A Community of Heart Profile: Sushma Mehrota
Extraordinary women flourish in our EMDR organization. Sushma Mehrotra from Bombay, India has followed in the footsteps of Francine Shapiro as a woman with vision, compassion and the drive to push through, despite the obstacles in front of her.
Although Sushma was born in North India, she resides in Mumbai with her husband and his mother. Sushma was the eldest of five born into the loving home of Vimla and Dwarika Mehrotra. Her father was the manager of a textile mill and her mother took care of the children. Later, when her parents moved to Canada, her mother owned her own boutique, employing women to make clothes to order.
Growing up in Nainital, at the foot of the Himalayas, Sushma and her siblings were nurtured in the warmth of a secure attachment and the wonder and beauty of one of the natural wonders of the world. Sushma’s parents understood the importance of fostering a sense of self and independence in their children. As a result, each of their children grew up knowing that their parents had confidence in them, and, this allowed for the emerging of each one’s natural tendencies and talents.
In 1972, Sushma married her husband, Rajen Mehrotra, after completing a college program where she graduated with a focus on Political Science and the History of India at the undergraduate level. Two years later, they welcomed their daughter, Parul, into their lives. She became a Montessori teacher and, after a period of time, her daughter attended this very same school.
In the late ‘70s, Sushma engaged her creativity by working with her hands. She taught embroidery and toy making at the College of Home Science at the University of Bombay.
Sushma was enjoying her life and the fruits of her labors when she asked a question that would change the direction of her life. During a faculty meeting, she noted that there was a disparity in the pay between the faculty in the Home Science College for the Polytechnic-where she was teaching- and the faculty in the Home Science College. She asked for an explanation. Her principal’s answer to her question hurt her in her core. She said it was because the other faculty was more “educated” and that entitled them to a higher pay scale. Sushma was hurt at the assumption that the skill that went into the creativity of handicrafts was not as worthwhile as what the others were doing. The thought that she was considered “uneducated” was particularly painful and disturbing.
Although this was a shocking experience, it turned out to be one that mobilized her and her family. Sushma told her family members what happened and they encouraged her to go back to school. Her husband said “You have to prove them wrong and go and study.”
With the support of her husband and family, in 1986, Sushma went back to school. It was her mother-in-law who took on many of her daily chores, and, for 5 years, Sushma did not enter the kitchen so that she could study and excel at her work.
Since Sushma was a child, people had said that she could listen well to people and empathize with them. They trusted her and knew that she would keep their confidence. Enjoying this natural talent, Sushma decided that her life’s work –a long with being a wife, mother, daughter, and daughter-in-law- would be to extend her talents to the greater society in which she lived. When Sushma was in High School in Nainital, she had wanted to pursue studies in Psychology. Unfortunately, Psychology was not available and it was only in 1986, when she began her Masters in Psychology followed by a M. Phil and Ph.D. at the Shreemati Nathibai Damodar Thackersey (S.N.D.T.) Women’s University, that she could pursue her interest.
Sushma went on to receive her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the same university. She had received an assistantship during the M. Phil. and started her study of Clinical Psychology with extensive Psychodiagnostic and Psychotherapeutic internships besides the research assignments. During the course of her work, Sushma worked in mental hospitals, addiction centers, child guidance clinics, and women’s cells for destitute women. Also, she was involved with outpatient work.
Quickly, Sushma’s teachers recognized her talent. She was asked to begin supervising new post- graduate students, while still in her program. The fact that she was chosen over those with more academic qualifications than she had at the time, created discontent amongst some of the faculty. She began by teaching psycho-diagnostics and psychopathology and moved on to supervision. She then became a full- time lecturer. By 1995, she had completed her doctorate and was working at the Department of Post Graduate Studies and Research where the energy and excitement of the work inspired her and her colleagues to teach all day and sometimes into the night.
