Therapy tales: Exploring the quest for meaning with Anurakti

29 May 2024
Chaithra MJ Written by Chaithra MJ
Chaithra MJ

Chaithra MJ

Chaithra is a freelance content writer with a love for existentialism. She is passionate about...

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“Achieving career success is often seen as the ultimate goal in life, but meaning and fulfillment can come from various sources. It’s not just about a job or career but finding things that bring purpose and joy to your life.

Dr. Anurakti Mathur is a seasoned counseling psychologist and coach with over 16 years of experience in the field. She earned her PhD in Psychology from the University of Rajasthan in Jaipur in 2009 after obtaining Master’s degrees in both Psychology and Business Administration. Dr. Anurakti specializes in behavioral, relationship, and interpersonal issues, focusing on gender psychology and anxiety management.

Therapy tales: Exploring the quest for meaning with Anurakti

Growing up as a “fauji kid” has taken her to many places, though she did most of her studying in Jaipur. When she’s not busy with therapy sessions, Anurakti loves to travel, dive into books, play around in the kitchen, and experiment with new recipes.

Our discussion explores her therapeutic approach and the journey that led her here.

Let’s start at the start. How did you get the idea of becoming a therapist? Was it your childhood dream?

Honestly, I am yet to meet a person whose childhood dream is to become a psychotherapist. 

This one is serendipitous.  

I always dreamed of becoming a chef, but my Indian parents had other ideas for my career. Coming from a family of academic overachievers, with everyone either a doctor or a PhD, there was pressure for me to follow in their footsteps.

As luck would have it, I had been studying psychology in school and excelled at it, so I ended up pursuing psychology.

During college, I pursued my Ph.D. and also began assisting a senior psychotherapist. This made me realize I had a knack for this field and could continue practicing it. I also noticed during this time that psychologists were not being paid well. This was several years ago when therapists were not earning enough, so I decided to pursue an MBA to improve my financial prospects in the future.

I also started working, but I soon realized that therapy comes naturally to me while other things require more effort. I felt that this was something I could continue doing with my life. As time passed, I stopped caring about how much it paid and focused on the impact. That’s how I got back to psychology.

Thank you for sharing your journey with us. Do you follow any particular systems or practices in your therapy? 

My approach to therapy is based on humanistic and existential principles, which involve using a Socratic kind of questioning. Unlike popular therapies like CBT, my practice focuses on self-discovery rather than immediate behavior change. It’s a journey toward understanding where your problems stem from and acknowledging that there is an issue that needs fixing. 

This therapy method focuses on helping individuals identify the root of their problems and find their own solutions. Therapists take a semi-passive role, avoiding giving direct advice or solutions unless necessary. The client is the main focus of this approach. 

It’s a different school.

This theory is based on the experiences of Holocaust survivors, such as Viktor Frankl and Jules Schelvis. These individuals, along with others like Kafka, questioned why these tragic events occurred and how their lives came to be shaped by them. Many of these theorists struggled with survivor’s guilt and worked to navigate through it.

They mention the importance of understanding the underlying meaning behind every behavior and aspect of our lives. Grasping this personal meaning makes it easier to navigate and lead our lives with purpose and direction. They don’t advocate happiness as the ultimate goal but emphasize meaning as the key to living a fulfilling life. So it’s more about self-discovery. 

Interesting. The human quest and most behavioral tendencies are driven by pain or pleasure. We tend to go toward pleasure and avoid pain.

So, where does meaning come into this whole picture?  

Man’s quest for finding meaning in their life will pave the path to joy.  Focusing on meaningful activities and removing those that do not add value or bring joy will lead to a successful and fulfilling life. So, the quest should not be about happiness.

The quest should be about meaning. Once you find that meaning, you will have more immersive experiences.  So happiness is not the destination. 

You don’t live to be happy. You live to do what matters to you the most. And in that journey, you achieve happiness as well.  It’s the result of doing what you really want to do and leading the life you want to lead. 

Is the concept of “meaning” always tied to one’s career or work, or is it beyond that? 

