When Richa Vashista has to introduce themself, they make sure to emphasize three crucial aspects of their identity: Richa’s pronouns are she and they; they do not identify as a woman but as a queer who is attracted to individuals irrespective of their gender identity; and they have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), which was diagnosed quite late, leading to mental health struggles. These aspects, intricately woven into the fabric of their personal and professional life, collectively shape their identity and contribute to their understanding of themself and others. In our conversation with Richa, they talk about their journey into queerness; how, as a psychologist, they deal with different kinds of clients; and how they are trying to create safe spaces for queers in the corporate world.
My identities shape who I am as a person, personally as well as professionally.
Richa embraced their identity as a queer person in 2015, and since then, they have continually embraced and expanded this aspect of themself. However, this journey has not been without challenges, primarily tied to their mental health. Richa grappled with mental health issues from an early age, navigating their feelings, interactions with society, and society's response to them. While they always recognized the presence of mental health challenges, understanding the specifics remained elusive.
Choosing a path in therapy, Richa pursued a Master's in clinical psychology and became a therapist. Initially identifying with depression, Richa's perspective shifted as they delved deeper into their field. The revelation of BPD emerged as a significant turning point. In 2018, after a thorough assessment by a clinical psychologist, Richa received an official diagnosis, providing a sense of relief as it validated the reality of their experiences.
We need to offer support from a very social justice-oriented point of view.
In the professional realm, Richa emphasizes the critical need to recognize systemic issues within the mental health field. Their advocacy urges therapists to adopt a social justice-oriented perspective, acknowledging the profound impact of societal structures on individuals. The principle of intersectionality, pivotal in their therapeutic approach, emphasizes the necessity of understanding how different identities intersect, shaping experiences within various systems.
To explain their approach further, Richa talks about how they help clients process global events like the Supreme Court verdict on queer marriage or the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict. Drawing from recent client discussions, they highlight the pervasive anxiety that transcends geographical boundaries, emphasizing the universal impact of systemic issues. Richa underscores the significance of intersectionality, acknowledging the compounded threats faced by individuals at various intersections, be it religion, gender identity, or sexuality. As a psychologist, Richa focuses on creating a therapeutic space for them to express and process their grief. Whether it's the fear of impending threats or the distress induced by geopolitical events, Richa emphasizes the importance of holding space for clients to share their experiences and navigate the emotional toll of these challenging circumstances.
Finding out that I have BPD was relieving because it was just not in my head.
As someone with BPD, Richa reflects on their journey with managing intense emotions like anger and rage. Contrary to societal norms that often brandish anger negatively, they have embraced anger as a crucial communication tool. Recognizing that anger can be a protective mechanism and a voice for expressing underlying hurt, Richa emphasizes the importance of understanding and reframing this emotion. For them, anger serves as an indicator of something amiss, prompting a deeper exploration of underlying issues. By shifting the narrative around anger, Richa encourages individuals, particularly those with borderline personality traits, to acknowledge and work with their emotions constructively.
It’s a two-way street in corporate spaces to be able to implement change.
Richa's influence extends beyond individual therapy sessions into corporate spaces, where they actively engage in health and wellness programs. They recount impactful instances where their efforts in queer inclusion and mental health support yielded positive outcomes for the beneficiaries. One memorable case involved a media company where, during a therapy session, a cisgender man shared his concern about the absence of paternity leave. Taking proactive measures, Richa sought the individual's consent and approached the HR department, resulting in the implementation of a paternity leave policy within 15 days.
In another instance, Richa engaged with a company to discuss additional services beyond workshops. Discovering that the company had an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) in place, she raised essential questions about the program's queer inclusivity. This led to a realization that while the EAP provided therapy services, there was uncertainty about its readiness to support queer individuals. Richa's probing questions initiated a dialogue, prompting the company to acknowledge the need for inclusivity training and affirming support for queer clients. Subsequently, Richa collaborated with the organization to enhance inclusivity, contributing a unique aspect that complemented the EAP's services and ensured a more comprehensive support system for employees.
Richa Vashista's unwavering commitment to inclusivity and addressing systemic issues within mental health reflects a nuanced understanding of the multifaceted challenges individuals face. As a trailblazer for change, Richa continues to navigate and reshape the mental health landscape with empathy, awareness, and a keen understanding of the diverse factors influencing well-being.