“Many would come to us after the service and even say , `We want to commit suicide,“ recalls parish priest Father Simon Borges. “We realized counseling is the need of the hour.“ Raj, who was at the church last week, waited to speak to a counselor about his marital troubles. “People have very few meaningful relationships today , which is why there’s such a crowd at temples, mosques and churches,“ he says. “Counseling makes you introspect.“ Strains from a Novena service waft up to the counselling centre lo cated on the first floor of St Michael’s in Mahim. In the chapel below, thousands of devotees of all faiths chant, “Pray for us O Mother of Perpetual Succor.“ The counselling centre was opened last year by the authorities upon realizing that besides a spiritual connection, congregants were also craving human contact.
Janice, for instance, was troubled because she couldn’t convince her three sons and husband to accom pany her to church. Additionally, her eldest is putting on weight and refuses to get out of bed till 2pm. Her counsellor, 74-year-old Vilma Duarte, could offer few solutions but Janice was far more chipper after their chat. “My problems are not half as bad as those faced by other people,“ she says.While counselling at the church centre, Duarte has seen a gamut of problems including alcoholism and other addictions, parents troubled by interfaith marriages, depression caused by unemployment and troublesome in-laws.
Ten years ago, the church roped in parishion ers to help with the increasing demand for counselling and even sent them for a three-month course at St Xavier’s College. But it was only last year that the the Nitya Sahaya Counselling Centre was set up. Besides the 38 counsellors who volunteer for a small stipend at the free centre, there are also two priests on call, who bless people of all faiths and hear confessions of Christian devotees. The centre was the brainchild of par ish priest Fr Simon Borges, who believes that counselling is a logical extension of the confession sacrament.“The real father of psychology is the man, who invented confession because he understood the value of unburdening oneself,“ says Borges. To make the centre a reality, Borges collaborated with Father Godfrey D’Sa, the director of Prafulta Psychological Services, to find counsellors with the requisite qualifications. “All of them have completed at least a basic course in counselling,“ says D’Sa. “We are trying to remove the stigma around counselling. People believe that they should only ask for help if they have a serious problem, but all of us need help in our lives.There is no shame in asking for it.“
Many counsellors have thrown up lucrative professions and chosen to come to this field because it’s far more rewarding. Deepali Pandya, for instance, was once a fashion designer, while Gregory Lobo worked as a banker. The joy really lies in being able to follow up with old patients and track the impact of counselling on their lives. For instance, Fiona, who asked that her last name not be used, treated a suicidal lady, who later returned when she was in a happier place with a cake and a Thank You card. In another instance, she helped a boy, whose marks had fallen in school by introducing short breaks in his schedule. “His mother was forcing him to study for hours at a stretch and his marks had dipped,“ she explains. “When he passed the tenth grade with 89%, I was the first person he called.“
(Names of devotees changed)