It is beyond that. It could be anything. 

Achieving career success is often seen as the ultimate goal in life, but meaning and fulfillment can come from various sources. It’s not just about a job or career but finding things that bring purpose and joy to your life.

I derive a lot of meaning from the simple act of cooking. Whenever I’m cooking, I forget how much time I have spent, forget all my worries, and reach a blissful state.

Your school of thought is unique to other therapeutic approaches. How did you discover this path? 

So, much of it came from figuring out what I didn’t want to do. 

Behaviorism, specifically CBT and related therapies, is today’s most widely accepted psychological treatment approach. This involves actively engaging clients in activities that help them modify their behaviors and thought patterns.

Therapy tales: Exploring the quest for meaning with Anurakti

These techniques have shown success, particularly in clients with a clinical history or those who have a family background of chronic psychological disorders such as anxiety or depression.

If you struggle with issues related to identity, self-image, or self-esteem – which are common among the general population – they may not be resolved through traditional therapy methods.

It can be frustrating when a therapist assigns homework and promises that it will “fix” your problems. Personally, I have even gone from one therapist to another in search of someone who could truly understand and help me. 

One of the main reasons I decided to look into better options was because of my own frustration. I didn’t want to subject my clients to something that I found difficult myself. My initial exploration led me to various therapies, including hypnosis, but unfortunately, it didn’t work for me. 

Another school of thought that caught my attention was the Freudian approach, which is quite intriguing and controversial. This very theory sparked my interest in psychology. So I thought, okay, let’s try the Freudian methodology, but it’s a logistical nightmare.  

Traditional psychoanalysis can last months on end, blurring the boundaries of ethics as a relationship forms between therapist and client. I needed to find an alternative approach. 

Fortunately, a friend introduced me to a different methodology that better suited my skills and goals. I started reading up, and I took a couple of courses, and then I figured out this is sensible, and this is what I’d like to do.

Being in your line of work can be physically and emotionally demanding. How do you manage your emotional well-being?  

As a therapist, I often carry a heavy emotional and cognitive load, which is why I schedule regular sessions with my therapist. Even with therapy, I still felt overwhelmed with things that were going on in my life. So that bothered me, and I was like, how do I deal with this? 

I come from a family of doctors, including my father. I remember times when he would be called in during a family gathering or party for an urgent surgery, which in some cases resulted in death.

He would leave but then return to the party and continue socializing as if nothing had happened. I couldn’t wrap my head around it – how could he switch off his emotions like that? So I asked my cousin, who was also a doctor.

I asked him, “Do you not have empathy for your patients?” He responded, “I don’t let myself get too emotionally attached to my patients. If I do, it will drive me crazy. I do care about their well-being, but I have learned to disconnect.”

This was when I realized the importance of disconnecting from clients for my own mental health and also for their well-being.

Do you ever feel frustrated when you don’t see the progress you expect from your clients? 

Trust me, before a therapist gets frustrated, the client gets frustrated. Clients often believe that therapists are like regular doctors who will fix their problems. 

But we, as therapists are not able to offer any tangible benefits to them. It takes a while and a lot of work. Sometimes, they really don’t want to work, and that is when the problem arises. I have had to terminate therapy for clients who did not show effort or motivation to work on themselves.

In these cases, it is best to make a mutual decision to discontinue therapy and suggest finding another therapist who may better fit their needs and help them on their journey.

I also participate in supervision groups where we gather to discuss challenges and support each other. It’s a safe space to discuss our work openly and brainstorm solutions.

The roundtable discussions have helped me improve by challenging my mindset and value system, which can often be the source of blockages or frustrations in therapy sessions.

There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about therapy. What myths and misconceptions frustrate you the most? 

I find it frustrating and frankly ridiculous that there is a channel on social media called “Psychology Says,” which spreads misinformation about psychology. Psychology does not say these things, and it saddens me that people are misled by such content. 

