Shibili Suhanah is a psychologist. She works as a queer-affirmative and feminist therapist. Coming from a legal background, she gradually developed her interest in the psychology of human behaviour, thoughts, and the human mind.
ICY Tales in Conversation with Shibili Suhanah about her journey and how she shaped her career towards becoming a psychologist.
Q) What made you choose psychology as your career? And how’s it going now?
Shibili Suhanah: I was always someone who liked helping people. It was part of me. I have always been an empathic person. Community approaches and work always drove me. So it was an obvious choice for me to go into psychology.
When I saw the degree in psychology, criminology, and rural development, it caught my eye, and I opted for it. While doing law, I came across victimology and crime criminology subjects, which made me more interested in them. Simultaneously, I realize that I like learning about human behaviour, thoughts, and minds, and it’s going very well now.
Q) As a psychologist, you meet many people who are negative in their lives. They discuss the destructive parts of their lives. What effects does this have on your mind?
Shibili Suhanah: I don’t think that any people in the world who do not have problems exist. We all have issues and deal with many difficulties because pain is an inevitable part of every human being. If nothing wrong happens to you, that’s a problem too. You are running away from your problems if you don’t deal with them.
I, too, have personal issues, and I have my therapist; everyone should have a therapist. We should take our mental health very seriously. Some cases have had a negative impact on me and my mental health. I eat chocolate, have coffee, meditate, write journals, talk to people, and do different techniques.
Q) People try to hide their depression. According to you, what could be the reason for this?
Shibili Suhanah: As a society, we condemn sadness. It’s like people can’t accept anybody being sad. However, sadness is just an emotion like any other emotion, anger, and jealousy. It needs to be felt, expressed, and validated. If not, it will accumulate in you and come out in dark ways you cannot handle. We must be able to accept emotions as we accept other emotions. It will be possible to be conscious in our daily life if we accept how we feel and validate it. “Don’t be sad” is not a solution.
Q) When people come to you, they share their happenings. I want to understand how the mind of a psychologist works because sometimes, listening to so many problems can get a little overwhelming. What’s going on in your mind? How do you organize that?
Shibili Suhanah: Different psychologists do their work in different ways. The kinds of approaches we take are different. Not all psychologists and therapists have similar methods. Some follow cognitive behavioural therapy, dialectical behaviour therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, and dynamic theories.
Based on which school of thought we are comfortable with, we try to assess the clients’ whereabouts, emotions, physical and psychological behaviour, and physiology. We ask them questions, we ask them to read answers, and we give them worksheets and homework.
The first important thing is to listen to them. It is essential thing to try to see from their perspective. Everybody’s cultural and economic background is different. It is necessary to equip the client to deal with the problems independently, develop them, and bring them to the stage where they can deal with them independently. We give them confidence, power, assurance, and validation, and we make them understand what might be the reason for what they are going through.
Q) You are a queer affirmative psychologist. After revoking Section 377, people are coming out, but homosexuality and other sexualities are still stigmatized in Indian society. How do we be proud of who we are?
Shibili Suhanah: Either you are queer or not, in our society, it’s tough to be whoever you are, and we can’t imagine how terrible it is for queer people who are different from the so-called usual way of living. There is no normality in this world. Everybody is different. Everybody has a way of living. So everybody should be allowed and let to be different. People think that the only way to live, make money, and make a family is to fit in the box, and we pretend for it. People try so hard to fit into that particular box.
Q) There is an issue going on about marital rape. Honourable courts are deciphering it. According to you, what is the importance of consent in bed, and how does it traumatize women when it is not followed?
Shibili Suhanah: Currently, the laws regarding marital rape in India are controversial. The laws regarding rape are very simple. But when it comes to marital rape, it’s like the courts don’t want to see it because they think the sanctity of marriage will be affected. After all, it’s like once you are married, your consent does not matter. It is considered that a husband has the right to ask for it from his wife and take it when he needs it, and that is not okay with anybody at all.
Married or not, it is just a contract we sign for partnership, and that does not mean you are giving your entire body to someone. We already abolished slavery in the world, and then how can we expect women to give autonomy to a man only because she is married to him? If she does not have control over her organs and reproduction, what does she have control over? Are they just toys or dummies with which a man can do anything?
Q) What is feminism? Is it against the men? Is it against society? Because there is a very thin and undefined line between narrowness and openness.
Shibili Suhanah: It is not against anything, but it is in support of all humankind because what feminism asks for is equity from all for all sex and genders. It is very inclusive. It takes up the sanctity of every living person. If it is against anything, it would be violence. Being inhumane and not being kind.
Q) Feminist movement supports LGBT+ people and their rights and lives, but society does not accept it. It is against ritual and society, creating a tussle between the new and old society. How can feminism solve this issue?
Shibili Suhanah: I think words progress with time. We were not aware of the LGBT+ community earlier; if we were, it was very negative. But now we are aware and conscious, and we know the people who are LGBT+. Eventually, many things can change. Feminist movements have led to so many social changes, and when those moments occur, everybody protests against them, but eventually, these movements help society to progress.
Right now, courts are accepting, and policies are acceptable, so we can see society accepting queer society in the future. However, the younger generation can mould their beliefs. Gen-Z is more inclusive as they get more information about inclusivity at a young age, which our parents and grandparents didn’t, so it’s hard for them to accept inclusivity in the old days.
Q) Reports state that suicide cases are sharply increasing in our society. It is seen that they are confused about why they are living & what is the meaning of their lives now? Loneliness, hypertension, fights, etc. If someone has such thoughts, what are the changes he needs to make in his thinking process, and how can he do that?
Shibili Suhanah: Generally, people going to suicidal tendencies have a lot of pain, and we would say that it drives them to death. They should know that they are worthy of living, and it is. It’s not just the changes that come from within but the society around them. They are necessary because when a person changes, it does not mean his environment also changes.
Shibili Suhanah is helping many to lead a productive life with her active presence on social media platforms. She has helped many prioritize their mental health and taught them the art of loving themselves.
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