Finding Muslim-sensitive mental health care can be a challenge. I have presented to audiences of mental health professionals on some of the background issues that make accessing mental health treatment difficult for some people of the Muslim faith.
While what I’m talking about is aimed at professionals, if you are looking for a mental health counselor who can help you with whatever challenges you face and you might recognize some of the issues I talk about here. If so, please know that there are culturally competent therapists out there, coming from the insider and outsider perspective, who can help. At our practice, we do phone consultations, feel free to reach out if you are ready to being the process of therapy, and you can consult my therapist page here to learn more about my services and fees and then if you reach out through the contact me form, one of us will get back to you to learn more about what you are looking for and see if I might be a good fit for you.
Unique challenges Muslims Face
Muslim individuals encounter several psychosocial obstacles when seeking mental health services. However, despite mental health concerns, Muslims continue to underutilize these services. Muslims attribute mental illness to various causes, such as a lack of faith and sinful behaviors, spiritual causes and environmental factors. Muslim Americans are reluctant to seek therapy primarily because of the stigma associated with mental illness within their population. A key barrier to seeking mental health services is the belief and fear that Mental health counselors will stereotype, judge, discriminate and misunderstand them.
After the 9/11 attack, there was increased Islamophobia, hate crimes, fundamental attribution error, and discrimination. The 9/11 attacks increased acculturative stress, anxiety, and depression among the Muslim population. These impacts, coupled with synthesizing collectivist beliefs and traditions into Western individualistic values and lifestyles, are among the problems Muslim Americans face. It is recognized that Muslim Americans have different interpretations of mental health concerns due to their unique cultural and religious experiences.
Preferred treatment approaches for some Muslim clients
Muslims with mental illnesses often prefer to use Islamically oriented approaches in treating mental illness. Ruqyah is a central treatment approach that is often adopted. Ruqyah involves reciting verses from the Quran and supplication upon the ill. Muslims firmly believe that Allah can heal anyone who sincerely seeks his assistance. This belief often enables Muslim clients and families to maintain a positive attitude towards suffering and mental illness. Muslims also believe that life is temporary, leading them to focus on the hereafter (life after death). This can explain why they may be reluctant to seek help.
Muslims are often encouraged to be patient and rely on Allah when facing challenges. Islam encourages Muslims to seek Allah’s guidance, including mental health services. According to Utz (2012) “personal action and trust in Allah must be combined for maximum benefit “(p. 26). Islam emphasizes taking a preventative approach to protect individuals from emotional and physical harm, with several teachings guarding Muslims against destructive behaviors. These teachings include total submission to Allah, refraining from sinful activities like using drugs and alcohol, and leading a life of piety. Accordingly, most Muslims believe that mental health challenges can result from failure to adhere to these teachings.
Muslim Perceptions of Mental Health Issues
It is essential to recognize that Muslim Americans have diverse and unique understandings of mental illness and are open to different interpretations. Some Muslims may attribute mental illness to a lack of faith and sinful behaviors. Others firmly believe that mental illnesses could be attributed to spiritual causes or environmental factors. They believe that the medical model looks down upon them and considers them backward, discouraging them from seeking mental health services. Hence, they prefer to seek help from medical professionals and not counselors.
Muslim Americans are less likely to seek help based on mental disturbances unless behaviorally manifested, as Muslims rely on God to solve emotional troubles. When Muslim Americans seek counseling, they expect counselors to lead by setting goals and dictating the treatment plan. This often makes it challenging for counselors to build rapport with their clients because they are held in high regard.
Muslims believe that returning to Allah and continually engaging in Dhikr (remembrance of God) can help treat some symptoms associated with mental illnesses. Muslim Americans attribute mental illness to several causes, dispelling that they are a homogenous group. Accordingly, we aim to adopt a holistic and individualized approach in working with Muslim clients since they are unique.