09-11-2016: AWAAZ 2016 Centre of Psychotherapy & Clinical Research, SHS "Pedagogy and Psychological First Aid"



Each year School of Human Studies and the Center for Psychotherapy and Clinical Research organize 'Awaaz'- an annual event to mobilize awareness and generate reflections around various themes of mental health. For Awaaz 2016, we have decided to come together and share our experiences of teaching and learning in a University context, and how encounters between students and teachers, friends and sometimes even fleeting strangers can become soothing balm to our often invisible psychological distress, much like first aid for psychic bruises. 


While psychological illness is an acute state of distress that requires special assistance, psychological health is a more ongoing and ordinary affair, and in the life of a University, tied closely to the practice and philosophy of education. Keeping this spirit of learning and healing together, we have chosen to celebrate this year's mental health day around the theme of  'Pedagogy and Psychological First Aid' on Wednesday, the 9th of November, 2016. 


The space of the University marks itself as an objective community of learning.  One may even call it a community of objective learning.  This learning, as we know, in a critical sense, is not without hazard. It scratches deep seated assumptions and evokes troubling images, it asks for the formation of newer relationships and dreams amidst encounters with blank incomprehension, breakdown of comforting binaries, and the eruption of identity struggles that recreate knowledge and reality. This process is far from easy. Yet learning communities cannot emerge without the labour of this reflective praxis.  When Paulo Freire says 'one cannot conceive of objectivity without subjectivity', we would read into it an invocation to imagine the body of the individual as the playing field for forces of history and psychology. Within this playing field, at first, the real and the imagined are indistinguishable. Gradually, both the self and the other come to be saturated with projections we carry from our previous grounds of belonging- family,  group,  lifestage, lifestyle. These individual projections are however constantly being challenged in encounter with other shared realities. The arrival of past selves at the threshold of remaking is a delicate process, a process of experiential churning that requires holding and working through, such that moments of crises can become opportunities for creative growth. 


Not all crises can be seen, nor all rescue memorialized. It is in ordinary conversations, in friendly pats and friendly spats, that 'psychological first aid' is found.


What is Psychological First Aid, we could wonder. Yet, we know it, simply, intuitively, as we revisit our experiences of being psychologically held- experiences of internally tremulous states which came to be stabilized in the presence of An-other. This other could be a friend, a teacher, sometimes even a passing stranger who could listen closely with an attuned presence,  and tend to our distress in empathy and good humor. It is the work of this psychological first aid that we are able to forget the invisible bruises -  shame,  silence,  stammer- we have survived in the course of learning. 


The Mental Health Day fest this year is also situated within an ongoing debate sparked off by the Mental Health Care Bill 2016 that has been passed in the Rajya Sabha, seeking to define- among other things - what is a mental health care, and what is a mental health care professional. The placement of our clinic Ehsaas in the University context poses for us the urgent epistemic question -  What is "health"  within a University context - a context where the process of meaningful learning involves precipitating experiential ferment. When thinking is not tolerable, breakdowns happen. Prof Honey O. Vahali notes how "students who visit CPCR work through those emotional aspects of their life where a crisis has been initiated in the classroom –a painful but potentially creative one through the interrogative lens of an educational philosophy which urges them to rethink the life they have lived so far- socially, politically and emotionally". This has a bearing for all of us as educators:How do we protect the spirit of free responsible speech without having to carry trigger warning health notices as we discuss and debate sensitive issues in a diverse group. 


We invite you all to share experiences of conversations in classrooms, corridors and canteen that have occasioned subtle transformative shifts through such seeming breakdowns. Walls of our University and screens of our computers have been reflecting the disturbances pressing upon us. When we have been tempted to flee, how have we felt aided and mentored to return back to sites of disturbances and continue our conversation.  How, amidst the small deaths of everyday life and the big pressures of commoditized help,  do we revive the ethic of listening and of conversation. In the healing of subjecitivities, how do we become artisans of making time.