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One to one... Dr Kanthi Hettigoda

We dip into the Society member database and pick out…Dr Kanthi Hettigoda, Lieutenant Commander Clinical Psychologist, Sri Lanka Navy / Kotelawala Defence University Hospital.

20 December 2021

One unusual thing about my job
Being a uniformed clinical psychologist in the military is a challenge as I am expected to play two or more conflicting roles at the same time. We call it wearing two hats. While I am expected to abide by the ethical codes for psychologists, I am also expected to work in the best interests of the military organisation where command and control is the way of managing. I cannot adopt a different way of dealing with seniors and subordinates than the system demands. When I am in a uniform with applets on my shoulder, unconditional positive regard towards the client is not perceived by the client. Also, concepts like informed consent in research, and confidentiality of information are hard to practise. Most of the time, military psychologists and counsellors are expected to engage in other duties in the military which can conflict with the main role.

One thing psychologists should be proud of
Psychologists explore the inner worlds of human beings. And we get to work heart to heart in a professional framework. I believe that being a psychologist is the most gratifying profession as it exactly matches with my meaning of life. Isn’t this something to be proud of?

One challenge
Some people can’t imagine that a married woman with a child would complete full-time military training, which includes physical training, parade, firing, jungle training and sea training. But I made it. When I joined the Sri Lanka Navy as a uniformed psychologist I undertook the compulsory three-month military training at the Naval and Maritime Academy. I made history as I was the first woman to complete this training at age 40. The physical, environmental, and emotional demands were so high that I tested my resilience and ability to cope. This is one of the most difficult challenges I have faced. Without this training I wouldn’t be a successful military psychologist who understands the difficulties experienced by sailors and junior officers while performing their duties. I cannot imagine that a civil psychologist who has not undergone the training and military routine could fully empathise with a military soldier.

One regret
I wish my mother – who was illiterate and never went to school – was alive to see where I am today with all my educational achievements. She fed me with all her love and that love made me a compassionate psychologist. Also, I wish I could have my untimely-demised two elder brothers by my side to make me smile and feel proud of their sister. I always wanted to make their lives happier and comfortable.

One thing psychologists could do better
Psychologists do so much research but often, findings and outcomes do not reach the community. Psychologists should do more to reach the community.

One essential item
Since childhood, despite having digital gadgets around me, I have needed my wristwatch on.

One alternative career path
I have an unexplainable connection with nature which makes me calm and relaxed. I would have been an environmentalist or conservationist if not a psychologist.

One proud moment
Though I dreamt of pursuing a PhD in a Western country I could not afford it. When I was awarded a Commonwealth Full Scholarship for my PhD in the UK after a very competitive application process, I think it was the best news I ever heard.

One book
Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl articulates the essence of human existence and the significance of finding a meaning for life. Frankl describes what happens when a man has unplanned, unexpected freedom, and how it led to mental ill health. Despite the horrifying environment, Frankl noticed that the prisoners who were more likely to survive the concentration camps had specific psychological methods of resistance: rich inner lives, future-oriented goals, and discovery of meaning in their suffering. I assume, during Covid lockdowns, some of us experienced unexpected, unplanned freedom which led to some addiction and maladaptive behavioural issues. This book laid the foundation for Logotherapy which was later developed. This is one of my favourite books and I recommend it to most of my clients who are struggling to find meaning in their lives. This is timeless writing.

One hope
I hope for a day when all humans understand the value of other living beings and do not invent anything in the name of science which harms humans and other living beings. I cannot comprehend when people intentionally plan violence against another human or group of humans for political or financial gain. I feel stuck whenever I experience these kinds of events, which is very common now.