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Drawing out the differences and similarities between Western and Islamic frameworks for understanding mental health

Dr Yusuf covers the main points of differentiation to make clear the differences between Western and Islamic frameworks.
So now we’ve taken a look at the Western modern and Islamic frameworks for mental health and mental illness. And before we go any further, it’s probably useful to note that these are quite deep philosophical elements that relate to metaphysics and epistemology, which are the science is that all the philosophies that underlie a particular science like psychology. So if it’s been a bit if that’s been a bit tricky, then don’t worry too much about it. What we’re going to do now is cover perhaps the main points of differentiation between a Western approach to psychology and an Islamic approach to psychology. Now this effectively boils down to two questions. The first of them is, what is the human?
The second is, how do we know what we know? What is the human is really a metaphysical or ontological question. From a secular or Western perspective the human is understood in relation to self, history and context. That is to say the I, or the mind, is conceived of as being in relation to or formed from biological or psychological elements within the person, the person’s background and their immediate environment and context, bio, psycho, social. An Islamic perspective on what is the human is similar , but adds in an element. The human being is understood in relation to self, history, context, origin and purpose. So bio, psycho, social, spiritual.
The spiritual element really covers the notion of the human origin and the purpose and meaning of the human, what does it mean to be a human and where are we heading? Now. Another way of thinking about this, and another point of differentiation, is how do we know what we know? Now from a secular perspective the Western perspective on mental health or psychology, we come to know what we know through Observation, theory formation, but underneath all of that, what you have or what you might call unexamined assumptions, such as what is the human? From an Islamic perspective, we come to know what we know from observation, theory formation, but also scripture.
And yes, there are also some often unexamined assumptions in an Islamic approach to psychology. However, with those differentiations in mind and really what we’re looking at here is the Islamic, or to be honest, any religious perspective will add something in to the secular perspective that otherwise isn’t there – origin, purpose, and then the wisdom that is contained in the scriptures of that religion.
Taking all that into consideration, bear in mind that often, in practice, there isn’t actually that much difference. There is still therapy. There is still treatment. The resources that are utilised, however, the way an issue is framed and the addition of the spirituality component to this holistic bio psycho socio framework is where you tend to see the differences. Another way of thinking about this is what I call the X-model. That is to say, a secular approach has a notion of the origin of the human, i.e. the human as a rational animal, the experience of the human, and then the purpose and meaning of the human.
An Islamic approach has observations and conclusions about the origin of the human, the experience of what it means to be human, and the purpose and meaning of the human. If you like past, present, future. These two models, however, do not operate in parallel with each other, they cross over. So although they may have a different perspective on human origin and a different perspective on human purpose, although they may have a different perspective on where knowledge is taken from and how that knowledge is utilised, where they meet is in the middle. The question of the way in which the human being experiences themselves, the world around them, and those deep questions.
And because of that, because of this X-model, there is a lot of opportunity for cross-fertilisation of knowledge. And in some of the talks and sections that you will hear during this course, you will see some of that cross-fertilisation occurring.

Dr Yusuf begins this video by acknowledging that understanding the differences between Islamic and Western frameworks, as we have done in the last two activities, is a challenging task.

In this step, he covers the main points of differentiation to make clear the differences between the two and relates this knowledge back to the holistic approaches we covered in Activity 2 of Week 1.

Islam, and indeed all religious perspectives, add the factors of origin, purpose and scriptural wisdom to secular perspectives on mental health.

Dr Yusuf encapsulates the differences between Islamic and Western approaches in the ‘X-model’: although Western and Islamic approaches to mental health are based on different kinds of knowledge and on different views of what it means to be human, they ‘crossover’ in the importance they place on how we see ourselves as human beings, and how we see the world around us. This means that there are opportunities to share knowledge between the two approaches to mental health. As Dr Yusuf tells us, practitioners from both traditions have the potential to work together and learn from each other.

In the following steps, we introduce three approaches to Islamically-inclusive mental health support, these are: Islamically-sensitive; Islamically-informed; and finally, Islamically-indigenous. All three of these approaches fall within the bio-psycho-social-spiritual model of mental health support.

At the end of this activity, there will be a discussion step that will encourage you to appraise, and discuss with other learners, the three approaches to Islamically-inclusive mental health support. You may find it helpful to make a note of your thoughts and reflections on each approach – thinking about whether, how, and why you might consider including it as part of your practice. Use your reflective diary to note down your ideas so that you are ready to take part in the discussion.

Over to you

Dr Yusuf tells us in this video that there is opportunity for the ‘cross-fertilisation’ of knowledge between practitioners who use Islamic and Western (or mainstream) approaches to mental health support.

What one piece of advice would you share with other learners around providing mental health support for Muslims? Include your professional background and approach to mental health support in your comment.

Take a look at advice from other learners – can you add something to another learner’s advice, or ask a question to find out more? This is a great way to see cross-fertlisation of knowledge in action.

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Understanding Mental Health in Muslim Communities

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