Nepali Women of the Now: Asmita Dhungana

By Richa Pokhrel/@nepalichoriblog

This month we are featuring Asmita Dhungana. She is a psychological wellbeing practitioner (PWP) in England. Psychological wellbeing practitioners work with groups of people suffering from anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems. The job is to help people manage their own recovery using behavioral therapy interventions. Mental health policy was developed in the late 1990s in Nepal, but integrating services to its population has been difficult.  As Nepalis we know how hush hush this topic can be amongst our family, yet we know several people who are suffering silently. I admire Asmita because she is not afraid to talk about mental health and work with people who are suffering! I hope her interview inspires us to be more vocal about our own mental health issues and not be afraid to seek help when we need it.

1. Why did you become a psychological wellbeing practitioner?
I have always been very interested in mental health. I think it stems from being interested in people generally and wanting to help those in distress. I wanted to help people more psychologically through talking therapy. So I looked into this role and it was exactly what I wanted to do at the time. Also, my goal currently is to become a clinical psychologist and I felt this would prepare me well for that.

2. What do practicing psychological wellbeing practitioner do?
People working in my role will normally do a psychological assessment with a patient and then if suitable, offer them talking therapy which is based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. They might offer this on a one on one level or it might be in a group setting. They might also offer support over the telephone if that suits the patient. They normally offer short term therapy but it depends on the individual and what they might need.

3. What kind of patients do you work with?
My patients typically tend to be adults with depression and different types of anxiety disorders. Currently, though, I am part of a service development project, developing a psychological service for cancer patients. So I am now working with women who are either having treatment for gynecological cancers or those that have completed treatment and are perhaps struggling to move forward with their lives again. This is a new area of work for me but one that’s been very challenging and rewarding at the same time.

4. Why is mental health such a taboo subject in the Nepali community? How can we talk to our families about it?
This is a big question which I have thought about and struggle with a lot. I think that there are so many different factors that play into this. Firstly, I think world-wide, there is a stigma around mental health but of course the issue seems much in Nepal. I think there is a lack of awareness and symptoms can be misunderstood as laziness or ‘going mad’. Sometimes, there can be so much concern about what others will think and a sense of shame and blame (perhaps due to a lack of understanding?) when it comes to mental health issues.

Mental health problems are so common that it’s likely we or someone close to us may experience mental health difficulty at some point in our lives. Yet, a lot of people are afraid to talk about it. In my experience, Nepali people are often very resilient which I really admire but when it comes to this, the resilience can mean that people don’t discuss it and just carry on – this can perpetuate the stigma.

I don’t think there is one right way to talk about it but if we see something or notice something, I think we should try to have a conversation in a respectful and gentle way. This might be difficult to do but if we can talk about it then that’s the biggest way to break down the barriers – and people can often surprise you.

5. What had been the most challenging thing about being a psychological wellbeing practitioner?
One of the most challenging things for me has been where services that I work for cannot meet the demand for mental health support, particularly not in a timely way which means that I have to disappoint a patient.

6. What had been the most satisfying thing about being a psychologist?
I think it’s very rewarding being a part of a patient’s journey towards recovery where you see them go from, for example, struggling to manage daily tasks, to actually get to a point beyond their own expectations. It’s also satisfying to know that a patient felt heard or understood and seeing the difference that this alone can make.

7. How do you do self-care?
Very good question! I love walking so I make sure I get to do that as much as possible. Recently, I’ve been trying to run a bit, it’s a great feeling and I would honestly recommend that to anyone – if I can do it, I’m sure you can too! The other thing that really helps me just relax and get a break from everything else is listening to podcasts – there’s so many engrossing ones out there and if I am driving or walking or cooking, I always have one on the go. I’ve certainly learnt the importance of self-care as time goes on- just to have a break from work and other things in life for a few minutes can make a big difference.

8. What social issues do you feel most passionate about and why?
I feel very passionately about inequality, be it due to poverty, gender or race. Seeing the inequality in Nepal was a big thing for me growing up but now, living in the UK, you realise that it’s everywhere. I don’t have any solutions as there are so many inequalities in this world, but we can all recognise an unfair situation when we see it and maybe there’s something about making whatever change we can in our own lives or communities and who knows what the ripple effect of that might be.

9. Who are your role models?
There are so many people who have been role models to me in different ways! Within my work, I think I most admire people who embody compassion even when they are under a lot of pressure and overly stretched – this is very difficult and cannot be underestimated. Currently I work with a specialist cancer nurse and a clinical psychologist who have not allowed that kindness to take a back seat where many others may have and I think that’s amazing.

10. What advice would you give to women who want to pursue a similar career?
For women who want to pursue something similar, I would encourage you to explore, try to get experiences working in a similar field – it will give you a realistic expectation of what you are going into, it’s the best way to know if this is what you want and you’ll definitely learn a lot along the way.

But another thing to say is not to be put off by small disappointments and setbacks- everyone has them!

11. Name one thing about yourself that most people don’t know. 
Most people probably don’t know that I’m a bit of a Korean drama fan – I watched a few shows some years ago and still enjoy a new Korean show from time to time.

12. Best piece of advice you have received.
“When you look back on your life, you will regret the things you didn’t do more than the things you did”  – not advice as such but this is something that I often think about to try to live a life true to myself and be more adventurous.

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