The Rise of Psycho-Quacks (Fake Psychologist) in India: Why Should Indians Worry About it?

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Some of us have suffered from mental illnesses in our lives and it’s not a shame to admit that. It would not be wrong to say that some of you reading this article might also have suffered from anxiety or stress or are still currently suffering from it. But do we care? Physical health issues are of utmost importance but talk about an unhealthy mind is always hushed. We prefer to believe that a healthy body devoid of diseases is important to stay alive but our mind, Nah, we don’t need it sound. A simple thought can evoke powerful physical reactions and this is enough to prove that physical health is closely interrelated to mental health. If you ignore one, you suffer for both.

Yet this simple fact can’t be sensitized that easily in a third world country like India. To date, major parts of India are shrouded in superstitious, troglodytic religious beliefs, and traditional rituals. These obstruct the promotion of mental health awareness in India and further the gap in treatment-seeking. Digital India may have catalyzed its technological growth but has utterly failed at spreading the importance of mental health through social media as there are yet two evils to be eradicated – discrimination and stigma against mental illness. Spreading correct mental health knowledge and bursting myths around mental health is the need of the hour, in a country where mentally ill people are still considered as ‘outcasts’ of the society.

To top it all, many Indians aren’t even aware of the mental health legislation of the country. They are in darkness about the available mental healthcare facilities that the state provides to its citizens. The Mental Health Care Act (2017) had pledged to provide cost-effective mental healthcare services for people with mental illness but has unfortunately failed to keep the promise of ‘promoting, protecting and fulfilling’ the rights of these people. According to The Diplomat, India’s initial allotted annual budget for mental healthcare was 500 million rupees (2018) out of which India spent 50 million rupees annually on mental health.

This extremely apologetic situation calls for a more complicated story. India has only 9000 psychiatrists which mean there is only 1 available doctor for every 1,00,000 people whereas the desirable number should be 3 per 1,00,000 people. This boils down to the fact that India has a shortage of 18,000 mental health professionals.

While for you and me, these numbers might reflect a horrendous truth but for some opportunists, this is the golden hour. Amidst this growing confusion have risen psycho-quacks who ride a white horse, come clad in golden armor but not to save you but to drag you to the dungeon.

Who are psycho-quacks and why worry about them?

Psychologists are mental health professionals who study mental processes; they observe and analyze people’s behavior to identify psychological, emotional, or interpersonal issues and help them in better managing it through counseling or therapy.

In India, psychologists either practice independently or work along with the healthcare team, physicians, or social workers. These professionals are licensed or qualified practitioners. Clinical psychologists in India are doctorates (M.Phil) who are licensed under RCI. Graduates of Psychology (B.A and B.Sc) have to further complete their specializations (social psychology, organizational psychology, counseling psychology, etc.) in postgraduation (M.A or M.Sc.) before they can start working with an organization under the supervision of a licensed psychologist. It is not ethical for postgraduates in psychology to practice independently without licensure. Doctorates (Ph.D.) can practice by themselves in their personal clinics, be in academia, or research field, much to their choice.

Psycho-quacks are not professional psychologists but pseudo-psychologists with fake credentials, who pose as experienced practitioners in several fields of psychology. The growing confusion around mental health in India becomes a fertile breeding ground for these quacksalvers.

Many of these imposters will pose as experts qualified from prestigious foreign institutions and will most often use social media as a platform for their phony business. Social media being a virtual place allows them to easily get away with their fraudulency.
These people might coax you to pay in advance for an online session, which will either never take place or will hardly last for 30 minutes. On the contrary, a genuine therapy/counseling session lasts for a minimum of 50 minutes to 1 hour. Any practicing psychologist would prefer a face-to-face session, especially if there isn’t any geographical barrier between the psychologist and the client, to an online session.

Psychologists never provide ‘suggestions’ or ‘advice’. Rather they guide you throughout to help you find the truth for yourself. These fraudsters will often create public platforms to post about mental health-related issues and their treatments – all merely through ‘motivational quotes’ and ‘2 minutes inspirational videos’.

These people might not even have an idea about the ‘P’ of psychology, let alone have the expertise to treat mental illnesses. Yet these are the people who benefit the most from innocent, unsuspecting masses, who are genuinely aware of mental health problems and are seeking help for it.

The situation is graver than we think. Common people have no idea about how a practitioner works and will gulp almost everything they are fed because they feel helpless. A lot of misleading information is circulated on social media by these ‘swindlers’ which subsequently misguide people who truly need help from clinicians. Patients with serious mental health problems may run into the risk of aggravating their problems with unscientific advice from these illegitimate psychologists. These not only malign the reputation of authentic mental health professionals but also lift their jobs and put a bad name on the discipline.

Even though it is not completely possible for common people to distinguish a true psychologist from a fake one, you can always be extra careful.

Take the following precautions to avert risk:

  • Always double-check the psychologist’s background before you take an appointment.
  • Opt for a physical session rather than an online session.
  • Ask for the details of the testing, diagnosis, and treatment procedure the psychologist is going to follow and keep an account of it.
  • Never pay advance for any session. Session fees are always paid after each session is complete.
  • Never pay extra for 5-10 minutes of extra session time.

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