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Sharon Lobo

IWB Blogger

Leading EMDR Therapist Dr Seema Hingorrany Discusses Ways Out Of Sexual Assault Trauma

  • IWB Post
  •  October 30, 2018

I attained nirvana because of the beauty in her office.

After a rushed morning and Mumbai traffic, I enter a Bungalow, and as I am climbing the staircase, I see framed newspaper articles and beautifully designed nooks with showpieces. I know this is the right house. I am soon welcomed by the housekeeper. In the waiting room, I am surrounded with bright colors and positive vibes. A bit later, a woman enters with the most gorgeous smile and a warm feeling of safety takes over as she shakes my hand.

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Dr. Seema Hingorrany is a Clinical Psychologist and Author. She is an EMDR therapist (Trauma Expert) who is regularly quoted for her expertise in leading newspapers and magazines. Seema has also been an Official Psychoanalyst for Femina Miss India. She grooms girls for all-round personality. With World Mental Health Day coming up next week, it seemed like a good idea to discuss with her few issues surrounding traumatic patients and young teens.

The first thing I noticed in your office is this peaceful and calming environment.

I didn’t want a very typical conventional clinic but rather have space where my clients feel calm and surrounded by high vibrations. I deal with many traumatic clients so when they come in, they are very nervous. Like most Indians, they don’t know how to express themselves. So, what happens is when we have a typical clinic it looks like a formal space, and I personally don’t prescribe medication, it’s more about processing their thoughts and emotions.

The zen-like environment that you see here gives an opportunity to the client to open up more freely. Once they walk in, they feel more connected with the therapist, giving them enough mind space to feel safe.

Do you have a zen-like morning mantra too?

For me, it is firstly looking at my children’s faces because they are happy vibrations. Secondly, taking a walk near the ocean next to my house because I feel seeing the ocean is very very healing. And thirdly, it’s my meditation routine. It includes a lot of deep breathing, chakra cleansing and me going into this silent mode. I am very calm and composed in the silent mode, it is like going inward within myself and checking if my emotions and vibrations are moderated and then taking over my day. Because it’s essential for us therapists to be grounded and that happens only in the morning. From 10 am to 8 pm, we are multi-tasking so many things since we deal with media, clients, suicidal cases, and we have our personal lives and challenges. If we ourselves are scattered, we will start losing patience.

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I read about your beautiful relationship with your husband. What is your favorite way to detox through romance?

Probably, to have a romantic dinner with my husband. Not go to very noisy places but somewhere with few people and a candlelight dinner. It’s very calming and helps me connect with him.

Being a mother of teens, do you face typical parental issues?

There are many because they are growing kids. My son is a state level table tennis player. He has many, I can’t say issues, but rather concerns because it’s a very pressure building game. He played yesterday and won silver, he missed the gold by two points. As a mother I look into taking care of their diet, talking about the issues they face with their friends or the competition they face in the society. Typical mom issues but I am glad that I am in this profession, so the techniques that I use with my clients are the ones I use with them. Probably understanding the pain and depth of emotions of the kids who come here help me mold my personal life better.

Tell us about those few techniques that can be useful for other parents who are reading us now.

So, my two mantras with the teens I have is communication and giving them choices. One is 10, and one is 14 years old. I always maintain eye contact with them while talking and not constantly check my phone. If they have to say something I hear them out, and I am not a lecturing mother, so I let them talk, and it’s only when they pause that I come up with the solution. I am an authoritative figure in their life, but I don’t dominate them. I tell them what is healthy and unhealthy, but the choice is theirs.

Parental negligence is a very traumatic experience for a child. How can such kids be supported?

Children cannot deal with it because they are young and immature. It’s the parents’ responsibility to keep communication going on. All the time parents are so busy, they are on WhatsApp or Insta, and then we rob children’s dignity by taunting them about spending time on social media. I don’t think children need to deal with it, but rather parents need to be role models since children are just going to emulate habits from them. It’s also about raising your energies and vibrations at home. I tell so many parents to be less critical even of their partners in front of the children because it’s basically dragging children into spouse issues.

