‘Discussing problems with others is courageous, not shameful’
Miss Oluwagbemisola Ogunrinde is the Psychotherapist and Chief Executive Officer at The Family Place, Ikeja, Lagos. She talks about mental health and how Nigerians can handle it, including childcare and other activities at her centre in this interview with Ozo Mordi
Gbemi, as this cheerful and smart girl is fondly called, is one of the few existing mental health professionals, who are establishing private practice in Nigeria.
“Mental health is not to be taken lightly, she said, when The Guardian met her for a chat recently in her cozy office at Alausa in Ikeja. “And mental does not mean crazy, I try to tell people that.”
She explained that mental or emotional issues are part of general health, which an individual must address, just like he seeks the doctor’s help, when he has malaria fever or other physical ailments.
“When emotional challenges are not addressed appropriately, they may lead to a state of mental breakdown and that is when the person concerned may need psychiatrist treatment or end up at Yaba,” she stated. “But before this breakdown, an individual with mental issues or challenges should seek help from mental health professionals, which also include Psychologists, Psychotherapists and professional Counsellors.
“However, most people do no not see the need to consult, preferring to confide in their pastors or imams. For instance, take the case of a family man, who, though lost his job, but sees a bright future ahead because he sees options before him in coping with his loss. But the one who feels sad, and loses his appetite, needs professional help.
“He needs to see a mental health professional, because he sees a bleak future and is not getting better emotionally. To him, the picture looks bad.”
But whatever the case, all is not lost, as Gbemi assured that a professional mental health practitioner could teach him the coping mechanism, as well as how to move forward.
She said: “The one that feels he is a loser and worries about it, without finding a solution, may get to the stage where he may have only the psychiatrist’s treatment to survive. I appreciate the fact that Nigerians are beginning to understand the importance of mental health. I belong to the on-line group of therapists, Jacknjilive.com, which was put together by Leke Alder. Nigerians book our services and they are bold enough to talk to somebody.”
According to her, although some people see sharing what troubles them as a sign of weakness, but it is courageous to talk to someone.
“I see a bright future for the practice of mental health in this country and the truth is that it is an important area of healthcare,” she said.
“Even the World Health Organisation (WHO) emphasises that mental health is an important component of well being.”
Also researches have shown that behind some physical ailments are mental health issues.
“These include ulcer, which has been associated with bearing grudge. Heart diseases have also been found to have a relationship with some emotional issues,” she explained.
She has held workshops, which addressed emotional intelligence, defined as the ability to understand and master one’s emotions. Whether at home or at work, an individual is in one relationship or the other.
“And being sensitive to the needs of others around you is intentionally developed. Parents can teach children to master basic emotions, such as happiness or frustration. Children have feelings, although they may be unable to express them. For instance the case of a two-year-old, who asks the mother to give her something, but the mother refuses. She would cry, but when the mother explains to her why she can’t have her way or asks her if she feels ‘upset’ because of the refusal.
“The next time, the child would likely say: ‘I am upset’ instead of crying. Or take another example of a child, whose friend moves away to another place. The child feels sad and so cries, even though she cannot explain why. Here, the mother could help her to master her feelings by consoling and making her feel better. She just needs to tell her that she knows the child feels sad because her friend has left, but assures her of her love for her. This way, she learns to express herself, instead of crying, by saying: ‘I am not happy that my friend has moved away’. By identifying their feelings, they feel better.”
So, from a psychologist’s point of view, how would she rate Nigerians’ feelings, due to the present economic situation that has left many disillusioned?
She said: “It is understandable to complain because we want our country to be better. But we realise that some people are making it. Even people in the lower income group are making emotional intelligence work for them. In their small corners, they are coping by doing what they can to make peace reign.
“So, as we wait for government to do what it should and come up with positive ideas, we should focus on ourselves. Everybody has something to be thankful for, even if it is just the ability to breathe without assistance. Be grateful for that and from your appreciation of life, you will feel motivated.”
From her mien, Gbemi seems born to be a Psychologist.
She said: “I knew I loved children from the beginning. During my secondary school days at Queen’s College, Yaba, the counsellors felt I would do well as a doctor, while I thought I would be a Paediatrician. Along the line, however, I discovered that Biology and I were not friends, as I could not stand the sight of blood.
“After secondary school, it took me a while to decide what to do. I considered Business Administration and Law. But it was when I sat for SAT Exams that I came across Child Psychology and knew that was what I wanted.
“But prior to that, I knew I had a flair for analyzing human behaviour. In a room full of people, I might just be watching and trying to understand why people behave the way they did. It was fun.”
Instead of Child psychology, however, she opted to read the whole Psychology package.
“It occurred to me that children belong to a family,” she explained. “The Family Place is a mental and behavioural health centre, which is committed to fostering wellness and wholeness in all individuals. We offer counseling and psychotherapy services for children, adolescents, adults, individuals, couples and families.
“We help our clients commune with themselves intrapersonally, as well as, with the outer world interpersonally. This vision was born out of a passion and a desire to help families and individuals maintain healthy lives and relationships.”
Two strong women have influenced her greatly.
“My mother, Mrs. J. A. Olusoga, who is a Christian Educator. She put values in me and taught me excellence. Her teaching was: ‘what is worth doing at all is worth doing well.’ She taught me the importance of paying attention to details,” she said.
The second woman in her life is an American, Jennifer Smothermon, her technical adviser when she was studying for her Master’s.
“She is young and married. She has been able to balance work, faith, family and profession. Everybody praises her because she is wonderful. She holds a leadership position in the licensing board in Texas, where she lives. I consult with her often. I look up to her, because she has taught me that I can balance career and family, when I marry,” she said.
She did her undergraduate degree in Psychology at Covenant University, Ota, and Master’s degree in Family Psychology at the Hardin Simmons University, Texas. She is a member of Psi Chi, the international Honour Society in Psychology. She also belongs to the Canadian Child and Play Therapy and has been trained in Trauma- Focused Cognitive-Behavioural therapy for working with troubled children. She is a certified counselor by the Canadian institute of Christian Counselling.