Archive for category Benefits from Psychology

We get plenty of messages telling us not to conform. To be true to ourselves, otherwise we lose ourselves. No one is telling us that the opposite is true, too. In our desperate attempts to stand out, be different and unique, we also end up losing the essence of who we are.

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Post-Graduation Depression

Bismillah walhamdulillah

In 2012, my friend Habibah graduated and received her Bachelors. She had applied to a program at Med-school but had not been accepted.

I began to see her throughout the summer and into the next semester, when I was still attending school, and she would tell me about an intense depression that she was feeling. She felt hopeless and could not imagine things getting better. Her sadness was visible, her presence carried heaviness, and it became rare to see her smiling.

Another brother graduated from six years of Med-School. While he was attending and studying for difficult exams, he was fine. As soon as he graduated, he and his friends sat around in a depression, wondering where to go next and questioning whether or not this was all worth it.

This phenomenon is not uncommon. These are two examples, but there are many (Google it – subhanAllah it’s an actual term) and I’m sure this will resonate with others.

I thought about it and realized that there is only one thing that is lost when someone graduates or meets a milestone that they had been working towards.

Contrary to what some may think, it’s not the loss of a schedule, the routine, or even the friends, that contributes most to this depression.

It’s nothing more than a loss of purpose.

For years, they have been working towards this goal, and this was their purpose. Then one day, the goal is met and their purpose is fulfilled. It seems to be counter intuitive to say that this is when things start to go downhill for them, but upon further thought, it makes all the sense in the world.

The human being needs a purpose. Our Creator ordained it to be this way. And He was so merciful when He told us exactly for what purpose He created us. “And I did not create jinn or man except to worship Me [alone].” Surah Adh-Dhaariyaat, ayah 56.

And He swt was so merciful when He gave us a purpose that requires constant striving, for our entire lives. Even at our deaths, we hope to die with dhikr on our tongues (La ilaha illAllah) – worship.

So the Muslim who realizes his or her true purpose is secured from this type of depression that I have mentioned here. That is because, we may graduate from universities and programs and the like, but our true purpose is not yet fulfilled.

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Depression & Suicidal Thoughts

“A bend in the road is not necessarily the end of the road. You may just need to make that turn in order to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Yasir Fazzaga

My Notes:

The Quran makes it clear that by virtue of our humanness, we will face challenges in our lives and we don’t get to choose when or what. With the challenges, it’s not just the loss but the impact it has on us. Depression is one of these challenges.

Depression is not necessarily a character weakness, and not something you can tell someone to “snap out of it.” So if you know someone who is depressed, don’t assume they are weak. Depression can happen to anyone of any ethnicity or religiosity.

Islam says that because you are a Muslim, you have access to tools, so if you are depressed, you will be prevented from going into despair.

Religion prevents the despair, not the depression.

Suicide is the 3rd leading cause for people between 18 and 35 and the 2nd leading cause of death for college students.

Usually the depression is not as much of a problem as the way that people choose to cope with it (e.g. drinking, drugs, etc.).

Tools

1. Early prevention – if you detect it, do something about it. Depression is about doing nothing and idling, so we need to do something. Being functional despite being depressed will help you get out of it and/or have lesser form of depression.

2. Surround yourself with a good support system – about 80% of people, before completing suicide, called a loved one. If someone reaches out to you, take that seriously.

Signs of Suicidal Thoughts: People giving away valuables.

Don’t be afraid of asking people “I’m noticing you’re very depressed.”

3. Seeing a therapist does not mean that you are weak because you cannot do it on your own.

4. Re-labling – you’re not necessarily changing the facts, but you re-label it and it can change your outlook.

5. Knowing Allah through His Names and Attributes

6. Close the gap between what you believe and your actions – your actions should be a testimony to Islam and Imaan.

7. Prayer and getting close to Allah. A lot of times a therapist will send a person to receive “spiritual healing.”

A good therapist helps you to tap into the well of tools that you already have.

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Counseling Tips: Don’t make rookie mistakes

Bismillah walhamdulillah

A few things to keep in mind so that you don’t make rookie mistakes (like I did):

