This is often the first thing I hear when Muslims are advised to seek psychological counseling or therapy. Let me begin by highlighting the ridiculousness of this notion. A psychologist has as much influence on your belief as the next guy, which is basically nothing unless you’re the type of person who’s willing to change your existential framework according to the next Joe Blow you meet on the street. Keyword here is ‘willing,’ as in, you must already want to change your religion one way or another; if not, you’ll seek anybody’s advice to change your religion, or disobey Allah, coming from a mile away. Yes indeed, contrary to popular belief, therapists don’t have any magical tools to infiltrate your mind and incept the non-existence of God; unlike Leonardo DiCaprio, psychologists can barely make it past the first layer of the dream sequence without getting shot.
So, to reiterate, psychologists have as much influence on your opinions as any friend could possibly have, arguably even less so, because the psychologist isn’t there to convince you of his perspective - he’s there to help you reflect on yours. Psychologists encouraging their own worldviews, such as the examples I mentioned above, are actually breaching several codes of ethics (in Quebec, at least); hence, if they’re not careful, they may even get their license revoked. Instead, good psychologists appreciate the fact that their client’s psychological component is their only objective, and the focus is set entirely on helping you develop it back to functionality - and beyond.
So how should I choose a psychologist?
Obviously, just like a good friend, the best psychological companion you can choose is someone (A) whom you’re comfortable with and (B) who is in line with your worldview and beliefs. A great quote by the psychologist Raymond Cochrane underlines this point: “Cultural heritage determines the way in which people experience reality, understand their social world, define what is moral and immoral, explain various phenomena (including madness) and shape their sense of self (as an individual or as part of a collective).”
It follows then, that the best way to provide therapy to Muslims requires an appreciation of both the psychological and spiritual components of our configuration. Ideally, this would involve a Muslim therapist who is well-versed in both religious and psychological literature. Evidently, if you’re aware of any Muslim psychologists or counselors in your city, then by all means, contact them as soon as possible. For the rest of us however – and we are many - this option unfortunately remains an ideal at the moment. The Muslim community still severely lacks professionals in many disciplines - psychology included – as second and third-generation youth have only begun to shake off the social constraints of culturally honourable careers (e.g. medicine, engineering, etc.).
Thus, my advice to our brothers and sisters who either (A) feel the need to speak to a professional yet fear the influence of a non-Muslim therapist, and/or (B) believe their psychological issue to contain religious themes, is the following: consult both a therapist and a Muslim scholar simultaneously.
This will ensure that you’ll have both components adequately addressed or, at the very least, will put your heart at ease consulting a non-Muslim therapist knowing full well that a Muslim scholar is always at your disposal… just in case.
But most importantly, don’t do nothing.
Author’s note: I highly suspect my view on this subject to fine-tune with time. That being said, this is a topic that depends entirely on a person’s experiences, so if your thoughts differ on what I mentioned above, please share inshAllah; I really appreciate other opinions on this matter.