The Root Of The Science Podcast

EP 123: Marlene Ato, Medical Psychologist & a Reproductive Health Advocate

August 21, 2023 Anne Chisa Season 4 Episode 123
The Root Of The Science Podcast
EP 123: Marlene Ato, Medical Psychologist & a Reproductive Health Advocate
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

The guest today is Marlene Ato from Kenya. A beacon in the field of medical psychology, Marlene takes us through the fascinating world of tele-counselling ,her passion for reproductive health advocacy  and more. 

Twitter: @marlene_ato
Instagram: @marlene_ato
LinkedIn: marlene ato

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Anne Chisa:

Music. Hello everyone and welcome back to another episode of the Root of the Science podcast with your girl, Anne with an E. If you are new here, welcome, welcome, welcome. It's always such a pleasure to have new listeners to the show and to the fans and the regulars of the show. Thank you so much for tuning in. Reminder that we are on various social media platforms you can follow at Root of the Science pod on Twitter, instagram and TikTok. You can also follow us on Facebook and Instagram at the Root of the Science podcast, and you can use those platforms to let me know how, what you thought of the show, if there's somebody who I should chat with, if I or if I should chat to you. Alternatively, you can send an email at rootofthesciencepod@ gmailcom and we will do our best to get back to you. Also, a reminder that you can listen to the show wherever else you listen to your podcast, be it Spotify, apple podcast, google podcast or even YouTube. Make sure that you hit the subscribe and notify button there as well, so that you're aware when a new episode like this one is live.

Anne Chisa:

Now let's get into today's episode. Today we have Marlene Ato, a medical psychologist who specializes in tele-counselling. In this episode, we'll delve into the fascinating world of tele-counselling, by discussing what it is is ups and downs and exploring various aspects of mental health issues. Our guest, marlene, will shed light on the importance of medical psychology, particularly in this day and age, and addressing some of these challenges such as mental health. So let's dive in and gain some valuable insights. Let's go. Hi, marlene, welcome to the show. Thank you so much, ann. It is such a pleasure to have you on today. I'm so excited to get to know more about you and everything that you do. First things first. Who is Marlene? Where are you from? Where are you currently based and, just in brief, what do you do?

Marlene Ato:

Okay, my name is Marlene Ato. I'm from Kenya. I'm a psychologist by profession. Yes, that's what I'm doing currently. Yes, and I love issues to do with mental health and I'm so passionate about women, advocacy and leadership and governance.

Anne Chisa:

Yes, Awesome, awesome. We're going to get to know more about everything that you do just now. I'm so excited to get into that so away from all your passions and everything that you do.

Marlene Ato:

I know that you love food. I love food too.

Anne Chisa:

So this was like yes, but you said you love specifically street food. So what's your favorite type of street food? That like if I had to come visit you where you'd be like okay, ann, you have to try this yeah, I love it.

Marlene Ato:

Yeah, and here in Kenya we have Chipo in our local dialect yes, so I love Friday. That is one thing I can't adjust past by and ignore, like haven't seen me. So that is one thing that I really love because, I stay alone so I tend to have difficult to start preparing food or that's such a very long process for me somehow. So I would love to just pick whatever I find that is worth eating in the road and most so price. I will easily go and grab one and take it.

Anne Chisa:

Yes, so wait, what is it exactly? I didn't get that.

Marlene Ato:

In our local dialect we call it Chipo, but it's commonly known as fries.

Anne Chisa:

Oh okay, fries. Oh okay yes.

Marlene Ato:

Oh, you call it Chipo.

Anne Chisa:

Okay, yes, I love fries too, yeah. I wish I had some manchini yes, yes, oh, okay so if when you're tired and you're like you know what? This is my go-to food. This is supper, and I'm going to eat that today, yeah that's my go-to Okay awesome.

Anne Chisa:

Okay, so now that we know about one of your favorite fruits, I would love us to know the genesis of your story. Right, where did it all begin? Where did your love for psychology happen? Was it something that kind of just happened, or were there personal influences in your life that made you get into the psychology? So I think, yeah, let's understand the you. Now you are on the opposite end of the chain.