Another issue that bothers me is the constant pressure to be happy and positive all the time. While there is value in having a positive mindset, it can be unfair to those who struggle with their mental health and are unable to always feel happy and in control of their lives.

This is a systemic issue, and it is growing in great proportions. More people are falling for it and want to be happy all the time. People are genuinely suffering. And when you overemphasize happiness or this utopian form of existence, you are doing a disservice to people going through a tough time. 

Have you ever been told not to be sad or think happy thoughts? People suggest watching puppy videos, talking to a friend, or even listening to motivational or spiritual speakers. But the truth is, it can be difficult for someone going through hell to simply fake optimism and happiness.

Why do you think there is a glorification of happiness and optimism? We go through a spectrum of emotions. Each has its significance and value. But why are we stuck on happiness and happiness only? 

If you were given the choice to socialize with someone, who would you pick?  

Therapy tales: Exploring the quest for meaning with Anurakti

You would automatically gravitate toward people who are smiling, happy, and have something nice to say and offer. Of course, you want to be with people who are not doing well, but they are the people you’re close to, who matter to you. You won’t instinctively pick the saddest person in the room. Happiness breeds happiness, and sadness breeds sadness, so you want to align yourself with happier people.

I remember one of my mother’s most frequently used sentences was ‘don’t cry.’

So, somewhere in the back of our heads, we’ve also started associating not crying and not being sad with something that is more desirable than being sad and actually being your true self.

Our obsession with happiness has been passed down through generations and continues to this day. Every year, we conduct a survey to determine the happiest countries in the world. Of course, any country ranked lower on this happiness index would be considered sad. We feel pressure to always be happy and put on a smile. Our obsession with happiness can be detrimental.

Looking back on your career, is there something you would have wanted to do differently? Also, what advice would you like to give to aspiring therapists?  

In between, there was a lot of disconnect with therapy. I wish I hadn’t done that. If I hadn’t stopped, I could have learned so much more and had the opportunity to work with more people. Looking back, I realize that although I was younger, therapy wasn’t such a bad thing to invest my time in.

It may not always lead to being the highest earner among friends, which can bring its own challenges, but it’s something that really resonates with me.

If I could go back, I would have put more effort into studying psychology, regardless of who my professor was. In college, my interest in a subject often depended on how good the professor was. Looking back now, I realize it was a mistake and wish I had taken a different approach.

For aspiring psychologists, your theory should be super strong to be able to practice anything. You should have a deep understanding of the subject matter, whether it’s the history of psychology or the relevance of studying past events in relation to current practices.

Don’t skip over foundational courses in pursuit of specialization; they are essential for shaping your skills as a therapist.

Academics first. Do your due diligence, do your groundwork, and everything else will come. 

What is your biggest therapy pet peeve? 

When people come to me and say – ‘Doctor isse jaldi theek kardo, nahi toh isse kaun shadi karega?’ (Doctor please help them feel better quickly, or else who will marry them?)

I have had people requesting therapy at 11 o’clock. When asked why, they explained that they lived in a joint family and didn’t want others to know as it would insult them. They worry that others in the family will see, which may be embarrassing or uncomfortable for everyone involved.

What’s the biggest lesson your clients have taught you over the years as a therapist?  

Life goes on. 

No matter how grave the situation is, no matter how dysfunctional we might perceive people, they go on. They might be suffering, but even with that suffering, they do their bit to sustain, survive, and live each day. This gives me a lot of strength. 

Also, not taking oneself too seriously is probably the biggest lesson. 

Who is Anurakti beyond a therapist?  

I may seem like a serious person during therapy sessions, but outside of that, I am still a child at heart. I have a weird sense of humor and love collecting toys, which are off-limits to my own daughter. I enjoy watching animated movies and have been to Disney World multiple times.

I am planning a trip to the Harry Potter world because, in my mind, HP is real, and no one can convince me otherwise. The only reason I did not get my Hogwarts letter was because the Death Eaters stole them all.

I also don’t share ice cream. Not even with my daughter; she has to get her own. 

You can connect with Anurakti as a therapist and book sessions with her.

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