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Counsellor as a Chameleon

Monday, December 17th, 2007 @ 7:35 pm
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Posted in  Creative, Personal Process, Quotes

A question i pose during my research interviews is inviting the participant to think of a metaphor/image that would describe them as therapists (what they have become as a result of moving between cultures/experiencing cross-cultural transitions etc). This is something that my supervisor advised me to do in order to invite more unconscious/tacit responses to emerge, as a way of unblocking certain experiences or feelings that may be difficult to be put into words. The metaphor of a Chameleon [means “Earth lion” and is derived from the Greek words chamai (on the ground, on the earth) and leon (lion)] is one that has come up often.

William has been writing a chapter about Pittu’s work and he came up with those relevant paragraphs, that also echo my personal experience, to some extent, he calls this section “Counsellor as Chameleon”:

“Pittu argues that counsellors must learn the art of becoming a chameleon “so whatever the client defines themselves in they should be able to blend in with client” (2006: 5). I understand this to mean that the counsellor works at getting the client’s frame of reference including the cultural role of the helper within the client’s culture. As Pittu makes clear “The sick and inform often consult religious personages, gurus and pundits, diviners and astrologers, fakes and fraudsters, fakirs and faith healers, spiritualists and herbalists, with far greater fervour than they do medical doctors and psychiatrists” (2004:421). Also as Roy Moodley (1999) makes clear it is not uncommon for Indians to consult traditional healers simultaneously with consulting counsellors. Pittu was convinced that this art of becoming a chameleon “is difficult to acquire, you only acquire it if you can admit to yourself that there is something lacking in you. there’s a gap that you need to fill” (2006:5).

However, becoming a chameleon is not without its side affects witness Pittu’s comments quoted earlier about being too English in India and too Indian in England. So there is perhaps a price to pay in developing such mobility between cultures. Despite the costs of this I don’t think Pittu would have said it was not worthwhile. It also occurs to me that what the world most needs know is more and more people able to truly become global citizens, truly able to transcend differences of culture. Pittu’s writings and even his own life experiences point to this possibility.

However, I want to add a brief and personal caveat. On route to meeting with Pittu for what I did not realise was to be the final I developed a fantasy. In this fantasy I was a follower about to visit my Eastern guru or holy man and Pittu’s physical frailness by then only added to this image. I told Pittu about this notion but he was not taken with it by any means. However, it does point to the cultural issue of white people thinking that Indian people have the spiritual solutions to the meaning of life. But maybe as Indian people come to England is search of the good western life there could be as in a move in the other direction. We have much to learn from each other about the good life material and spiritual”

My email response to reading those paragraphs was as follows:

“as for your paragraphs on “counsellor as a chameleon”: this is a metaphor that
was used by a couple of my interviewees and myself. It’s true as you say that
there is a price to pay in all that moving between cultures, in terms of
identity, comfort zones, undersatndings of self and the world etc…you also
mention the need for becoming global citizens: my comment on that is that for
this to be meaningful transcendence or transformation to this new type of
identity and being, one needs to re-visit their own roots also, with a stance
that is both respectful and grounded – neither with mere nationalism (or pride)
alone nor with mere rejection or passivity in the name of being modern or out
of fear of being seen as ‘retarded’ or ‘third world’, if you know what i
mean….so i would say that the challenge of today is ho wto genuinely become
both local and global in a deeper truthful way…we think we know the values we
carry, those we inherited…but they need revisiting…as for the new values
emerging, they are still fluid, not clear yet (which is quite scary state to be
in) and this process needs care…so that one can move forward but also look
back every now and then and learn what clutter to leave behind, what to heal,
what wisdom to carry along and what to create anew in the present and future”

I see my reflexivity becoming deeper and deeper and there are sometimes that i feel completely silenmced by the research process, other times i feel i become highly articulate. This blog is a good space for all these words to have a home…being local in those posts but also going global through the web!

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