The Fixer, Dr. Tolulope Oko-Igaire is one of Africa’s Foremost Sex Therapist and Professional Mental Health Practitioner. A Clinical Counselor with demonstrated experience in Depression Treatment, PTSD Counselling, Human Sexuality and Dysfunctional Behavioral Treatment. Also, a leading Gestalt, CBT, and Psychodynamic expert with specialization in Personality Disorders, Sexual Dysfunction and Family Dynamics.
Experience and professionalism distinguished Dr. Tolu in an environment where professional Counseling is non- existing and discussing Mental and Sexual Health issues considered a taboo. She singlehandedly took Mental Health Counseling and Psychotherapy from the backward traditional level to a more professional forefront, blending Counseling skills and ethical values.
With hundreds of articles and publications to her credit, Dr. Tolu has worked with various Multinationals, Governmental and Non-Governmental organizations across Africa.
In this interview with Oyinlola Sale, Dr. Tolulope Oko-Igaire, Executive Director at The Institute of counseling in Nigeria and Head Therapist/Sexologist at Intimacy Clinic explains how counselling can help in transforming the mindset of individuals for a better nation.
Now, tell us why they call you the fixer?
They call me the fixer because i build homes, i mend relationships and i fix sexual issues. I also help people to fix their mental health issues as well. For me, i think everyone has a level of greatness in them and with a little bit of encouragement or self actualization, people can always be who they are meant to be. When it comes with issues of the heart it could mess up with people’s head and make them to be very miserable. In understanding the implications of this, i know they is no marriage or relationship that cannot be worked on. Now, when people come to me, I always believe that the two parties that are involved are willing to give it a shot, can be free.
So , I have minimum of twenty hours of counselling session every week.
Now, I have seen people who are depressed and people who are even suicidal, people who have given up on their relationships, and i have been able to let them know that there are reasons to live again and have hope for tomorrow. Now, when they begin to see those things, people believe you are the Fixer.
What inspired you to go into mental health counselling?
I think for a lot of us as Africans, I think we are barely existing, we are not living. And I will explain what i mean by that to you, you see why we were growing up in the olden days 40’s, 50’s , Africans have values that help us to shape our lives and guide our behaviours, mode of interaction and things that are cautioning us. But unfortunately we are gradually losing those values. Whether we like it or not, civilisation is gradually coming upon us in which we cannot keep living in mud houses.
The World is becoming a global village we have to live. Even if we are living in denial and we are saying we don’t want to move, we are still going to move. For Example, according to a latest research now, there are 101 different kind of gender and in Nigeria, we only believe there are two genders. If we have the ability to control the information being passed to us or we believe that we are self sufficient, but our economy is in shambles. The western world will keep dictating to us.
So there is nothing we can do about the civilisation coming upon us, so gradually we are loosing our values and then western values that are coming upon us we are not ready to embrace it. In Nigeria, we don’t believe in counselling and its affecting us.
The fact is that people are dealing with issues and they can’t even talk. They need someone to talk to. This is were a counsellor comes in to guide them and to make a difference.
What is the difference between mental health counselling in Nigeria and Abroad?
There is a difference between Mental Counselling here and abroad. In Nigeria, you see people in Churches, they make altar calls and say Counsellors will write down your name and Number. Now those are not Counsellors, they are administrative people. The fact is professional counsellors do not advise. We offer professional counselling and we use therapeutic interventions. We use our theory to intervene in issues.
The Accessibility of Counsellors is another issue entirely.
Another thing is the area of education, how do i even begin to explain that?, the students grown through pain because they want to be a doctor or to have a masters degree.
There are people who have that inborn ability to counsel people and all they need is a certificate or diploma. Education is a continous process, but the Nigerian system will not make it happen.
The issue we also have is the culture of secrecy that you cannot take your issue to visit an outsider. The Mental Health Law hasn’t been established and there are a lot of places that we are just scratching the surface.
Now, with the pandemic entrepreneurs have become innovative, so in what way has it made you creative?
Talking about Creativity with the pandemic, of course before all our classes were at the institute of counselling in Ikoyi. But now, we have students online and they take their classes online and everyone goes to zoom. That is one thing Covid-19 has changed.
As the Executive Director Of Counselling in Nigeria, Has the Government Made efforts to support this sector?
Government making efforts, I really do not know what that means, you don’t even make effort in what you don’t really understand. Mental Health Counselling is one thing that is so difficult to explain to people. In most cases when our students come into the institute of counselling, you become a born again and start thinking differently. Now, until we begin to have a mind shift, I don’t think anything can get better as Nigerians.
What are the challenges you have faced so far in running the business?
The Number one Challenge is the level of ignorance, so am in a field where people don’t understand. I started pushing the crusade of mental wellness in Africa.
People don’t see the need for counselling, they will rather talk to their pastor or Imam or one herbalist that will give you something. So Nigerians are very ignorant when it comes to mental health counselling.
As a Woman with so many responsibilities, how do you start your day?
I start my day, by opening my eyes, process my thoughts and I come down slowly and try to meditate, sit up and process my feelings and emotions. Change into my gym clothes and take a walk in my estate. I drop my daughter in school, so we get to bond and discuss. It’s very important.
How did you manage to finance this business in it’s early days?
From day one, my husband has been the one financing my business. There is a particular loan my husband gets from his office. They give them to start up a business. My husband gave me the money to settle down, so the renting of the office and all was settled. The fact is my husband has been my backbone.
So, How have you been able to carve a niche for yourself in the midst of the competition?
In the field of mental health counselling, I am in a class of my own.We have a feedback form in my office and the comments of clients made us to realize how unique we are. I have developed over the years and I have evolved over the years. I am a force to reckon with in the field of mental health counselling and sex therapy.
What were some of your biggest fears when you started this business?
One of my biggest fears when I was running this business, is that as a sex therapist, the mindset that people had about it. I had to Breakthrough because of my passion.
Now, What are the things you put in place in order to set up a successful Training Institute?
So to set up a successful training institute of course now we are trying to work with best international best practices to ensure we are doing things the right way to develop curriculum that are International standard.
How can the Government create an enabling environment for businesses like yours to thrive?
It’s important we pass the mental health act into law, even if it’s not so huge mininally. It’s still going to benefit mental health counselling in Nigeria. It’s difficult to register this kind of entity, the Government needs to make it easy for them.
Tell us about a highly difficult period, where you thought of giving up and how you overcame the situation?
A highly difficult period, i faced a lot, and at the beginning of my journey, I was counselling for free, people come into my office and when they are going I will still give them transport after counselling them for free. It wasn’t easy at all.
Impossibility is not in my dictionary, you can say no but i believe in my dreams ans what I want to achieve.
A young female entrepreneur, is thinking of following your footsteps, what would you tell her?
For a female entrepreneurs, the first question, i would ask you is, who are you?, because you need to discover yourself, when you discover yourself, every other things become easy.
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