The Light behind Lantern – bringing Hope to students through mental health care

Hi, this is Coach Sheela calling on the first day of this brand new year!

I have always been fascinated with psychology and understanding human behaviour and blessed to have been able to build my profession around it. Working with people (which was always my passion) and donning the role of an educator therefore came quite naturally. Over time, I realized that it is my calling. Lending ears and shoulders to those who needed warmth and comfort gave me an unquantifiable feeling of fulfillment for having touched their lives in some small way – even if I couldn’t or wasn’t expected to provide solutions. Being a trainer, author and entrepreneur gave me enough opportunities to meet many many souls looking for comfort. Hence, being a kind of half-baked counsellor was part of my work!

But the body-mind connection and vice versa in overall well being and how much it influences one’s behaviour hit me like a ton of bricks during my mid life crisis! I had always believed that the mind had immense power to control behaviour and it was always mind over matter – but those years showed me that the body also has strange ways to influence the mind and behaviour and everything is interconnected, regardless of what I believed. During this time, I had to rely on the strength and love of so many good friends who became my shoulders as I traversed those difficult years.

And so I decided that if working with people was something I wanted to do for the long haul – pay back time does come if one allows it to 🙂 – then it was time to learn how to do so in a structured, formal manner vs. solely rely on my empathetic skills. This search took me to the Hyderabad Academy of Psychology (HAP to all of us now) and to a teacher who was just a wee bit older than my first offspring! Nonetheless, Dr. Monteiro was and is an outstanding teacher and a bundle of enthusiasm and dedication to mental health (you must know that she went straight from our last training to the labour room and became mommy to a bonny boy a fortnight ago  – God bless!). From Diana, I learned the nuances of the body-mind connection and the art of effective counselling – I learned how to give structure to my natural empathy to become an effective counsellor. After completing the course and setting up an independent outfit for mental health services with a friend and colleague and feeling a lot more secure in meeting new clients – both in the corporate world and outside it – it looked as if I was well on my way to realizing my goal.

But, fate would will it otherwise! Several personal events later – I had to move to the UAE! To say I was devastated (and still continue to be , albeit a bit less) would be an understatement! But, technology enabled me to retain my clients who were more than willing and happy to continue their sessions with me via Skype! I was reasonably tech savvy and quite familiar with applications for video chats with family and friends away from home, and this unexpected ability to continue the work I love helped me realize something. I realised that moving away need not be the end of the world, and I could continue to do what I loved most wherever I was. And so when Diana mailed me with the HAP – Stanford – Lantern opportunity to train to be an “e-therapist” or “online coach” – I was sure the heavens were conspiring to lead me to my destination!

The online training via virtual collaboration tools with professors from Stanford and Penn State (Dr. Barr Taylor and Dr. Michelle Newman – what an honour!), a super helpful and enthusiastic coordinator (take a bow Nitya), a set of new friends, though virtual initially (love you all HAPians), informative training materials, live training finally (what fun it was to be in class again!), intense practice and role plays both live and online, the dreaded but oh-so-necessary evaluation assignments – all of this takes us closer to becoming e-therapists/coaches for a research project evaluating guided self-help online programs for students with anxiety in India. Come February 2015, we go live using the Lantern program with our first batch of students! What a great moment it will be for all those students who can now reach out without worrying about stigmas and loss of privacy!

Having had a taste of using technology for enabling mental well being, I am terribly excited for where this might take us – to students in hundreds of universities in India, and, with a little tweaking, to students in rural India, and, with some more tweaking, even educators in these universities(who says educators don’t need mental health care ?!), and, with some MORE tweaking, to aspiring professionals in industry running the rat race, deluded with anxiety and stress – the breadth of potential reach is enormous!

And while this happens, we first batch of Indian e-therapists/onlien coaches would have been the pioneers, helping shape and influence the program with our suggestions, our mishaps, and our feedback as we work. I am hoping this will grow into a permanent network of e-therapists/online coaches who can reach out to all from the privacy of their homes and support them towards their personal goals of healthier minds.

And on that optimistic note – lets rock it in 2015 with Stanford, Lantern, and mental health!! 🙂


Coach Sheela

Coach Sheela


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