Marlene Ato:

Okay, so I don't have a very interesting story on how it all began, but ideally, looking back when I was in high school, I used to be that one person where people would come and try and say for some counsel, for some advice, and they would come to me hey, I'm going through this and this I will do. Please, please, what can I do about it? Yeah, so that happened for a very long period of time when I was in my high school level and after we've done, I didn't even know there's something like psychology out here. Yeah, it's something that my dad saw it and I think it's something in me and it's like you know, this is one thing we can pursue together and I believe that you can impact your life. So I can say it's my dad who saw the potential in me into venturing more in much of psychology. But trying to connect the dots back then, it means I was like a self speech to people, where people will come to me ask me for some advice, of some counsel concerning something. And then, when I got into my, into my higher level education in campus, I think that's when it became so clear that this is something that I really need to push through and dig deeper Because, as I said earlier, so much into issues with women and you know, there are so many things that surround us as women and girls in our society, from a minority group known as the Itesohia in Kenya, and there are so many issues that people will face and in a way, I felt so much in that I could be in our voice to someone.

Marlene Ato:

I could be a self space to people like such a category, a group of people, the minority, and that's just sparked an interest in me. It was the fact that you know I was able to create a more sex space and I realized they can do this even better and venture into it more, be a solution to society out here. So, bit by bit, the interest grew in me and for Indian lives is something that I found myself so much differently to something that even when you work with me up, you know, very deep into the night I'll be able to listen to someone and hear them out and try to offer guidance. Yeah, I don't know if I'm trying to answer any questions.

Anne Chisa:

Yes, yes, the question has been answered very well and I think we have to give credit to your dad, definitely for him guiding you into this career and also, like you said, that it was innate in you that you always had this thing of wanting to listen to people. So let's if you were not a medical psychologist you know, you said that you this has always been in, and if you're not a medical psychologist, what would you have been, do you think?

Marlene Ato:

I'll be doing something in line with journalism. Okay yeah, because I'm so. I love cameras, I love being on camera, I love it. You have, like any time. You'll find me either either taking green photography or recording something on my phone, or just producing issues to do with journalism and media. So if I was to do something else, I think I'll go for issues to do with journalism or even media photography, videography. I'm so passionate about that. I think that's what I do from doing issues with mental health. I am so much passionate about media in general. Awesome, oh, wow, that's so fantastic.

Anne Chisa:

You said you'd always want to be on camera, so the type of psychology that you do is called the Taylor counseling right, which I can say you're on camera. You're on camera. But for people who don't know and they're like what is Taylor counseling? Can you give us a background on what that is and then talk us through how you how, or rather why you chose that this is the type of psychology that you want to do?

Marlene Ato:

Okay. So Tele- counseling, just from direct, from two words Tele and counseling. So counseling is giving guide and guiding someone, giving someone counsel. And now Tele is more the mode. You're doing counseling, but you're doing it in form of online delivery. So most of us were used to the traditional counseling whereby you go meet with your therapist or with your counselor one on one, but in these skills we don't do that instead, via the online delivery mode, such as via phone or via computer, doing some video conferencing, yes, and do something online. So this is an online delivery of mental health therapy, therapy or services. Yes, it's as simple as that in the layman's language. You're doing counseling, but you're doing it online. It's Tele, it's online.

Anne Chisa:

Okay, fantastic. So how did you end up? Why that, as opposed to the traditional face-to-face form of counseling?

Marlene Ato:

Okay, so most of us we are most of the people are conversant with the traditional counseling, but we are living in an area whereby there's so much shifting into the digital space. We are witnessing a lot of shifting in various aspects of our lives and, despite the, online has made life more convenient and more accessible, like you can be able to, you know, be conversant with someone who is far away, miles away, and it is so convenient and also, to, like counseling, enables you to have access to a very wide audience.

Marlene Ato:

Yeah, because I might be, you know, having a session with someone who is maybe in the UK or in the US and very conveniently, at their house, at their room, I'm able to talk to someone who is able to take someone through therapy without any difficulty. So there is so much in this world experiencing right now. People are moving into the digital space and it's a time we also try and adapt to where the world is moving towards, and that's why I showed it to my. Why not adapt the tele-canceling I'm able to reach to a very wide group of people and it is very convenient both to me and to them. And, yeah, it's something that in the near future, I think that's where we are heading to. Yeah, and I've just begun it earlier here.

Anne Chisa:

Fantastic. You absolutely right that we are moving into the digital space. But my question is how do you keep that connection? You know, because many of us have had to do things online Zoom classes.

Marlene Ato:

Zoom meetings.

Anne Chisa:

Yeah, you know, there's that bit of invisible curtain right. So, with counseling. It requires some form of intimacy or connection, Maybe that's the word. So how? Do you create that connection with your patients or clients in a virtual setting.

Marlene Ato:

Okay.

Marlene Ato:

So first of all, what I normally tell my clients is for them to try and endow you, you know, because it's all about the mindset, trying to make them feel more comfortable and I make them understand that it's not about their proximity.