  • Seeing it through their lens and Defining terms. Don’t worry about trying to understand everything about the client through your own lens. Try to see it from their lens, and one way to do this is to ask them to define their terms. Don’t let them say “I feel lonely,” without getting them to define what “lonely” means to them. Yes, I know you know what lonely means. That’s what lonely means to you. Find out what it means to them. And what are the implications of being lonely?
  • Try not to show approval or disapproval towards things that the client is saying. They probably already know what is right and wrong. If that’s what their problem was, they would ask you “Is this right/wrong?” If this is not what they wanted, by expressing your approval or disapproval, you’re essentially letting them know what you’d like to hear from them and what you’d dislike. They will then alter themselves accordingly. That doesn’t mean their problems are solved, it just means they’re going to only tell you what they think you want to hear. The goal is not to encourage them to share everything with complete disregard, but to allow them to mention what they feel is necessary in terms of finding a solution.
  • Realize that you are only hearing a piece of it. Your client is one person. Their issues will usually involve other people. Realize that you will always hear one side of the story.
  • Giving advice. Don’t be too focused on giving the client advice, especially not right away. Just hear them out first. Sometimes giving someone that space to talk is therapeutic in and of itself without you interjecting with what you think they should do. If it looks like they want advice, don’t just give it straight away.  Ask them what they want you to say. What kind of advice would they like to hear. The answer should be an interesting point to launch from.
  • “I was in that same position!” – The problem of trying to “identify.” Don’t identify with the villains in the client’s stories. Sometimes the client will tell you about a huge issue between them and their best friend and after explaining the entire situation to you, the worst thing you can say is “I know exactly what that feels like, the same exact thing happened to me. Except I was in the position of your friend.” You know what she’s probably thinking now? …. ” Great, now I don’t wanna hear anything you have to say.” In my opinion, what’s best is to remain neutral and not identify with anyone. People are very inclined to identify with the client too, and this isn’t necessary. You can advise them without admitting that you were in the same mess a few years ago.
  • Don’t react to them and don’t reciprocate. Some people have a way of being and acting that makes other people act differently too. It’s good to make a note of this to yourself, but be aware of it, and remain who you are. Example: Your client may be someone with an attitude. Now you feel like putting her in her place. But don’t. Stay calm and neutral, alter yourself if you have to. And when the time is right, you will have a chance to point this out to her, gently (I’ll mention ways to do that later, inshaa’Allah). She’s probably used to people reacting to her in a certain way, and it’ll catch her off guard to see you behaving differently from what she is used to, and it may open up her heart to listening to what you have to say.

More to come inshaa’Allah

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Counseling Tip: Someone is complaining of family problems

Bismillah walhamdulillah

Someone comes to you and begins to complain of a terrible relationship that they have with someone in their family, or better yet, with their entire family!

“My mom and I just don’t get along, it’s been like this for years. She’ll never change.”

“Me and my sister are always going at it, and I can’t take it anymore! What should I do?”

And so on.

After providing them with a space to talk and feel understood, try these tips:

  • Try to get them to role-play an actual argument that occurs, so they can feel what it’s like to be on the other side, and so that they can hear themselves.
  • Gently get them to assume responsibility for any of the friction in the relationship. Don’t fall for the “it’s not my fault” bit. Remember that the counselor always receives a biased and one-sided account. Encourage them to be un-biased and to assume some responsbility, even if it is just a little.
  • Ask them if it is important for them to improve the relationship, and if it is, ask them if there is anything about themselves that they can change in order to improve it. They will probably respond with a reasonable course of action they can take like “Maybe I can do the dishes more often.” Work with them to make the plan more specific and very do-able. This includes any possible hurdles that may come in the way and solutions for those possible hurdles.

An example:

“Is there a possible outcome that you’re afraid of, something that would happen as a result of you starting to do the dishes more often?”

“Yeah, she’s going to think she won.”

Now you have something to work with.

A possible way to respond: “What does it mean to you to “win?”

Sometimes it helps for them to just hear themselves answer these questions.

  • Final tip: Point out to yourself, and then to them, any patterns that you notice in the troubled relationships. Then inform them that if they can alter certain things about themselves and their own interactions, that relationship can change and in fact, the entire dynamics of the family can change. Every family has a set of unspoken rules. There are so many of them that sometimes we don’t even realize they’re there. Some of these rules need to be broken, so that those harmful patterns can be broken. [An interesting side point: Many times we see an entire nuclear family take a 180 degree turn in a matter of years, and all it took was for one person in that family to be guided and to turn towards the deen. This person then begins to break many different unspoken (and harmful) rules, has excellent manners in a house that is not used to such manners, is sincere, consistent and steadfast, and eventually everyone’s heart is turned, walhamdulillah.]

waAllahu Alam

[Some ideas taken from] Reference: The Gift of Therapy by Irvin D. Yalom; published 2002

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Counseling Lessons: Joseph and Dion

Bismillah walhamdulillah

Source: The Gift of Therapy by Irvin D. Yalom M.D. p.8-9

“One of my favorite tales of healing, found in Hermann Hesse’s Magister Ludi, involves Joseph and Dion, two renounced healers, who lived in biblical times. Though both were highly effective, they worked in different ways. The young healer, Joseph, healed through quiet, inspired listening. Pilgrims trusted Joseph. Suffering and anxiety poured into his ears vanished like water on the desert sand and penitent left his presence empty and calmed. On the other hand, Dion, the older healer, actively confronted those who sought his help. He divined their unconfessed sins. He was a great judge, chastiser, scolder, and rectifier, and he healed through active intervention. Treating the penitents as children, he gave advice, punished by assigning penance, ordered pilgrimages and marriage, and compelled enemies to make up.

