My Journey to Muslim Mental Health

*The Muslim Observer

My Journey to Muslim Mental Health

Photo Credit: Lloyd Morgan (Flickr/Creative Commons)

By Dr. Halim Naeem

We are human beings. Sometimes we forget that. Our cultures and our peoples come into this religion of Islam, or the religion comes into them. We reconcile, make adjustments and some hard decisions to move forward to sustain our communities. Along the way, we forget something: our humanity. We are vulnerable to the same things that others are vulnerable to. Many of us have the same vices of addiction that the next person has. But sometimes, our brand of Islam makes us forget.

Since the age of 13, I knew I wanted to be a psychologist. Why? People were the most interesting creatures I ever saw. They were also the most unpredictable. Alhamdulillah today I am 33 and I can say that I am a psychologist. Most of my clients currently are Muslim. All along the journey to this I saw a lot of Muslims in pain. I saw many people thinking and actually being told that their psychological pain, struggle with mental health, addictions, vices and other obstacles were a result of their low faith. What was especially troubling was that some of the people of “knowledge” who told them these things had no background in mental health! Way back then I did not know a lot about psychology, but I did know people. These friends of mine who were struggling were not lacking faith; they were actually looking for more of it. When you think about it, aren’t we all looking for more faith?

So what made them different? What made them so bad? Oh yes. They were not doing what a “good Muslim” does. That is really interesting. As I got older and talked to these friends of mine and people I knew from many different places, most of the time I found out that one of the causes of their “sinful” psychological pain was something going on in the house. But it gets more interesting. I found out that some of my religious leaders and teachers would look the other way (not necessarily condone however). Nonetheless, they would certainly not speak out about it during the Friday sermon. There would not be any conferences about how to make things better in the homes. What I would see growing up is the constant chastisement of young people acting out. I always thought: did you ever think that perhaps our youth got their “sinful” behavior from somewhere or someone outside of Shaytan?

I never liked that double standard, but I did not know what to do about that particular situation. So I did the usual: listen to people. The more I started to hear about my friends’ problems, the more I saw that those issues were not occurring in a vacuum. One of my friends had a very bad relationship with his father. Things got to a point in the household that my friend would lose hope and go into the bathroom to do something very scary. I will never forget when I first saw a wrist full of slit marks. At that second I knew he had recently tried to kill himself. I saw pain in his eyes and felt an aching in his soul. Most people get to that point because they do not see any more hope for themselves. This is a common denominator of suicidality: no hope. So another question arose in my mind. Why is it so popular nowadays to hear such a hopeless brand of Islam? It almost drives people to Hellfire even before they get condemned to that destiny anyways. This is awful.

I get a little older and by now, people are disclosing a plethora of issues. I remember talking to some of them and hearing their desire to have a Muslim therapist they can relate to. I will never forget the time when one person who was going through so much with their family said, “I talk to the Imams, and they do not understand how to do therapy and recognize the psychological and clinical issues. I talk to the non-Muslim therapists and they have no clue about the psychological meaning of Islam in my life or how to use it to aid my healing. I just wish I had a Muslim therapist who understands!” I remember how powerless, helpless, and disable I felt because I did not have the skills or knowledge to adequately help my friend. I prayed to Allah, and then told myself, ‘Insha Allah, when I become a Psychologist, this will never happen to a hurting Muslim again. I will either find the help for them or provide it.”

Some years later, a mentor of mine approached me to lead a non-profit named Muslim Mental Health. They just started the Journal of Muslim Mental Health and were initiating the first Muslim Mental Health Conference. I agreed to be president and I began to meet many amazing Muslims in the mental health field. I then realized something: so many people had a similar path to Muslim Mental Health as mine. I realized Allah answered my prayer and gave me and the Muslim Community a national platform to voice our mental health concerns and issues unique to the Muslim Community!

Six years and six conferences have gone by. We now approach the 7th Annual Muslim Mental Health Conference entitled: Faith and Healing: Moving from trauma to empowerment. This professional conference has changed many lives and Insha Allah will continue to do so. This is the one opportunity in the year for the experts from the Muslim Mental Health professionals in the field to collaborate, present, discuss and resolve the many issues that are plaguing our communities, issues that have the Imams looking for professional help, and issues that are overwhelming and complicated to the average person.

I was asked a question and someone reading this may also ask “how do you reconcile being Muslim and being a psychologist?” I answered, “There is nothing to reconcile, because the Prophet (s) was a psychologist.” All the alcohol rehab, family therapy, couples therapy, group therapy, individual therapy, addiction counseling, trauma therapy and so much more he had to do with his companions just to get to the point of making Islam the gift to the world it is. I do not think we realize how much therapy went into that. So now when we get everything we want out of life (money, job, a bit of Islamic knowledge, etc.) we want to stigmatize the very process of therapy that made the greatest men and women of any generation? How dare we! Therapy is a Sunnah. Seeking therapy is a Sunnah. Mental Health is a Sunnah. May Allah bring us all together to help those suffering out loud and in silence receive the Mental Healthiness they deserve.

0c72fddEditor’s Note: Halim Naeem is a Psychologist and president of Muslim Mental Health. He is also president of Naeem & Associates, a private practice specializing ADD/ADHD, Brain Health and assessment.  His opinions are his own.

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