About Reeta Peshawaria

Reeta was born on 19 November, in Amritsar to Mr Parkash Peshawaria and Mrs Prem Peshawaria third sibling of four sisters. She studied at Sacred Heart School, Amritsar and took pride in the fact that she went to a very stimulating environment provided by her teachers. In school she was the Head Girl of her Class. Her father being a keen Tennis player himself introduced his children to sports, particularly Lawn Tennis. So most of the school and college time was spent either in the class rooms or on the Tennis Courts where all members of the family keenly participated.             

Reeta did her post graduation in Psychology from Guru Nanak Dev University where Dr Jatinder Mohan, was Reader and Head of the newly started Department. She was the first President of the Behavioural Science Forum, an elected student body. The Department of Psychology was created to retain Reeta in the GND University. Dr Grewal, the Principal of the Govt College for Women even gave the space to house the Department and Prof Bishen Singh Samundari, VC of the GND University was keen to gain Inter Varsity Championship Trophy in Lawn Tennis. Reeta, the Captain and her Team won the Trophy on two consecutive years of her MA days. When spending too much time on the Tennis courts came into conflict with academic achievements in Psychology, she chose Psychology. 

Reeta worked as an Assistant to Prof Gunther Reith at the University of British Columbia Vancouver from June till December,1970. Later she took unpaid Assistanceship at Mental Hospital, Amritsar for six months before she joined the DM&SP course at Ranchi, 1973-75.  She excelled in clinical and academic training and passed DM&SP with Distinction, a great honour. Her Dissertation was on retroactive inhibition in short term memory using an experimental model of learning theory. She fondly recalled teachings of Drs DP Sen Majumdar, TR Shukla and RG Sharma. The clinical acumen of Prof K Bhaskaran had powerful influence on her. 

Her first paid job was that of a Lecturer in Psychology in Government College Chandigarh during second half of 1975. From January, 1977 till August, 1981 she worked as Research Assistant at Govt Institute for Mentally Handicapped, Chandigarh. She used behaviour modification techniques of Shaping, Prompting, Chaining, and Task Analysis. In August, 1981 she moved to HMD, Shahdara now called IBHAS. Here she had the support of her work colleagues Dr B K Jha, Superintendant of the Hospital, Mr Baqer Muztaba, Head of Clinical Psychology and Mr Tyagi. She was awestruck at the relationship Baqer Saheb had with his clients. She learnt that building a therapeutic relationship is the most important step in a psychological intervention. A cigar smoking Psychoanalyst had his similarities with Sigmund Freud in his clinical acumen. In 1982, she attended a summer Refresher course at NIMHANS, Bangalore on Behaviour Modification. This programme transformed her completely, as if she got her bearing and orientation in Clinical Psychology. Drs Haripad Mishra and KV Kalliappan became her lifelong friends. There was another truth she discovered. She always believed that it is very important to be a good clinical practitioner. If you are good in clinical practice, you can be a good teacher and a good researcher. She extensively used Observation and ABC charts for taking up Antecedent and Consequent analysis. 

In January, 1985, Reeta moved to National Institute for the Mentally Handicapped, Hyderabad where she had the most productive 16 years in a teaching and research position of Lecturer in Clinical Psychology. In 1987, on a British Council fellowship, she spent six and a half months at Maudsley Hospital learning Applied Behaviour Analysis in persons with Intellectual Disability. Her Clinical Supervisor was Ewa Zarkowska.  She attended short term training programmes by John Clements. On a visit to Hester Adrian Research Centre, Manchester, she became friends with Garry Hornby who later visited NIMH twice. On return, there was no looking back. She wrote books, chapters and articles on Behavioural approaches. Her first book was on managing behaviour problems in children. Next two books were written in collaboration with Dr S Venkatesan, her colleague at NIMH then. Their first book was a manual for special education teachers on behavioural approach in teaching children with Intellectual Disability, as she translated her experience from Chandigarh. The second was Behavioural assessment scales for Indian children with mental retardation (BASIC-MR). The adult version BASAL-MR was written jointly with D K Menon, Don Bailey, Debra Skinner, Rahul Ganguly and Rajsekhar, Ch. Both contain checklists for assessing challenging behaviours and another for adaptive behaviours crucial for measuring incremental progress in behaviours using criterion reference approach. Reeta was against Norm referenced tools as she felt they classified individuals into categories. Her psychology services were very popular with students as were her lectures. She had very clear concepts and involved everybody in the class. At NIMH, she provided counselling to many a staff, student and parent, because people trusted her. In 1993 she completed Ph.D. on self injurious behaviours. 

