Meet sex and trauma therapist Neha Bhat, who heals abuse victims through art

Neha Bhat, known on Instagram as Indian Sex Therapist, is a licensed sex and trauma therapist who practices art therapy in India and the US.
Neha Bhat
Sex and trauma therapist Neha Bhat conducts masterclasses, retreats, as well as one on one sessions to help her clients heal from their traumas.
Anjuri Nayar Singh Updated: 19 Jun 2024, 02:50 pm IST
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Art can be emotionally liberating. Ask Neha Bhat, a licensed sex and trauma therapist, writer and educator who uses the power of art to heal from their sexual abuse experiences, transforming deep wounds created by abuse into a celebration of life.

The desire of helping others to deal with the emotional trauma that follows any form of sexual abuse, stems from her own unsavoury experiences early in life. From a professor forcing himself on her to being frisked for a little too long and uncomfortably at the airport, these incidents left indelible marks on Neha’s mind. They made her feel deeply about what others who may have gone through worse.

In India, where the 2012 Nirbhaya case should have shaken the conscience of sexual predators, 4,45,256 registered cases of abuse against women were recorded by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) in 2022. Sadly, these alarming numbers are only on a rise. What many perpetrators don’t realise is that healing from sexual trauma, no matter how big or small an incident, can be daunting, asserts Neha Bhat.

Popular on Instagram by the epithet ‘Indian Sex Therapist’, Neha specialises in trauma therapy, sexual violence-focused trauma therapy, interpersonal violence in couples, sex focused psychotherapy, LGBTQ+ identity development, and art therapy among others.

Healing from sexual trauma involves coming to terms with what happened, eliminating all feelings of guilt and self-blame, and becoming aware of how you feel, explains Bhat.

She been giving trauma-focused therapy through the medium of art at institutions such as the University of Michigan, the Art Institute of Chicago as well as the Rush Medical Centre. But the journey started on another note.

Neha Bhat: I was not equipped to handle the trauma stories

It was the colourful and vibrant world of arts and theatre that led Neha Bhat to her awakening of wanting to help those who suffered from abuse. She worked as a dramaturg and arts educator and was soon presented with an opportunity to work in a school as their special-needs art educator. She trained with psychotherapists, art therapists and language therapists to help kids with special needs, and soon, she witnessed the magic of these kids sharing their deepest, darkest traumas with her. “I was working with young children, who were telling me a lot about their trauma histories,” she says.

It was then that she realised her love for trauma-education, through the power of art. Art, soon, became a means for these kids to reveal their traumas, and this helped Neha Bhat understand her desire of studying arts as a tool of therapy and healing.

“I realised that I was not equipped to handle the trauma histories that were being told to me. I did not want to be irresponsible about it and so I decided to study further,” says Bhat, who started by training in Mindfulness-oriented Art Therapy from an Indian Buddhist Psychology Program in Pune. Following this, she served in the field of community mental health, serving at different prisons in Maharashtra, as well as Detroit, USA, as part of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, as well as the Prison Creative Arts Project at the University of Michigan.

She pursued her higher education in Clinical Trauma Counseling from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She completed her training and clinical practice at the Terry Real Institute in the US, and served as a rape crisis psychotherapist for some time, before starting her private practice and teaching.

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Her journey of 13 years has been nothing short of serendipitous, she says. As a queer Indian woman, she has is making strides towards making the world more trauma-sensitive. “It has been just one step after another, opening up, and just studying and immersing myself as deeply as I could. The core motivation was that I have to find a way to honour the stories that people are telling me without causing them harm and leading them towards some kind of change.”

Neha Bhat on working as a sex therapist: There is a lot of misunderstanding of what sex therapy is in India

For a country with a growing number of sexual abuse cases, India shockingly also lacks comprehension of how to heal from this abuse, believes the healer. How does she approach it?

Neha Bhat says starting therapy with any new client first requires an understanding on their part as to what exactly she does. “There is a lot of misunderstanding of what sex therapy is in India. In the urban elite world, people understand it a bit, but generally, people think it’s a profession where you are having sex with a client, or that you are healing their sexual block by exchanging their energy. But it’s not that,” she says.

Her friends and family members have also been confused about the kind of therapy she offers.

“I need to do a lot of psychoeducation of what it is that I do. This is why I always start with calling trauma therapy a part of mental health practice. Therapy is primarily a mental health practice and in that there are specialisations such as mine in it. When I take that approach, there isn’t a lot of questioning, especially from friends and family. But there is a lot of confusion in terms of, ‘I don’t know what this profession is’, ‘I don’t know how the healing happens’!”

Also Read: How to talk about sex: 11 tips to improve sexual communication with your partner

Neha Bhat
Neha Bhat has just published her first book Unashamed, and is already pinning her second one.

Neha Bhat on the trauma of her clients: I hear everything from childhood sexual abuse to rape to molestation

Neha Bhat works with victims of sexual violence as well as perpetrators of sexual trauma. She takes one-on-one sessions, conducts workshops at retreats, and is also in the process of starting her own school where she will train other mental health experts in her field.

“I hear everything from childhood sexual abuse, to rape to molestation to harassment to eve teasing. I hear victims also having perpetrated sexual violence and being caught in a cycle of sexual abuse. Depression and anxiety around sex is common, vaginismus is very common and it is related to sexual trauma and violence that happens at a young age,” she says.

She feels the society needs to be better aware of what sexual abuse essentially does to a person.

“Sexual abuse makes us feel we have to keep hiding our bodies and become smaller as people. The mental health gap that I see is that folks don’t understand that it is that deep. People think, ‘Why is this woman so worried all the time?’, ‘Why is she not trusting of the world?’. If a guy is not able to perform sexually, they call him ‘silly’ and ‘effeminate’. These are very condescending words! People don’t understand that sometimes there is a large amount of sexual trauma – a deeper story which requires care  and a trauma-informed perspective,” she says.

Neha Bhat on her book Unashamed

As a part of her efforts to create more awareness and sensitivity, Neha Bhat has penned Unashamed, a book which is all about healing from sexual shame. “It is a culmination of my clinical practice of just offering real ways of healing from sexual shame in a step-by-step way. To heal, you need to acknowledge that there is shame, and to do that, you need to understand where that shame comes from,” says the writer.

Her book is divided into four parts and it takes the readers through a journey of understanding, acknowledging, healing and then celebrating. “It’s a celebration of what could be possible if we were to be a sexually matured society,” says Bhat, who has also consulted, on several occasions, on film projects, documentaries and reality TV shows showcasing sex and intimacy on various OTT platforms.

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About the Author

Anjuri Nayar Singh has over 12 years of experience in writing for various topics including lifestyle, films, television and OTT. She also writes on art and culture, education and human interest stories. ...Read More

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