There are some professions that we are inherently drawn to, no matter where our initial career paths lead to !

Disha Manchekar, our next pathbreaker, Psychologist & Founder at Innate Mind, provides psychological counseling for clients and spreads mental health awareness through blogs, curated webinars, social media collaborations and student mentoring.

Disha talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about leaving her corporate career as a HR professional to follow her calling in Psychology and Art .

For students, If you are empathic, observant and passionate enough to genuinely help people in distress, this field will welcome you with open arms.

Disha, tell us about Your background?

I grew up in Mumbai Suburbs in a liberal family that values education and individual freedom. I owe it to my parents for shaping me into the person I am. Before pursuing their individual passions, my parents had worked in offices. They may have also been an inspiration for me to make the professional move from Human Resources to Mental Health.

Throughout my academic years, I have been an above average student. Nonetheless, I had a keen interest in seeking knowledge on various topics. I was also active in extra – curricular activities in school and college. I have won prizes in chess competitions and poetry. 

I remember this day in 8th std while I was traveling to school. I looked outside the window and saw people waiting in the queue for a bus, beggars and others traveling lavishly in their cars. A thought crossed my mind – no matter what the person’s background, everyone has issues – physical, financial and emotional. Despite not having any exposure to psychology at this age, I had already begun to think about issues that also focused on emotional health.

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

I was a science student in HSC. During my 12th, I met with an accident as a result of which my studies were severely impacted. It was no surprise that I scored poorly and could not opt for the subjects I wanted to. Having supportive parents, I was asked if I wanted to repeat a year or switch my stream. I opted for the Arts stream. Choosing Psychology was never planned. I always liked reading self–help books. I was the ‘agony aunt’ amongst my friends. So, when I was to decide my specialization subject, my family and friends motivated me to go ahead to make this decision.

Studying Psychology for 3 years along with other humanities subjects during graduation groomed my personality. This degree was indeed a blessing in disguise. I later went ahead to pursue my Masters of Labour Studies and later Master’s in Clinical Psychology.

What made you choose this career?

After completing my Masters of Labour Studies, I was campus placed as an HR professional in a company. Soon I realized that my calling lies in Psychology and Art. I wanted to work in a field where I can use my knowledge and passion of helping people. This inspired me to the path I am on today.

How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path.

After quitting HR, I enrolled in an internship at a NGO for special needs children. In this internship, I understood the counseling process as well as components of art therapy. I personally feel that internships can play a vital role in deciding a career path. It helped me to become firmer about my choice and take further steps towards it.

I enrolled in M.A. in Clinical Psychology after this internship. I chose this course since I was keen on working with adults with an aim to get exposure to various psychological disorders. M.A. in Clinical Psychology focused upon gaining practical & theoretical knowledge of psychological disorders, research in psychology, psychometric tests & assessments and psychotherapeutic techniques. As a part of curriculum requirements, internships were done in the psychiatric department of hospitals and NGOs. This holistic exposure made me confident of becoming a Psychologist.

How did you get your first break?

I was lucky to get an opportunity to work with a popular online counseling website while doing my master’s course. Working with them helped me to get in touch with practicalities of the field. With constant supervision and guidance, I developed more interest in helping individuals with emotional distress. This experience was extremely enriching.

What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

As I gained more confidence, I went ahead to work with some more online counseling platforms. My experience has been extremely good in this segment. Last year, I confidently took a step ahead to start my venture called Innate Mind in order to bridge the gap between growing emotional issues during the pandemic and seeking therapy.

Work increased by two-fold during the pandemic. Several issues had been related to grief caused by loss of loved one, pandemic anxiety and relapses of prevailing psychological issues. There were days when I was not able to find time for myself leading to burnout and compassion fatigue. It is a must that mental health professionals look after their emotional wellbeing. Time management, practice of mindfulness and healthy eating continues to help me. 

Online consultations are a boon during this pandemic. They are easily accessible and economical. However, there are also challenges. Most common of all are network issues that can become frustrating and obstruct the flow of therapy. Some miss the in-person presence and may become uncomfortable in a virtual therapy setting. Nonetheless, I realized that communication, patience and understanding helps to overcome these challenges.

Where do you work now? Tell us about your venture

I started my own venture called Innate Mind in June, 2020. Through Innate Mind, we are focused on providing psychological counseling as well as mentoring for Psychology students. We also help spread mental health awareness through blogs, curated webinars and social media collaborations. Apart from this, I am also associated with a few other organizations as a mental health expert.

Imagine having someone who does not judge you, provides you a safe space to vent out, is empathic and guides you to be sufficient enough to find answers to your issues? Feels good, doesn’t it? When I ask clients while ending the session as to how they feel and they reply positively, nothing like it! To know that you are knowledgeable, resilient and capable enough to help someone is what I love the most about my work. I must say that some days are filled with immense work while there are some other days that are flexible. Time management and day planning is a must to strike a work – life balance.

How does your work benefit society? 

In this pandemic, mental health has gained a lot of attention. We cannot deny the psychological impact of the pandemic on people across age groups. Hence, Mental Health Professionals are a must not only before the pandemic began, but during the pandemic as well as after this pandemic comes to a halt. Many experts have predicted the post adverse effects of the pandemic. For instance, returning to offices or attending “in class” lectures can be emotionally challenging after being exposed to the virtual world for a long time.

If you are empathic, observant and passionate enough to genuinely help people in distress, this field will welcome you with open arms. We need professionals like you.

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!

I will never forget this one client that I worked with during my training. She experienced repeated trauma at a young age. I remember that it was our last day of the session. She was feeling so much better than during our first therapy session. She felt even more determined to focus on her future career aspirations. What surprised me was her zeal to keep going and not give up. She said to me with a bright smile on her face – ‘Didi, mei jaroor lawyer banke dikhaungi. Aur aap ko mei firse milungi. Mei aap ko fail nai karungi. Aap dekhna.’ And later she signed in my notebook happily as if enacting to give an autograph when she would be a famous lawyer.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

My advice to students would be that there are going to be both good and bad work days in whichever profession you choose to be in. If you choose to work in the field of mental health, keep the following in mind – 

1) Start exploring your authentic self as you begin to study psychology.

2) You will face emotional issues in personal life. But that does not mean that you do not deserve to practice as a mental health professional. Let’s say a doctor won’t give up his/her practice because he has a fever or undergoes surgery. He/she will continue to work sooner or later. Same is applicable to you. 

3) Make time for self-care activities to prevent burnout. 

4) Always remember that good work cannot be replaced and will lead to success.

Future Plans?

I plan to continue working as well as exploring new horizons in this field of mental health. I strongly believe that mental well-being is one of the basic needs to live a good life. Hence, I aim to grow bigger and reach out to as many people to guide them towards achieving mental well-being. Down the line, I also aim to pursue a PhD in order to contribute to the field of mental health.