Another turning point for Sushma occurred at the end of her studies. Her mother wanted to give her a graduation gift and so she and her husband went to Canada where she was able to meet other psychologists and learn new advances in the field. She ended up taking a number of trainings including courses in Family Therapy, Cognitive and Behavioral Psychology, Transactional Analysis, Psychodrama, Gestalt and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). During the course of the holiday, Sushma met Margaret Cunningham, a psychologist who introduced her to a fairly new therapy called EMDR. As she did not have the time or resources at the time to take the trainings, Sushma bought Francine Shapiro’s text, “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: Basic Principles, Protocols and Procedures.” She read it cover to cover and tried it herself.
During annual professional conferences in India, new developments in Mental Health are presented often either in the form of book review or emerging new methods. Sushma was so excited about the work that she saw, she wrote a conceptual paper about EMDR and presented it at the Annual Conference at the Bombay Psychological Association in 1996. Sushma followed this by a series of presentations with other mental health professionals.
At one seminar where she was presenting, she met someone who knew Ann Kafoury, an EMDR Institute Facilitator and EMDRIA Approved Consultant. Sushma, excited at the possibility of meeting and speaking to someone who had been trained in EMDR, wrote to Ann. As a result of Ann’s letter, Sushma decided not to practice EMDR until she was properly trained.
In a confluence of events, in 1998, there was a flood in Bangladesh and coincidently Sushma met the UNICEF chief of Bangladesh who was in Bangalore, India for a Nature Cure Therapy. He mentioned that a team of psycholologists from HAP –USA were coming to help the flood victims and would be using EMDR. When Sushma expressed the desire to learn EMDR, he tried to invite her but it was not possible for her to go to Bangladesh due to several reason s related to logistic support.
Sushma at this point was continuously writing to Ann. Ann Kafoury, in the meantime, was in Bangladesh and they made arrangements for her to come to India to talk about starting to do HAP trainings in India. Ann gave a presentation to the Mental Health community, and, soon after, HAP-USA brought trainers and facilitators to India. Manoshakti, the crisis intervention center of the Department of Psychology of Post Graduate Studies of Research Studies of S.N.D.T. Women’s University was ready to receive and coordinate activities related to EMDR. Between 1999 and 2001, approximately 100 Indian practitioners were trained at S.N.D.T. Women’s University in Mumbai.
In 2000, Sushma’s husband moved to Delhi and worked for the International Labor Organization.
On January 26 th 2001, during the celebration of Republic day, tragedy in the form of a major earthquake hit in the western part of the Indian province of Gujarat. In a few seconds, life for the inhabitants of this area changed irrevocably. This was the second most deadly earthquake in recorded Indian history and took a heavy toll of life and property. Many were left homeless, orphaned or injured. The world responded with massive relief and life was beginning to return to some sense of normalcy.
Sushma, however, was concerned about the psychological repercussions in the inhabitants. Although the site of the earthquake was 15 hours away from her home, Sushma gathered a team together to respond to those in need. Her daughter -now a psychiatrist- was instrumental in helping people and giving medical advice besides participating in EMDR work. At first, not one of the agencies that they approached wanted their help. They found Mr. Jasubhai Shah who encouraged and sponsored the fledgling group and the Manoshakti, the Crisis Intervention Center from S.N.D.T. University coordinated the rest.
At first, the people on-site denied any psychological problems. Despite the seeming lack of interest, the team prepared a checklist of PTSD symptoms and publicized the list through newspapers, and speeches at local schools, offices and organizations. Nature intervened again in the form of a monsoon with thunder and lightning that brought back the acute stress reactions – as the people ran out of their buildings for safety. The stress reaction ranged from fear and anxiety to stampede in some of the schools. The work began with a plan to attend all the primary and secondary schools of the city of Bhuj, one of the worst affected areas.
