Sahab – Swedish-Iraqi Counselor with a Different Approach

When Sahab Saheb started her therapy service Authentic Dialogues she had decided that she wanted to offer counseling in three languages: Swedish, Arabic and English. At 32 years old with a master’s degree in social work and sexology, she wanted to offer her counseling services to such a wide range of clients as possible.

“There’s a challenge in working in different languages,” she says. “But I wanted to use my full potential.”

I wanted to write about Sahab not only because of her interesting character as a Swedish-Iraqi woman, but also since her approach to counseling seemed different. According to her, psychological counseling should be accessible and of low cost. Based in Malmö, Sweden, she also offers counseling via Skype, and on her website, under description of fees, it states: “Fee reductions are available for people on low incomes and this can be negotiated on an individual basis”.

The aspect of wanting to reach out to the many Arabic speaking people in Sweden is not a coincidence. In her master thesis Sahab researched an integration project for Arab immigrants, where she examined factors that determined the effectiveness of the program. The thesis published this year and is titled “Transformation of newcomers, responsibilities and consequences. An evaluation of the project ‘Newcomers, Shortest path’” (Malmö University, Faculty of Health and Society, Department of Social Work). The research gave her new insights in the world of social work and psychological assistance. Through the research she met many immigrants who tried to integrate themselves in Sweden and learned about the challenges they faced.

“The most important aspect is the gap between the experience from the home country and Sweden. The main difference between the two countries is the role that the state plays. People from the Middle East, Syria for example, come from a society where the state has a very negative reputation. People associate the state with fear and betrayal, and it’s not responsible for the individual’s welfare and personal development. Here in Sweden, the state is in charge of everything and a lot of mistrust is going on (from the newly arrived immigrants, my comment) that the Swedish authorities have no clue about.”

In contrast with some other Western countries, where immigrants that have received asylum are left on their own to find housing and work, sometimes with help from voluntary organizations, Swedish authorities offer a roof-over-the-head-guarantee and financial assistance until the person is able to provide for him. However, the choices of where to live or what to do (financial assistance requires the person to take part of mandatory Swedish classes or work programs in return) become reduced to a minimum when being dependent on the system, which many are until they have learned enough Swedish to manage on their own.

Having seen the clash between the Swedish society and the newly arrived immigrants and how the society sometimes fails to help people who suffer from traumas and psychological illnesses, Sahab wanted to create her own service instead of being part of the system.

“The professionalism of the Swedish bureaucracy has a distanced approach to people, and this approach is by many immigrants perceived as something personal against them, it becomes the only thing that the immigrant experience during the first years in Sweden. Even if we have to carry out the integration aspect through the institutions, since this is the way it works in Sweden, we have to implement more of a personal reception since these persons come from a society where there are stronger bonds between people. We shouldn’t dehumanize people the way the system sometimes does now.”

Still, the failures of the system served as an incentive for her to contribute with what she believed would be the best way to help people with psychological problems from experiences of war and terror.

“Instead of being bitter over the fact that I can’t implement what I think is right, I wanted to start my own thing to help people in a way that I believe in”, she says. “If we learn how to be more empathetic we’ll have better dialogues and a stronger society.”

The therapy Sahab offers is based on the existential humanistic psychology, which she says pays respect to people’s own inner potential and responsibility for their actions.

“I wanted to work with counselling that derives from an equal dialogue between the therapist and the patient. I believe that an illness in the society is that we don’t communicate between each other. I believe that this therapy is very helpful since you can carry it with you the whole life and apply it to new relationships. In the therapy you help people to have more confidence in themselves so that they can take more initiative and thereby enhance their own self-esteem.”

She emphasizes that it’s still important not to see people as solely traumatized and damaged individuals, since people have a lot to offer that you can encourage and build on.

“You also have to be very careful in how you create a dialogue with people who come from traumatized societies,” she says. “This therapy is non-directive, there is no right or wrong, it’s up to the client how he or she thinks. I believe this is very important in a multi-cultural society where people have different values. This will create less guilt and insecurity.”

I ask her how she deals with people that might have twisted or reversed values as they come from countries where war or a repressive state have been prevailing for so long that it affects the persons and their personal values. What does she say to them if they have internalized what they have seen and for example believe that violence is justified?

