Interview: Dr. Kriti Gaur, Licensed Clinical Counselor & Founder of Mind The Gap

Dr. Kriti Gaur

An interview with Dr. Kriti Gaur, Licensed Clinical Counselor, researcher, published author, and founder of Mind The Gap

Welcome to an insightful interview with Dr. Kriti Gaur, a distinguished Licensed Clinical Counselor, researcher, and published author, and the visionary founder of Mind The Gap. With expertise in bridging psychological insights and practical applications, Dr. Gaur has made significant contributions to mental health through her research and clinical practice.

Can you share with us the journey that led you to become a licensed clinical counselor, founder of MindThe Gap, and a published author?

Dr. Kriti Gaur: Like every other 10th grader, I remember having a hard time deciding between two subjects of interest, English or Psychology, for my career. I thought about it for months before making my choice. I tried my best to base my decision on facts, but knowing myself well, I chose from the heart. Psychology has always been my calling, whether it may be research, therapy, or spreading awareness.

I can distinctly recall the first-ever psychology class I sat in. The teacher asked, ‘Why do you want to become a counselor?’ and as confidently as one can, I replied, ‘Because I want to have the ability to fully understand what is going on in any person’s mind in a room.’ Little did I know, psychology taught me to understand only one person: myself! Human behaviour fascinates me.

How people behave in good and bad times, what connections they make with the world, how they feel and choose to emote that feeling, and what deep self-images they form ever since birth! 

Through my 13-year journey in this field, I have become passionate about spreading awareness and gatekeeping for this profession. We often compare mental health with medical health. So, think about this: will you choose an intern to perform your heart transplant surgery?

Or someone who learned something about the heart in a 5-month crash course? Not at all, right? So why do we not use the same standards for mental health? Counselors-in-training should work toward getting a graduate degree in counseling and, if they can, a license in their area of expertise.

And for all the clients seeking therapy; you need to ask about your future counselor’s education, training, specialisations, and licensures to ensure professional care. 

I founded MindThe Gap during the pandemic. After finishing my Master’s at Johns Hopkins University, I spent a few months in India and realised mental health awareness may benefit during the lockdown. MindThe Gap initially started to spread coping mechanisms and mental health at-home care.

When I returned to the US for my PhD, I expanded MtG to become a psycho-educational and counselor consulting platform. I now advise students who wish to work in this sector on resume building based on current trends.

The writer I had suppressed as a 10th grader came alive through psychology. In my writings, I have been vocal about the current developments in our field and recommend where the future lies. It has been a fulfilling journey so far, but I feel I am only getting started!

Your work includes research in the field of complex trauma, specifically grief. What sparked your interest in this particular area, and what are some of the key findings you’ve uncovered?

Dr. Kriti Gaur: Trauma is a word that has been used around very casually these days.  However, complex trauma changes us at the very core. How people respond to trauma impacts their healing. The pandemic has caused social and health anxieties, different learning styles in COVID-babies, and more, but the largest impact has been on our struggles with the death of a loved one.

After a personal loss due to COVID-19, I observed how different people deal with death differently. There is no one ‘correct’ way to mourn! Grief is intense, but social isolation, closed borders, and hospital rules during COVID-19 created severe trauma.

Four years later, counselors are still dealing with the repercussions of loss, in their sessions, and it will only get worse. Being a counselor myself, I did not know ways in which I could help my family and my clients through their grief.

This sparked my interest in thanatology – the study of death and grieving. After the end of a global pandemic, when people turn to us, counselors, for help, how do we use the most current literature on grief work to help them mourn their loss?

As I did the study, I found results that were both shocking and expected. There isn’t enough training for counselors on up-to-date grief models that can help people heal. The way people think about death has changed a lot, but we still use objective standards to help us get through it.

People often talk about the “5 stages of grief.” It says that you need to go through five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance to heal from the loss. First, this was created in 1965, and since then, new research suggests that grief is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ process.

