Book Introduction - Chapter 5


Chapter 5:
The Criteria of Counseling and Psychotherapy According to the Islamic Perspectives

According to Imam Sadegh (PBUH) counseling should be done according to its own criteria as follows:
The Consultant should be a mature, controlled, broadminded person, well-trained in the Divine laws. His behavior should be adjusted to these rules as well. He should be sincere and have a friendly manner. He should be thoroughly informed about the situation in order to know the realities of the client’s lifestyle as well as himself. He should keep all secrets in confidence. Any lack of the mentioned criteria may result harmful counseling.

Psychiatric counseling should be followed by psychotherapy. According to Wolberg, psychotherapy follows the goals mentioned below:
1. Promoting more adaptive behavior patterns
2. Removing modifying or retarding symptoms of mental illness or psychological discomfort
3. Stimulating personality development.
These goals are quite realistic which can be followed in all psychotherapeutic interventions, and there is no exception for the Islamic Trend.
I have categorized the Islamic perspective on psychotherapy into forty basic rules to cover these three basic goals, and I have called them “The Principles of Development”. The consultant, after reviewing the client’s lifestyle, should decide what rule or rules should be followed in this special trend of individual or group psychotherapy.
In every day usage, the word counseling denotes the giving of advice. As a technical term, it denotes a wider procedure concerned with emotion as well as with giving information.
Psychotherapy is the result which the counselee gains from counseling. Wolberg (1954) defines psychotherapy as: “certain consciously chosen ways in which, within the framework of a deliberately established professional relationship, trained individuals interact with people who seek or need their attention for the purposes of:
1. Promoting more adaptive behavior patterns
2. Removing, modifying, or retarding symptoms of mental illness or psychological discomfort, and
3. Stimulating personality development.”
The role played by culture has increasingly come to be recognized in each aspect of counseling from assessment to intervention. There is general agreement that the culture of both the providers and users of counseling services influence the counseling process both pervasively and profoundly (Ponter H, Casas, Suzuki and Alexander, 1995). (14)
All counseling occurs in a cultural context and culture has been described as the invisible and silent, yet crucial component of the counseling experience. The greater the cultural difference between the counselor and counselee, the more noticeable and obtrusive is the role of culture in the counseling experience. The potential is increased for a clash of expectations, misunderstandings of intentions and sorrow and entanglements in counseling relationships.
The subjective cultures of both counselor and counselee come into play, composed as they are of assumptions and conclusions that appear to be self-evident in a specific milieu, but are rarely verbalized and even less frequently challenged. Yet we also assume that counseling is not a culture-bound collection of procedures that loses all relevance outside of its cultural milieu. What then about counseling is stable across time and space? (14)
In attempting to answer that question, it is helpful to define counseling broadly rather than narrowly. On the one hand, we know that culture cuts deeply into the person’s inner life, even shaping and self-experience. On the other hand, perceptive observers have been able to discern commonness in personalities that are helpful for intervention in vastly different cultures. The scope of cross cultural counseling is bounded by these two extremes as counselors strive to integrate sensitivity to culture with effective mass of intervention. In our age, cultural differences in all counseling relationships are the rule rather than the exception. (14)
We can see a gap for the Islamic perspectives in counseling and psychotherapy. Islam has authority on the lives of more than one billion people in different parts of the world. As Islamic perspectives have been instilled in the nature of men, so, there is the potentials that it can be accepted by all humans.
In the Qur’an even the Prophet is ordered to consult in his affairs F (Footnote) 1, and consultation is one of the criteria for believers in God F2. The criteria of counseling have been clarified by Imam Sadegh (PBUH) who said that:" The Consultant should be a controlled, mature person who is broadminded, well-trained in the Divine laws and adjusts his behavior to these rules as well. He should have sincere and friendly contact. It is quite necessary to be thoroughly informed about the situation in order to know the realities of the client’s lifestyle as well as himself. He should be confident with all secrets. In the lack of any of mentioned criteria, the counseling may even be harmful."F3
Imam Sadegh in other instructions, too, confirms that the consultant should be a controlled individual. He warns that it is necessary for the counselee to follow his messages and not to oppose him, otherwise the counselee will be confronted with some disturbances.F4, 8
