CEJ Launches Unique Study on Counselling Service for Journalists

The Institute of Business Administration’s  Centre of Excellence in Journalism (CEJ) launched its study ‘Stress and Coping in Journalists: Findings of a Three-Year Counseling Service’ in Karachi on Wednesday.

The study’s author, Dr. Asha Bedar, is a Clinical Psychologist with a Ph.D. from the University of Melbourne, Australia, and has over 18 years of experience in the field. She and the Director of the CEJ Kamal Siddiqi held a 20-minute Facebook Live session at 3 PM to introduce the work.

“This issue is not going anywhere,” said Director Siddiqi, and added,

I think the challenges are mounting for journalists. The pressures are mounting. The stresses are mounting. It has nothing to do with young or old, or your medium of work.

He said that people in journalism ask for help when they reach breaking point, and emphasized that it is time journalists started looking at signs in themselves and their colleagues so that they can get help before the breaking point.

About The Study

The free confidential counseling service for media workers was launched in collaboration with DW Akademie in 2018. Its four clinical psychologists — Dr. Bedar, Mahnoor Shaikh, Tabinda Afzal, and Zainab Barry —have provided over 600 hourly counseling sessions to 107 journalists across Pakistan, with the majority (90) in Karachi.

This study brings together insights from journalist clients, data from surveys after wellbeing workshops, and multiple interviews with newsroom managers.

Referring to the stressors journalists faced, Dr. Bedar said, “We wanted to provide a snapshot, a real understanding [of the impact on their work and on them individually]”.

Here are some of the findings of the study:

  • The majority of journalists tended to take two to seven sessions.
  • The biggest group was in the 21-30 year age bracket.
  • Half of the journalists from Karachi were diagnosed with anxiety.
  • More men sought counseling than women.
  • After factoring in overlap, a majority of clients were working in digital or online capacities.
  • An overwhelming majority of journalist clients were working full-time.
  • A total of 37 out of the 90 journalists in Karachi who came for varying degrees of counseling at the Wellbeing Centre had been on the job from one to five years.
  • Subeditors, reporters, newsroom managers, and anchors sought help the most.

The counseling service was confidential, and one of the challenges of the study was to highlight that mental health is not a regulated industry in Pakistan.

Trust Issues

Dr. Bedar revealed that establishing trust is a major part of running the service successfully, and a lot of thought had gone into ensuring it. For example, the clinic’s space was managed in a way to ensure that journalists would not bump into each other while coming and going for appointments.

She recalled how she would take a few sessions with journalist clients to establish trust. She understood that just because she has a degree does not mean someone who is struggling would automatically trust her.

“I remember, in the beginning, clients would say, If this gets out, I will lose my job,” she said.

The news industry works on information sharing, which is why it was harder for journalists to trust.

“Some journalists who came were actually very open, and they went back and told people at work,” she recalled. This created problems for them because receiving therapy is still taboo.

“We did have a lot of people come in because word of mouth really matters. We were sometimes booked up months in advance. It was very well received which indicates that there was such a need for this [service] and if you did it properly, ethically, with professional standards you can actually run it well,” she said.

Why Journalists Require Counseling

When the Director of the CEJ asked Dr. Bedar if she felt that journalism has a higher need for counseling, she replied that it certainly is one of the professions that require it, and added, “but anyone exposed to stress, trauma, and people’s misery… And a lot of journalism is about that”.

“One of the things that stood out was how much of the work you all do is to do with sad, difficult, and stressful things that are happening in people’s lives,” she disclosed.

Moreover, the additional constant exposure of social media means that it is even harder to switch off for journalists, and all journalists are used to and expect some levels of stress at the job.

“When that stress becomes complex and depressive symptoms start to surface, there is so much helplessness. It takes a toll,” Dr. Bedar explained while detailing the impact work had on journalists.

“Some people who were coming to therapy were not able to function, not able to cope at all,” she revealed and said that people realized they needed help when they were in a crisis or they feared they would lose their jobs.

“But up until the realization, they keep taking a whole lot of stress,” she had observed and added that they continue to face depression and conflicts with their families in the meantime.

Dr. Bedar felt that the study is crucial because people should not reach this point before they seek help. The study also has an entire section dedicated to how therapy had actually helped clients, as well as clients’ stories.

Director Siddiqi thanked Dr. Bedar and the other psychologists on the team for their services to the community of journalists.

You can access the study here.