Kumkum Pareek Malik: Pioneering Emotional Well-Being and Motherhood and Acting for SETU

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Kumkum Pareek Malik (Photo: Sanjay Kudrimoti)

Kumkum Pareek Malik is a senior clinical psychologist licensed in Massachusetts, with over 28 years of clinical experience.  She specializes in motherhood and maintains offices in Wellesley and Norfolk. In addition, she is a consistent voice in the Indian-American community for emotional well-being.

Ms. Malik’s education and training include Fellow, Harvard Medical School at Cambridge Hospital, Ed.M at The Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Doctorate at The Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology. She obtained her undergraduate and one of her two master’s degrees at Delhi University in India.

She places a high value on contributing significant amounts of time through her volunteer activities.  She serves as Trustee of the Norfolk Public Library, is a Board Member and Trustee of the Charles River School, as well as a Governing Board member of Saheli. She has served as a Board member of the Massachusetts Psychological Association. In these capacities, she has played a leading role in setting agenda, helping carry through the missions of the Boards, and in designing and implanting initiatives, as well as fund raising.

INDIA New England News:  Please tell our readers about your work and what you enjoy most about it.

Kumkum Pareek Malik: I am a clinical psychologist.  This field is not as well-known as some others, so perhaps it makes sense to explain my work at some length, and why I do it.

Here is my work in a nutshell:  There are at least two ‘realities’ that we are part of most of the time, with varying degrees of awareness; one is the reality we present to the world and to ourselves as our ‘self’; the other is that core part of ourselves where our ‘truth’…stripped of hurt, wounds, and compromises, resides.

My professional expertise helps you to gently peel away your defenses, feel safe with me, and then enter into your deeper truths.  You slowly learn how to become aware of why you say, feel and behave the way you do.  You get access to your own internal ‘structure;’ your thoughts, your emotions, your beliefs, and your habitual patterns of using these to act in the world.

I knew at a very young age that this is what I want to do with my life; work with real people in real time, when their social masks are off.  I wanted to touch the real face, touch the truth: to be involved with hope; to play a small part in creating change that alters a life.

My client population of choice is mothers.  I believe that society does not value the life long sacrifices and the constant labor of a mother towards raising her family.  “Value” is ascribed in society to public achievement, and more so if it generates money.

However, there are no villains and no one to blame. All thoughtful people the world over know that power arrangements in society are very complex.  It is just the way it has been set up.  And they know that this too will change. Nothing is permanent.

Kumkum Pareek Malik (Photo: Sanjay Kudrimoti)

Meanwhile, I do this work because mothers continue to throw themselves under the bus.  Over seventy percent of the users of mental health services are women, and the majority of these women, sometimes as high as ninety percent, are mothers. The strong incontrovertible research on the connection between the mind and the body has allowed medicine to make connections between physical illnesses such as cancer, chronic fatigue, hypertension and many others to the emotional life of the patient.

The statistics about mothers’ mental health are so high because mothers are at risk for being without emotional as well as financial support at all times of their lives. What is a mother to do if she is being disrespected in her home?   She will think a thousand times, a million times, before taking any step that might hurt her children now, or in the future.  This is true of mothers who have made Motherhood their full time job, as well as for mothers who do other work besides the work of Motherhood.

I wrote my doctoral dissertation on this subject, and read women’s autobiographies from the fourteenth century onwards, from across the world.  I found that mothers were expected to live for others, regardless of geographical region, regardless of the time in history, and regardless of social status. Society needs its mothers to continue to live for others, and has rarely allowed mothers to depart too far from this expectation.

I love my work. I absolutely love my work.  I have spent a lifetime refining my understanding of these issues, and figuring out how to be useful in a real way.  My focus is that since there are no villains, and there is really no one to blame…sister, learn to respect your own work. Learn how to dissect what the culture is asking you to do…and then learn to stand tall in your work of love. Learn to become a swayum siddha.

The joy of doing this work is indescribable. Contrary to what you might think, I meet a woman’s humanity at its best, when it is fighting to raise its head, and fighting so that not just her, but her children and her family get a mother who is vibrant, who is joyous, and who commands your respect.

After all, the most ancient philosophy of the world saw fit to entrust the major parts of human endeavor to a Goddess.  Knowledge; let us worship Saraswati. Wealth; let us pray to Lakshmi; strength, let us bow to Ma Durga. And when it comes to destroying evil, we trust that only a woman can do this ugly job of destruction with care and responsibility: let us bow to Goddess Kali.

I am grateful for my work.  It is who I am.

INE: To which charitable, community and professional groups do you belong and why?

KPM: APA: American Psychological Association. A professional group for psychologists, like the AMA.

MPA: Massachusetts Psychological Association. The professional advocacy group for psychologists in MA. I have served as a Board Member of this organization twice.

Ekal: The well known charity of our community. I consider it my privilege to help in a humble way for the education of children in rural areas of India. An education is really what opens the mind, and opens up opportunities.

