Despite being a GNH country, Bhutan still witnesses children and youth who are sad and depressed, who drop school and even commit suicides, a senior counselor, Dr Gro Holm Rypestol observed at the 4th biennial Bhutan counseling conference yesterday in Thimphu.

The counselor from Norway while speaking on school counseling said a country is never happy if its children are unhappy. Talking to more than 30 certified counselors from different schools, Dr Gro reminded that this is where the role of counselors comes in.

The session was held to help counselors understand school counseling, their responsibilities, and how to become, work, and stay a good counselor.

Dr Gro is a senior certified counselor and behavioural therapist in Norway. She came to Bhutan in 1974 as a teacher and worked at the Muenselling Institute for the Visually Impaired in Khaling for six years. She helped in establishing the school and trekking in east and southern part of Bhutan for blind children. She developed the entire curriculum book in braille.

“Although we cannot say it is wrong but what is happening is Bhutanese tend to have a belief that mental illness is probably an account of past lives, karma, samsara, demons and ghosts,” Dr Gro said. “Regardless of such traditions, culture, personal preferences, there is solid base on which we can establish our work as a counselor and help youth.”

Bhutan, she said, has signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990, which clearly states the right of the child that parents cannot take away.

“For instance, parents cannot slap them because they have a right to slap,” she said. “This would be like going against the convention signed by the government and this is the authority which a counselor can use and help adolescents in trouble.”

She said that counselors are the hands of government, the king and education ministry in helping to prevent all forms of abuse and violence against children.

“But a counselor should always remember that before helping a youth or adolescent in trouble, you’re willing to listen, engage, and react to their problems,” she stressed. “Not every youth or adolescent would be expressive or willing to share their problem, but you should never give up to help a child.”

Sharing her experiences, Dr Gro, said some of the reasons for troubles in youth are family, school, social and personal problems which would result in a child resorting to stress, substance abuse and go into depression.

“Give a chance to express themselves, assure confidentiality, listen with empathic concern, and reflect together to help him or her to repair from trouble. Building a good relation with the youth is important to provide the safety they need, establish connections for meaningful life, and help them cope with the given tasks.”

The two days conference organised by the Bhutan Board for Certified Counsllor (BBCC)- RENEW ended yesterday.

Yangchen C Rinzin