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A chat with Rasini Bandara : Psychologist, public speaking and personality development coach, lecturer

By Sakuni Weerasinghe

She is an inspiring lady who has gone through a lot in her life. She is Rasini Bandara. Rasini shared how life’s challenges changed her life and carried her towards pursuing a career in the field of mental health as well as the importance of giving back to society in the form of a helping hand.

Why don’t you start with telling us a little bit about yourself?

Well, I was born on 9 March 1984 to the most amazing parents – my mother Kamal Bandara and my father U.W. Bandara. My childhood was nothing but rainbows and unicorns for me. I completed my primary and secondary education at Visakha Vidyalaya, Colombo. My life pretty much came to a standstill in the year 2000 when my mother was diagnosed with brittle diabetes, which completely changed our lives.

My life’s biggest downfall came in the year 2002. My human who promised me that it will be him and me against the world left me on this Earth. My father’s death is still my own personal hell for me. I failed my Advanced Level (A/L) examination and was very much suicidal, but I always thought that I would live for my mother. She was truly an “iron lady” by example, supporting me in all my life decisions.

I really wanted to be a doctor – a gynaecologist to be exact – but knew it was tough with a mother who needs my constant attention and care. I have written most examinations during my stays in the hospital with my mother. Most of my study time was outside ICUs (Intensive Care Units) and MICUs (Medical Intensive Care Units). Failing all things here, I decided I need a change of environment and went to Malaysia with the dream of transferring to the US after two years in INTI International University.

I had to take psychology as a minor subject there, and after topping the subject, I changed my major. Thinking of Mrs. Asha, my psychology teacher who persuaded me to make this choice, my life started to change. From a girl who scored 15/100 for my first public speaking speech, I went on to become a part of the college’s winning debate team. Mr. Siva, my public speaking lecturer, is also someone I want to remember with so much love. But again, destiny was not in my favour; my mother was diagnosed with a heart condition and I had to return, leaving Malaysia and saying goodbye to the US forever.

Then, starting from scratch, I completed my Diploma in Psychology, Advanced Diploma in Counselling Psychology, and BSc in Psychology. While I was completing my BSc, my mother left me too. By this time, I was working as a Road Scholar lecturer for US and Canadian scholars. However, I was happy that my mother saw me getting married and having both my kids.

Anyway, recently I completed my MSc in Applied Psychology and then discovered that my forte is people. That is how I started all that I do now. I am now a psychologist, public speaking and personality development coach, Road Scholar lecturer, English language skill development teacher, and an independent trainer under my own brand LAPS, through which I conduct workshops for schoolchildren, university students, government and private sector employees, etc.

What inspired your choice to pursue a career in the field of mental health?

Since my school days, I have always been a “go-to” person. Honestly, my parents were the best counsellors I’ve ever met in my life. How they saw life was so amazing. The level of humanity and positivity they had is something that truly inspired me. My father used to say I have not earned many merits visiting the temple but got so much of love and blessings from people. My mother too has educated so many children in Sri Lanka and built the lives of so many.

I am just taking forward their humanity and passion towards giving back to society, earning many blessings for them through the work I do. For this path that I am on now, the person who gave me that first push and the one who invested so much trust in my abilities is Auntie Anoma Perera, whom I consider someone only second to my parents. And then my husband, kids, teachers, and friends too have truly played a massive role in all my achievements.

So what does a day in your professional life look like?

I wake up in the morning and do my workout routine, take a shower, and check all my emails and messages. There are some of my clients who send me voice messages regarding their mood for the day, so after listening to them, if I feel something is not right, I speak to them for a short time. Then I look at my schedule and I do my online counselling sessions and public speaking sessions. On some days, webinars and meetings happen too.

I take social media breaks to look at all my profiles on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn and respond to people. Then I make important phone calls in terms of appointments and designing work. With all this going on, I help my kids do their school work and I spend time with them. Then, I try to find some time to study since I study international relations now. But I never forget to find a bit of “me time” for myself, where I watch an episode of a television series, listen to some ‘90s music, sing a bit, dance a bit, watch a movie, sleep, etc. Apart from all these, I read bedtime stories to my kids too.

We both share a passion for speaking up about mental health and I know you conduct a lot of workshops and webinars. What have your experiences been like thus far regarding public knowledge of mental health and wellbeing?

To be very honest, there’s still a lot of negativity and stigma around this topic of mental health. Many think you are insane to seek help. But in reality, you are the sanest person if you decide you need help. People are so concerned and worried about physical health. If a child gets a fever, one quickly takes the child to a doctor, but if the child is worrying too much or showing changes in behaviour, people tell them to be strong and try to prove the child is “normal” to society. With changes in society, advancements in technology, so many distractions, and unhealthy competition, all of these are overwhelming to anyone at any age. Therefore, it’s essential that positivity surrounding mental health is spread in society.

I’ve seen a lot of amazing work done through Mind Heals in terms of raising awareness. Can you tell our readers about what it is and what you do at Mind Heals?

Mind Heals is Sri Lanka’s first-ever online counselling platform. I was actually one of the few therapists who joined hands with Mind Heals just as they started. I absolutely love their intention behind having such a platform. When you want to talk to a professional at a time you are so confused, you should have an avenue to do so. Fixing an appointment to see a therapist and then going to a hospital and seeing a therapist takes a lot of time and by that time, some people are already drained. With Mind Heals, you have the ability to connect with at least one therapist at any given time; sometimes if we feel it’s an emergency, we never bother about the time as well. Another thing is there exists a negative stigma in society that it’s such an embarrassment to go and stand in front of a psychologist or psychiatrist’s room, and if you are a known and popular person, this is worse.

Here on Mind Heals, your privacy is protected; no one can see you seeking help and also your confidentiality is protected. Even though we mainly connect through instant messaging, voice calls, and video calls, we also arrange physical meetings upon request. Mind Heals is not only involved in counselling, but also conducts many webinars and mental health awareness programmes in both Sinhala and English mediums to various platforms as well. We are also thinking of collaborating with many other platforms in developing training programmes as well.

In your view, what is the most essential characteristic a counsellor or psychotherapist should have and how could someone develop it?

I have a lot I can say, but unconditional positive regard and also being open-minded is a must. We must understand that everything changes around us. For example, for you to understand a teenager today, you must be very open-minded towards how society is at present. You can’t be playing the comparison game with your parents’ time, your time, and this time. You have to learn to see things without letting your upbringing and values come in the way.

The field of mental health is ever-evolving. What changes would you like to see in the field in five years?

More awareness and positivity for mental health. It should be something that is available and prioritised in every organisation, company, university, institution, and school. Mental assessment and personality assessment should be a must when children pick a field to go forward with. Career guidance should be encouraged from smaller days, not once children are adults.

Any word of advice for anyone wanting to work in the field of mental health one day?

Please do! It’s such a fulfilling job. It is true that sometimes it takes a toll on you. I mean, we are all humans after all, but the fulfilment you get knowing that someone is breathing comfortably and is happy or relieved gives you so much positivity and gratitude.

If someone wants to get in touch with you, how can they go about it?

You can contact me via the Mind Heals platform at www.mindheals.org, my email rasini_b@yahoo.com, or through my social media pages:

Facebook: Learn the art of public speaking with Rasini

Instagram: @rasinispeaks

LinkedIn: Rasini Bandara