Your book Beating The Blues is a complete guide to deal with depression. Can a book replace the help of a counselor?

No. Beating the blues is just about guidelines. It serves as a path to educate people about the symptoms of depression because there’s so much material on google that people get lost. So, Beating the blues was a compilation of many case studies about people who were successfully treated for depression, but it cannot replace a counselor. There are a lot of issues, and you cannot process your thoughts on your own, you need to come to a therapist’s office and go through the techniques. Reading the techniques and going thought it is two very different things.

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Your book surely does break a lot of stereotypes.

Yes. One is that depression cannot be treated which is totally untrue. Two, that going to a therapist is a sign of weakness. I think it’s only the strong people who come to a therapist. There are so many people who suffer from a personality disorder, anxiety, etc. and they refuse to go to a therapist and what happens is in the bargain they spoil other people’s life. Whenever clients come to me, I tell them they are the ones who are stronger and who have chosen to sort their lives.

Another one is, going to a therapist is a waste of money, it’s better to talk to a friend and solve problems. People need to realize that therapists are qualified practitioners who are doing a lot of research, they travel around the world to get the material, and they use this to cure their clients. Even in trauma work, there are a lot of techniques that are used. We don’t just simply talk to someone but rather go to the root cause of the problem, and that can go back to your childhood trauma. When you’re emotionally upset surely, you can talk to a friend but when you’re clinically or genetically depressed you need to see a therapist, a friend cannot bring you out of that.

Let’s talk about the trauma sexual assault survivors endure. Are there some things that the family can do to help them through?

Telling a family member who has undergone a sexual assault to snap out of it is a very wrong thing to do. Never give advice to a traumatic person. Till you are able to convince the person to see a trauma expert, just listen to the person. All of us love to give advice and love to talk. But this is not the time to talk, switch off, hear and let the person cry. They need to let it out, sometimes family members start crying, and that’s not right because it gives a hint to the individual that something dreadful has happened. This is why I have built this safe room, and family members need to do the same. Maybe light a scented candle, maintaining eye contact or giving them water to calm down. And never involve too many people by calling your relatives and neighbors. Let the trauma expert take over. Otherwise, it is going to be a scar for life.

Is it possible to eradicate something like this from a person’s mind?

There is a very high research therapy called Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). It can completely eradicate all the symptoms and memories of what you have been through which is locked in your system.

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms manifest when you have gone through a particular incident, and the memory is lodged in one’s information system, so with therapy, we process it again. At the end of the session of the victims are asked if the thought is disturbing, they usually say no. There is the memory of the incident, but any sort of emotion is not related to it. We desensitize the client, reprocess them and give them their life back.

Knowing the pain that they go through, do you think that the presence of a trauma counselor in the court during court proceedings on sexual assault is necessary?

It is a must. A trauma expert is like a safety net, so it is important to have them when the judge starts questioning or when the trial begins. When some sexually assaulted victims are asked insensitive questions, and I am sorry to say some lawyers can be incredibly insensitive and have not done their homework well, they don’t know what might trigger. The trauma expert can help desensitize the trigger and also educate the lawyers on questions that are not supposed to be asked. I don’t know how many more years it will take the Indian courts to realize this.

Sensitising of the lawyers and police force seems the need of the hour.

It’s a special request from me to all police departments to take some initiatives. Having some workshops so that they understand what trauma can do to a person, how it lodges into their system and what is PTSD. Many of them don’t know. It will also help them with their own trauma after seeing so many bodies, cruel cases, etc., they go through so many PTSD themselves. In abroad, they have trauma experts positioned at war zones.

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With all this going around, a survivor gets into the circle of self-blaming, suggest some ways they could come out of it.

Yes. Every time something like this happens we always blame ourselves. The victim needs to understand that it’s not their fault at all. It was an unfortunate thing that happened. I have clients who have been told that they were molested because of the clothes they were wearing, or it’s an unsafe country, but nobody looks at how women are being objectified. The first self-talk a victim can have is about not blaming oneself because that shame and guilt seep into the other areas of life. Could I twist this question a little?

