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Immigration can be stressful at many levels, but there’s help at hand


“What began as a romantic notion of wanting to help people who are going through emotional difficulties went on to become my passion and profession,” says Dr. Arpita Biswas, a forty-something registered psychologist and member of the College of Psychologists of Ontario.

“Not only do I provide services that involve psychological assessments and psychotherapy, I also help patients in dealing with numerous issues like stress, depression, anxiety, panic and phobias, eating disorders, etc.”

Dr. Biswas was working as a clinical psychologist in India when she felt the need to expand her area of research and enrich her experience with more training in different forms of psychological treatments. Armed with a Ph.D. in Psychology from Calcutta University, she landed in Toronto and appeared in a series of examinations to fulfill the registration requirement as a licensed psychologist in Ontario.

She started her career working in a community mental health agency – Toronto East Counselling and Support Services – as a psychotherapist and counsellor. After obtaining her license as registered psychologist in Ontario, she worked for a few years at University of Toronto at Scarborough in the Health and Wellness Department as a psychologist. Five years ago she opened her private practice in Toronto. Her patients are people from all spheres of life and her work involves assessment, diagnosis and psychological treatment.
Some of the main areas that her clients require help for include anxiety and depression, panic and phobias, assertiveness and anger management, interpersonal and relationship issues.

“Stress is a major factor for all and it is usually job-related, but for immigrants, stress can be different,” says Dr. Biswas. “The human mind is same, no matter where one comes from. The stress of trying to find one’s footing in a new environment; the lack of social and family support; financial stress; different child rearing patterns due to cultural differences; cultural conflicts; along with silent racism and discrimination, can all contribute to poor self-esteem, lack of confidence and depression.

“Immigration-related stress is mainly dealt with by settlement counsellors in different nonprofit organizations. Only when the problem increases in severity and reaches a definite level of dysfunction, they reach a psychologist’s office.”
People with emotional difficulties approach Dr Biswas for help. Immigrants, especially South Asians, have very poor knowledge of mental health and they consider going to a psychologist a sign of weakness, she observes.

“People should become more open in accessing psychological help as it is a sign of wisdom, not of weakness. South Asians seek out a South Asian therapist if they have relationship, family or child related issues, as they feel cultural understanding can play a crucial part in resolving the problems.

“Moreover, the ability to express their concerns in their own language plays a big part in seeking my service. My clients include a sizeable number from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.”

Depending on the individual patient and types of difficulties being faced, she provides treatment and rehabilitation. At times, the focus is on providing information as well as teaching ways to cope and manage these conditions. At other times, she helps patients understand themselves and their situations better, and to think and do things in more healthy and balanced ways. She also helps patients explore and understand painful or frightening feelings or situations so that they seem less overwhelming.

Speaking about the different approaches to psychotherapy, Dr. Biswas says she practises evidence-based psychotherapies which are guided by the most current research relevant to the practice of clinical psychology.

“The model that I most commonly use is cognitive behavioural therapy. When needed, I also integrate treatment components from other therapeutic models including psychodynamic, existential, narrative and family systems approaches. I also use meditation techniques to obtain deeper sense of meaning and tranquility.”

While conducting psychotherapy, she often employs tools such as homework and tasks that need to be done between the sessions and refers clients to a variety of professional, community and self-help resources as appropriate.

“I view social, economic, and political context to be important in understanding an individual’s problem. I do not always discuss these issues but do raise them when awareness seems likely to be helpful.”
Balancing her time between the needs and responsibilities of being a mother and professional doctor can be a struggle, says Dr. Biswas. “But my family is extremely co-operative and support from my husband and son has been crucial for me to be able to do so.”
– Shipra Chaudhury

• Dr. Arpita Biswas can be reached at 416-752-7979.

Posted: Feb 1, 2012

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