APTN Peer Support Practice Workshop with Mariwala Health Initiative

APTN’s research and work with our partners as well as the lived realities of trans communities highlight that there are unique stressors affecting the mental health and wellbeing of trans people. Particularly, the COVID pandemic has brought to the fore an urgent need to address the mental health needs of our community. You can read more details of the issue here.

On this mental health awareness month, we teamed up with our allies Mariwala Health Initiative (MHI) to conduct a Peer Support Practice Workshop. The Workshop was designed to help build the capacity THRDs and trans community leaders in providing mental health support to address the gaps in existing health infrastructure to address the needs of the trans community.

Peer support is the process of giving and receiving non-clinical assistance to achieve long-term recovery from severe psychiatric, traumatic or substance use challenges. We had 20+ participants from all around the Asia Pacific, most of them working within trans communities and organisations.

Challenging the Cult of the Experts
A lot of mental health experts in this region are not trained in queer-affirmative practices due to the history of pathologisation of LGBTQIA+ identity. The role of peer support is, therefore, crucial, in supporting the well being of our communities. The training was designed with the central premise of gender-sexuality as the axis of marginalisation. The mental health perspective informing the workshop underlined the crucial importance of our lived realities as trans persons. It built the participants’ skills to utilise their knowledge and their lived realities to help address the mental health needs of their communities.

Learning Together
The workshop was designed to be interactive. The participants learnt from and with the facilitators; Dr Shruti Chakravarty, Chief Advisor and QACP faculty of Mariwala Health Initiative and Pooja Nair Consultant Therapist & QACP Faculty of Mariwala Health Initiative. Anam Mittra, the Lead for new initiatives of Mariwala Health Initiative also attended as the host of the workshop.

Participants were taught to build self-awareness and skills through the Johari Window of Awareness in Interpersonal Relationships, and enhance active listening skills through observing sample recordings and practising paraphrasing skills. The workshop also provided sample cases to discuss the ethics of counselling. In the suicide prevention session, we were also provided with case studies that were very relatable to the participants’ life experiences as trans people. The workshop also discussed boundary setting, burnout and self-care as crucial tools for the peer counsellors. Overall, it was also a space for peer learning and building a nuanced understanding of mental health as multidimensional and affected by the injustices around us.

The reflection from participants at the end of the workshop also reinforced the need for such spaces to support and build the capacity of peer supporters as they are often the primary source of succour for the trans communities in absence of trans friendly mental health practitioners.

With this workshop, we hope that the participants can share the learning they had with their own community, eventually start a peer support circle, and be able to form great mental health support among the community!