One of our womentors, Sangeeta, happened to read the article about Jaskaran Singh and thought of asking this lady to share her experience on this forum, as she does such awe-inspiring work.
Dr. Divya Parashar is presently heading the Dept. of Rehabilitation Psychology, Indian Spinal Injuries Centre, New Delhi
Read her story as she narrates……….
I work in the field of trauma—providing support to people with spinal cord injuries (SCI). These are mostly young individuals, whose life is suddenly altered by an injury which leaves them paralyzed often neck or waist down, depending on the site of the injury. They might have limited use of hands, and no mobility in their lower limbs in the case of complete injuries. This is just the tip of the iceberg, because the injury has a huge impact not just physically but on psychological, social, and vocational turfs too. As I recently addressed the largest gathering of people with SCI, the biggest applause I received from them was when I said, “I am probably the first doctor who has learnt more from the patients she has worked with, than from textbooks.” And I still believe that. Because textbooks cannot prepare you, the way life does, to take on the challenges you are faced with.
I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me back up a bit now that I have spoken about my area of specialization. I am a month shy of my 41st birthday, and am the youngest of three sisters. You can imagine what my mother was faced with way back then, when people would comment, “Three daughters? No sons?” So she decided that she would raise her daughters to be independent, strong women, and took up a job as a teacher, and teamed up along with my dad, who at that time was serving as a doctor in the Army, to educate us in the best schools. All three of us eventually went ahead and did our PhDs. I learnt about mentoring from my mother and sisters, in the formative years of my life.
I did my Doctorate in Rehabilitation Psychology in 2004, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA. After having stayed in the US for 8 years, my husband and I returned to India, and I started working as a Rehabilitation Psychologist at the Indian Spinal Injuries Centre.
I see beauty in the people I work with, in their vulnerabilities & their strengths. And how they overcome adversity to emerge on the other side, having scaled the summit of the mind. Nothing has been more inspiring to me than to see these small triumphs every day. My area of interest has been in positive psychology: the power of self-beliefs, the power of our own perceptions of the situations around us, the focus on self & self-efficacy, and so when I see people I work with move through these parameters, I find it very fascinating.
There is immense power in people’s inner strengths which we often fail to address. Bringing those to the forefront to enable them to become assertive & become problem-solvers to deal with the obstacles, to work through the challenges, and to focus on striving for an optimal quality of life, has been the foundation on which my work has been primarily based . I have used my heart more than my head, and it has been very rewarding. You have to attempt to feel people’s pain and joy, to understand where they are coming from, & when words of solace need to be spoken, and when solely being there in silence helps. A former patient of mine read one of my posts which ended thus: “You never know who you pull out of the abyss, with your smile, a caring word, a hug, or just being there in silence.” He said, ‘ “Just being there in silence”…We should have these on billboards all over the city.’ Yes, silence, is equally healing.
I have often been told how difficult my “job” is. I see it more as a calling than as a “job” and maybe that’s where the difference lies. If you’re training to be a psychologist, you have to be passionate about what you do. You have to be caring, empathic, compassionate; you have to have a good, kind heart; be a good listener, be patient, and be non judgmental. You also have to learn to take failures and criticisms from patients in your stride. That could be them acting out in sessions (which is a part of psychotherapy) but you have to maintain a sense of objectivity, calm and composure. Why only psychologists? I think we would benefit greatly as a society if each of us possessed these qualities.
It’s not all hunky dory when you work in the field of mental health. The stigma of seeking help from a mental health professional still exists in our society, and you face enough resistance from families and clients. “Compassion fatigue,” when you are providing care in environments that present heart wrenching, emotional challenges, along with the absence of good self-care practices often pose challenges to a psychologist in terms of their own health. In the end, you will focus on the triumphs of the day, in the dedication and service to society, but towards that end, you have to take care of the means, which is YOU.
So what do I do outside of work? I have run several half marathons, and two full marathons. Running teaches a lot about life in terms of mental & physical stamina, dedication, perseverance, getting back up after a fall, & clearing your head in the wee hours of the dawn when the world is still sleeping. I love to travel, soak in the sun, read, be in the moment, spend time with close friends & family, watch movies, listen to music, write whenever inspiration strikes, & celebrate life for whatever it brings.
My biggest influence lately has been from a completely unexpected source, in the form of this insightful message from Po, in the movie Kung Fu Panda-3: “Your real strength comes from being your best you.” And if through my work & my existence, I can attain this with even a few people, I would consider it a life well lived.