The consultant should try his best to discover the reasonable solution of the problem. If the solution is not clear, he should postpone answering and devote enough time, even for some days, and he should always think about the problem using his whole power of thought and wisdom. The Imam (PBUH) warns that God will punish the Counselor if he does not try his best.F9 The Prophet (PBUH) confirms that consultation prevents regret and reproach.F9 , 10 Counseling is the strongest support and the unique method to access the straight way to solve problems. F12, 13 Imam Ali (PBUH) warns that if the counselee conceals his secrets from the counselor, he has cheated himself.F14
The Islamic perspectives on counseling and psychotherapy are based on the the Islamic School of Psychology. This school, with its basic principles, has its role as a practical instrument in counseling and psychotherapy. According to these basic principles, there are two different and opposite psychic processes in operation in human personality; namely conscience and passion. The processes are inherent; that is, they are not acquired. The first one has an evolutionary and developmental nature, whereas the second can be considered as an instinctual motive.F7, 8
Development which has been mentioned by Wolberg as one of the targets of psychotherapy is the main target of the Islamic School of Psychology.
The word “development” in the sense of continuous evolution has been defined as a criterion for the mature person. According to this school, in order to gain real development, man is supposed to believe in Allah and to try always to do his best by using the Divine instructions. We can find this approach in the 186th verse of the second chapter of the Qur’an. “And when my servant questions thee concerning me, I am near to answer the call of the caller when he calls to me. So let them respond to me, and let them believe in me, haply so they will develop.”F26
The whole Qur’an is a guide to development. According to the Qur’an,
“It is a guide to development.” (Jinn: 2)F20
Allama Tabatabai, interpreting this verse, believes that access to reality in everything is synonymous to development. Multidimensional development, Perfection and evolution are the reasons and results of believing in God and obeying Him.
The Prophet (PBUH) says:
“One whose two days are equal is a cheated one. F27
By this approach psychic development should be continuously followed up and to this there is no conceivable stop.
So, we can name the Islamic messages as:
“The principles of development”
As the Divine instructions are very extensive, we have to summarize them in some practical principles. After many years of discussion in academic groups, I have succeeded in categorizing these into forty basic principles. As mentioned above, when the Qur’an wants to put its basic target, it says: “It directs to development.” So the Divine instructions are unique and exclusive instruments to offer development. Keeping this in mind, I have presented the above principles as “The Basic Principles of Development”.(6-10)
The prerequisite processes to enable the basic principles of development to have practical results in preventing stress-related manifestations are as follow:
1. To be learned
2. To be accepted
3. To be used in everyday practice of life
It seems that one of the reasons of non-acceptable and pathologic reactive states in mankind which appear as “faulty lifestyle” is the lack and deficiency of the above processes. On the other hand, the psychopathology of the reactive manifestations can be summarized as follows:
1. One did not learn the principles of development.
2. One did not accept the principles of development.
3. One did not use the principles of development.
So, it is the duty of the therapist to discover what principle or principles have been neglected?
The following processes are necessary for the therapeutic procedure:
1. To train the counselee with the neglected principle.
2. Convince him to accept it.
3. Urge him to use and follow it up in his everyday practice of life.
It seems that the Islamic perspectives can help us in all the targets of psychotherapy mentioned above.
Basic structure for counseling milieu is the existence of conscience in the counselee and counselor and in all humans. Conscience has the possibility to put itself in the situation of others. If we have conflicts with others, we usually say, “What would you do if you were in my shoes?” This saying confirms the acceptance of conscience in both sides of the contention. In counseling and psychotherapy, the counselee is aware of this fact and asks the counselor, who is usually in a higher position, to help him. The counselor, because of his previous training is acquainted with the motivations of human behavior, nature of man and psychological interactions, and can help his clients if his conscience is stronger than his passion. Otherwise, his suggestions may be harmful. This is the reason for the instructions of Imam Sadegh (PBUH) who confirms that the consultant should be a controlled, mature person who has been well-trained in the Divine laws and can adjust his behavior to these rules as well. In the lack of mentioned criteria, the counseling may even be harmful. By this approach, it is necessary to select the students of medical colleges, psychiatry and clinical branches of psychology and counseling from students who use the Divine laws practically. According to the Islamic School of Psychology all the Divine instructions are practical instruments to control passion and to fortify the conscience.F9, 10

