The stigma around therapy has slowly begun to diminish. Since the pandemic, mental wellbeing has become a trending topic among the younger demographic. Despite this, there are only 21 therapy centres across Chennai and merely 5,000 across India for a population of about 138 crores. Among these centres is Horizon Therapy run by Nikita Raisinghani who believes that using the creative arts—music, drama, arts and movement to help children, adolescents and young adults understand themselves better. “It’s a common misconception that creativity requires an elaborate setup. We looked at all aspects of creativity while designing the Centre, however, what people don’t realise is that creative therapy can be as simple as using movement, writing letters or even scribbling on a blank piece of paper.”
What made Nikita choose to dive into therapy? She pursued sociology during her undergrad at MOP Vaishnav College for Women. During this time, she was introduced to psychology. “My gut instincts led me to believe that this was the right career path for me,” she says with passion. She proceeded to study at Monash University in Australia and graduated with a degree in counselling. During this time, she interned at a primary school, providing online counselling for children, particularly those dealing with social difficulties. She used techniques like play therapy (using toys or games), art therapy (using a creative process) and cognitive behavioural therapy (changing behavioural, thinking and attitude patterns) and altered them based on what she felt would help her clients.
To become a therapist, one must undergo therapy to truly understand the process while learning to empathise with the client. “My mentor was a dance therapist. When she showed me what she was able to do, I was stunned!” she narrates still in awe, “Most people have a hard time using the right words to describe their feelings, this is where creativity comes in. Dance and movement is a great way of understanding where the tension and the stress lies,” she explains while discussing the idea behind using the creative arts in therapy.
Horizon Therapy Centre, in Chennai was founded in 2013 by Tarana Khatri, a therapist. The unassuming young therapist moved back from Melbourne and joined the Centre in 2018. Soon afterwards Khatri was going to get married and move to Dubai. “We loved the place, and it broke our hearts knowing we might have to shut down,” she recalls. Little did she know that she was about to receive an opportunity that would transform her career. “I always dreamt of running my own therapy centre and here I was, with the chance to take over complete responsibility of Horizon Therapy Centre.” With three years of experience under her belt, it was too good an opportunity to pass.
“It was a big leap moving from being an employee who just works from 11 to 7 to becoming the director where I had to handle all aspects of the Centre. I had to get creative,” laughs the young therapist describing the rollercoaster of a ride that it has been for the past couple of years. Almost immediately into her venture, the pandemic brought her face to face with the challenge of finding ways to make therapy sessions more intimate through video calls and the whiteboard feature. “All the sessions currently happen online, so most of my clients are young adults.” With school opening up and more parents feeling comfortable sending their children out, Nikita looks forward to opening the doors to Horizon Therapy Centre as she reminisces about Saturday group therapy sessions from before the lockdown.
Horizon Therapy Centre has accumulated a client base entirely through word of mouth. “There have been no efforts put into marketing as yet,” claims the young Director. “We start with a consultation, where we understand the client. As sessions go by, we gather a perspective about what type of approach they would need,” she explains. “Therapy is not a solution to a problem, it is a journey to find resilience. Some of our clients may need short-term therapy, while some with a diagnosis may need therapy for a lifetime based on the diagnosis.” Horizon Therapy Centre focuses on counselling, speech therapy, special education, creative learning and creative movement.
Recently, there has been a rise in students wishing to choose psychology as a career path. “The pandemic has brought about the importance of mental health. We have been in our zones all this time and now the distractions around us have reduced,” she adds, “There is some curiosity around mental health among the younger generation.” It gives her great joy when some of her clients express interest in psychology and discuss career opportunities.
Nevertheless, a greater population of people are still not fully aware and accepting of mental health and wellbeing—not just in Chennai but throughout India. “Young adults and children are more welcoming of the idea, but the stigma still lingers,” she sighs.
To spread awareness about mental health, Horizon Therapy Centre plans to set up workshops with a focus on schools and colleges. “I remember when I was young, not many people spoke about mental health,” she recalls. “Adolescents go through a lot as they grow up, and the pandemic adds more pressure. I’m not someone who believes in lectures, but I feel workshops are more engaging.”
Balancing entrepreneurship and therapy is not a simple task. Nikita has single-handedly been running the Centre at Kilpauk for the past couple of years with occasional help from her mentors. She currently engages with 5 clients a day besides handling the other operations of the Centre. Soon she plans to expand by onboarding more therapists and even opening a few more centres around the city. “People are more likely to go to therapy if it isn’t an hour away,” she laughs.
Nikita also wishes to create a space where psychologists and students of psychology can come together and attend workshops, learn from each other and collaborate (after all psychology involves continuous learning and development). “Cultural learning is most important,” she advices, “Be open to learning and if you are going to start your own practice, as a young therapist, learn to be patient.” Nikita believes that there aren’t enough therapists for the younger demographic alone. If you consider the entire population of India, the scope for therapists are only increasing.