by Annie Sampson
I have written previously in this journal of my work in Nepal (Sampson, 2014). Now it’s time for an update!
I have been travelling to Nepal for the past six summers and through chance encounters and connections have worked with a variety of participants, belonging to different organisations, training them in supervision, group facilitation and counselling skills.
Through these years I have been constantly in touch and often working with Bhupendra Tamu, a psychologist in Kathmandu. Bhupendra and I first met when I worked for a non-governmental organisation (NGO) in Pokhara. I was delivering training and Bhupendra became my translator. During the years, I have worked with a few translators but I very much enjoy working with Bhupendra. We understand each other in terms of how I use language; he understands my thought process so that he seems to translate effortlessly. He is efficient in his translating, only translating what I say, not what he thinks I may or should say. He does not add his own knowledge to the translation, though his knowledge of psychology is extensive and helps us. Translation is a skill in its own right but like everything in psychotherapy it’s the relationship that counts.
Bhupendra moved from the NGO to a teaching post in a university in Kathmandu. He teaches on the MA in psychology and when I arrived last year he asked if I would train the staff of the university and other psychologists in supervision. We met and made a strategy for recruiting the non-staff psychologists; spoke about the contents of the training, a training calendar and other administrative issues. There would be photocopying which the participants would pay for as well as having tea and breakfast.
Yes, breakfast. This was necessary as we would be working on Saturdays, the only day off for participants and some of these participants would have been working before we met early in the morning. So we had breakfast delivered each Saturday morning and then went out for lunch.
There was a group of 12 participants from various NGOs and agencies, as well as the teaching staff of the university. Psychologists are taught in English, so there was no need for translating. As Bhupendra was part of the group, that must have been a relief for him. For me, I had to struggle with the noises from outside the room; the continuing road building only metres from where we were working. The window needed to be open due to the heat. The psychologists were from various parts of Nepal so there were many accents I listened to and at times struggled to understand.
I designed a basic supervision training over eight days, focusing on the tasks of supervision and the relationships within supervision. Time was given to exploring the various questions and experiences of the participants. Participants’ training was mostly Cognitive Behavioural Therapy so introducing psychodynamic concepts was challenging for me, interesting for the group and often made sense of different situations they had encountered. We did practice work alongside theory of supervision, and exercises to illustrate and develop the tasks and goals of supervision, as well as personal development.
I worked hard, as usual, but I enjoyed myself. I find that training in a different language, culture, and environment is the best ‘continuing professional development’ I can do. I cannot assume that the participants know anything; I have to start from scratch. I cannot assume my understanding and experience of therapy and supervision will fit their working environments or culture. I have to ask myself why I am introducing and teaching what is in the curriculum I have designed. Is it really useful for the participants and the people they ultimately work with? I am also challenged to really understand what I teach. I cannot explain a concept in this teaching environment unless I truly understand it. I teach in Ireland and the same is true here but in Nepal it feels ten times more relevant. Perhaps this is due to not being a part of the culture. I cannot make assumptions about experience, knowledge or understanding; therefore, it often happens that I need to allow for extra time for discussion, understanding and integration.
I often use humour and illustrations from my life and practice to teach concepts. That’s fine here in Ireland but in Nepal it can fall very flat.
They often have no idea of our western ideas, experiences, concepts and environment, as I struggle with theirs! Somehow I and they manage. We understand each other, we learn from each other, we laugh and share and it works! And I get more than I can ever give.
I have very good Nepali friends with whom I spend a lot of my time. I talk with them, watch their interactions with their friends and environment, I ask them questions, all the time hoping and trying to understand what it’s like to be a Nepali, living in Nepal in these times. Times where 85% of marriages are arranged, married couples live with the husband’s parents, sometimes the new wife is genuinely welcomed and valued for herself, other times she can be seen as the unpaid help. I have to understand the impact of Hinduism and Buddhism. They are not religions but deeply felt ways of life and being. I have to understand how I fly in and bring my western values, money, culture and experience and how this impacts on people who find it extremely difficult to leave their country unless it is to be ‘enslaved’ by another wealthy nation. I have to realise what it is like to be forgotten as a nation. Countries don’t want Nepali people visiting, they might stay and take, yet I am allowed to roam their beautiful nation. I have to realise what it is like to have lived through two devastating earthquakes. Last year I met a woman who had survived both the 1932 quake and the 2015, the 2015 killing over 9,000 people: where some of those survivors are still living in tents; where buildings and deeply spiritual places are in ruins. Where earthquakes are still happening and although I don’t feel the fear, my friends do and can feel a quake even before it happens.
And so I try to give something that is seen as valuable – knowledge ‒ and I wonder if the people I work with will ever realise how grateful I am to them. Their kindness, friendship, company, taking me in and letting me live with them and in a country I love.
Bhupendra is preparing for this summer. Who will be in the group I don’t know but I do know I will learn much more than I think or feel they learn.
When I returned from Nepal last summer I found a voicemail on my phone; a woman offering me her old psychotherapy books to take to Nepal. My first reaction was: ‘Bit late, I’ve just come back’ and my second: ‘I can’t get them in my suitcase!’ Anyway I gave Maeve a call. She wanted to donate her old therapy books to a ‘cause’ rather than give them away. So Maeve and I started a series of calls between us and investigations into cargo companies, culminating in a trip to a Shannon cargo shipper on April 4th last, from where five cartons of books were sent to Bhupendra in Kathmandu.
Bhupendra Tamu with other members of staff on the MA in psychology in PK College, Kathmandu.
At this point I need to thank sincerely, Maeve Corcoran, for the donation of the books and the chance for us to meet. I need to thank the Governing Body of IAHIP for donating €200 towards the cost of shipping the books. I wrote on the off-chance for some financial help and was more than pleasantly surprised to get this donation.
Today I got an email from Bhupendra and some photos of the cartons of books being handed over to the staff of PK College where they will form the basis of the library for the students in psychotherapy, psychology and counselling. It’s a lovely moment as I know how excited they will be opening the boxes and checking out the books. The books will also be the beginning of the new psychology society in Nepal; the beginning of codes of practice and ethics and a community of psychologists, counsellors and psychotherapists working together.
New books in Nepal are expensive and are sold wrapped in plastic so they are not damaged in the humidity. These books, in the five boxes, might end up with pages curling and the glue holding the pages together losing its stickiness but they will be the best used and wanted books in, possibly, the world.
Thank you Maeve and IAHIP for making this happen.
Annie Sampson maintains a private therapy and supervision practice in Limerick; is course director on Super.Vision Training and works in University of Limerick and the Tivoli Institute as a trainer and supervisor.
Sampson, A. (2014). Training counsellors and supervisors in Nepal. Inside Out, 73, 29-38.