Mariwala Health Initiative (MHI) is founded by and is the personal philanthropy of Mr Harsh Mariwala. An advocacy, capacity building and grant making organisation for innovative approaches to mental health, MHI emphasises on making mental health services accessible to marginalised people and communities. As a major step towards inclusion, MHI has released Queer Affirmative Counselling Practice (QACP), a resource book for mental health practitioners. The book aims to help mental health practitioners in identifying and addressing the unique stressors faced by LGBTQIA+ persons as they navigate through challenges faced in institutional, social, and individual settings.
Speaking about the importance of incorporating a queer lens in mental health counselling, Mr. Harsh Mariwala, Founder, Mariwala Health Initiative and Chairman, Marico Ltd. said, “Globally, there is much conversation on diverse genders and sexualities. There is a need for society to accept and affirm this both in personal spaces and in workplaces. Therefore, mental health professionals will also need to acquire new knowledge and skill sets to be queer affirmative in their counselling practice. Whether an individual provider or a workplace – we have this unique potential to be a safe space. You can move quicker, nimbler, and better – so what is stopping all of us from making our mental health spaces and workspaces safe and affirmative?”
The Indian Psychiatric Society in 2018 declared homosexuality a sexual variation and not a mental illness. There is, however, a long-standing history of pathologizing queer-trans identities which continues to dominate mental health practice in India. Even when services are queer-friendly, the mental health of queer individuals is judged on heteronormative parameters. The QACP Resource Book challenges this perspective and attempts to create pathways moving beyond queer friendly services towards queer affirmative practices.
Dr Dayal Mirchandani, MD, DPM, and the Director of Behavioural Science Network, highlighted the structural issues which the QACP Resource Books provides insights on, “The book is really comprehensive, providing a deeper understanding of sexuality and gender, bringing to light external sources of power such as cultural, psychological and religious ideologies and how they are internalised. The privileged position of people who fit into the socio-cultural norms of “normality” and the negative effect of growing up in a sexually repressive and homophobic culture (are discussed in the book).”
The reading down of Section 377 was a significant milestone for gender rights and inclusion. The decriminalisation of adult consensual sexual behaviour paved the way for mainstreaming conversations on issues faced by sexual and gender minorities. In 2019, less than 6 months after the historic decision, MHI initiated a series of trainings for qualified mental health practitioners in queer affirmative counselling practices. A core team of queer/trans feminist mental health practitioners came together to develop a training module for qualified practitioners. An essential part of these trainings was incorporation of knowledge from the lens of gender and sexuality, which gave direction on making therapeutic work affirmative and responsive to queer and transgender clients.
The QACP Resource Book for Mental Health Practitioners was authored by a core team of MHPs – Dr Ketki Ranade Assistant Professor, TISS, Dr Shruti Chakravarty (Chief Advisor, MHI), Pooja Nair (Consultant Therapist, MHI) and Gauri Shringarpure (Therapist, QACP Faculty). The book is a culmination of 3 years of insight gathering from queer affirmative training courses provided to over 350 MHPs across 40 locations in India.
On The International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT) 2019, the QACP cohort circulated a petition against Conversion Therapy that was signed by 1200 MHPs. Besides, setting an approach to mental health with a queer perspective, the QACP Resource Book also addresses structural violence and discrimination faced by queer and trans individuals.
One of the co-authors, Dr Shruti Chakravarty highlighted the need for MHPs to learn affirmative counselling, “LGBTQIA+ persons experience discrimination by systems and institutions which compel suppression of their voices, expressions, and identities. The heteronormative system conditions people to uphold strict ideas of gender and sexuality and discriminates against those who do not conform. The pervasiveness of this socialisation is reflected in formal mental health curricula and is harmful to LGBTQIA+ persons. Affirmative counselling is an opportunity to unlearn heteronormativity in mental health practice. The Queer Affirmative Counselling Practice Resource book integrates the lived experience of queer-trans persons with tools and insights of how to be queer affirmative in practice.”
The hard copies of the Queer Affirmative Counselling Practice – A Resource Book for Mental Health Practitioners are available on the Mariwala Health Initiative website.