Yes please, go ahead!

It’s not about the victim. They are not in a position to stop their feelings or emotions. I have seen so many clients feel ashamed to even in this safe room. They refuse to maintain eye contact, they take three sessions to even look up to me. Relatives need to stop giving this gyaan (advice) about moving on. It’s not about the victim, but our ecosystem, Indian families, and culture need to change. How can feelings of shame go away when others around them don’t support them. First thing, I tell when my client walks in is for parents to sit outside and I’m very curt with it because here also they will start stuff like Mana Kiya tha (I had refused initially).

Many face childhood traumas because of abusive parental relationships, is there any way they can self-heal?

It’s a very difficult question you are asking me. Processing themselves depends on their personality, and I do have clients who have done self-healing, but they have healthy resources. When I talk about healthy resources, it can be a yoga teacher or a meditation teacher, or you have undergone trauma but are mentally strong to overcome it. But many people need an anchor, and that anchor is usually a therapist because they have techniques.

The first thing, Sharon, we need to understand is that when people undergo physical abuse, they think they did something wrong, and that’s why they were hit. Today so many girls are hit by their husbands, and they feel it’s okay because even their mothers were hit and I ask them to put a stop to it.

I recently wrote a story of a domestic violence victim who says the police do not help her and she is also economically dependent on her husband, how can she deal with her situation?

What happens is we give up very quickly. Economically dependence does become a problem, so my solution is very simple. Work and get out of the house. I have 65-year-olds who have started working, and the exposure that they get outside makes them more confident. Their husband’s money is also theirs legally. Many women in our country don’t even know their legal rights. Our parents say go to your husband’s house, and the husband says to visit your house aka the parent’s house. So, I really want to discuss which is my house? So, instead of going to the police, go to an NGO who will barge into police stations to fight such cases.

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Moving on from trauma, let’s discuss eating disorders that we need to acknowledge.

Anorexia and Bulimia, we see a lot of teenagers having this. They are very conscious of their self-image, they seek validation from the society. Watching all these Bollywood actors and actresses with six-pack abs and zero size figures make the teens want to be like them. They don’t realize actors are in that profession and have highly qualified dieticians and go through rigorous training. If a girl’s boyfriend tells her she looks fat, she starts googling all the nonsense ways of eating and then vomiting it out. Many of them develop disorders by watching themselves obsessively in the mirror, and then they stop eating healthy food that leads to vitamin deficiency.

If you want to lose weight go to a properly qualified dietician. So many teens want instant results and don’t want to go through the pain of dieting or working out. These teens have self-esteem problems. They have been ridiculed in their families, peer groups.

In India, we show our love through food.

It can be very dangerous. People apply so much of cheese and butter on rotis. Food cannot be a way to show your love, you rather show it through positive vibrations. Start your day by greeting your children good morning, show your care through planning their menus with healthy items, talk to them after school, etc.

You have written a book on How to keep your man happy, it is time for a role reversal. Tell us how to keep a woman happy.

I actually wanted to write a book on that. Probably we will do it in the future. You can keep a woman happy by respecting her. Not robbing her of her dignity. You have come on a Dusheera day, and it’s all about the feminine energy, so this question is all the more relevant. I have seen a lot of men respecting their women, and they have more abundance and prosperity in their lives.

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Could you decode the psychology of an arranged marriage to make it into a happy union?

Arranged marriage is dicey, but one shouldn’t jump into it very quickly. One needs to understand the partner very well. The girl needs to understand the boy’s family, understand the parameters and the dynamics of the family. Sometimes they get married, and the temperaments don’t match. So, I am not against arranged marriages, but I recommend dating the boy to understand him and feel free to ask questions. Don’t blindly get into it.

IWB’s series ‘Mind Your Head’ attempts to establish a free dialogue on mental health in India. Stay tuned for more stories. 

First published on Oct 3, 2017.

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