One of the biggest challenges parents face is managing difficult or defiant behavior on the part of children. Dr Shelja Sen, clinical psychologist and therapist offers a new take on family communication, asking us to consider the effects our words have on our children – and showing a new model for helping kids solve their own problems. While working in different contexts in India and the UK, she was very disillusioned by the dehumanising practices that pathologised human suffering. It led her to align herself with collaborative practices like narrative therapy and solution focused brief therapy. At the core of her work is how we need to understand how some children grow up with thin stories that they internalise as ‘truths’ about themselves. It is only when we understand how we are damaging our children can we take steps to reconstruct their broken identities or stories, one stitch at a time
Why did you choose this career path?
I have been working as a clinical psychologist and therapist for over 25 years. I did my MPhil in clinical psychology from NIMHANS, Bangalore and then went to the UK to train as a family therapist and to do my doctorate. Children First was set up by Dr Amit Sen (Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist), Dr Kavita Arora (child & adolescent psychiatrist) and myself. We started working as a team in the area of child and adolescent mental health after our return from the UK in 2003. Over the years we were joined by some of the most committed, well trained, experienced and skilled professionals to build a transdisciplinary team.
How would you judge yourself?
My USP would be that I wear different hats and thrive on juggling different roles – mother, therapist, psychologist, trainer, learner and author. Our organisation, Children First’s USP is that we focus on “building a community of concern for our children and youth”. The main objective initially was to move away from a hospital setting and establish a children’s centre in the community, which provided effective, ethical and culturally grown services. However, as the journey has progressed, we have learnt that our vision and intent is so much more than creating “a center”. The services we provide include clinical services, developmental center, Schools That Care programme (STC), Communities That Care programme (CTC) and trainings around the year.
What are the challenges faced by you?
Challenges we face every day is the way children are treated in our society, especially children who have a disability, come from a lesser privileged backgrounds or are different in anyway. Though I am very critical of our school system, I believe schools are just symbolic of the larger socio-cultural political context where children’s needs and wellbeing is the lowest priority.
Whom would you attribute your success to?
To my children and the children and young people I work with every day. Their immense courage, grit and tenacity despite the challenges they face inspires me everyday.
What are your plans for the future?
My plans for the future are to keep writing, keep growing and hopefully keep evolving as a human being and an organisation.
What is the learning lesson audience would get from your talks?
Hopefully, the learning would be that “the different ways we talk to our children become their inner voices and the similarly the different ways we talk about them become their life stories – so people after this listening to this talk will become much more mindful of how they need to honor the dignity of every child they meet.