The Facade of Free Online Counselling Services and what makes them so Half-Hearted 

The writer narrates her disappointing efforts to seek counselling after the death of a near one due to COVID-19 and why society as a whole lacks compassionate listening skills. 

Photo - https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/blog/2020/04/stay-safe-while-video-conferencing

Six months back I lost my father. It all happened during the peak of the second wave of Covid-19. I was witness to not just my father’s deteriorating health and his death but that of several others. It all happened within a week, we all were stunned. Losing someone who was very healthy just a week ago was miserable. Words will go short to express the agony me and my family went through. I was in a very horrible state, unable to sleep at night, unable to get up and do anything. I was able to do nothing, facing a lot of restlessness. I had no idea how to face all this. There were friends who kept checking on me but I realized that I was repeating the same thing again and again. My friends didn’t knew what to say and also I didn’t wanted to put the burden of my pain over other’s shoulder so I was conscious while talking to them as well to not share too many depressive things. I tried to not talk to my family members as everyone was in deep pain and I didn’t wanted to discuss the same thing again and again. I was going through survival guilt. I was blaming myself a lot for my father’s demise. I felt that some of my wrong decisions took his life. I wanted to deal with this pain. I tried journaling, tried to get up and keep myself at least some busy. Nothing really did help. One can’t really run away from pain, one has to face the reality. Death is a harsh reality. For me this was the first experience of losing someone, unfortunately it was my father. 

Disappointing Counselling Sessions and the Lack of Compassionate Listening 

So while I was going through all this I tried to use the online counselling services. Let me clarify that I didn’t used paid counselling services. Instead I searched all the toll free mental health counselling services numbers available on the internet. That’s where I realized what actually is going on in the name of free counselling. Ninety percent experiences were very bad. Most of the numbers kept ringing and no one actually picked the call. Two to three numbers were picked by someone, sometimes it was a male and other time it was a female. None really sounded empathetic. In fact I felt even more depressed after talking to them. On one number a lady picked the call. I kept on talking and she was silent. Then she started explaining me the different stages of grief. I really felt awkward. I was not there to understand theory of grief neither I wanted any answer to my questions. I just wanted someone to listen. Most of the conversations didn’t last for more than two minutes. I had so much inside my head. But I realized that people over there who might be running that particular free counselling services are doing it just for the sake of doing. I also felt that I was at least kind of able to handle myself and I had family and friends to support me. There could be people in worst state than me. Someone uses these services with the hope of feeling at least some better after the conversation. But if the conversation only lasts for two minutes, then one can’t even feel heard. I felt same and stopped using these. 

Later I started talking randomly to people. These were the people involved in arranging bed for my father. I talked to anyone who did show interest in listening. It did help. Also I talked to those friends of mine who were in the same situation, who also lost their dear ones. It also helped.

All this made me realize that we need to move away from conventional ways of consoling. Many people did end up advising. I was not in any state to accept advises. Words like “Move on” were killing me. Only few friends and acquaintances tried to be there. Others behaved as if nothing happened. We need to build a society full of compassion. We need individuals who can just listen empathetically. There are people who completely stop talking to everyone if they face deep pain whereas others actually want to talk what they are going through. They will open up only if you are genuinely interested in listening to them. Also, these free mental health services or counseling services really need serious feedback. Why run them in such a half-hearted manner?

Shehnaz is an independent researcher working in the field of education.

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