The Demystifying Therapy campaign, launched by the Muslim Mental Health Initiative aims to dismantle the stigma surrounding mental health in the Muslim community. One way to do this is through sharing stories of fellow Stanford Muslims' experiences with therapy. Follow along to read the stories of Stanford Muslims and demystify therapy.
Follow along as a Stanford employee recounts how therapy helped her process grief and balancing mental health with obligatory Islamic acts.
content warning: eating disorders, loss of a loved one
In the Muslim community, I have heard the myth that you can just pray and it'll be fine. Allah SWT gave us the tools like if you had a broken leg, you wouldn't say "just stand up and pray, it gets fixed." That's not how salat works. That's not how medicine works, that's not how anything works. And in the same way that Allah SWT gave us whatever mental health or physical challenge that he gave us, he also gave us the tools to heal them and work on them and fix them. To me, it sounds as crazy as "don't have hospitals, make dua." Allah also gave us the intellect, and he asked us to use it.
In terms of my experience with therapy, a lot of the time the benefit is just talking something through. Although I didn't end up continuing with this particular therapist (she kept basically just kept getting lost in all the foreign-sounding names, and I was like, I need someone with more culture and more color), what's interesting is she sat me down at some point and in one of the sessions, because I kept talking about my mentor, may he rest in peace, she told me "look, you are grieving this. You have to take the time to give your grief space".
I didn't realize how much of a grounding effect he had on me until I moved to a new place. When I didn't know people and because he passed, I couldn't just pick up the phone and call him, and I was just grieving him in different ways.
I'm really grateful for her. And she's not Muslim, but because of her advice, I went to Umrah and I did umrah for my mentor and I went and visited his family. I feel like for all the ups and downs in the Muslim community, every time there is an up and down, he was my rock. And I just missed him. And it was my non-Muslim therapist who said "grief is coming out, you need to deal with it and you will continue to grieve." It's not like grieving just magically ends, but giving it the space that it requires, because I wasn't able to go to the janaza, there was part of my brain that just didn't accept things. And I just needed to see his family. I visited his grave and then made dua for him, I did umrah for him, hugged his wife, and alhamdulilah it was very healing.
I feel like it's important to take your therapist's advice seriously. It's very helpful in the same way as when a doctor says "maybe don't eat all the red meat, drink soda" or whatever it is. In the larger American society, one in five women develops an eating disorder at some point. I remember once I was speaking with these women, who were converts and they had been dealing with eating disorders their whole lives and Islam was alhamdulillah helpful for them in the eating disorder. But they were not allowed to fast during Ramadan because of a mental health disorder that was surrounding food and fasting. And it's so real, and I feel like they kept coming back to me, saying Ramadan is so important.
I know, Ramadan is so important but if you were a diabetic, you wouldn't be asking me this question because you know you're not allowed to kill yourself by fasting and not taking your insulin. You are not allowed to put yourself in the same situation that will literally kill your mental health, destroy years' worth of work that you were able to do, by fasting Ramadan right now, when your therapist is telling you you can't handle it. And hopefully, maybe in the future, you heal enough. Sometimes you can manage diabetes. Sometimes you can get to a place where your body is healthy enough, where you can fast, and maybe one day your mental health will be in the place where you are able to fast. But if you say, forget it, I'm going to do it now, you might actually stunt your growth and your healing and end up causing more damage later and being able to fast fewer Ramadans in general. It's worth it to take the time to stop and sit down and figure out how and why, and to just heal those issues.