The Crusader of Mental Health

Samadhana Counseling Center

Samadhana operates out of a house in Arakere MICO layout, a quiet suburb in south Bangalore. At around 5 PM, Mr. Prakash, a counselor whose house is next to the center, comes and opens the center. Soon people start coming in. They are called ‘clients’, not ‘patients’, out of sensitivity for their ambivalence about their condition.

Prakash seats himself at the main door with a notebook to register clients. The center has a large front room, which has been partitioned into small alcoves. The main hall is called Counselors’ Lounge. This leads to the doctor’s consultation room.

Counselors start coming in and wait in the lounge. Each client is assigned to a counselor. When it is a repeat visit, the counselor who has been meeting the client in the past meets with the client. Usually clients call up their counselor to fix an appointment. The counselor discusses with and counsels the client, updates the case record and then takes her to the doctor.
The doctor bustles in around 6 PM. He acknowledges the greetings of the counselors on his way and settles into his chair. The walls of his room are hung with objects presented to him and a painting by his wife. A book rack and a cupboard hold his books, meant for giving to clients.

A cacophony of soft voices rises. In the curtained alcoves, clients are talking to their counselors. Some have come with their spouse or a parent.

Appanna is the first client to be met by CRC. A slim, young man, he has come all the way from Gulbarga. He has read articles by CRC and watched his TV programs. CRC goes through the counselors notes. Appanna suffers from episodes of Lymphadenitis. The boy now suffers from anxiety attacks. His experiences what he feels are tremors of nerves. CRC explains patiently the function performed by lymph and that Lymphadenitis is inflammation of lymph nodes caused by infections such as sore throat or asymptomatic infections. The boy shows the multitude of results of tests he has undergone. CRC glances at them and declares that nothing is wrong with him. The boy is not quite convinced. He asks again twice if he has any serious illness and whether it would be passed on to his children. Very patiently, CRC reassures him that he has not cause for concern, and that he should exercise and eat well.

Then the boy shyly brings out another concern. Would masturbation make him impotent, he asks. He feels depressed and weak after doing it. CRC does not bat an eye. Smoothly, without change in tone, he reassures him. Then he fetches two books, and asks him to read specific sections. At the end of the session, the boy asks how much fee he should pay. There is no fee for consultation, but the cost of books is Rs 70, he is told. CRC refers him to a psychiatrist in the government hospital in Gulbarga for follow-up and prescribes anxiolytic tablets for a month for his anxiety.

In between clients, CRC catches up on his writing. The center is open till 8 or 9 pm, when the last client leaves. He rides home in his bike, quarter of an hour away.

Starting Samadhana

CRC’s father died in 2004, leaving behind some property. CRC did not want to use his father’s wealth for personal benefit. The family decided to set up a trust which would hold all the properties. Sri B M Rajannachar Smt. S P Sarojamma Charitable Trust was registered in 2005, in the names of his parents, with family members as trustees. They decided to start a clinic under the trust, to provide free counseling and consultation. CRC drew from his experience as one of the founders of Prasanna counseling center, which was set up in 1980. He took permission from NIMHANS to consult for free at the new center, since its doctors are prohibited from doing private practice. A house was bought in Arakere MICO layout in 2006. The house was repurposed and alterations made for the working of the center – a waiting area, consultation room and counselors’ lounge were created out of existing spaces. The first floor has been converted into a training hall, with a projector and desktop PC; it can accommodate 80 people for training.

Dr.C Naveen Kumar and Dr. B M Suresh from NIMHANS joined the board of trustees. They came to the center on Wednesdays in turns for consultation and take training sessions for counselors. After about five years, due to the pressure of work at NIMHANS, they were unable to come for the Wednesday consultation sessions. However they continue to take two classes each in the counselors training program.

The center was inaugurated on February 9, 2007. The director of NIMHANS was the chief guest. Articles about the center appeared in two Kannada publications. Training for the first batch of counselors was started along with consultation for clients. Initially a couple of clients would drop in, and within a year, 15 people would come on an average in a day. These days about 25 clients drop in on an average day. Twenty four batches of counselors have been trained so far; the cumulative total would be about 500 people. Around 60 of them are actively counseling at Samadhana. About twenty percent of people who receive training become volunteers. After completion of training, each volunteer is attached to a senior counselor as an understudy, after which they counsel independently.
Counselors’ Forum is a registered society. It is a platform to present cases, hold discussions and lectures by invited speakers. The forum conducts meetings regularly. Forum is open to all counselors, from any center. A Study Group meets once a month in Basavagudi or at Samadhana to improve the counselors’ knowledge and skills. Experts are invited to give lectures.

From June 2015, consultation session from 11 am to 1 pm was started, apart from the evening session.
Over 12,000 people have come to Samadhana so far. Around ten percent of them would have had severe mental disorders like schizophrenia, bipolar, dementia, alcoholism; remaining would have been undergoing ‘sub-clinical’ issues like behavioral problems, depressions, adolescent issues, marital discord, anxiety, and facing conflicts in life about choices or moral issues.

CRC asks clients if they are comfortable with the counselor; sometimes a client seeks change of counselor. These are triggers for the counselor to be given feedback; if this occurs too many times, counselor may be asked to change his or her approach.

Samadhana is run on income from the trust, fees from counselors training and donations. When there is a shortfall, CRC puts in his own money. The continuity of Samadhana after CRC has been planned already. Naveen and Suresh have agreed to run Samadhana and other trust activities after CRC can no longer do so.

Setting up Nimmadi Ashram

His father had two acres of land near Ramnagara on which he had built a small temple. He had wanted to build and run a school on this land. It was decided to set up a rehabilitation center for the mentally ill, named Nimmadi ashram, a half-way home, where patients who could not be cared for at home could stay for six to twelve months. They tied up with Richmond Fellowship to run Nimmadi. Inmates were encouraged to become self sufficient and kept busy with work like cooking, cleaning and gardening. Richmond Fellowship is an international non-profit, which gives know-how to set up institutions for rehabilitation of mentally challenged people. They were asked to set up a branch in Ramnagara. Nimmadi was started in 2012 with 5 rooms and a conference hall to accommodate about 15 people.

The local branch found it difficult to run the ashram and could not attract the required people – a nurse, psychologist, occupational therapist, social worker – to join. The branch was closed in April 2015.
In July 2015, Sri Vaishnavi Special Education Academy, started a day care center for mentally challenged girls in Nimmadi ashram. Later a residential school is planned to be set up. CRC plans to visit once a month to meet the children and review their progress. A psychiatrist and specialist teachers would be recruited.

Samadhana Center has published three books by CRC on how to improve memory and intelligence, on mental health and on general and mental health. These are exhibited in the Center. Most clients buy at least one book to improve their knowledge. Some counselors have gifted these books during celebrations in the family.