“Even if I tell this person that this and that is wrong it won’t help him if he doesn’t realize this himself.  We need to understand why the person has chosen to believe in this, because it’s a defense mechanism. And the less we use our defense mechanisms, the more we get out of life.”

She adds:

“I believe in this small effect. If we help one person, we will also help many others that will exist down that person’s road.”

So what is her dream with her service, which she recently started earlier this year? She laughs when I ask the question.

“I don’t believe that much in dreams, I believe in being present in the moment and enjoy that. I try not to be too much in the future, my challenge right now is to be able to assist people in need of help. And well… maybe sometime in the future I’ll be able to work together with other people, who want to work in the same way I do.”

Photo copyright: Sahab Saber

To get in touch with Sahab please visit her website: authenticdialogues.com

Advertisements

How Do You Become an ISIS Terrorist?

ISIS or ISIL or IS – they are so creative in their name changings, I have to give them that – has startled the whole world it seems with their ambitious brutality. The Iraqi military just gave up their weapons and ran, despite the years and years of trainings from American experts, trying to compensate their invasion. The Kurdish Peshmerga tried to hold the fort but failed. But should we really have been so surprised?

I won’t discuss what a failure it is for Iraqi intelligence not to recognize the threat of ISIS, nor will I discuss the exclusion of minorities from the Iraqi government and the consequences it has had. This blog post will go back in time, and ask how these young men became ISIS terrorists in the first place.

How can a normal human being become attracted to such a merciless, murderous organization with no respect for humans what so ever, not even for their own kind? ISIS is not Al Qaida who will spare Muslims, they’re not the “good Talibans” of Pakistan, they’re a group of young men who supposedly sell women as sex slaves and twitter about it; who make children die of dehydration on a mountain. They don’t seem afraid of dying themselves. It is as if they had no attachments of their own, nothing to relate to but the darkness inside of them.

Let me start my trail of thoughts by telling you what I know of Iraq before the invasion. I’m not Iraqi, I have just lived there, and I’m not claiming to take an Iraqi’s place. I will just give you my impressions.

Iraq did not have a solid welfare state, well how many countries do?, and many rural areas were neglected under the long era of the Saddam regime. But there was an educational system, universities free of tuition fees and complimentary dorms for male and female students, making it possible also for women to gain an education away from home. In the cities there were governmental orphanages. Women were able to work and access public life. Religious freedom and coexistence was something to take for granted (no, I’m not bringing in Kurdistan in this discussion, because it’s not affected by the civil war that followed the invasion). In southern and central Iraq there was peace.

After 2004 not only bombs tore the country apart. Neighbors turned on each other, people started disappearing; regular civilians with no political connections. Corpses were dumped by the roads. Internally displaced people crowded the streets. Child-headed households became a new phenomenon. Child prostitution sky rocketed. A women’s rights NGO I worked with once received a teenage girl asking for help, who had been a prostitute since she was a child. She didn’t know who her mother was or why she had been left at the brothel so young. But it could have been anything – in a collapsed society you don’t always find a reason. The girl didn’t know how old she was, and at the brothel they called her different names.

“What is her real name?” I asked when hearing about the case.

Also this she didn’t know. She had no name.

Now imagine you’re a boy growing up with these reversed values around you. Where there once had been moral guidelines and a public condemnation if you did something considered wrong, fear and hatred has now taken its place. If you’re unlucky these reversed values seeps in to your family, creates enemies between family members because of religion, or closes the door to their own family in need of help. An Iraqi boy I once knew had his parents murdered by the Al Sadr militia and as a response his uncles made him sleep on the street.

“If you come here, they’ll come after us too,” his uncle said to the teenage boy who was left on his own.

But if you’re worse off you’ll have no family at all and you won’t know why, like the child prostitute without a name.

Time passes and you’re a frightened boy growing in to a young, angry man. And you might turn whatever madness that was around you to your defense. You have no education, no background, no family, no attachments. What was once wrong becomes right.

Are my ideas clear, did my message come through? If it was hard to grasp, here’s the short version:

ISIS shouldn’t have taken us by such surprise. We have created this monster ourselves.

Photocredit: Sweden and the Middle East Views Blog