An Odyssey of Self-Discovery

‘Do you know of a shrink?’ I typed in the chat box, hands shaking and chest heaving. ‘I really need to speak to one.’ I wasn’t quite sure what had come over me, but my chest felt constricted and my mind was racing with all manners of ideas. I’d never experienced anything like it.

My friend put me in contact with a psychiatrist that same evening. I would have preferred a face-to-face meeting, but he was based in the coastal town of Alexandria, while I fanned my anxiety in dusty Cairo. I took what I got and had my session via Skype.

‘I need to leave the flat!’ I blurted on the screen. He was silent. And I went on narrating my anxieties. A phrase he said in the course of our conversation remains with me to this day is: ‘Less salt, more sugar’. I didn't quite grasp it at first, so he went on to say it's his way of telling me to go easy on myself; give myself more love than rebuke; show myself more love than hate.

I left the call feeling calmer, equipped with the strength and resolve to stay put and work things out with my flatmate. Little did I know that it was my first dip of many in the world of therapy.

Coming Clean
People are either fascinated or uncomfortable when I tell them I've had therapy. I imagine the cogs of their mind trying to recall the one thing that would ping as an indication that I'm not quite right. The thing is, I'm perfectly fine, and I owe it to therapists I've seen over the last 6 years.

Through therapy, I've gained greater insight into my thought processes and behaviour patterns; I've learned how moments of pain, hurt, sadness, grief, and regret have etched themselves into my core to the point that I was unaware of them; I’ve recognised how much my past shaped my actions, and how I could break the cycle of negativity. My heightened cognisance has improved my relationship with myself and with others. Self-blame got the boot; self-confidence was embraced; and a whole lot of self-loving emerged like a long-serving prisoner.

I felt free, and I was.

The Real Deal
I'm a huge advocate of self-care, especially within the mental health realm. I often recommend that everyone sees a therapist -- be it a counsellor, psychiatrist, psychotherapist, or NLP practitioner -- at least once in a lifetime. I see it as almost like a rite of passage because we've all experienced a degree of trauma at some point in our lives, yet we underestimate how far reaching its impact has on us.

Seeking or receiving therapy doesn’t mean you’re insane, nor does it mean you have a few screws loose. Being in receipt of therapy means you’re brave, and honest, and awesome, in my view. It means you know you want to be in a better place and you’re willing to do something about it. It means you’re being truthful by taking a good look at yourself and deciding to switch up the status quo.

Speaking openly and frankly about my experience with various therapists is my way of not just breaking down the barriers of taboo that hold mental health issues hostage, but also a way of inviting people to open up to themselves by taking the first step required to better mental health: acknowledgement. Until and unless someone acknowledges they are in a place where they need help, there’ll never be open to receiving it. And I invite you to examine where you are, what’s truly holding you back, and what you need to feel at peace with yourself and those around you.

That night in Cairo, when I fought the urge to abandon my Nile-view flat in Cairo, I knew my anxiety was deeper than simply hating my flatmate’s invasion of my space. If I hadn’t reached out for help as the currents of rage battered my chest, I would not know the sweetness of dosing myself with love and holding keeping self-loathing at bay. Working with a therapist is an act of self-love, and I invite everyone to practise having a little less salt, and a lot more sugar.


LaYinka Sanni is a London-based editor and writing coach dedicated to working with women to help them recognise the importance of their voice, so they can emerge into the world with their writing. She can be found at:

For Those Who Reflect

Sumayyah* was a woman whose voice had been muted by years of abuse. The abuse had been both physical and verbal. Her words were never given any value. Whenever she attempted to share a thought or opinion, she was given the most withering of looks that stopped her in her tracks. She began to believe that what she had to say was of no importance. No-one, she assumed, wanted to hear what she had to say. She saw herself as stupid and insignificant.

She now finds herself in a room, a calm environment where the person opposite her looks at her attentively. They are interested in what she has to say. They make no judgements, just ask gently probing questions. This causes her to think, to face the words that she is using and the truth that lies behind them.  Before long, she is able to recognise that the power she thought she was without has been lying dormant within her. She now has the strength to look deeper within, to dig into those wounds that hurt so much.

Siobhain Crosbie (Adv. DIP, CCC, MED, MBACP.) of APS Psychotherapy and Counselling explains how this way of counselling works:

“…Acceptance alongside a lack of judgement is powerful within its attributes. The space to “be”, the space to “feel” and the space to “breathe” can be empowering and conducive to the growth of emotional freedom!”

Counselling is not a thing reserved for the mad, the crazy or the downright weird; although it can be of benefit to them. It can be of value to anyone who needs a space to think and reflect. Time and again we are told, in the Qur’an about ‘those who reflect’. Do we not want to be amongst those people, those who ponder the meaning of it all, making use of their intellect? Counselling is a journey during which we may dive to the depths of our souls, with a hand ready to pull us back so that we do not get completely submerged and become unable to resurface. Other than Allah (SWT), who sees our innermost thoughts, no other person has privy to our strangest and darkest musings. No relationship, not even the one with your spouse, can be as emotionally intimate. However, as a consequence of this, we are then able to ‘expose’ ourselves to the people we love, improving those connections, insha Allah.

Allah (SWT) has placed within us all limitless potential. Counselling can help us see, understand and forge that potential. However it takes courage ...

Change requires truth; it needs honesty. A pinch or two of nerve doesn’t go amiss either! We need to first be able to see things as they are. Can we stand to look in the mirror? If we can’t, then can we recognise that there is something stopping us? We can explore what it is. Fear of something is always greater than the reality and this is recognised as soon as we take that step into the unknown, walk through the darkness and come out into the light. The key is communication, as dialogue between different aspects of ourselves; between people and with Allah (SWT). This is about looking in the mirror that I mentioned earlier. Asking ourselves questions about ourselves, our reactions and responses, listening with an open mind to the answers and also to what others have to say about us - and always tending to our relationship with Allah (SWT) and what He expects of us. Ultimately, what we are doing when we do this is taking responsibility for ourselves. Following in the footsteps of our parents, Adam (AS) and Hawwa (AS) and rejecting the way of our nemesis, Shaytaan, (refer to Surah Al-Araf, Ayahs 11-16 and Ayahs 20-23) by avoiding the blame game.

Not every counsellor or psychotherapist is right for you, even if they are Muslim. Not all models of working will suit you. You are, after all, unique!

There are many techniques and models of therapy available: Psychoanalysis, Gestalt, Person-Centred and Cognitive-Behavioural to name but a few. However, according to extensive studies, more important than the methods employed, which only account for 15% of any change that might occur, is what the client brings with them, namely themselves and their circumstances (40% of any improvement) and the relationship that develops between the therapist and their client (30% of the benefit from being in counselling).

So when you meet your counsellor for the first time, give them a chance, talk about difficulties in your interactions with them as they arise. If they are worth their salt, they will take on board what you are saying to them and work with you so that it feels right for you. If it doesn’t, c’est la vie, as the French say. Look for someone else. However, when I say give them a chance, it is more about giving you and the therapeutic space an opportunity. It does take time to build trust in a relationship, especially if you have spent a lifetime being ‘let down’.

Trust is a big factor in counselling, as in any relationship, and confidentiality is something that should be discussed in the early sessions so that we know where we stand in terms of what we will be divulging to our counsellors. Again, as with other relationships, therapy is very much a two-way process and it requires both parties’ participation and them being responsible for their part in it.

Why pursue counselling? ... ‘Because YOU are worth it!’

[*Names have been changed to preserve anonymity and maintain confidentiality.]

Article originally published in SISTERS Magazine, Issue 30, March 2012