The two healers never met, and they worked as rivals for many years until Joseph grew spiritually ill, fell into dark despair, and was assailed with ideas of self-destruction. Unable to heal himself with his own therapeutic methods, he set out on a journey to the south to seek help from Dion.

On his pilgrimage, Joseph rested one evening at an oasis, where he fell into a conversation with an older traveler. When Joseph described the purpose and destination of his pilgrimage, the traveler offered himself as a guide to assist in the search for Dion. Later, in the midst of their long journey together the old traveler revealed his identity to Joseph. Mirabile dictu: he himself was Dion — the very man Joseph sought.

Without hesitation Dion invited his younger, despairing rival into his home, where they lived and worked together for many years. Dion first asked Joseph to be a servant. Later he elevated him to a student and, finally, to full colleagueship. Years later, Dion fell ill and on his deathbed called his young colleague to him in order to hear a confession. He spoke of Joseph’s earlier terrible illness and his journey to old Dion to plead for help. He spoke of how Joseph had felt it was a miracle that his fellow traveler and guide turned out to be Dion himself.

Now that he was dying, the hour had come, Dion told Joseph, to break his silence about that miracle. Dion confessed that at that time it had seemed a miracle to him as well, for he, too, had fallen into despair. He, too, felt empty and spiritually dead and, unable to help himself, had set off on a journey to seek help. On the very night that they had met at the oasis he was on a pilgrimage to a famous healer named Joseph.

From: The Gift of Therapy by Irvin D. Yalom M.D. p.8-9

A powerful story indeed. It seemed to me that the main point that the author took away from this story is: these two healers were both able to benefit each other in different ways, and it makes one reevaluate the role of the ‘healer’ and the patient. Who is who?

I took a few different points away:

  1. The main thing that was on my mind by the end of the story was not that these two were both able to benefit each other. It was that these two were both proof that complete healing and tranquility is not something that one can achieve on their own or something that another human can offer you. Humans are flawed, period. All therapists are dealing with a hundred different issues and if they were to mention any of them to you, you would stop seeing them as this powerful force and that’s dangerous to the relationship of therapist and patient. But being that I plan to offer therapy exclusively for the muslimeen, I do plan to apply this point: There is no healing that is possible, without someone turning to the source of strength, the source of peace, the source of all that is good, Allah subhanahu wa ta’aala. Although this point has to be driven home with wisdom, it must be driven home nonetheless, otherwise you are doing an injustice to the patient (i.e. whoever came to you for help). As a Muslim that others trust and confide in, it is your duty to be for them as much as you can, but to admit to them that you do not have all of the answers or all of the capabilities. The cure to all of the evil and wrong that we see in this world is simply to turn to Allah swt and His divinely revealed religion, if these people only knew. (But I guess people don’t like simple answers.) To continue, they say if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day, but if you teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime. If people come to you for help, your job is to not solve their problems for them, but to provide them with the tools to solve their problems on their own. Do not allow anyone to become dependent on you, because who are you to be depended upon? You yourself are dependent. Only Allah swt is independent of all needs, while we are all dependent on Him s.w.t. Furthermore, you yourself must understand the power of the salah, the Qur’an, sincere du’aa, crying to Allah swt, before you mention these powerful “tools” to someone else. This is why I’ve always found that the best counselors are the devoted Muslimeen, because you see so much tranquility in them and a clear vision regarding the world around us. When they advise you with something, they do it with such sincerity towards you. They did not receive that except through being true with Allah swt, and true imaan in all that He has mentioned in His Book. Their yaqeen (certainty) is contagious and feeling it for even a few moments will clear away the fog and allow you to see clearly.
  2. Don’t be embarrassed to admit that you don’t have all of the answers. It is worse for you to pretend like you do, and for this individual to learn to depend on you for that. Worst-case scenario – they may begin to idolize you, and yes, I mean in the shirk-y sense. There is a type of love and reverence that is only for our Rabb, Most High. (See Suratul Baqarah ayah 165) No human deserves it, so be careful if you try to claim this for yourself, or if you are the one who feels this for any human. Be humble and admit that you are devoid of absolute knowledge. The “healers” in the story were so reluctant to admit that they needed help. Then when they did seek help, they went to another flawed human, and for spiritual advice to top it off. Were the story to continue, I would imagine Joseph would have returned to his depression and acted upon his self-destructive thoughts after the death of his “healer,” Dion.
  3. Do therapists need therapy? This is a big topic in the field of counseling, and the overwhelmingly common response is “yes.” In fact, that is supposed to be the “right” answer. How do I feel about this? I’m assuming I’m talking to the “therapists” of the Muslim communities now: If you are trying to help the Muslims with their problems, but you do not have a relationship with Allah swt, this is a situation devoid of barakah. Develop a relationship with Allah swt, a sincere and true one. This will be your best “therapy” as a therapist. (I don’t like to use these terms, but I am trying to make it all hit home). That is first and foremost, and after this if you are able to find a Muslim, with knowledge and the other qualities that Allah swt has praised (patience, steadfastness, mercy etc.) then confide in this person, while knowing full well that any benefit that comes from them, is ultimately by the permission of Allah swt. Knowing that all of the benefit will be by Allah’s permission will protect you from turning the “session” into a pity-party or a chance to complain (1). To conclude on this point, the idea that a Muslim can/should go to a non-Muslim for therapeutic help is extremely debatable, to say the least. I am obviously not shying away from my stance, and were I to think that there were no issues with it at all, I would surely not be in the field. This is why I think it is important for Muslims, especially the leaders of the communities, college MSAs, etc. to have some basic counseling knowledge and tips up their sleeves, for those inevitable instances in which your brother or sister in Islam comes to you for help.

