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Is Seeking Counselling A Sign of Weakness? by Ustadha Raidah Shah Idil

Ustadha Raidah Shah Idil, a core member of the SeekersHub Answers service, offers much-needed, effective online pastoral care – to those who seek help. What about those who suffer in silence?

Taha has reached rock bottom. Perhaps he is struggling with some form of addiction, or he is depressed. He has tried numbing his pain, but he knows that if he does not get help, then he may end up walking a path he will later regret.

He paces his room, thinking of his parents and his younger siblings. They all need him to be invincible. He doesn’t know how.

By the time he summons up the courage to speak to his parents, he is shaking from nervousness.

“Baba, Mama, I need to speak to you.”

Taha’s parents look at each other, worried. They have noticed that he has been distant lately. He barely speaks to them, eats poorly, and spends a lot of time in his room.

“I think I’m depressed,” he blurts. “I-I need to get help – I need to speak to someone.”

His parents gasp. Their firstborn son – depressed? This happens to other people, and to other families. Not their Taha.

Their fear for him takes on familiar, well-worn forms – anger and anxiety.

“When I was your age, I didn’t have time to be depressed. Who are you going to speak to? Dr Phil?“ his father snaps. “Stop being so weak.”

“You need to get married”

“You need to get married,” his mother says hurriedly. “That will help you feel better. What about Aunty Jasmin’s niece?”

Taha slumps in his seat, closes his eyes, and looks away.

Taha is a fictional character, but his struggle is very real. Many Muslims around the world today are tested by some form of emotional, mental, and/or spiritual imbalance.

Not enough families are equipped with the right tools to deal with this trial. Worried parents often blame themselves when their children come to them with their troubles. It is heartbreaking to realise that your beloved child is struggling with something that has no quick fix.

Parental worry can quickly transmute into impatience, because it hurts us to see our children hurting.  The harder, but more fulfilling path, is to stay present, see our children for who they truly are, and make space to seek help.

Prayer

Our Beloved Prophet (upon him be blessings and peace) gave us a dua to guard against depression. Surely this, if nothing else, is a sign that mental, emotional and spiritual struggles are real, and something that can be remedied.

حَدَّثَنَا خَالِدُ بْنُ مَخْلَدٍ، حَدَّثَنَا سُلَيْمَانُ، قَالَ حَدَّثَنِي عَمْرُو بْنُ أَبِي عَمْرٍو، قَالَ سَمِعْتُ أَنَسًا، قَالَ كَانَ النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَقُولُ ‏ “‏ اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنَ الْهَمِّ وَالْحَزَنِ، وَالْعَجْزِ وَالْكَسَلِ، وَالْجُبْنِ وَالْبُخْلِ، وَضَلَعِ الدَّيْنِ، وَغَلَبَةِ الرِّجَالِ ‏”‏‏.‏

The Prophet (upon him be blessings and peace) used to say, “O Allah! I seek refuge with You from worry and grief, from incapacity and laziness, from cowardice and miserliness, from being heavily in debt and from being overpowered by (other) men.” [Bukhari]

Counselling

Jabir reported Allah’s Messenger (upon him be blessings and peace) as saying: “There is a remedy for every malady, and when the remedy is applied to the disease it is cured with the permission of Allah, the Exalted and Glorious.” [Sahih Muslim]

The dunya is a place of struggle. There is no shame in seeking help, and seeking a culturally-sensitive counsellor is one of the means of seeking help.  A calm and objective professional can help untangle difficult knots.

Practical steps

  • Renew our intentions daily.
  • Nourish our own spiritual lives through our connection to Allah Most High.
  • Stay connected to our children and build rapport from birth, and beyond. E.g. Create regular opportunities for authentic connection and honest conversation – do acts of worship together, play together, no phones at the dinner table, bedtime dua rituals etc.
  • Recognise when the problem is too big to handle alone and reach out for help.
  • Be part of a community that learns and grows together.

I pray that with education and a return to the Prophetic example of mercy, more Muslim families will see the wisdom in speaking to culturally-sensitive counsellors, and encouraging their children to do the same.

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The Emotional Brilliance of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, by Ustadh Amjad Tarsin

e·mo·tion·al in·tel·li·gence. noun. skill in perceiving, understanding, and managing emotions and feelings.

The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ had a profound way of dealing with people with extremely varying personalities and emotional states, explains Ustadh Amjad Tarsin. His da’wah (way of inviting people to God) needs to be revived in a way that speaks to the realities faced by young people today. This khutba focuses on the importance of pondering his example ﷺ in the way we support and communicate with people spiritually and emotionally.

Support the programs and services of the Muslim Chaplaincy of Toronto by becoming a donor today.

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Resources for seekers

Seeking Out A Culturally-Sensitive Counsellor, by Ustadha Raidah Shah Idil

Working for the SeekersHub Question and Answer service constantly reminds Ustadha Raidah Shah Idil about the importance of looking after our emotional and mental health.

So many Muslims around the world are struggling with different forms of psychological imbalance. To name a few: anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and so on. These inward fractures mirror the outward fractures we see in our troubled world today.
We live in stressful times, and many of our trials begin in our family homes. Many families lack the knowledge and training necessary to deal with these issues, hence, difficulties often escalate.
I feel like in almost every question I respond to, I encourage the distressed questioner and his/her loved ones to see a culturally-sensitive counsellor.
What does that actually look like? Does he/she have to be Muslim? Not necessarily. That would be ideal, but it’s not always possible.
Some aspects of a culturally-sensitive counsellor are:

Understanding

A counsellor who understands Muslims and what is important to us would be much more in tune with your needs. It’s exhausting to need to justify and explain your stance to an ignorant counsellor. Most people who are at counselling are already tired and stretched thin.

Open-minded

An open-minded counsellor is able to support you even if his/her values are different to yours. This applies to both Muslim and non-Muslim counsellors.

Empowering

Many people enter therapy believing that his/her counsellor will magically solve their problems. This does not solve the long-term issue of whatever caused the issue to begin with e.g. victim mentality, difficulty handling strong emotions etc.
The best kind of counsellor doesn’t tell you what to do. Rather, he/she will help you tap into your own values, and help you come to your own decision.

Good rapport

Trust your gut. If speaking to your counsellor makes you feel worse, then reflect on that. Is it because he/she is encouraging you to step out of your comfort zone? Or is it because she is being condescending? Not liking what a counsellor has to say can be a signal for growth, or it could be a sign of a mismatch. Be honest with yourself.

Empathy

The right counsellor feels for your pain, but does not do so from a place of sympathy and condescension. The right counsellor helps to hold you accountable for what you do, and believes in your ability to overcome hardship.

Finding the right counsellor

So now that we’ve covered some important qualities in a culturally-sensitive counsellor, how do we go about finding one? I wish I had an easy answer for that. The reality is that it’s a hit and miss process. Some counsellors will click with you, and others will not. Some people are able to find the right counsellor straight away, while others need to look for months, or even longer.
As with anything, start with asking Allah. Perform the Prayer of Need. When you do come across a potential counsellor, then perform the Prayer of Guidance. InshaAllah, Allah will make it clear to you.
To help you find the right counsellor for you, speak to Muslims who are working or volunteering in the mental health field. Ask your doctor. Do your research. Above all, place your trust in Allah, and in His promise that after every hardship, comes ease.
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Resources for seekers