Marlene Ato:

But how are we in touch during the conversation? Yeah, you know, of course, only counseling has its own challenges. I may not be able to tell their facial expression and you know the body language, but even through listening to this person talk, through the tone and everything, as a psychologist, as a professional, I'm able to gauge whether we are in touch or we are not in touch. And so, just trying to create a very harmonious environment for my client and make him understand that you know something we say mindfulness here and now. Try to be present in our session. Yeah, so I'll try to engage my client as much as I can and make it a two-way conversation, not a monotony. We are the only ones who are talking, but trying to ensure even the client is involved in my conversation, throwing some activities that the client can do so as to keep him or her active, yeah, just through the mind, trying to engage his mind here and now.

Anne Chisa:

Yeah.

Marlene Ato:

Wow no that's amazing.

Anne Chisa:

That's amazing that you know you've got the tools to help you and the client feel open. Because I think that's exactly what counseling is about to have that moment where somebody is able to feel safe enough to tell you some of the things that they're struggling with. And what a joy that we have the internet and we have people like you on the other end who are counseling people far and wide. Because sometimes I think accessibility to psychologists is one of the limiting things that I've noticed, because it's so expensive to pay somebody to go to see somebody in their office. So is this okay? Maybe this should be a question Is it a cheaper alternative than going to traditional psychologist, or would the rates still be the same? You don't have to explain your rates, but I'm just thinking in terms of accessibility. Is this a cheap alternative for someone?

Marlene Ato:

So for online counseling it will be a bit cheaper compared to physical counseling. Yeah, Can you hear me? Yes, yes, I can.

Marlene Ato:

Yeah, so I'm trying to say that online counseling, most of the time it tends to be a bit affordable because we are cutting on so many costs and we are trying because you are able to expect your family, the comfort of your home. This makes it more easier, more affordable. You're able to cut on your transportation cost to where you are supposed to see your therapies and the only thing you need to do is that you have enough bundles, have enough air time. So online counseling, ideally it's a bit cheaper compared to one-on-one counseling. Here, in most of the cases, because of the so many bills to be able to cut, because you're not able to be in the cost of all this cost that comes in between, yeah, so it's a bit affordable compared to the physical counseling.

Marlene Ato:

Oh, great yeah, but most people have very large variations. Just a very little variation which can make some sense.

Anne Chisa:

Yes, I hear you. I hear you. So what is your vision for the future, with where you're going, since now you've started school?

Marlene Ato:

Okay.

Marlene Ato:

So personally, in the next, in the near future, in the next maybe five to 10 years, I envision myself running some sort of organization or mental health clinic and having a helpline, running a helpline I call center. Yes, because this is something that I want to pursue through the latter, despite the fact that I'd love also to have more of physical meetings. But I envision myself running a organization. You know the audience, the lot of online counseling running my own helpline that has been attributed by the government. Yes, and also, at times, incorporating the physical session, especially for those that might require intense follow-up sessions. But I see myself coming up with an organization that has its own helpline and covering a wide area and it's a 12-3 helpline whereby anyone can call anytime on a 24-hour basis and without incurring any cost at all.

Marlene Ato:

Yeah, this will be able to sort so many emergencies, so many crises that people might be experiencing out here. So this I believe I'll be doing, also as a way of giving back to this, because running a 12-3 helpline at all center, it really requires a lot of effort and a lot of partnerships. Yeah, so that is where I'm envisioning myself in the near future. Yes, and basically not doing counseling in a very wide scope of issues. Yeah, because the kind of also the helpline. They concentrate on one thing, either child issues, or maybe some concentrate on drug abuse. And also for me I intend it to be a comprehensive call center that reach out to anyone at any particular time that people can access. Yeah, that's where I'm seeing myself in the near future.

Anne Chisa:

Wow, fantastic. What a very stalfless vision and it's so important and I like the fact that it's crystal clear. It's crystal clear in your mind of exactly what you want to do and, honestly, I wish you all of the best, because this vision is so much more than you and I think visions which affect the impact, the lives of other people in a positive way, they've got a great way of succeeding. So I think you are definitely definitely on the right track, so good luck for this and good luck with your studies as well, as you pursue your studies. Okay, before we wrap up, you are also a reproductive health advocate right, yeah yeah, yeah, and I think that's quite amazing.

Anne Chisa:

Can you tell us more about that?

Marlene Ato:

So this was back while I was in campus.

Marlene Ato:

I was at student's in the back of campus and during my time I was able to come up with a club, or a society rather, that dealt with welfare for concerning ladies.

