Over the past decade, a series of research studies has examined the characteristics of senior and ‘master therapists’ – practitioners nominated by their peers as the ‘best of the best’ – the therapists that they would recommend a family member to consult. The value of these studies lies in their capacity to use the broader perspective available to highly successful practitioners, who have survived the hazards of practice and thrived, as a means of highlighting the attitudes and strategies that are associated with excellence in the field of counselling and psychotherapy.

Several research studies have reported wide differences in levels of effectiveness across individual therapists. A study by Okiishi et al. (2003) is an example of this kind of research – in their sample, the clients of the least successful counsellors tended to get worse, on average, whereas more than 80 per cent of the clients of the most effective therapists were completely recovered by the end of therapy. Similar findings have been reported by Kraus et al. (2011).

This kind of evidence has led many people to wonder about the characteristics of those practitioners who are maximally effective. There has always been a lot of attention given to analysing the work of Carl Rogers, as an exemplar of an effective therapist (see Farber et al. 1996). The work of Len Jennings, Thomas Skovholt and Helge Ronnestad has sought to take this topic further by using interviews with master therapists and experienced practitioners to find out just what makes a good therapist. Jennings and Skovholt (1999) inter-viewed ten master therapists (seven women and three men), aged between 50 to 72 years, representing a wide range of theoretical orientations. All of these therapists worked full time in private practice. The conclusions that emerged from this study were that master therapists are:

  • voracious learners;
  • sensitive to, and value cognitive complexity and the ambiguity of the human condition;
  • emotionally receptive, self-aware, reflective, non-defensive, and open to feedback;
  • mentally healthy and mature individuals who attend to their own emotional well-being;
  • aware of how their emotional health affects the quality of their work;
  • in possession of strong relationship skills;
  • convinced that the foundation for therapeutic change is a strong working alliance;
  • experts at using their exceptional relationship skills in therapy.
  • able to use their accumulated life and professional experiences as a major resource in their work.

In a further study, Ronnestad and Skovholt (2001) interviewed 12 experience senior therapists with an average age of 74 years, and 38 years of post-qualification experience. Four major themes emerged from the data:

  • the impact of early life experience;
  • the cumulative influence of professional experience;
  • the influence of professional elders;
  • personal experiences in adult life.

Taken together, these studies show that there are a number of characteristics that appear to be common in ‘master’ therapists. They are practitioners who are not bound to one approach or set of assumptions. Even if they nominally demonstrate allegiance to a particular therapy approach, they read widely, and are open to new learning and new sources of influence. Master therapists are interested in other people and are comfortable in relating to others in an open and non-defensive manner. Finally, master therapists take care of themselves emotionally, and devote energy and attention to making sense of their personal life experience.

A therapist must ensure that he/she receives training from a recognised and certified course. This may be at a university or one of the accredited courses for trainee therapists / counsellors.

Islamic Psychology / counselling is an emerging field. Although there are significant development yet to be made in this area, there is a growing number of concerned individuals attempting to develop ‘Islamic Counselling’. It is important to stress the necessity to possess the appropriate tools, knowledge and skill set prior to undertaking this journey of discovery, research, investigation, and interpretation. The same way a person who is not qualified to practice law without having gone through a process of thorough study and learning, a person who has not gone through a process of studying ‘Islamic Counselling’ will find it difficult to decipher, interpret and translate the theoretical, practical, and intellectual foundations of Islamic Psychology/Counselling.

There are distinct and quantifiable differences between an Islamic Psychotherapist and the therapy he or she may practice and a Muslim who happens to be a therapist and who practices a conventional therapeutic model.

In addition to the above points cited by John Mcleod and others in their writings below is a non-exhaustive list of the Islamic qualifications of the Islamic Psychotherapist/Counsellor:

Badri highlights five general qualities/qualifications: 1) Sincerity, 2) Deep faith/Taqwa, 3) well read in the Islamic Sciences, 4) movement-oriented, 5) good image about him or herself.

To elaborate:

Knowledge of Arabic. While most social science researchers are secularly trained in the West, scholars in Islamic studies are proficient in Arabic. Thus, while the latter can contribute in reviewing and interpreting behavioural terms in the Qur’an and Hadith from the perspectives of `aqidah, fiqh, or akhlaq, the former may understand them from a social psychological perspective.

An Islamic therapist may not need to be proficient in Arabic to attain a good understating of Islam or Islamic counselling related fields. There are sufficient materials in English, for example, on Islamic sciences and counselling related subjects. Therefore, to be an Islamic Counsellor it may not be requirement to know Arabic but should have adequate access to relevant materials.

Qur’an and Hadith. Social scientists need to be informed by Islamic scholars regarding the difference between Makki and Madani verses in the Qur’an (to know how they correlate with the behaviours of the target audience); the occasions of revelation or asbab al-nuzul (to know the behaviours that lead to the revelation); the abrogation (naskh, to know the difference between people at two different times or places; the general ( `amm) and the specific (khas) (to know the universal and unique behaviour); the absolute (mutlaq) and the qualified (muqayyad, to know the direct and moderated/mediated effect of variables); etc.

Specific knowledge about the legal texts in the Qur’an and Hadith. Islamic scholars can identify ulama— in tafsir and tasawwuf who have conducted thematic studies on psychological terms such as nafs (soul), ruh (spirit), `aql (mind), and qalb (heart) and inform the social scientists about these terms in the Qur’an and Hadith. A more difficult effort would be to “infer” social scientific issues embedded in the Qur’an and Hadith.

  • Usul al Fiqh concerns the regulation of the process of research to guide the researcher at deducing law (of behaviour) from its sources (physical and social phenomena).
  • Fiqh concerns the practical application of the shariah in daily life. An Islamic Counsellor should have foundational (fard ul ayn) knowledge of halal and haram, the rules related to the ritual worship including wudhu (ablution), prayer, zakat, fasting, hajj, al ahwal al shakhsiya (family life) etc.
  • Aqidah concerns the belief system of the Muslim. Islamic creed is not simply about memorising certain formula. It is about having an Islamic worldview as ordained by God in the Qur’an and exemplified by the Prophet in his life.
  • Akhlaq concerns ethics and all the related disciplines including tasawwuf, adab etc.
  • Principles of Tafsir concerns the rules to interpret the Qur’an. An Islamic Counsellor should have adequate knowledge of the commentaries by the mufassirun (exegetists) on the verses related to behaviour, ruh, qalb, aql etc.
  • Qur’an recitation. An Islamic Counsellor should be able to recite the Qur’an with adequate tajweed (rules). This may come in use in the therapy process with clients.
  • Knowledge of the objectives of the shariah (maqasid al shariah) and Islamic legal Maxims (Qawi’d al Fiqhiyat) which are theories in considering the masalih (public interest).
  • Well-read in fatawa (legal rulings). It is important for the Islamic Counsellor to have high level understanding of the concerns of the potential clients. There are numerous Islamic websites where scholars provide answers and counsel.

The above list is not intended to be exhaustive. By compiling this post it is hoped that concerned people are able to discuss and develop a good understanding of what is required. Some of the above points relate to a proficient researcher in the Islamic sciences and some relate to the minimum requirements (fard ul ayn) of the Islamic Counsellor. It is important to highlight that the requirements of the Islamic science researchers are highly similar to the requirements of ijtihad, thus, unless there are individuals who have reached that level of competency, the notion of integrating western conventional research and Islamic methods must be the adopted research methodology of the ‘Islamic Counsellors’.

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