Hence, in a given individual or society which considers these instruction, there will be powerful protecting sanctions to prevent the anxiety state and other stress-related manifestations and to gain multidimensional development.
We can lean on two verses of the Qur’an as the basis of the above approach: “Remembrance of God rests the heart.” (Thunder: 28)F21

Imam Sadegh (PBUH) interpreting this verse says that: “Remembrance of God means: Using God’s laws in all situations.”
Another verse of the Qur’an clarifies:
“But whosoever turns away from my remembrance shall surely lead a straight, narrow life.”(Ta Ha:124)F22
Allama Tabatabai, interpreting this verse says:
"The goal of anyone who is under the authority of passion is to reach infinite pleasure. As this target is inaccessible, he will be in a state of anxiety. So, in order to obtain rest, man has to follow the Divine principles for a healthy life and development, otherwise he will experience a straight, narrow life due to his anxiety."(15)
I have presented some principles of development in my previous papers (6-10), and I introduce some more principles here:

The principle of considering supervision of God on man and His intervention in their everyday practice of life
According to this principle, all aspects of man are different tests for his evaluation. All accidents and involuntary stressful life events have a special meaning in Islam. So, man is responsible for enduring all events and to cope reasonably. He should consider that his situation of development will be arranged according to his approaches to the events. Thus, no accident should be considered as an occasional event. The Qur’an teaches:
“We try you with evil and good, for a testing.”
(Prophets: 35)F16
In our everyday practice of psychotherapy, we try to understand the meaning of the events and try to modify them. This principle helps us to fulfill our duty in a reasonable cultural setting which our clients are usually familiar with.
So, we can predict enough success. There are a lot of the Islamic instructions in this field, and some of them have been included in my previous papers.(6-10)
The principle of necessity to predict universal distress
According to the Qur’an":
“Certainly, we have created man in distress.”
(City: 4)F16
Islam considers the world as a place in which difficulties and calamities are natural components. We can use this principle to facilitate universality for individual and group psychotherapy. By this very realistic teaching, man should expect the difficulties and should be ready to solve and endure them. By assuming the difficulties to be world-wide, and not to be exclusive and allocated to our client, this principle will minimize the feeling of distress, and it will increase the rate of individual tolerance against stressful life events.
The principle of reward and punishment and the possibility of compensation
The Prophets (PBUH) give humans glad tidings for acceptable behavior and warn them against unacceptable trends. It is written in the Qur’an:
“We have sent thee to bear good tidings and warnings to mankind.”F17
Psychotherapists can add this principle to two previous principles in order to make more sense and to bear more tolerance. Many instructions exist in this aspect. Some of them can be used exactly for psychotherapy.(6-10)
The principle of the necessity to consider God’s blessings and positive aspects of life and thanks accordingly
There are many instructions in the Qur’an and other Islamic instructions to consider God’s blessing and to thank Him .The basic message of these instructions is:
“…Not to minimize positive aspects of life.” It is written in the Qur’an:
“If you count God’s blessings, you can never number them.”F18 (Abraham: 34 - The Bee: 18)

A 35-year-old lady came to me with a written complaint of all the negative aspects of her life. The following interview took place in my clinic:
Doctor: Have you no positive aspects in your life?
Patient: Not at all, Dr. If I had any positive aspects in my life, I would not have come to your clinic.