Marlene Ato:

So from there is where, by the interest of advocating for sexual health rights for female most so at that particular time, I merged, and this is something that I did even beyond just school, even in my community. Personally, I could come up with the initiative of going around my community back in the village they are talking to young girls about menstrual health here and just advocating for the aspect concerning menstrual health and giving out free sanitary pads to young girls in my community and, apart from menstrual aspects, also focused more on the reproductive health rights, because most of the time, as young people we tend not to be aware of some of these rights that are in line with sexual productive. So just what basically I used to do that I'm still doing is creating more awareness, doing at the vocal sees concerning sexual productive health, in whichever space, whether online or physical, depending on so many things here, I try as much as I can, in whichever space, to be able to do that vocal seeing, creating awareness and sometimes even doing training to individuals here, in line with the reproductive health.

Anne Chisa:

Do you think your role as a psychologist also comes into play? Like there's some overlap between your advocacy work and your roles as a psychologist.

Marlene Ato:

I think they coexist and each support the other. Because, at the end of the day, when it comes to matters sexual productive you find maybe, for example, someone might be going through some productive health issues and sometimes, when you try and engage this person, you find at the end of the day that it's being backed up with some of the major health issues. So, in one way or the other, most of the time I find that mental health tends to complement most of these issues that are out here, and sexual productive is one of them. You find, for example, maybe someone has been refiled and, of course, in one way or the other, that will be affected the psychological and this means there is need for some mental health interventions to be administered. So, in one way or the other, I have a mental health complement some of the work that I do out here, so it's more of a backbone.

Marlene Ato:

I normally think that we are all victims of mental health. It's just that the degree of violence and the context of violence from one person to another. So the thing is that how do we cope at the end of the day? How are you coping?

Anne Chisa:

Is it a coping condition.

Marlene Ato:

Is it a healthy? Yeah, so you find mental health complements every other thing that we go through in life. So for me, I feel it's something that I find it easier to relate. I find it easier to ensure that they complement each other at the end of the day and that for me to provide a very good and effective service to people out here. Yeah, it should complement the Lord here.

Anne Chisa:

Fantastic, well, definitely so important, like you said. I like how you said that it's a backbone of everything that you do and again commend you for the amazing work. It's been so amazing hearing you, your story and the passion for the work that you do. So quickly, before we wrap up, any words of wisdom to somebody who's inspired by your story or even your journey that you'd like to impart on us before we wrap it up, okay, so I normally say it's good to try, just try it out and don't be, don't be afraid.

Marlene Ato:

And even if you're afraid, just do it afraid. Yeah, at times it's good just to just begin something, just try it out. Yeah, and why am I saying this? I am one person who I didn't see myself getting into the space of leadership and governance, but one day I just told myself why not? What is the working that can happen, people will vote for me and after that, life will still move on and we will still try another day. So if I hadn't given it a try to venture into a very different space that I've never built before, then maybe I couldn't even be here in this podcast.

Marlene Ato:

But because I believe in myself and I tried it out though I did it maybe very afraid or with a lot of doubt, but the fact that I just tried, I just began, just begin and everything that will fall into place, just a day at a time, a step at a time. But the thing is that you have to try, you have to begin, just begin, even if you're afraid, even if you're not sure, just begin. You never know how far this will go. So that is one thing that you'd like to tell someone out here, because we know ourselves. There is so much potential, but sometimes you may not see it right now, but the moment you just begin doing and believing in yourself, believing in yourself is something very, very critical. You are your own hero. Nobody's coming to save you, so you have to be out there and pursue that which you want. Go for that which you want. Nobody will be there to push you through. It is just you and you, so go for it.

Marlene Ato:

Yeah, so I think that's what I'd love to tell someone. I tried and it opened so many doors. Though I'm still trying, I still experience the purity. I still doubt myself at some point, but when I look ahead, I see a very big brand about me. I see myself working with a very good team of people who are there to cheer me up and push me through. I see a very, very different future. What is it right now? My current situation depends on where I'm headed, so just try it out here. It will make sense and do.

Anne Chisa:

Yeah, fantastic, fantastic. Thank you for that wonderful piece of advice, Marlene. It's been amazing chatting with you and hearing your story and again I wish you all of the best and I hope somebody's inspired and is motivated and, yeah, one day we'll check in and we'll see this vision coming that it has manifested. Yeah, and to everybody else who's tuned in and listened to the show. Thank you so much for listening to another episode of the Route of the Science podcast with your girl and with an E. Until next time, goodbye, Bye.

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