Secondly, the study was not done to understand how people process grief; instead, it was done to find out how people who are terminally ill deal with their approaching death. Times have changed, and identities, relationships, culture, and spirituality have grown.

New studies have shown that to grieve, it is important to find the meaning of the changed life after your loss. It says that when a person can find a new purpose in their life, even in tough times like after a loss, they have healed from the trauma & grief. So, the next time you hear of the infamous 5 stages of grief, remember grief is not that simple!! 

Keeping this in mind, I studied how counselors assist clients in finding meaning after a client’s loss. As a result, I formulated an 8-step guide called Process Oriented Meaning-Making, aka POMM, that lists the steps counselors can take to help in healing after a complex trauma such as grief. POMM keeps in mind a person’s cultural, spiritual, and subjective understandings of trauma.   

How will the Process Oriented Meaning-Making tool help in the clinical counseling field?

Dr. Kriti Gaur: POMM was made by putting together all the common things counselors had to say about how they believe meaning-making happens in therapy. It lists what counselors do that help create a newfound meaning in their client’s lives. As mentioned, it includes the following 8 steps the counselors can take in their sessions:

  • Double listening (listening to the clients and themselves in sessions)
  • Validation of feelings (telling clients it is okay to feel all feelings, bad or good)
  • Refraining from challenging clients’ beliefs (not to push clients to go deeper into therapy if they are not ready)
  • Scanning for non-singular emotions (to find if clients can remember the departed in a positive light and not only as a source of uncontrollable sadness due to their demise)
  • Grief tracking and active visualisations (understanding if clients can do things that were previously very hard to do, e.g., looking at the photo of the deceased, cleaning the personal items of the departed)
  • Assessing client positionality (finding if the client can separate themselves from the grief and look at death and dying objectively)
  • Establishing by-products of loss (exploring what part of the client’s identity also died in the process of this trauma)
  • Building hope and resilience (exploring and identifying the client’s renewed purpose in life). 

Recently, in an article, I went over all eight steps in detail and included practice exercises that counselors might find helpful in their sessions. POMM is an effort towards normalizing subjective grief and helping the clients to recognise and reconcile with death to lead a meaningful life.

As a published author, could you tell us about your writing process and the topics you explore in your books/articles?

Dr. Kriti Gaur: As a child, I enjoyed fiction writing, and I often used the flares of the English language to explain my thoughts. I have now learned and enjoyed academic writing styles through my educational journey. I am an old-school paper-pencil girl.

For my scholarly writings, I make thought maps, create larger sections of topics I want to address, and add sub-topics informed by literature. I will admit, though, that I struggle to keep the professor in me silent when proofreading my work.

After many edits and corrections, I ask a friend/family member who has no idea about the field to read and explain what they learned. I know my work is ready to publish if they can explain my writing in simple words.

Usually, I write about complex trauma & grief, gatekeeping in the profession, future research work needed to make this field more acceptable, and coping mechanisms that can be used in everyday life!

What are some of the most common challenges you encounter in practicing counseling, and how do you address them?

Dr. Kriti Gaur: One of the most common challenges in counseling has always been working with younger clients to convince parents to allow them for therapy. I think the norm earlier was a strict taboo against those who seek therapy, but now, with awareness, I do see it change.

However, there seems to be a ‘not in my backyard’ policy in some parents. While mental health awareness is spreading, I think parents become uncomfortable with the reality that their children may need therapy, too. I usually encourage a few family therapy sessions and consultations with parents about treatment and what their child will be doing with me.

That being said, I keep strict boundaries in terms of what they may expect from the sessions by ensuring that they understand that I am a counselor and not a corrections officer for their kids’ behaviours! Another challenge that I face is professionalism in approaching counselors.

Sometimes, the lines can get blurry, and clients can reach out for ‘quick advice’ outside of work hours. I have had clients text/email and call me at 3 am!! I have had to deal with the personal and social turmoil of being unavailable during weekends to prioritize my well-being.

