Tashi Dema 

With suicide claiming 100s of lives annually in the country and the Covid-19 pandemic further aggravating the number of mental health issues and increasing suicide risks, counsellors are calling people to seek help.

According to the director for Bhutan Board of Certified Counsellors (BBCC), Tshering Dolkar, who is also the executive director of RENEW, there are 277 certified counsellors in the country.

She said many youth problems that could be addressed through counselling are concluded as behavioural problems in the country and people have inhibitions to seek help.

“The effect of counselling is immense,” she said. “Seeking help is important.”

Tshering Dolkar cited the example of how a girl, who attempted suicide many times, lives a meaningful life after seeking counselling. 

“There are counsellors available for students, mental health, family, couples, drugs, trauma, sexual reproductive health, crisis, adolescents and youth, violence and career.”

She said that BBCC certified 63 peer counsellors, 155 associate counsellors, 15 m-level counsellors and 15 supervisors after it started certifying counsellors in 2017.

Counsellors without university degrees but with relevant training are termed as peer counsellors, those with a university degree and also have relevant training are considered associate counsellors, those with master’s degrees in relevant counselling areas and also attended training are considered m-level counsellors and those with master’s degree or Doctor of Philosophy, have more than 10 years of experience in specialized areas are considered as supervisors.

A former board member of BBCC, Nima Damdrul, who is also the chief programme officer of Bhutan Narcotics Control Agency (BNCA), said he refers those with addiction problems to counsellors based on the severity.

“People don’t realise they are dependent. Denial is the key factor that stops peole from receiving counselling or treatment,” he said. “By receiving counselling, one can find out the root cause of their addiction.”

He said as addiction is a disease, it will get worse if those suffering from it do not seek timely intervention. “Timely counselling maintains and manages the problem from getting worse.”

Nima Damdrul said counselling is a process and there would be a gradual improvement in those seeking the service in the way he or she perceives themselves.

He explained that that from BNCA, people with a mild addiction problem are referred for brief interventions, moderate ones for out-patient counselling and severe ones for in-patient treatment or rehabilitation.

He said there are about 60 addiction counsellors as school teachers and health professionals.

It was learnt that BBCC, as a professional standard to certify counsellors, recertifies counsellors every three years based on criteria such as the number of practices, supervisions and training attended.

Meanwhile, many people are raising concerns with the quality of counselling provided in the country and how school authorities deal with sexual assault cases, after a 16-year-old girl in Lhamoidzingkha, Dagana, took her own life on July 8.

According to the report school authorities submitted to the education ministry, the minor confided to the school counsellor about a man sexually assaulting her on July 7.

It stated that the school counsellor reported the matter to school authorities, who asked him to provide counselling to the girl that afternoon. “School counsellor did as suggested and on July 8, the girl was called to the office where she did not speak anything.”

The report stated that the management even asked the minor to write a statement, but she refused. “Since she did not bring her parents as asked, the counsellor went with the girl to bring the father and school authorities informed the father and reported the matter to police.”

It also stated that the girl was sent home with the father to discuss the matter with the mother and report to police if they have evidence of the sexual assault.

The girl jumped into the Sunkosh river after changing her clothes, in front of her 11-year-old brother. “She bid him goodbye and jumped into the river,” the report stated.

Relatives of the girl alleged that the school authorities shamed the girl by asking questions in front of the father and telling her that she would not be given a certificate.

“They should have taken the mother instead of the father,” a relative said.

They, however, did not pursue the case.

Director Tshering Dolkar said BBCC would table the issue of Lhamoidzingkha case in the upcoming meeting next week. “The board will have to support the counsellor if he or she is right and take actions if need be.”

She said counsellors are governed by the principles of counselling, ethics and supervision. “Any violation in providing and receiving counselling should be in accordance with the ethical code of conduct.”

She reiterated the need to seek counselling for those in need, stating that having a professional standard helps to protect the profession, professionals and clients.

“Counselling has become the need of the hour and it can help emotional injury to heal.”