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Walking wounded! - Traumatised Jamaicans shun counselling out of fear of being labelled 'mad'

Published:Thursday | April 19, 2018 | 12:00 AMCarlene Davis

Scores of Jamaicans facing psychological pressure are avoiding the professional counselling they need because of fear that they could be labelled mentally ill or mad.

"Counselling is talk therapy, and you try to restructure mental processes and understanding and get the person to internalise another way of doing things.

"But because people usually associate counselling at the extreme end with somebody who is mad, somebody who is insane, somebody who has really had what we call a nervous breakdown, persons do not seek treatment," psychologist Leahcim Semaj told The Sunday Gleaner.

"We have not yet fully understood the construct in Jamaica in terms of what we call the "walking wounded", that many of us have deficits in our life and we go through experiences that cause imbalances," added Semaj.

He argues that within the context of Jamaican and Caribbean culture, the closest thing that persons have come to accept as a form of counselling is what happens when they sit and talk to the hairdresser, the barber, or to a bartender.

Counselling psychologist Joan Pinkney says that unlike other parts of the world, Jamaica doesn't have a culture of formal counselling, but she believes that people are now recognising its importance.

"A lot of us consider ourselves private and ... apart from that, we are supposed to be a 'Christian country', and so the dependence on God is perceived as how we should deal with things," argued Pinkney.




She was supported by clinical psychologist and president of the Jamaican Psychological Society Kai Morgan, who told The Sunday Gleaner that for some persons, having to seek help through counselling can be seen as a sign of weakness.

"For a lot of persons, you should be able to deal with this on your own. You are supposed to be able to figure this out, whether you, as the child, can figure it out or we can figure it out as a family.

"They don't want to feel like, mentally, there is something wrong with them, and that is the perception that something is mentally wrong with you if you have to seek counselling and that, basically, it's a sign of weakness," said Morgan.

She cautioned that persons run a huge risk if counselling is recommended and an individual decides not to get help.

"A lot of the time what will happen, especially in the case of trauma - which we have a lot of in our country - is that it will stay there, and believe me, it does not go away, and so 10 or 20 years down the road, you are recognising the impact that it has had on their relationships," added Morgan.




For Semaj: "Whatever the problem that was seen, chances are it is more likely the problem will get worse than to spontaneously fix itself. So a child who is having behavioural problems, it could easily morph now into a violence problem, a truancy problem, and the behaviour becomes worse than being able to get fixed and getting the person back on track.

"It is said that many times, couples seek counselling six years after the problem has started. By then, the problem has got so much worse. If you had nipped it in the bud early, you could have got back on track," said Semaj.

That was endorsed by Pinkney, who warned that issues such as rape, if not treated, can manifest themselves in other ways such as homosexuality or promiscuity.

"Getting treatment is important, and it can't be just that 'the Lord bless and keep you'. It has to be looking at the issues, and seeing how best they can be worked through one by one," said Pinkney.

The psychologists agree that even though we are not where we need to be as it relates to counselling, it can be fixed by educating the masses.

"We need all hands on deck. We need a media approach to help people to understand what counselling is. We need to popularise it," said Semaj.