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