Approaches to healing
The first step to recovery is recognising there is a problem, the second step is to work on how to deal with the problem and this usually comes in the form of seeking professional help. But with so many varieties of therapy available, how do we know what will work best for us and the particular type of healing we need?
Let’s look at a few of the different approaches.
Psychoanalysis is defined as ‘a set of psychological theories and therapeutic techniques that have their origin in the work and theories of Sigmund Freud’. Freud based his theory on the unconscious part of the self, which is where he believed, that the cores of all problems begin, due to the suppression of unacceptable thoughts, feelings, desires and memories. Psychotherapy then, focuses on making the unconscious, conscious. Along with his colleague, Josef Breuer, Freud began to develop ‘talk therapy’ after a case study of a woman whose symptoms were relieved by talking about her traumatic experience. As Psychoanalysts believe that early childhood massively shapes adulthood and the behaviours we adopt, conscious and unconscious, hidden by defence mechanisms, looking at early childhood experiences can be a part of the therapy. The therapist will also observe things in the client that help with the therapy, transference, slips of the tongue, dream analysis among other things.
Generally treatment can be very in depth and intense, but the insight that can be gained can be immense and bring light to the problem quicker and more directly. It can also help teach valuable techniques that can make a client more resilient in dealing with future issues and in becoming aware of their defence mechanisms and unconscious behaviours, due to greater self awareness – it aids the client in coping better in their lives.
In terms of a Muslim trying this form of therapy, it might be good to note that Freud’s idea of the ID is similar to the Nafs Al Amara in the Islamic Psychology model, as they are both concerned with the most primitive desires and if we succumb to the behaviours we would be living our lives ruled by our lowest desires and without any balance or restraint. It is living in this spectrum where we will find many mental health issues and the cure can come with balancing ourselves so that we are more in line with our heart.
Generally with the development of Islamic Psychology, Muslims can now benefit from a type of therapy that caters to their beliefs, with the understanding that everything is geared towards the pleasure of Allah SWT and we are not just here to serve ourselves. The Qalb (Heart) is the spiritual centre of a person and where the faculty of intellect is located as the ‘aql. The state of the heart has the capacity to turn a person in either or two directions, towards their lower nafs, or towards the ruh (soul) and the remembrance of Allah SWT and closer to the soul’s natural state of fitrah (state of being pure and good).
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), was devised by Wolpe (1958) and works around the concept that our thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and our actions are all connected. Consequently it can lead to a vicious cycle of negative feelings and thoughts keeping one stuck repeating behaviours and experiencing it physically. The therapy works by making one aware of all of these things, looking at the symptoms and then working out the triggers and teaching ways to break the negative patterns. The therapist will teach skills that help deal with how we react to certain thoughts and feelings and will help with the symptoms of a problem, the issues are usually in the present and it is usually a short-term based therapy. Whilst it can be very helpful with things like phobias and irrational fears, it may not be the best treatment for those with complex mental health issues.
In terms of an Islamic point of view, CBT can be very helpful in allowing people to become self aware and understanding how their thoughts and behaviours may be affecting their state of purity and emaan (faith) so again becoming conscious of these four elements and becoming committed to changing negative patterns, can help solve a lot of problems.
Art Therapy, as mentioned in a previous article, is a form of psychotherapy that uses art as a means of expression and communication. It can help to reveal certain aspects of the unconscious and also with young children who do not have the means or are unable to express their issues, especially in the case of trauma and abuse. Clients do not need to be skilled in art or have any prior experience in this medium and it can be a very therapeutic and calming process in itself. A wide range of issues can be dealt with under art therapy.
Art has been used traditionally throughout Islamic History as a means of healing and through calligraphy in writing verses of the Quran. While there are certain images that are forbidden such as drawing figures of people, which is seen akin to the creation of man by the Creator; landscapes, and nature can bring meaning to stories of the Qur’an helping inspire Deen (religion) in us and sometimes it is easier to put this into art form then explain.
Mindfulness based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) combines meditation, breathing, stretching and visualising along with elements from cognitive therapy to help to change negative thought patterns. It teaches you to focus on the present and taking focus and worry away from the past or the future. The client is taught how to calm their body down, and take control of any negative thoughts that usually tip them into depression or panic, and empowers them to an extent.
The type of therapy that we go for is usually determined by the first professional we encounter upon seeking help, depending on the symptoms we are presenting and how deep the issue is and also how significantly it is affecting living our life, and whether it is affecting others also, usually determines how quickly help can be obtained.
Until recently, as Muslims, we had not found complete satisfaction on therapies based upon dated western research and ideals. Islam is a way of life and that is not really fully considered by western psychology. Islam in itself considers our mental, physical and spiritual needs and guidance can be found in the Quran. It takes into consideration forces within and outside of us, it is not just a ‘belief’ as it may be viewed by a therapist of a different faith, but it is in fact our reality. At the core of Islam is the relationship between the client and Allah SWT, so without the therapist bringing this to the client’s attention and advising ways of building on that connection, the Muslim client may be missing out on a valuable part of their healing.
So with the introduction of Islamic Psychology, more faith and non faith based counsellors are now choosing to study the Islamic model of Psychology, with the aim of being able to help Muslim clients. Especially with the concern and stigma discussing mental health within the Muslim community keeping people suffering in silence, we can only see a more positive future for the health of Muslim clients bi’ithnillah (with the permission of Allah). Having legitimate therapists and professionals focused around the need of Islamic-oriented considerations when regarding mental health and bringing it into mainstream society means that it is becoming more acceptable and a means to be more understood by all.