Saheli: I have been a Board member of Saheli.  This organization has been a life-line for many women of our community who were living in unspeakable situations.

SETU: A theater group whose mission is to present works of Indian literature and mythology in English. I absolutely love to act on stage: it allows me to explore human emotions, and step out of my own comfort zone, have good clean fun, and make new friends.

I am also an informal member of all of the music groups that have entertained us.  Before I started acting, I emceed and/or helped to organize the shows of Mohan Subramanium, Meena Sundaram, and Shekhar Shastri with their first shows.  I was also a regular organizer, and emcee for Siraj Khan, who was active in bringing many music shows to stage. I love Bollywoood music, despite having been educated in English medium schools and colleges,  and speaking English like my first language. I think hindi movie music of the past had fantastic poets, really soulful music directors, and of course, divine singers. I am a trained Hindustani classical music singer, who has not sung for decades.

INE:  What are your hobbies and interests?

KPM: Music is my first love and my home is never without music. I love to read, and books on human thought and poetry are my favorites. I also love to garden, cook, and write poetry. I began writing poetry at the age of nine. It has remained for the most part a private hobby.

INE:   In what way do you feel you have positively influenced or served the local community, your company/organization or professional field?

KPM: I want to be really clear that I believe I have been the beneficiary of my ‘services’ to my beloved community. I have gained much, much more than anything I might have “given.”

I am always available to Saheli for consultation. Additionally, the number of people in the community who call for help, and get it from me without any charge, is impossible for me to count.  I respond because it is just who I am.

My love of music has made me a valued member of any concert team that wants someone who is well informed about hindi movie music. Regardless of where I am contributing, my special strength is to bring a sense of harmony to the group. I enjoy people, and I love spreading joy.

Professionally:  I am recognized in my profession for the work that I do with mothers. When a referral source gives someone my name, they usually say…well, here are some names, but if you really want to be understood and helped, go to Dr. Malik. I have tried to integrate the theories of Western psychology with the deep wisdom of Eastern thought. My clients are never seen as “patients.” Instead, they are respected by me as people who have the courage to take a look at their life, and then have the motivation to work hard to change themselves.

I have been published by the American Psychological Association in their subject series: this is the series where every subject has its own book that clinicians refer to. I am published in their book on Couples Counseling: I wrote to help couples psychologists understand the invisible work of the mother who comes to their office as part of a couple.  I focused on detailing the psychological, physical and emotional demands of this work, and how this work explains the “symptoms” of the woman as the consequences of doing a difficult job without much support or respect, and doing it without a break.

INE:   What are your favorite books?

 KPM: So, so many. Some have seared themselves into my brain. Others I like to read again and again.

In the first category:

Writing a Woman’s Life, by Carolyn Heilbrun

A New Psychology of Women by Jean Baker Miller

Journal of a Solitude by May Sarton

 

In the second category:

All romance novels by Georgette Heyer

Comfortable with Uncertainty by Pema Chodoron

Poetry books by Mary Oliver

Some of the poetry books of Tagore, Faiz, Kaifi Aazmi, and Kaka Hathrasi.

All the young adult series by Enid Blyton; Famous Five, Five Find Outers, The Secret of of…series, Malory Towers. I still like to read them.

INE:  Your favorite quotes?

KPM: For me, its lines from poetry:

“Innocence is what we allow

to be gifted back to us

once we’ve given ourselves away.”

————–

“Mostly, I want to be kind.

And nobody, of course, is kind,

or mean,

for a simple reason.”

——————-

“I don’t care how many angels

can dance on the head of a pin.

It’s enough to know that

for some people they exist,

and that they dance.”

——————

“Now are the rough times smooth, and the smooth things stand in flickering slats, facing the slow tarnish of sun-fall.

And therefore, why pray to permanence, why not pray to impermanence, to change, to—whatever comes next.

—————–

INE:   Who inspires you the most?

KPM: I have had to really think about this one. Who inspires me the most…and I realized that for me, the word ‘inspiration’ means two things…one, the usual meaning of feeling like I have a role model. The other is the opposite…someone whom I see as a fabulous role model whose life ALSO teaches me what NOT to want in my own life.

For both meanings, it is my mother. She remains my strongest inspiration. It took me a while to really understand her contributions to my life, apart from the obvious ones of taking care of me at all times.

Her contributions to who I am today are immense and infinite. My mother taught me the meaning of love. While my father taught me about power that controls others, my mother taught me to want the kind of power that allows me to effect change in my own life.  She taught me that love has power too.

INE:  What core values do you try to live by?

KPM: Compassion: for others as well as for myself. It is quite difficult to live a life according to this value when one balances compassion for others with compassion for oneself too.

Determination: to keep trying to find that balance in setting my goals, as well as in the way I go after my goals, and to keep trying to live my personal life with this value too.

 

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