Eman Rangoonwala, our very first designer of “Hiba” accessories, is now, Masha’Allah, a practicing counsellor in universities of Karachi.
Who generally approaches you for counselling – parents or teenagers?
Most of my work has been in schools/ colleges, so the teenagers are the ones who initiate contact.
What are the top three issues the young people are most concerned with?
In a nutshell, I would say the broad top three issues the youth face today have to do with peer pressure, being disconnected from the Deen (which also encompasses lack of direction and purpose), and the media (social media & otherwise). Most of such problems as depression, anxiety, drug or alcohol abuse, loneliness and behavioural issues are in some ways linked to one of these broader issues.
How open are teens/ parents to accepting that there is an issue?
I think this falls under two extremes. Some parents or teenagers want to be slapped with a diagnostic label, possibly to validate their feelings, almost like “I knew I was right, something really is wrong with me/my child”. For the individual himself, sometimes having that label of “depressed” or “bipolar” works more as a justification for them to act out or misbehave. Of course, this is not to say that people with psychological disturbances are doing it on purpose – it is just that some people, unfortunately, do misuse mental health issues as an excuse to, for lack of a better word, misbehave.
On the other hand, some people absolutely refuse to acknowledge that something serious might be going on with them or their child. The thing to remember is that just because your teen isn’t doing things the way you want them to does not mean there is automatically something psychologically wrong with them. At the same time, it is important to realise that we are humans, after all, so it is natural for us not to be doing as well as we’d like, and so it is okay to ask for help.
You have also counselled teens in educational institutes. What can these schools and colleges do differently for facilitating the students to come out of their stresses?
I think the first thing schools and colleges need to do is take students’ mental health seriously. Too much attention is given to grades, fancy colleges and extra-curricular activities, and too little is given to mental and emotional wellbeing. A competent and well-trained counselor is necessary at educational institutes to help guide students through both academic and other stressors. Some students have significant issues in their lives, whether having to do with family or other health issues, and having a trained professional can help them in working through their stress and anxieties in a healthy and safe environment.
Having studied in the USA, do you feel any difference in issues between those arising in the Western society and that surfacing locally?
With the increasing westernization of Pakistan, I feel both the countries have a lot of similar issues. Alcohol/ drug abuse and general immodesty is increasing here, as well as very serious marriage problems including different types of abuse, divorce, and infidelity. I have had clients in both Pakistan and USA, who have been beaten by their alcoholic family member, suffered abuse at the hands of their spouse, been cheated on, been in girlfriend-boyfriend relationships, had drug issues, and experienced a divorce or separation in the family. Maybe one of the main differences in Western and Pakistani society is that here we try to pretend like these issues don’t exist, whereas there it is a lot more open and obvious.
What is the solution that you recommend to your clients (teens) and their parents Islamically?
My top recommendation is talking to Allah (swt) at Tahajjud about anything and everything. This helps on a number of levels – sometimes we just need to vent and let out our frustration and sorrow, and talking out loud to Allah (swt) can do just that. Talking to Allah (swt) is also a reminder that there is a Higher Power, Who is able to help us and fix the things in our lives that we feel too helpless or unable to deal with, which essentially gives a sense of hope, something we all very much need especially in times of hardship.
Likewise, while talking to Allah (swt), we do end up pleading, begging, and making Dua. We all know that a Dua made at Tahajjud time is “like an arrow that doesn’t miss its target”. I’m also a huge fan of suggesting more practice of Shukr – even research shows that practicing gratitude can do wonders for your mental health.
Since the topic of Islam and mental health has come up, I would like to add something else as well. Oftentimes people get offended, when things like reading the Quran, doing Dhikr or being grateful are mentioned as a suggestion to deal with such mental health issues as stress. Connecting with Allah (swt), doing more Shukr and Dhikr are actually exactly what need to be recommended, when someone is dealing with such day-to-day issues as occasional feelings of depression, stress or anxiety. These are the practices that will definitely have more of an impact compared to, for example, “shopping away your worries” or “doing something fun/ distracting”. An Ayah I like to refer to is: “Verily, in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest.” (Ar-Rad 13:28)
Completely disregarding Islamic methods of healing is probably not a good idea, whether for more serious mental health problems or general life struggles. As Allah (swt) is the One, Who created us, wouldn’t He know better than anyone about what would help us feel better? On the other hand, with more serious mental health issues, such recommendations, while absolutely helpful, may not be enough. In those cases, medication or regular therapy may also be beneficial. At the same time, dhikr, Tahajjud and Shukr can be excellent and extremely effective methods of maintaining hope and trust of Allah (swt) in a person, which in itself can be therapeutic.
Any personal story you would like to share of a client that impacted you tremendously?
One of my first clients was a middle-aged Christian woman. She shared that she had moved to the country by herself as a teenager, with no friends or family to help her out. After settling down, she married and had a daughter. She and her husband had divorced ten years ago, and her 23-year-old daughter was her only family here. She talked about how she and her daughter were extremely close, almost co-dependent; they did almost everything together, whether it was shopping or housework or going out, to the extent that her daughter’s friends were her friends. In a nutshell, her life was her daughter. About three months prior, our city was hit by terrible floods. Her daughter was driving, and ended up entering a flooded zone and drowning in her car.
Despite the fact that this woman lost the only person she truly cared about, she would bring up how her faith and belief in God was the only thing that kept her going. Subhan’Allah! It really hit me hard, because it reminded me of how I would get upset or disillusioned with Allah (swt) sometimes over things that really weren’t that big of a deal. On the other hand, this woman lost her entire world, and she still didn’t lose trust in God. It also opened my eyes to how faith in Allah (swt) can actually really help us heal so much faster. Sometimes, when I find myself being especially ungrateful and whiny, I try to remind myself of this woman to put things into perspective.
Do you feel this profession will ultimately help you become a more sensitive and effective parent one day?
I definitely think so. A lot of counseling has to do with being a good listener and empathizing – hearing different stories and struggles, as well as different triumphs and problem solving strategies really helps hone these skills, which would be very helpful in being an empath and effective listener with my own kids someday, Insha’Allah.
If there was one thing you could change about our society, what would that be?
The one thing I would change about our society is our lack of proper knowledge about Allah (swt) and Islam. I truly feel that if all of us, men and women, rich and poor, young and old, truly understood Islam, and especially Allah (swt), we would not have all this depression, overwhelming stress and anxiety, corruption, perversion, unruliness, and general lack of immodesty.