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No privacy at all, teenagers complain as parents snoop on counselling sessions

Mid-Day logo Mid-Day 26-08-2021 Somita Pal
a person sitting on a bed © Provided by Mid-Day

A 17-year-old girl from South Mumbai, who had been on psychological counselling before Covid, dropped out of therapy after her sessions went virtual due to the pandemic. She told her psychologist that her parents would eavesdrop throughout the sessions and she felt her privacy was invaded. The SoBo teen’s experience mirrors the state of mind of hundreds of young people who require similar help, say psychologists.

I have seen 20-30 per cent of my adolescent patients dropping out because of privacy issues. In physical sessions, it was easy to keep the parents out while we talked to the child, but with online sessions, it becomes difficult as they are more in control of the situation,” said Ritika Agarwal, a clinical psychologist from Jaslok Hospital. She is a part of the hospital’s adolescent clinic — Light House Clinic — where psychological counselling is an integral part of adolescent health care.

“The biggest problem is the smaller houses in Mumbai which don’t afford the child privacy for such sessions. I had a 15-year-old boy who told me that his parents were listening in on the session as they were in the same room. His brother too was hearing what we spoke and later made fun of it. He was so uncomfortable that he discontinued for the time being,” said Agarwal.

Parents often think it is their right to know what is going on in their child’s life, she said. “There have been instances where, post the session, parents have tried to tutor the child on what to talk about in the session and judge them on what they were saying,” said Agarwal. Other psychologists also narrated similar experiences.

Space crunch is also a huge issue in Mumbai and it sometimes makes patients uncomfortable to share their feelings with the doctor. Representation pic

Dr Seema Hingorrany, a clinical psychologist who deals with adolescents, said they also talk to parents about how their behaviour is detrimental to the emotional health of the child. “While the parents have the right to know what is happening in their child’s life, it is intrusive and the child is not opening up. Many parents have been supportive and backed off,” she said.

Dr Hingoranny said they had to work extra on the communication part with parents and teens. “I was doing a session last week with a teen girl when the mother walked in and said she came to say hi. My client didn’t like it as she was in the middle of the conversation. I encouraged her to go and convey the same to her mother on what she felt. While the daughter initially hesitated saying her mother would be defensive, which she was, the mother later accepted and understood the issue.”

The concept of space, particularly with regard to their children, is not prominent in India though parents are now understanding it. “It is a generational problem, too. But with the pandemic and online sessions happening in school, they are getting to learn it. We have to, however, constantly remind them to back off,” she said.

Psychiatrist Dr Anjali Chhabria, founder of Mindtemple in Andheri, said the privacy concerns can be tackled by counselling the parents. “Before starting the therapy sessions, we speak to the parents if the child has online access along with access to privacy. Counsellors need to have a word with the parents on the same.”

Whether it is online or offline, if the parent is interfering, the child will stop therapy, she said. “It is the job of the counsellor to make the parent aware of it and assure them that the counselling is for the emotional well-being of the child.”

Dr Harish Shetty, psychiatrist, Dr LH Hiranandani Hospital, called snoopiness an aftereffect of the era where angst is high. “Parents want to know what is happening in their child’s life. But constantly snooping during the sessions is wrong,” he said.  He said that it is on the mental health professional on how much to reveal to the parents. “If a child says s/he wants to do something extreme, the confidentiality has to be broken in spite of the child’s discontent and resentment,” Dr Shetty said. 

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