Dr Dhanya sorts out behavioural issues

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CLINICAL psychologist Dr Dhanya Pillai spends her days helping parents manage behavioural, emotional and social problems in their children. She also sees autistic children, those with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and learning difficulties.

She practises at Sprouts in Jaya One, Petaling Jaya; Baby & Beyond in Bangsar; and the Ara Damansara Medical Centre.

She takes some time to answer Thots n Tots’ questions to help us get to know her better.

Since when have you been a clinical psychologist?

Seven years now.

Where have you practised apart from Malaysia?

As a clinical psychologist, I have practised exclusively in Malaysia. During my undergraduate and postgraduate years, I worked as a behaviour therapist in Australia as well as Malaysia.

Where did you study?

I completed my undergraduate degree – Bachelor of Behavioural Science (Psychology), as well as the Postgraduate Diploma in Psychology in Melbourne, Australia. I obtained the Master in Clinical Psychology qualification from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, while my PhD in Psychology was a split-site programme at the University of Nottingham (Malaysia and UK).

Why did you decide to be a psychologist? What or who influenced this decision?

I have always been fascinated with the human mind and behaviour, and was even more interested in the seemingly simple yet multifaceted minds of children and adolescents. I learnt that the field of psychology was just picking up in Malaysia and there weren’t very many clinical psychologists around, although there was a high demand for it. With some research, I decided to follow the path of becoming a clinical psychologist with a primary focus on children and adolescents. I desired a career that was challenging and where I could impact positively on people’s lives. It has been a thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding journey thus far.

What are some perks of being a psychologist?

Helping families and empowering them through their difficult times, and collaborating with other professionals and seeing a child progress are just some of the perks of being a psychologist. Children are genuine little people. I always feel great to receive little notes and handmade gifts from them. Also, when I have to get “work supplies” … this actually means going shopping for toys and all happy kid-related stuff! Also, seeing the sign of relief and happiness in a child’s face when they learn that although they’re at a clinic, they’re not going to get an injection; and instead they get to play and chat with me!

What is your policy or belief when it comes to children’s health?

I often see parents who are concerned about one particular area; for instance academics. While I acknowledge it is an important area, it is also not the only area one should focus on. A child’s emotional and mental wellbeing is equally, if not more, important. In this example, a child will not be able to excel academically if his/her physical/emotional/mental needs are not met at home/ school. It is also important to understand that each child is unique and that every child has their own strengths and weaknesses. As such, I would say that my belief is to always take a holistic approach, and to look at the child as a whole.

When should parents bring their child to you, and when should they see a psychiatrist instead?

Psychologists and psychiatrists who work with children typically work with similar issues however they have different functions. While a psychologist utilises various forms of therapy and behavioural interventions, a psychiatrist incorporates the use of medication. Nonetheless, this is dependent on specific situations; there are some families who see both a psychiatrist as well as a psychologist (if deemed necessary). As a starting point, I have seen many families who see me first and then proceed to see a psychiatrist as well if medical intervention is also required.

What is the most common issue that you see?

Developmental issues, as well as behavioural, emotional, learning and social difficulties.

What is your best advice to parents/children for better health?

Often parents put the needs of their children before theirs whilst juggling the demands of home, work and life in general. Nonetheless it is important to take care of yourself first; this is crucial to being an effective parent. Also, take time to understand your child and his/her specific needs, as each child is unique and knowing their skill set will help in nurturing them as they grow. It is vital to always bear in mind that a child’s health encompasses various areas – physical, mental, and emotional; all equally important and requiring guidance and attention as they grow and mature.

How many kids do you have?

I have a daughter who is one year old.

Has being a parent helped you in your job?

Yes. I have developed more P-A-T-I-E-N-C-E.

If you could invent something child-related, what would it be and why?

A machine/portal for kids to see how their actions/words affect others’ feelings and behaviours, so they would be able to completely experience what the other person is feeling and going through.