Pakistan: A sympathetic ear for journalists in distress | Asia | DW | 27.02.2019
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Pakistan: A sympathetic ear for journalists in distress

The work of journalists can expose them to stress and psychological threats. In Quetta, Pakistan, an NGO provides free counseling to reporters dealing with trauma. One of its clients, a young freelancer, spoke to us.

Chief Minister Mir Abdul Quddus Bizenjo opened the Individualland Media Center, which provides psychological counseling to traumatised reporters.

The opening of the Well-Being Center at Individualland Media Center in Quetta, which provides psychological counseling to traumatised reporters.

"Part of the reason I decided to get counseling sessions at Individualland Media Center was because my work was causing me a lot of stress. Even minor issues would trigger anxiety. But it was one incident in particular that made me seek out help.

Sometimes I report on sensitive topics. Not all the time, but it happens. And as a freelancer, I’m usually working on a few things at once.

"I noticed I was being followed"

One night, I was working late on a story and on my way home, I noticed I was being followed. After I got home, I noticed that someone was staking out my house – and they stayed outside for most of the night. That night, I started getting phone calls. My phone would ring once then just stop. I tried calling the number back a few times and just heard noise on the other end.

The whole thing really unnerved me. I wasn’t sure what the harassment was about, or even which story it was related to. And I went to my superiors, but got no support from them. In fact, I was told that this was par for the course for a reporter, that I should learn to shrug it off. I couldn’t, but part of me thought I should be able to. That just made it worse.  

"I was even scared to go home"

In fact, I got slightly paranoid, and found myself always looking behind me, worried that someone was following me. I was even scared to go home. Then I remembered seeing a notice at the Press Club about the Individualland counseling program, so I called them.

For me, the counseling sessions were great and helped me get a handle on how I was feeling and reacting. At the start of the sessions, I was extremely nervous. I think you could see it in my behavior since I was biting my nails and had a hard time sitting still. But during the sessions, the counselor and I talked about the event that brought me in, and then other issues that might be contributing to this sense of being tense and worried. For example, I was having financial issues and basically doing work for free.

"After the counseling I feel much more positive and relaxed"

The counselor helped me identify these problems and develop coping mechanisms to deal with them in a healthy way. Then we practiced putting the advice into practice.

I saw a real change in the way I approached things, which led to a big reduction in tension and stress. These days I feel much more positive and relaxed. I think I’m better equipped to do my job and even find it easier to meet deadlines and manage my time.

The sessions taught me that I’m not going to be able to change the entire society. But I can change the way I approach things that come my way and find a way to negotiate with my situation to create a life that works for me.

"I'm glad we have a place like Individualland where we can talk out the problems"

Journalists in Pakistan don’t have it easy. There are threats from different groups or individuals - sometimes physical but more often psychological. Then there is the difficulty of reporting from conflict zones. And you can also add to that the financial hardship that reporters often experience. With all of those challenges, I’m glad we have a place like Individualland where we can talk out these problems, learn how to cope and keep doing the work we do."

The Well-Being Center at Individualland Media Center in Quetta is funded by DW Akademie and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.

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