Muslims Seeking Help and Personal Growth
Dr. Sakinah Rasheed
Change is inevitable. It is in the nature of the human being that we are always seeking to improve our lives, to move forward from where we are. No matter what we’ve achieved, we always find more that we want to achieve. If we are unhappy, we are forever engaged in seeking happiness. If we are sick, we seek wellness. If we are successful in certain areas and not others, we seek to find success in areas where it has not been achieved. We speak of finding fulfillment, actualization, and self-realization. All of these are forms of change. To choose not to change is to become stagnant, and stagnation breeds another form of change: deterioration.
The purpose of religion is to have a way, a vehicle if you will, for living life in this world and attaining Allah’s favor. Yet all around us we see people who are “religious” (i.e., believing in God, practicing acts of worship), but they are unhappy for one reason or another. Beyond being unhappy, some of them are miserable. They may be in problematic relationships, whether at home, in school, or in places of employment. They may be suffering pangs of financial distress, want, or poverty. They may be lonely and not finding the desired companionship, or they may find themselves in a repeat cycle of negative and unhealthy relationships. There are many sources of misery, and the details or sources cannot be enumerated here.
Sometimes Muslims seek help for family problems and personal issues from other than Islamic sources by necessity. There may be a paucity of helping professionals who are Muslim in many areas, and when help is needed it is recommended that believers avail themselves of the services they can attain. However, it sometimes occurs that in areas where Muslim helping professionals exist, there is a concern some feel for “confidentiality,” and so Muslims seek the help from non-Muslims, in order to avoid running into the Muslim therapist at the Masajid. They seem unaware that licensed mental health professionals have been trained in and are legally bound to keep within ethical guidelines that protect confidentiality. I have encountered Muslims who, when seeking help from me (a Muslim psychologist) expressly request that I treat their problems with “traditional” Western therapies. While I have no problem doing that, since the therapies I utilize do not conflict with or contradict my understanding or practice of Islam, what is curious is that these Muslims have placed their trust in me based on the knowledge that I have been educated in American universities, and express a sense of distrust toward Islamic solutions, trusting in solutions fashioned by Western “scholars”. Beloved reader, be aware that the source of all knowledge is Allah (SWT).
Utilization of mental health professionals such as psychologists, clinical social workers, and licensed professional counselors may be limited due to stigmatization: “I’m not crazy.” Stigmatization, i.e., the notion that people who seek psychotherapy are “crazy” or otherwise deficient, is a cultural bias not based on fact. In actual fact about 93% of the human population could benefit from psychotherapy at some point in their lives. Those who seek out a psychotherapist for help may be somewhat “more sane” than those who need help but don’t seek it because they worry about stigmatization; this because they (the former) have recognized that they need help and then sought it out. Life coaches who are Muslim are even fewer in number, and in general Muslims rarely utilize these professionals who are skilled at coaching healthy individuals to remove “blocks” to their growth and achieve personal and business success. Apart from the fact that it is a fairly new field and there is avoidance of the unknown, the thought behind not seeking out a life coach is “I’m doing fine. I wouldn’t pay someone for that.” Yet, nonetheless, we see emotionally healthy people who have unfulfilled aspirations, or who are successful in some domains and not in others, and who yearn for a higher degree of success. If one would pay without hesitation for a new pair of shoes, why would one not pay a skilled life coach who can assist him or her in unblocking the blocks to his success and finding the alternate strategies needed to achieve them? Allah (SWT) has admonished us to “Take not the unbelievers as (your) protecting friends.” I would like to urge the Muslims that, whenever possible, they should bring their personal issues to a professional Muslim skilled to help them to heal, to move forward, and to progress, remembering that it is Allah (SWT) who placed that person in a helping position, for His (Allah’s) service and pleasure.
There is a body of success literature that is written from a variety of perspectives, many of them purely secular, and often they are primarily focused on material acquisition. When a Muslim speaks of “success,” he is not solely focused on achieving goals in the temporal world. Success in Islam includes success in this world and the next, achieving Allah’s pleasure in both. Some of the non-Muslim success writers are polytheistic, and their beliefs subtly underlie all that they write about. Many of the non-Muslim writings and works focus on the “Law of Attraction” as a way of bringing into one’s life whatever he or she desires. Islam would put the spiritual principle of “attraction” in its proper perspective by subordinating it to four preliminary success principles: Tawheed, Iman, Taqwa, and Purification. Some of the non-Muslim success writers will mention the importance of “spirituality,” but it is de-emphasized or vague, perhaps in an attempt to present their information in general terms, for people of any religious or non-religious persuasion. Some of them are polytheistic, and their beliefs subtly underlie all that they write about. I am not writing this to criticize Muslims for either going to a non-Muslim helping professional when necessary, nor for learning from works by non-Muslims. Nor is my intent to dissuade them from doing so. It is rather to caution Muslims that when we consider help or information from any source we must go forward with prayer, strive to look through the lenses of Qur’an and Sunnah, and to always consider the source.
We are living in a society that propagates negative images and false information about Islam. There is nothing new about this phenomenon in human history. In Qur’an there is reference that there were those who had slain the Prophets of old, and that even after they were freed from the oppression of Firaun (Pharaoh) many of the people of Moses disobeyed him. Although Muslims do not accept that Prophet Jesus (A.S.W.) was crucified, none doubt that there were disbelievers who ardently sought to crucify him. The Seal of the Prophets, Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) and his followers were attacked violently by the disbelievers, who sought to prevent the establishment of true one God worship. This society legalizes the haram practices of drinking alcohol, gambling, and prostitution; it profits from the illegal trafficking of other addictive drugs, and makes “normal” the lifestyle practices that lead to adultery and fornication. Currently, the same society that seeks to legalize “gay marriage” seeks to make polygamy a crime. Consistent with trends of the past, it is no wonder that this society falsifies the images of Islam and Muslims to the general population. Be aware, the Muslim who seeks help from a non-Muslim helping professional may be seeking help from an individual who has consciously or unconsciously accepted the falsified images that have been projected by the society, and may discourage their clients from practicing his deen.
Several years ago I wrote an article for Azizah Magazine about Islamic solutions to depression and anxiety. I gave my contact information, and was contacted by sisters throughout the country, for whom I gave brief consultations. I would like to provide my contact information again, but this time I would like to make a request:
If you are or if you know a Muslim psychiatrist, psychotherapist, or life coach, please forward the professional’s contact information to me at:firstname.lastname@example.org
Please include the name, phone number, physical address for place of service, and email address. This will assist me in developing a resource list to benefit Muslims throughout the continental U.S. which will be made widely available. It will also assist an effort to develop a network for conferencing, developing ideas, and improving services for Muslims.
Sakinah Y. Rasheed, Ph.D., Psy.D.
Licensed Psychologist and Relationship Coach
Or think ye that ye shall be abandoned, as though Allah did not know those among you who strive with might and main, and take none for friends and protectors except Allah, His Messenger, and the (community of) Believers? But Allah is well- acquainted with (all) that ye do.