Rwitoja Mukherjee’s job profile revolves around her ability to lend an ear to those in need of help. Working as a telephone counsellor with Parivarthan Counselling helpline, the 54-year-old really is an unseen face, who uses her training to help callers find the confidence to look for answers within themselves.
“Every person can find solutions to their own problem, we just facilitate that. I’m not a magician who can solve their problems, we help them empower themselves,” she said.
The difficulties of the job are many, since she has to rely on voice modulation, inflection and tone to infer their mood. The callers are sometime breathless or speak in a hushed tone due to lack of privacy. “It’s not just that I can’t see the client, they can’t see me either. I can’t show my concern with my body language, unlike a one-to-one session,” she said. The non-judgemental and empathic listening space, apart from confidentiality attracts those who are uncomfortable meeting face-to-face. ‘What name can I call you?’ is a question posed to the caller to reassure them that revealing their identity is not necessary. “The helpline is free but most importantly we let them know that unless there are chances of self-harm or harm to others, everything they say is confidential.” She adds, “It can be easier to trust an anonymous person sometimes.”
The young psychology student turned homemaker was encouraged to take up counselling after she attended a Life Skills Training Programme at Parivarthan in 2010. “Initially I doubted how ‘listening to yourself’ would help anybody else. Shouldn’t they be training us how to listen to others? But I realised that in the process of knowing your own issues, your anger, you know yourself. This is extremely important while operating, otherwise if you tick off one of my triggers, I’ll be reacting to you, not listening.”
The common problems she faces with her callers are social phobia, depression, abuse at home, orientation issues and bullying. But she cannot help but think of the youngsters who take a drastic step when they don’t know where to look for help. “I wish they’d reached out, or someone reached out to them in time. A child can feel helpless for so many reasons. We can assume things about them, but what’s minor to us might be the straw that breaks the child’s back.”
Dealing with other people’s struggles for a three hour stretch can be taxing for anyone, including a counsellor. Apart from a personal self-care regimen, monthly meetings are in place for them as well, and experienced counsellors provide supervision and assistance if the counsellor is upset by a phone call or at a loss to help the caller. “We try to do our best,” she said.
Apart from the lack of knowledge about such helplines, the misconception that counselling is only for the mentally ill dissuades children, young adults and adults from reaching out for help. “Everyone needs a place where they can approach someone. Sometimes it is hard to speak with a familiar figure. They need to know that help is just a phone call away.”
The helpline number: 08065333323