Footnotes:

1. Complaining has conditions through which it can be permissible. Important things to keep in mind: Don’t complain about the Qadr of Allah; Complain to someone who can help; Recognize that the help and benefit was ultimately from Allah swt.

To be continued inshaa’Allah…

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HD 7: Tip of the Tongue Phenomenon

In the Psychology of Language, we learned that there is a Phenomenon called the Tip of the Tongue phenomenon. (Similary, deaf people who use sign language have a Tip of the Hand Phenomenon).

This is basically: the failure to retrieve a word from memory, combined with partial recall and the feeling that retrieval is imminent.The phenomenon’s name comes from the saying, “It’s on the tip of my tongue.” [from wikipedia]

Another way of describing it is that you recall the lemma but not the lexeme. That basically means that you can picture some of the letters in your head and you have a vague idea of the pronunciation, but you don’t exactly know what word you want to say.

Another major thing that has to do with TOT is that when you are in this phase, and you are trying to remember that Name or word, you should immediately stop and look it up. Why? Because the longer you stay in that state (of thinking and trying to come up with the word on your own) the more likely you are to go into that state the next time you want to remember that name or word. Amazing, isn’t it?

How is this relevant to us and to memorizing Qur’an?

Simple.

Have you ever been reciting an ayah, and then in the middle of it, you come to a halt? You have some sort of recollection of the meaning of the next phrase or word, but you can’t remember the exact words. Has this ever happened to you, or to someone who is reciting to you? It very likely has.

According to the findings of the TOT Phenomenon, when this happens, you should not rack your brain trying to figure out what comes next. You should immediately stop and pull out the mushaf to check. If the person who is reciting to you seems to be experiencing a TOT, cut off their “thinking” and tell them what comes next. They are more likely to remember it next time inshaAllah.

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HD 5: De Nile is Not Just a River in Egypt

 

Bismillah walhamdulillah

In Psychology, they teach you about defense mechanisms. I believe Freud is the one that came up with them, and for those who don’t know, Freud does not have a wonderful reputation in the field of psychology. His theories mostly reflect his own abnormalities, in short.

But these defense mechanisms have become commonplace and we hear about them a lot, we just don’t hear about them by name. The one I am going to mention, I believe it is termed as Denial, but I don’t like the definition given online, so I’ll try to let my example suffice as an explanation.

We know that the key to memorizing the Qur’an is not memorizing, it’s reviewing. Anyone can sit down and memorize a page, and then the next day memorize another page, and so on. The more challenging part is reviewing and retaining what you previously memorized. It is a really wonderful feeling to be able to know a Surah so well that you can recite it in your Salah with confidence.

However, there are certain parts (ayaat, pages, surahs) that we find to be difficult for us. That doesn’t mean they’re difficult (because remember, the Qur’an is easy), they just happened to be a little more challenging for us than other parts. The way a rational person would react to this is to just review that part more times, until it is solidified.

But what is more likely to happen is that the person begins to subconsciously avoid the issue. The issue is that they haven’t solidified that portion that they memorized. The way they avoid it is simply that they fail to review it. And they do this over and over again, day after day, until it becomes like they never even memorized it.

Recognize this trap and don’t fall for it. If there is a page that is difficult for you, keep reviewing it. Recite it 20 more times, then 20 more times.

If you find yourself avoiding it, rush to the mushaf right away and start reviewing the page. The longer you wait, the more difficult it will become.

Helpful Tip: If it takes you a really long time to review what you’ve memorized, that simply means that you have not memorized it well.

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