A clinical psychologist by profession, Dr. Ira Naeem has worked in three major hospitals in Dubai and has spent ten years in this field. Originally from Pakistan, Dr. Ira worked for two years in her home country before moving to Dubai where she still practices.
How is life as a psychologist?
Life as a psychologist is very rewarding as you feel really fulfilled, since it fills your day with purpose. On the other hand, it is very difficult since you sit down in your office dealing with other people’s emotional and psychological challenges which ultimately impacts you at the end of the day. If you are a psychologist and you don’t take care of yourself, you end up suffering as well. Despite the work being difficult, it is rewarding and makes you feel good about it.
What is the main thing that lets people believe you and your work?
Culturally, people don’t believe in psychology and ignore mental health. Whenever people are going through hard times mentally, they prefer to go to religious healers or maybe go to a primary doctor. But most of the time they don’t realize what’s going on with them. Today, awareness is growing among people and they know that mental health exists and different mental illnesses exist. Finally, people have started acknowledging this fact.
What made you visit Nepal?
Norvic International Hospital invited me to Nepal as we had contact before. The recent situation in Nepal and during the time when Nepal went through the earthquake and made world headline news, I came to know about Nepal. I was a student at the university during that time. We did some projects by assuming and coming up with a hypothesis on how any type of natural disaster impacts mental health. A lot of NGOs from Pakistan were working in Nepal at the same time whose interesting work provided us with some good data. But yes, Nepal is very similar to my country Pakistan, so the mentality, the exposure and stigma associated with mental health is very similar. I really wanted to come here and maybe contribute to society so that I could bring help to stigmatized mental health.
(Naeem came to Nepal with a motive to promote the integration of mental health into primary health care.)
Is this your first visit to Nepal?
Ah, yes! My experience in Nepal is amazing. What I have observed the most is that people are so warm, they are so helpful as well as respectful. People here have grabbed my attention. There is a positive energy going on in the environment coming from people.
(Listening to people is more important than giving advice to improve mental health in Nepal. – Ira Naeem)
What kind of traumas do you treat?
Trauma depends upon what kind of trauma your patient is suffering from. There can be complex traumas or simple traumas. But mainly, I deal with the PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) under which there are lots of traumas categorized. For example, sexual and physical abuse, loosing someone through death, or any type of injury or accident. Sometimes, traumas are not of a big nature, but still, they are traumas. For me, trauma is anything that causes shock to your mind and your body whether big or small. So, in therapy, we cover almost all the aspects of a person’s life.
How do you treat your patients?
When it comes to practicing as a psychotherapist, every therapist has their own specialty. For me, I specialized in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitized Reprocessing). CBT is mainly focused on the present and all our negative thought patterns which lead us to experience depression, anxiety, eating disorders, or any type of mental health challenges. However, EMDR is mostly used for trauma treatment. Whenever the client makes a visit, we holistically choose which therapy or combination of therapies that will work for the person. It depends on the case. It depends on presenting complaints and what’s going on with the person. Accordingly, we choose our techniques. But I am specialized in CBT and EMDR.
(Specialized in evidence-based models of intervention for trauma, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and personality disorders, Dr. Ira believes in helping individuals get better by making them consciously aware.)
There might be variance in treating patients suffering from similar problems. How do you determine the solution?
Psychotherapists don’t prescribe medication. Whenever we see that our client might need some psychiatric help, we refer them to our colleagues or some psychiatrists outside the hospital. We refer our patients to psychiatrists and they recommend the medication.
What is the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist?
Psychiatrists study medicine and after that do residency in psychiatry. However, psychologists do master’s in psychology and then get specialized in clinical psychology. A psychologist is not a medical doctor, but a psychiatrist is. Psychologists study philosophy and psychotherapy for which we don’t prescribe medication. We treat patients by using different therapy models.
According to your experience, what type of cases are most often brought to you?
The nature of cases, I believe, depends a lot on where you are living at that moment. What’s the culture, what’s the norm? For example, right now I’m in a place where the country has experienced a huge trauma, huge natural disaster. The majority of cases I would see, it'll be PTSD (Post Trauma Stress disorder). Because people are going through trauma. So, if I’m living in a country where the inflation or unemployment rate is very high, I would experience depression or anxiety. In the place where I am practicing, the major cases are anxiety, general anxiety disorder, mood disorder mainly depression, and bipolar disorder, personality disorder, and very few cases of psychosis.
How do you treat your patient usually?
I don’t think there is one common way which we can implement because every human being, their physiology, their personality, their home environment is different. So, you always identify the model that’s going to suit them. For me the initial phases are more like making a connection with my patient. Counseling, teaching them about what they are going through, what they can do and then slowly I move towards the CBT therapy where I teach them how to identify their negative thoughts that are making them experience negative emotions and then how to convert unhealthy thoughts into positive and helpful ones. I add EMDR aspect of therapy.
Which group visits you most often for depression?
There is no specific age because we can see a lot of children going through depression as well. From twenty to forty-five, this is the major age group that suffers from depression. But depression can happen at any age.
How would you like to conclude?
Mental health is as important as physical health. Because if we are going through any physical health problem like stomachache or fever, we run to the doctor. But if we are going through something emotional or psychological and we are just not feeling good, we are not our true selves. We need to seek help from psychologists or psychiatrists for which more and more awareness should be raised especially in Nepal which can help people promote their wellbeing. This kind of therapy can help people feel at their best and that will ultimately promote the wellbeing of the people and the country as well.