Sushma remained in and out of Gujarat for 4 months coordinating the work of 40 EMDR trained professionals who volunteered to participate in a 3-month intervention. During this time, they lived in tents, as there was no infrastructure available. They stayed in the open and were unable to even get drinking water because of lack of resources. The team learned to handle these inconveniences and began to truly appreciate the amenities that they had taken for granted. They worked from early in the morning until late at night.
Their work resulted in reaching 16,000 children and several hundred teachers, parents, women, men and some families. The work extended to 6 months and the volunteers by rotation continued to work in the target location. For each group 2-3 sessions were conducted and follow-ups occurred after one, two and three month intervals. On follow-up, schoolteachers noted that the behavior and academic performance of their students had improved and the children were able to cope better, so much so that they could return to the classroom.
In 2001, the research that was conducted during the work in Gujarat was presented at the South Asia Regional Conferences held in Mumbai and published in the Indian journal named “Bombay Psychologists.”
In Delhi, after her earlier work with HIV prevention in her state, Sushma joined the National AIDS Control Organization in New Delhi to set up and strengthen HIV counseling and testing centers across India. Sushma supported the National Government’s work in this area by writing HIV counseling and testing guidelines, designing curriculum for the counselors, setting up best practices, supporting the writing of the Global Fund proposal, conducting training of trainers and writing the manual. She was in close contact with WHO staff to write the regional manual for HIV counseling in South Asia. She was connected with the HIV prevention program for Sex Workers and Intravenous Drug abusers as a Director of the SAKSHAM program Of CARE India. This was part of the AVAHAN initiatives of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. She has associated with the Ministry of Health of Maldives and Timor-Leste for HIV counseling and testing initiatives. Sushma remained in Delhi from 2002- 2007.
In 2004, after the tsunami that hit the South Coast of India, HAP-USA returned to India, training 50 more participants in Chennai and the southern part of India. Some of the participants from the Mumbai and Chennai trainings went on to become facilitators.
She has returned to Bombay and has resumed as a free-lance consultant and works in her Private Practice. The International Planned Parenthood Federation has asked her to assist them in their work in family planning in Asia. They have asked her to write a manual to help address the prevalent problems of trauma, self-esteem and guilt. She is currently developing a manual for the Reproductive Health Counselors of South East Asia in the area of trauma, guilt and self-esteem. She has included her knowledge about EMDR to inform others about this modality and is hoping that this work will include reaching out to 8-10 more countries in Asia.
To date, there are about 100 EMDR trained mental health professionals in Mumbai. There is a need for follow up, supervision, consultation and retraining. United in their concern to have EMDR as a viable treatment in India, a core of practitioners in Bombay, Bangalore and Chennai are beginning to build the EMDR Association in India to provide more training and support afterwards.
At the EMDR Europe Conference in London, in June, Sushma and her colleagues came together to begin the steps to create an EMDR Asia Association. The countries represented at the time included Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Korea, Pakistan, Thailand, and Vietnam with the idea of including other Asian countries with an EMDR presence. Their mission is to uphold the standards of EMDR in Asia and educate practitioners about EMDR and trauma.
When asked what she would like to say to the greater EMDR community, Sushma responded:
“What really touched me this time (at the EMDR European 2008 Annual Conference in London) is that we are going global. This is an affiliation that I would like to continue. I want EMDR to remain undiluted. I like it in the pure form. Let us be united and together with this common thread.”
Sushma’s interest in working in the field of Psychology and for the greater good is balanced by her love for home and family. She enjoys decorating her home and doing the important, day-to-day activities that unite a family such as cooking and inviting people over for meals and comraderie. She is an avid reader and especially enjoys reading biographies.
Sushma brings a solidity and vision to her work with EMDR. Pulling from the early strength of a strong, vital family, she has translated the wisdom she has learned in time through interactions with her family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances and married it with her keen powers of observation and intelligence. As a result, she has profoundly touched all those who meet her and has the ability to change what needs to be changed. We in the EMDR community are lucky that she is part of our family.