examination, she started doubting many of the ‘claims’ and‘delusions’ existing in the medical systems without really having a clear articulation. She practiced as a consultant psychiatrist for some years and tried to engage in social interface through interactive programmes, media appearances, working with NGOs, etc .She went on hiding from the familiar professional work when the ethical pain and dissonances bacame quite disturbing,! Coming in contact with Buddhism in the mountains of Himachal, she found ‘home’. Following training in narrative ideas and practices in Kolkata, from Ummeed Child Development Centre in 2017, she found a reliable and meaningful way to come back to ‘professional work’ after a sabbatical of 2 years. She is attempting to put narrative ideas into practice in her new role as a therapist. One of her areas of interest is gender-sexuality and mental health. Oscillatingbetween the noise of knowledge and silence of knowing, moments of accepting ‘not knowing’ help her keep moving withthe people she works with. She would be 40 this year.
Her email id is firstname.lastname@example.org