Annie James.

Hello folks! I am Annie James (she/her), a counseling psychologist and social scientist/researcher residing in Bangalore, India. I am inordinately fond of subject matter in psychology, therapy, philosophy, and literature, all of which I am formally educated in. I have a particular interest in existential-depth psychology, exhibited in my profession and research. I also enjoy spending time with my children (my two cats), analyzing anime, working out, writing poetry, and reading non-fiction. I lead an organic, minimalist, and semi off-grid lifestyle with my family. 

Interviewed by Shivani Dave from Revive’s interview team

As one of the founders of Calm Harbor Counseling, why did you decide to create the organization? 

Calm Harbor Counseling is a private practice venture that differs slightly from most pages. A primary motive was to involve evidence-based practice: my “guide to” and “social science of” posts accrue information from relevant papers and translate it from higher-order form for a niche audience. 

It allows those searching for data regarding mental health access to contemporary higher-order information vis-a-vis mental health otherwise generally available behind a paywall. Higher-order posts are balanced by straightforward ones for readability and accessibility. A future venture involves including several Indian vernaculars for further accessibility. It is one of my deep regrets that CHC’s online presence is English-oriented in a geographical space abundant with sonically remarkable and impactful vernaculars. Vernaculars are the norm, not an anomaly, in my multicultural professional approach.

What were your favorite topics to research in your Instagram Page? (Please explain your topics in more detail)

Existential-depth psychology being my area of specialization, I gravitate towards related subject matter: existential anxiety, existential freedom, etc. However, I primarily focus on providing evidence-based, organized information regarding mental health conditions/issues and other related factors.

Related factor posts include: (1) colorism: a review of 3-5 papers on colorism and related mental health issues, (2) commercialized self-care. However, these are slightly more theoretical and hard to grasp. Admittedly, this limits the traction such posts gain. I spend time making posts directly involving mental health conditions (depression, disordered eating, loneliness) more accessible in terms of readability and content organization. I do not tend to have favorites, most of my posts arise from personal experience as a therapist in private practice, peer counseling, supervision, or recent reads. I tend to viscerally engage with particular subject matter and then translate it into higher-order, list, or organized posts according to the complexity I wish to address it with. 

What were some challenges you faced while being an online therapist?

An evident and recurring challenge is that I am in-adept in dealing with social media. I do not use social media, I am off-grid entirely on social media: I do not even have a LinkedIn profile or a private account. It is rather difficult to maintain an intrinsic motivation to post given my aversion to social media (I was quite the opposite about 4-5 years ago) and even determine what works/does not work.

What encouraged you to keep continuing on posting in your Instagram Page? 

I intend to provide a page that is well-curated and acts as a visible social footprint of research and mental health related matters that all individuals can access and browse through. The freedom and confidence that comes with self-assurance (non-comparison, not defining myself by numbers or engagement) encourages/facilitates my engagement with CHC’s Instagram page.

What inspired you to start writing your own newsletters?

A rather short answer: I used to run a message based newsletter to friends, peers, university groups during my MSc. I then transitioned to substack when it was recommended by a peer. It is mostly a selfish motive: I would like others to read what I believe are interesting and seminal papers whilst randomly including reflections/notes. I maintain an excel sheet of all the papers I have read since October 2020 (I am a tad lazy to go backwards and recollect all others across undergraduate and graduate years). 

It is often said that the level of competence one graduates with sustains for a few years into industry/9-5 work/outside-academia work and that is not something I wish to inculcate/propagate: I write for myself and for others who wish to engage with academic materials despite varying circumstances. However, my newsletter is excessively research and analysis oriented, so it is not great in terms of accessibility, unlike my Instagram page.

What are some tips you would give to those who are also starting their own newsletters?  

The explore-exploit rule: set a limit for how much exploration you might/ought to do before beginning production. Over-consumption/too much choice might strip one of self-confidence and lead to information/choice flooding.

I noticed that you included anime as a part of your selection in your round-ups. How and why did you decide to include this as a recommendation? 

My undergraduate degree was an Honors program in English literature. To retain the hermeneutic skills I treasure and excel at from that program, I frequently analyze texts of all natures. However, I do not listen to music (I do listen to pieces of art, occasionally), watch TV, or read fiction (I read fiction a few times a year now, including manga). 

Anime has been an interest since I was in my single digit age years and I maintain an excel sheet and MAL account with 350 anime, 530 manga, and variables such as studios, year, mangakas, seiyuus, etc. Since dropping other texts, anime has become my primary focus for hermeneutics outside of psychology. It allows me to simultaneously immerse myself in my primary hobby and advance my literary analysis, hermeneutics skills-set. My MAL has more blog posts and analyses of anime than my newsletter, sadly.

What does Psychology mean to you? 

A difficult question that deserves several points as an answer. However, it is, as I like to state, a “well of abstraction” within which I am a frog making meaning whilst trying to hop out to the sea.

Meanwhile, it is a source of knowledge for my own experiences of anxiety disorder not-otherwise specified, epilepsy, and BPPV.

What made you interested in Psychology?

Most of my work in my undergraduate degree was psychology oriented, including my first research paper: attachment in Dostoyevsky’s ‘The Raw Youth’, my dissertation: the Phylogenetics of Totalitarian Systems (which included supervision from the late philosopher, composer, pianist Ladislaus Horatius, my academic father, and father-figure), amongst others. I transitioned to counseling psychology in hopes of creating concrete change rather than focusing on armchair analysis/theorization as I did during my undergraduate years. 

What are some topics you wish people knew more about in Psychology? 

The biomedical aspects of certain conditions: the neuroanatomy, the biochemistry, and the like. It is not always easy to navigate mental health or therapy or change. Certain mechanisms are out of the control of human beings and the gravity of those mechanisms is visible in the biomedical aspects that are not often spoken of. 

Why do you think it’s important for someone to talk to a therapist if they’re feeling stressed or burnout? 

Therapy is a rare experience of being, being-in-relation, with a trained professional that respects, understands, and accepts your expertise, autonomy, and identity. It is important to reach out when in need, as is the case sometimes during burnout, stress, or even otherwise, to explore an avenue of growth, insight, and change that is evidence-based, freeing, and accepting.

What are some tips you encourage people to do when they are upset or angry?

It is hard to give generalizing responses as a therapist who has not yet had a decade of work under her belt, but a tip might be: develop awareness of what triggers feelings of upset/anger. What might underlie it? In practice, I work with proximal (immediate) and distal (over longer periods of time) interventions. List out things that can be done immediately and over time, do a trial-and-error experiment to see which one works for you and doesn’t, then repeat the effective ones (appropriate to the situation). 

Each individual’s phenomenological experience of a universal emotion (anger, upset) differs, therefore, the answer/effective tips will too. 

Check out Calm Harbor Counseling!

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