Sunday, October 26, 2014


Psychological Wellbeing - Taking The First Step

I believe psychological wellbeing is just as important as physical wellbeing.

Yes it has been a while since I blogged and thanks to twitter and Facebook, the Muslim blogosphere seems to be churning fewer contributions these days. In the hot climate of social media I have spent more time thinking about blogging than actually logging in and getting started. Alas here I am and I hope to share some of what I have been processing for so long.

I have blogged previously on mental health and it's a topic which is very dear to me, having worked with clients recovering from mental illness in my teaching career over ten years ago. I was very fortunate to have spent 5 years working as a chaplain at a red brick university volunteering my skill and time to assist the needs of (primarily) Muslim staff and students in dealing with the hurdles that life throws at us all. It has been three years since I left this field but I continue to feel blessed whenever I am contacted by individuals who feel that life is just so overwhelming. I don't see it as a big deal as I know that I myself have benefitted from the help and support of so many during my own times of distress. Thus I am grateful for the opportunity fate has given me to pay back in order to benefit someone else. However, I am also concerned that there are many in the community who still do not believe in accessing mainstream services for their psychological wellbeing.

Here I share just a few passing thoughts I have collated - it may take a period of time before I can truly present all my concerns.. or it may never happen. If these are disjointed then it is due to the volume of the topic. I am trying to illustrate my observations here not condemn people.

One of my big concerns currently is the imbalance I have seen. Whilst many in the (practising Muslim) community are becoming quite interested in eating organic, visiting alternative therapists and choosing which oil to fry their kebabs in, there is still resistance to counselling. It seems that individuals feel they are bettering their health only by spending money on purchasing particular foods and paying large sums on alternative therapists. A part of me believes that people are actually oblivious to this imbalance.

I have spent around 10 years trying to convince individuals to seek counselling. I find that the initial resistance is still due to these reasons:
1- "if God has given me this trial then I should be able to deal with it without a counsellor"
2- "it's embarrassing"
3- "there are not enough Muslim counsellors and I don't want to talk to a non Muslim"
4- "my problems are not that bad, I will be able to deal with it"

Two of these reasons are based on myths and misunderstandings.

The first one fails to see the psychological aspect of health. It also implies that if one is to be a strong believer then they should stay quiet about their problem. Sharing is important and throughout Tradition we find examples of this. But from my experience people can confuse a natural hurdle in life with deeper psychological problems. Some problems have their roots in earlier years of life and no matter how much one tries to cover them up - they will still show up.

The third fails to recognise that we see practitioners from diverse backgrounds for a wealth of physical ailments and so to see a counsellor whose not a Muslim should not make any difference. I understand that counselling means talking to people about our sensitive being, but faith plays little part as professional guidelines are followed by counsellors.

Number two and four are personal challenges that we all have to deal with and without strong will and encouragement cannot be overcome. Sometimes in life we have to do the most awkward things for a greater goodness.

Once these barriers are overcome, I have seen people progress significantly and although they have the odd relapsing state, they are able to better themselves. Ultimate healing takes time but the first step is often the most difficult and important one. If any reader knows someone who genuinely requires counselling, please encourage them to see their GP or if they have the finances, then go private. There are fantastic resources online: Mind and Muslims 4 Mental Health are two starting points for anyone looking to learn more about this topic.

One of the greatest lessons for me has been to seperate myself from anyone who needs professional psychological help. One needs to know their own limitations. As I am not a surgeon I will not be carrying out amputations.

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