When Mahesh Natarajan needed help with a personal issue, he realized the value of counseling. It was a turning point in his life and he is now a counselor, finding meaning even as he plays a role that’s vital to today’s society.
Mahesh Natarajan began working in IT and Consulting for the same reason many others do: because his family persuaded him that he needed a profession that could support him. “But I have always been interested in the softer sciences and philosophies,” says Mahesh, who now runs InnerSight, a counseling service, along with his partner Ajanta De. He concedes that in the 90s, when he was growing up, there was very limited awareness of counselling as a profession in India and it would have been really hard to build a career.
The call of counselling
It was a deeply personal experience that saw him take up counseling which became not just a career, but a true vocation for him: “In 2004-05, faced with a personal issue, I found with much difficulty, a counsellor who, despite very obvious and unhelpful personal biases, still managed to help me recognize that the personal issues I had sought help with were connected with a deeper sense of dissatisfaction with my work life as well. I was reminded of who I had wanted to be, and the idea that my search for a suitable counsellor took me to people who were too expensive or unreachable, or overworked, or just not professional, or like the one that finally I worked with, personally biased/ prejudiced, helped me clarify my goal as well: I needed to be not only a counsellor, but also a part of a circle of affirmative, affordable and accessible counsellors.”
Turning passion into pay check
Even with that awareness, Mahesh did not take the plunge right away. “I still took a couple of years to gain a bit more financial security, and then retrained myself as a counsellor/ psychotherapist over a 3-year period with a focus on skill-based programs with rigorous personal work and supervision. I worked both careers for a short while before launching full-time as a counsellor with InnerSight in 2011 along with Ajanta De who shares similar values,” he says.
Choice is a privilege
His first job, though, was on an entirely different track. “For about 14 years, I was in IT and Consulting. I started as a systems analyst and worked through eight or ten different roles, finally closing that part of my career as an offshoring consulting specialist, with a strong background in process quality and program management,” Mahesh says. He took his time to manage the financial risks before striking out on his own. “I feel grateful to have had the privilege of making such choices,” he adds.
Having chosen, Mahesh is now dedicated to making InnerSight as a true collective of counsellors committed to providing affirmative, affordable and accessible counselling services. “We look to associate with individuals and groups who share similar affirmative values as ours, and in time, we hope to be a pan-Indian collective that is able to provide a certain professional quality of service, while affirming personal dignity, freedom and empowerment for everyone regardless of gender, race, caste, sexuality, ability etc.” He adds that they are taking small steps in that direction. “And it has been a really personally satisfying journey,” Mahesh says.
His area of work is a realm in which much still needs to be done. Mahesh explains that the word ‘counselling’ is used in India for anything and everything from college admissions to medical procedures. Seeking professional counselling support for personal, inter-personal and professional concerns is still seen as quite taboo, and as with many taboo subjects, those who seek counselling don't quite know where to go or end up getting hurt in the process, especially if they are looking to address such sensitive areas as their gender, sexuality, ability, relationships, values, grief etc. Many, as I did, might meet people whose strong personal biases and prejudices come in the way of their counselling work.”
A powerful validation
InnerSight has consciously been a group that grows only through word-of-mouth, letting the work speak for ourselves. “While we have a few corporate clients who invited us to work with them and work with a number of counselling service providers, the biggest satisfaction is that almost 60% of our work comes from referrals from earlier clients. It always is such a powerful validation when a person calls seeking counselling and says they got our number from somebody they know who has been with us.”
According to Mahesh, ‘The work is very tough and takes a lot of our attention and energy, but the joy of being able to see someone through some of their toughest times is such a blessing. It’s totally worth it.” There’s wisdom here for everyone who sets out to chase his or her passion: It’s hard work and will demand all your energy. But the rewards are priceless.
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