Her second major contribution at NIMH was using a Systems approach in practice and research on Families. In 1985-86 she along with Sheilaja Rao spent every Sunday half day with a group of parents convincing them about the need to get together. To encourage bonding they took the group to picnic, encouraged siblings to do activities jointly with children having Intellectual Disability. On the practice side, they were trying to encourage parent groups to support each other in the hour of crisis in the family, leisure activities and respite care. Reeta and Sheilaja deserve the credit to have started outreach programme of training parent groups in India as a regular academic programme of NIMH at several small towns and remote areas even Northeast. On research side, Reeta teamed up with Rahul Ganguli to work on assessing Needs of Families, what Impact it makes on its functioning, how families Cope with the situation, and Efficacy in resolving the situation. This project on Strengthening Families had international collaboration with Don Bailey and Debra Skinner of the FPG Centre on Child Development at Chapel Hill, North Carolina. 

In spite of achieving so much, Reeta was unhappy on one count. She did not like the prospect of continuing and retiring as Lecturer. In 1995, she was selected and offered the position of Reader in Clinical Psychology at SNDT University. She chose to decline the offer that provided relief to her family for fear of being broken into two households. On suggestion from Dr Sripati Upadhyaya, she explored the possibility of seeking employment in UK. In November, 2000 she alongwith her husband moved to Hertfordshire, UK. Her heart was on Autism and Aspergers Syndrome. During our earlier visit to Chapel Hill, she met Prof Gary Mesibov and had informal introduction to TEACCH. In 2002, she sought and got herself trained in Diagnostic Assessment for Social and Communication Disorders (DISCO Lorna Wing and Judith Gould) with the intention to start a Diagnostic Clinic jointly with Psychiatrist Dr Shyamla Thalaysingham. Reeta initiated ‘social skills group’ service delivery model for people with severe learning disability, ASD and challenging behaviour at Specialist Residential Services, Harperbury. Here she provided wide range of psychological interventions using Applied Behaviour Analysis, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, anger and anxiety management, social skills training, TEACCH programmes, Gerard Egan’s therapeutic model of Helping. She provided clinical supervision to psychology trainees from the University of Hertfordshire, SHOs in psychiatry training for MRC Psych and assistant psychologists. She ran training programmes on Challenging behaviours and Autism for Care Staff and Nurses. In 2005 she was elevated to the position of Consultant Clinical Psychologist Lead. Thanks to the support given by Mary McHatten, Head of Psychology and later by Chris Roberts, her Supervisor, she took up a project on Sensory sensitivities in people with Autism and compared them with those with Intellectual Disability without Autism. This work has been presented in two Scientific fora but has remained unpublished due to her sickness. She was diagnosed having breast cancer in 2009 for which she was successfully treated, but progressed to Leptomeningeal metastatic disease that was detected in June, 2012. She decided to return to India on 23 June, became unconscious on 4 July and passed away peacefully on 14 July, 2012. 

Reeta was born on 19 November, 1950. She lived 62 years life of fulfilment and contentment. In her later years, Reeta became very spiritual. She listened to Bhajans, Kabir, Nanak, Budha and Gurubani. She read works on energy Psychology, Vedanta, Tao, Stephen Covey, David Hawkins or any book on human values. Reeta, we salute you for living a beautiful life on your terms. We are happy that you got what you wanted from your life. Enjoy after life wherever you are as you have always done in real life.