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Islamic beliefs and mental health

Dr Rothman focuses on Islamic beliefs and their impact on the mental health of Muslims.
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As is the case with some of the practices that Muslims engage in, their beliefs can also impact their mental health and how they seek or don’t seek support. As we discussed earlier, Muslims believe that God is in control of everything and that their destiny or Qadr, is determined by God. This belief can lead to not taking responsibility and not actively taking account to change what is within oneself. Even though the Quran instructs the Muslim to do so. Because this is somewhat of a paradox, which means two realities that are both true, it can be hard for most people to understand how these principles Work alongside with real life in context.
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Muslims believe that a believer has total faith in God and submits to the notions that their affairs are completely in the hands of God and is thus thankful and patient. There’s a misconception that goes along with that, which portrays the believer as someone who is not impacted by hardship. There is this ideal of the state of the believer that we are trying to attain to, and there is the reality of where someone is on that journey. So having the picture of what the goal is in potentia can lead people to feel that they need to already be there in order to be a good Muslim, rather than understanding that it is a process of becoming and working towards that ideal.
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It’s about the journey, not the destination. As we mentioned before, this can amount to spiritual bypassing, where a person’s belief that they should be in a certain state of faith keeps them from addressing what they need to do to get to that place and instead try to take on the actions and behaviours of that ideal picture of the believer in place of struggling within the self to actualise that deeper spiritual state of internal peace and reliance on God.
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One of the aspects of belief that can impede Muslims even seeking mental health support in the form of therapy is the Islamic principle that one should not expose one’s faults or bad behaviours or sins, and that these things should be kept as a secret and only repent to God. The idea is that by preserving one’s humiliation in front of people, that it will be less likely that they commit the act again, as if people were to know that they have done something then the person may fall into the act again as their reputation has already been damaged.
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This can impede the seeking of talk therapy based approaches and result in many Muslims preferring to take the route of seeking only medication for mental health problems instead. It can also make it difficult for Muslim clients who do engage in talk therapy, making them apprehensive to open up and be honest. What is important for people to understand is that this position about exposing one’s fault is about sharing this information in public.
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There’s a different position and belief about this when it comes to the private sphere, where Muslims are encouraged to open themselves up to one who is knowledgeable in these matters and established in a relationship of growth and healing in order to increase self-awareness and change what is within the self. Much like a doctor of physical health, there are special allowances of what one is permitted to do when it is for the sake of health and healing. In general, Islamic beliefs can be a great resource for Muslims to find resilience and to encourage the believer toward health and wholeness. But many Muslims do not have the study and training and religious knowledge to understand these beliefs in context.
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This is why it is so helpful for a therapist to have knowledge to help the client navigate their faith as a resource for mental health support and where one does not have this knowledge and training, it’s a good idea for practitioners to be able to consult with an authoritative person of religious knowledge.

In this video, Dr Rothman focuses on Islamic beliefs and their impact on the mental health of Muslims. He describes being a “good Muslim” as a journey or process, rather than a destination.

Misconceptions around what it means to be a good Muslim can impact directly on mental health and can affect whether, and how, Muslims seek support for mental health problems. While Islamic beliefs can be a resource for resilience, misinterpretations of some beliefs can lead to Muslims not seeking support for mental health problems.

Dr Rothman describes the Islamic principle that one should not expose one’s faults or bad behaviours, which can impact on the likelihood of Muslims engaging in ‘talking therapies’. He explains the reasoning behind the principle and offers an alternative interpretation for Muslims based on Islamic scholarship – that Muslims can share these matters with someone who is knowledgeable to increase their self-awareness and make positive change for the sake of health and healing.

Dr Rothman makes some practical recommendations on how to incorporate faith as a resource for mental health support.

Over to you

Dr Rothman recommends that practitioners use Islamic practices and beliefs as resources when providing mental health support for Muslims; if the practitioner does not have the required skills and knowledge, they should consult an authoritative person of religious knowledge.

  • Do you have the skills and knowledge to incorporate Islamic beliefs and practices when providing mental health support? If so, can you share an example?
  • If not, do you know who you would consult, how do you think you might find someone to help?

Please use this opportunity to share resources, such as helpful websites and organisations, that might help your fellow learners.

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Understanding Muslim Mental Health

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