While it’s a proven method of relief for people ranging from those with mental conditions to those who just need someone to talk to, counselling is still unrecognised in Sri Lanka according to the Sri Lanka National Association of Counsellors (SLNAC). Established in 1985, the association entered its 25th year on Tuesday (December 7) and continues to press forward in providing relief to a nation that is battered and bruised having been through successive catastrophes.
Some of the people helped by the SLNAC include tsunami victims, soldiers desensitised by war, victims of domestic violence and people who were suicidal, to name a few. Explaining how SLNAC works, Nilkantha (Nilu) Fernandopulle, former president of the association says, “We don’t provide people with solutions to their problems. Instead we simply talk to them and help them find their own solutions.”
Having been a part of the association for the past six years, Nilu has seen over 600 cases.
Describing how SLNAC works he recollects a case in which a suicidal young man sought his help. “The boy was actually on his way to commit suicide when he saw the [SLNAC] board outside my office and walked in to see what it was about. He was in a bad state when he came to me but once he started talking he spilled out all his problems and hurt. He told me his father is retired and that his mother is ill.
Being the eldest son he had to take on the role of ‘head of the family’. At the time he was sitting for his A/Ls while applying for jobs but none of them worked out. He was under a lot of pressure and finally decided to kill himself,” Nilu says, relating how having given up all hope, the boy had decided suicide would be the only way out of his bleak situation.
“While he was talking to me he mentioned that his family grew annasi [pineapples] in their yard, so I said why don’t you sell the pineapples here. Then he thought for a moment and said yes, I could do that, and I can buy gram from Pettah and sell it at schools. He came up with the idea himself. After than he was doing alright but after sometime I didn’t hear from him,” says Nilu describing how he lost contact with the young man and was worried about him.
“Three months later a well dressed man turned up and my door and asked me ‘Sir, mawa anduranawada’? [sir do you remember me]. I didn’t know who he was but I invited him in. He then told me that he was the young man who was on his way to commit suicide before he came to my office that day and that now he was a successful mudalali,” shares Nilu delightedly.
According to Nilu suicide is still rampant in the villages, but domestic violence has taken precedence as the most pervasive problem currently in Sri Lanka. He says this is largely due to the desensitised soldiers who have returned to civilian society after being part of the 26 year war that has come to an end.
He goes on to say that handling these numerous and various cases must be done with utmost care. Counselling is a delicate task and must be handled by skilled, well trained, dedicated and mature individuals. The SLNAC, which is registered under the Ministry of Social Services, provides training for counselling. “For a population of roughly 21 million, we have about 200 certified counsellors. However, the association is highly selective of whom they award certification to due to the complexity of the work involved.”
President of the association, Nandhini Wijayaratnam (PGDCP- University of Colombo), says that those trained by SLNAC have to undergo a further six months of probation before they receive official certification as counsellors.
Nilu and Nandhini agree that while counselling is an excellent form of resolution for personal problems, it isn’t being utilized in Sri Lanka and in fact people were averse to the concept due to the lack of awareness. Nandhini says that Sri Lankans foster the misconception that counselling is exclusively for people who are mentally ill. “That’s not true,” she clarifies, “counselling can be for anyone who needs someone who talk to or is suffering with personal problems.” Nilu adds that if people don’t seek relief, their depression will fester and lead to greater problems of ill health or mental disorders. “If you just sweep dirt under the carpet, maggots will breed in it,” he elaborates.
Striving to create awareness about the benefits of counselling, Nandhini is organising a conference which will be held in commemoration of SLNAC’s 25 anniversary. The conference will be a two-day national event with presentations and case studies from speakers who are professionals in the field. The audience will include professionals, counsellors, graduates and those interested in the field or simply interested in the attending the conference. The event is scheduled to take place in August of next year. For more information about the SLNAC visit their website www.srilnac.org/.