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Sushama Kirtikar



"The Best Farmer's Market in America" boasted an article that caught my eye in an airline magazine. I settled comfortably into the seat to sink my teeth into this juicy narrative of the farmer's market called Ferry Plaza of San Francisco. "Many Ferry Plaza shoppers want to know exactly how the food they buy is grown or raised, and the vendors try to fill them in." Page after page depicted a profusion of colorful foods surveyed by curious shoppers and their eager sellers. A proud farmer proclaimed, "I can almost guarantee you that you'll find some things you've never tasted before".

I was struck by the absolute abandon with which shoppers and vendors interacted, introducing new epicurean delights on to the consumer's kitchen table. I got to wondering, if only this exuberant energy of Ferry Plaza could be captured and transferred gingerly into the field of counseling psychology! The South Asian consumer of psychological services is usually rather diffident, wary and untrusting. If only this could be replaced with the open, trusting and expectant wonder of the Ferry Plaza shopper! The South Asian clinician is often on guard, stiff, abrupt and expecting an ordeal ahead. If only this could be replaced with the enthusiastic, genuine and sincere willingness of the Ferry Plaza vendor!

I recognize the gravity of seeking psychotherapy is not quite the same as the adventure of purchasing exotic produce. I am not asking the consumer to be blindly trusting of the clinician. On the contrary, I agree that you have to be cautious. As a potential client, you want to interview the counselor or psychologist, regarding his credentials, experience, expertise and more importantly his cultural sensitivity. That sets a healthy tone of accountability for both parties. You are being a well-informed consumer and the provider of services is alerted to and respectful of your needs.

Walk into the counseling office with caution but leave the negative bias or unrealistic expectations at the door. In the initial interview, it is important to assume a stance of neutrality and not presume things about the professional based only on the name, the accent, the clothes, the office décor or the first encounter. I encourage people to give the professional three sessions to see if a proper fit is possible. You are planning on establishing a working relationship with this professional to whom you are going to reveal very deep, personal thoughts and feelings. Of course, you want to feel comfortable with him.

I am not asking the clinician to be naïve. It is essential to stay vigilant but give the client the benefit of doubt. Inadvertently, the clinician can jeopardize establishing a healing relationship by putting up a wall. True, she is bracing for the creative loopholes and exceptions that the client may seek, and finds herself in a defensive position.

Unnecessary energy is diverted when some clients assume familiarity based on common ethnicity. They presume special favors will be granted. Some call the clinician at home without permission and consider it a friendly encounter; some expect pro bono sessions will be granted; some insist 'nothing legal' should be established such as insurance claim forms or office notes; some interrupt another's session with a knock on the door; some insist the professional make house calls; some are relentless in finding out what was discussed with a spouse or an adult child in sessions, brazenly disregarding the individual's right to confidentiality. These are some ways that boundaries are crossed and the consumer takes away from his own precious therapy time as the clinician scrambles to reset the balance.

Granted, many of these practices may have been the norm in India and therefore they do not feel particularly odd to many. They need redirection and awareness. Granted, the consumer comes from a place of fear and uncertainty. She needs reassurance and support. Granted, the clinician comes from years of navigating the challenges of the unique cultural needs of South Asians. He needs confidence and faith.

We have to recognize that living in this society means living by its rules. It is the only decent and fair thing to do. We have to respect the parameters of the host country. If you do not know the limits, ask, listen, be mindful and respect them. That way, time will not be wasted by the clinician trying to convince you to stay within those limits to follow the laws of the profession. Then you are sure to be helped quickly and efficiently so that you may enjoy the fruits of sound psychotherapy as much as enjoying the delectable pleasures of Ferry Plaza. Just as tayberries, stinging nettles and purple cauliflowers tantalize you, so will the positive outcome of good therapy satisfy you. "I can almost guarantee you that you'll find some things you've never tasted before."

Sushama Kirtikar, a licensed mental health counselor in private practice, can be reached at (813) 264-7114 or e-mail at

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Dr. Ram P. Ramcharran

There are many organizations in the Tampa Bay area that focus on helping special needs children but the one organization that everyone should know about it is STAND (Statewide Advocacy Network on Disabilities Inc.) This not-for-profit organization, which has been around since December 1996, was organized by a group of parents and attorneys to help educate people on their rights.

STAND's purpose it to inform the families of children with disabilities of their rights. It is dedicated to getting a child with a disability the right education that they are entitled to under the law. The three main laws that STAND is concerned with are: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation act of 1973. It focuses on three topics: advocacy, legal rights, and above all, education.

This year, STAND will be hosting SPARC 2007 – Stand Pinellas Accessing Resource Conference. The organization’s goal is to provide parents, teachers, therapist and other professionals with resources that help children with disabilities make achievements in their life. STAND focuses on children with Special Needs and they take this mission very seriously.

This year SPARC 2007 will be held at Morgan Fitzgerald Middle School in Pinellas Park, on Saturday, Sept. 29, from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Morgan Fitzgerald is at 6410 118 Ave. N., Largo, FL 33773. Cost for the conference is $25 for pre-registration. That will include one entry to the conference, a lunch ticket and a program.

(Dr. Ram Ramcharran will be a guest speaker at the STAND event. He will be discussing how to better understand and deal with children with special needs. If you have any questions regarding this event, contact Melissa Tremblay, SPARC chairperson at (727) 784-8493 or visit

Dr. Ram P. Ramcharran can be reached at

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