However, setting boundaries and expectations for your clients is very important. So, I designed my consent form to outline client guidelines, what to do in an emergency, and the expectations from both parties involved.

I think if counselors don’t provide a structure to the sessions, clients will also not learn to take it seriously or benefit in the long run. It is important to value your time and effort, and ensuring guidelines is the key.

How has technology influenced the field of clinical counseling, both positively and negatively, from your perspective?

Dr. Kriti Gaur: In my master’s program, I often discussed with my peers the lack of possibility for counselors to ever take ‘work from home.’ With the pandemic and thanks to the advent of telehealth, technology has been a relief.

There is also increasing research on how telehealth can be far more beneficial for some clients. Online sessions have helped me go beyond brick-and-mortar settings to see clients who may be travelling or living in Dubai or Singapore.

It also allows clients to find counselors with specific training or background that aligns with them. For example, I have clients who specifically wanted a counselor with a background of being an international Indian student, studying and living abroad.

This would not have been possible without technology. There is also the use of online tools that can ease diagnosis and help counselors spend their valuable time on treatment and planning. Technology has fastened the intake process and allowed counselors to work deeply on treatment planning.

On the other hand, with the rise of technology, we are also seeing a rise in what I like to call the ‘Instagram Therapists.’ There is so much misinformation, lack of expert knowledge, and false interpretation of research on social media platforms that it becomes dangerous for the vulnerable.

With social media influencers turned therapists, the lines between professional help and ‘post-based’ help are getting blurred. This not only disservice those in need but also jeopardizes the integrity of the cause we are trying to advocate.

What advice would you give to someone starting their journey in clinical counseling and research today?

Dr. Kriti Gaur: There are 3 things that you need to keep in mind as you start your journey of practice and research in this field.

You are your greatest subject: This field is fascinating only when you can experiment and explore with yourself. We try to help our clients find a true version of themselves, but the truth is, unless we are able to recognise all that makes us tick, it is impossible to understand the nuances of objective human behaviour. The more you align with your true self, the more authentic a counselor you will be.

Question the how: There are hundreds of counseling theories and techniques; don’t accept it all at face value. All theorists are social scientists, and all techniques stem from their experiments. It is important to ask what led to the creation of the ideas and how the social setting in which the writing was born affected it.

Once you start questioning the ‘how,’ you will be able to develop the ‘what’ for yourself. You will understand what you align with, what you would like to specialise in, and what your working style as a counselor will be.

Find your gap: To be successful in research, you need to find your gap and use your voice to address that gap. A gap is a topic in a field that hasn’t been fully studied or understood by previous research. It is a missing piece in the puzzle of current literature.

There is enough research done on most of the topics you may think of, but you will stand out when your idea comes from the voice you want people to read and hear. Study the subject you’re interested in and find the missing piece you need to complete.

Your work will make a big difference if it fills in the gaps by answering questions that are still unexplored or adding to what is already known. You need to find that gap where your voice will be heard and where you can add your piece to the puzzle.

What keeps you motivated and passionate about your work in clinical counseling, research, and teaching?

Dr. Kriti Gaur: I believe that one correct question can change our lives forever. I am passionate about continuously exploring that one question, whose answer may generate a sense of completeness in the lives of the people I work with. Simply speaking, in my many roles, I live for the Eureka moment.

I am motivated to continue working until my client can finally connect the dots and know their personality’s good and bad sides. I work till my students can build confidence in their identity as a counselor; for it will only enrich the field with well-trained and adept professionals.

Lastly, as a researcher, I am passionate about bringing forward voices of minorities in the mainstream literature. 

Through her work at Mind The Gap and her broader contributions to the field, Dr. Kriti Gaur continues to shape the landscape of mental health care, emphasizing accessible and effective strategies for individuals and communities alike.

Her dedication to bridging research with real-world applications underscores her commitment to improving psychological well-being worldwide.

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