Doctor: (At this moment I thought how I could continue the session. Then her four-year-old daughter who accompanied her caught
my attention.) Is she your daughter?
Patient: Yes, Dr.

Doctor: If God offers to exchange this girl with all the wealth in this country, are you ready to do so?
Patient: (Silence)

Doctor: May I clarify my suggestion, so say that if you choose this bargain, you can have all the money from all banks, and you
can do anything you want.
Patient: No, Dr. This girl is my whole life. Nothing has so much meaning for me. She is the symbol of my whole family. I can’t
accept this suggestion.

Doctor: Instead of the country’s wealth, would accept it, if God were to offer you the world’s wealth for this exchange?
Patient: No, I cannot voluntarily accept. I told you this girl is synonymous with my breath. I can’t stop breathing.

Doctor: So, you see. You do have positive aspects in your life. I can see only one of them, and this one has satisfied you with
happiness which you cannot exchange for all the wealth in the world. I am sure that if I suggest to multiply the world’s
wealth more than one thousand times, you would still not exchange it for your daughter. Is that right?
Patient: Yes, Dr. I had never considered my daughter as a positive aspect before this session.

Doctor: Now, you should remember that God says: "If you count God’s blessings, you can never number them." I am sure you
have as many positive aspects in your life, that God confirms them. But you claimed that you did not have even one
positive aspect. Have you ever thanked God?
Patient: Yes. I usually thank God one hundred times after each of my prayers.

Doctor: I think English speaking people give thanks very well. They give thanks for tea, coffee, dinner, etc. So when you want to
thank God from now on, please remembers the positive aspects of your life and then thanks Him. I am sure that in this
case you can count at least five hundred positive aspects of your life every day.
I asked her to write down the positive aspects of her life for the next session. She felt quite happy, energetic and hopeful when she left my office. This session has been established on the cultural beliefs of the counselee, and it was arranged in a very natural way.
The principal of the necessity to consider psychic capacity and its facilitating factors as well as its limitations
The Islamic teachings present psychic capacity as usual vessels. It has been confirmed in the Islamic culture that the best person is the one who has more developed psychic capacity.
We have a special chapter in the Qur’an named “Expanding” which says:
Did we not expand thy breast for thee?
And lift from thee the burden,
The burden that weighed down thy back.
Did we not exalt thy fame?
So, developed psychic capacity will lift life’s burden and exalt one’s fame. It seems that developed psychic capacity is related to the rate of one’s healthiness, intelligence and the rate of his information and practical use of developmental principles (previously mentioned).(6-10)
How one can collect the Islamic perspectives on counseling and psychotherapy
A very important fact that workers should know in discovering the Islamic perspectives is that they can find the basic data in the Qur’an and instructions from the Islamic leaders. They (researchers), themselves, are responsible to develop the branches. Imam Sadegh (PBUH) says: “It is our duty to clarify the basics, and you have to pay attention to the branches.”F19
Although this instruction is fundamental for all the Islamic sciences, fortunately we can find not even basic aspects which were presented by the Islamic leaders in the field of psychology, mental health, counseling and psychotherapy, but these aspects can be found in some detail.
Practical use of the Islamic perspectives on counseling and psychotherapy
These principles can be used independently, in themselves, without consideration to other schools of thought.
All scientific and experienced psychotherapeutic methods can be used under the Islamic perspective authority. For example, we can use cognitive psychotherapy, hope psychotherapy, reality therapy, directive psychotherapy and any other methods of psychotherapy with the Islamic instructions. I mentioned one example for the use of cognitive psychotherapy with the Islamic perspective.
The Islamic perspective on counseling confirms the validity of some practical methods of psychotherapy. So, Muslim psychotherapists should pay more attention to the confirmed methods.
According to Wolberg, one of the goals of psychotherapy is to facilitate development for the clients. According to the Qur’an there is no other instrument except the Divine School of Psychology to reach this target.
So, the principles of development are exclusive and unique in this case. This instrument should be trained worldwide in order to access peace and rest in the world milieu.


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