Saudi psychology student works to remove therapy stigma

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Najwa Hafiz says people do not realize that talking can be powerful, even life changing. (AN Photo)
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In an effort to normalize therapy in Saudi society, Najwa Hafiz created an exercise book, Kalakee’a. (AN Photo)
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In an effort to normalize therapy in Saudi society, Najwa Hafiz created an exercise book, Kalakee’a. (AN Photo)
Updated 09 November 2019

Saudi psychology student works to remove therapy stigma

  • Najwa Hafiz: ‘I try to end the shame that is associated with mental health and therapy by simply speaking up’
  • ‘Kalakee’a consists of exercises that help us deal with our thoughts in a healthier manner in order to improve our quality of life’

JEDDAH: Many people are discouraged to seek therapy because of the social stigma around it. People are afraid to be perceived as mentally ill, and do not think of therapy as a normal or healthy option.

Saudi 19-year-old psychology student Najwa Hafiz, who is also an International Coach Federation accredited life coach, has set out to challenge that misconception.

“I often hear people say: ‘How would a stranger solve my problems.’ There’s such a huge misconception about what a therapist does in our society. A therapist is not there to solve your problems. They help you understand your problems and where they stem from,” Hafiz told Arab News.

“They offer you healthier coping mechanisms that will guide you to understand yourself better, as well as those around you. People think a person has to be ‘disturbed’ in order to go to therapy, which is absolutely not the case. People can go to therapy for very normal life stressors, like adjusting after college graduation, becoming a new mom, or just for improving their stress management skills.”

She said people do not realize that talking can be powerful, and even life changing. 

“I try to end the shame that is associated with mental health and therapy by simply speaking up. The more we talk about it, the more ‘normal’ it gets. For example, I'm working on an Instagram campaign that features stories of people who went through depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and more. This way people can connect with others through storytelling. Hopefully, people can view mental health in a more compassionate way through this campaign.”

In an effort to normalize therapy in Saudi society, Hafiz created an exercise book, Kalakee’a.

“It consists of exercises that help us deal with our thoughts in a healthier manner in order to improve our quality of life. One of the chapters is based on cognitive behavioral therapy, which is a method that aims to correct harmful patterns of thinking that cause people difficulties. This can drastically change the way they feel about a certain obstacle. Also, Kalakee’a contains exercises about mindfulness, the inner child, happiness and more.

“I knew I wasn’t the only one who was going through this struggle. We are such complex beings. Our brain is the most complex structure in the universe. Sometimes, we need extra help to rationalize and effectively deal with our emotions.”

She added: “I hope Kalakee’a serves as a tool to help people do that. Through Kalakee’a, I wanted to make people realize that life is not all happiness but, it’s also not all sadness. Life is simply a balance — a balance of our thoughts, a balance of the happy and the sad, a balance of our strengths and weaknesses.” 

She explained that in Arabic, the word “kalakee’a” means a collection of knots that have been intertwined together, and she chose the name to decrease the stigma around mental health. 

“I believe we all have ‘kalakee’a’ embedded within us, we just need to acknowledge them and consciously choose to better our ways of dealing with them. If doing so, we are enhancing our quality of life and letting our authentic self break through. We are very complex beings.”

Hafiz highlighted that Saudi Vision 2030 includes initiatives to normalize mental health care.

“Counseling clinics have been added to 82 health centers throughout the Kingdom — the total number of counseling clinics has been doubled. In addition, Saudi Vision 2030 strives for a society that is educated and connected as one, which are two factors that will hugely contribute to the way we view therapy.”

Hafiz is also working on creating community groups with the Adult and Child Therapy Center (ACT). 

“The group strives to provide an environment where people can overcome hardships as one interconnected society in order to reach renewed meaning. It gathers people and allows them to talk freely about their struggles. I host the community group alongside one of ACT’s therapists, Alya Nassief. Each month we offer a different theme for the group. For example, in April we did ‘grief’ and the following month we did ‘body image.’ This gives everyone a chance to attend whichever group they relate to.”

She is currently working on a project with the founder of Jeddah’s Kids Lounge, Amal Abdulwahid, to teach children about emotional wellbeing. 

“Kids Lounge is a space that offers artistic, social, and self-development activities. We are collaborating to teach kids about emotional and mental wellbeing. Currently, I'm preparing the curriculum that integrates various interactive activities in order to create an awareness on emotional wellbeing for children. Kids are the core foundation of our society. Opportunities that come to me like these always fill me up with gratitude and remind me why I started Kalakee’a.”


Misk Initiatives Center signs 12 deals to develop youth talent

Updated 15 November 2019

Misk Initiatives Center signs 12 deals to develop youth talent

  • MoUs with top firms such as Chinese tech giant Huawei, French oil major Total open new opportunities

RIYADH: The Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Foundation Misk Initiatives Center has signed 12 memorandums of understanding (MoU) on the sidelines of the Misk Global Forum in Riyadh with local and international companies to support and develop youth talent.

Among the companies were the Chinese tech giant Huawei, the French oil firm Total, the Emirati Federal Youth Authority, and the Ministry of Economy and Planning.

The agreements stipulated joint work between the two parties in the fields of talent development in Saudi Arabia and information and communications technology, in accordance with the National Transformation Program 2020 and the Kingdom’s Vision 2030. 

This initiative aims to find ways of cooperation and employment opportunities between the two parties.

The MoU signed between the center and the Emirati Federal Youth Authority provides for the enhancement of joint cooperation in support of youth. 

The two parties will seek to discuss future cooperation, to build a strategic partnership between the two parties in exploring potential cooperative opportunities and setting a framework for such cooperation, in addition to organizing the exchange of technologies and innovations through the joint organization of courses, forums and workshops.

The MoU aims at creating a specialized scientific dialogue between the two parties, conducting joint research at the institutes in the field of entrepreneurship and the skills of the future, considering launching joint initiatives, and examining the possibilities of cooperative programs based on the extensive experience of Misk and the Federal Youth Authority.

Misk’s Initiatives Center agreement with Total will promote joint cooperation, find training opportunities for Saudi talent at the company’s headquarters and facilities, and cooperate on educational programs that support entrepreneurship and an ecosystem for startup companies, especially in the fields of energy and technology.

The Misk Global Forum also witnessed the signing of a MoU with “Hub71” to promote learning and leadership among Saudi youth, and enhance opportunities for joint collaboration, in addition to two MoUs with 500 startups and seed stars “to promote joint cooperation between the two parties, to develop and grow the business of startups and provide them with the necessary
environment.”

Misk also signed a MoU with the Public Institution for Education and Global Leadership to promote joint cooperation and achieve the objectives of both sides, to support innovation initiatives that instill the entrepreneurial mindset of young people, as well as the establishment and organization of entrepreneurship approaches. 

Both parties agreed to focus on exploring potential collaborative opportunities related to the Entrepreneurship World Cup, and establish a competition with competitors coming from 170 countries.

Both parties also agreed to support international competitions aimed at identifying the best solutions in various fields and sectors, as well as exchanging programs on entrepreneurship and innovation.

The center has signed a MoU with the Saudi Industrial Development Fund to discuss the possibility of providing training programs and courses for the center’s employees of the Fund and the relevant authorities. In addition to discussing available opportunities for cooperative training within the Fund, and providing opportunities for participation and contribution of the Fund’s staff in Misk’s programs.

The MoU aims to explore the benefits of existing agreements between the two parties with international financial and educational institutions, in order to find opportunities that provide programs, training and educational courses, and granting cooperative trainings for Saudi youth in those global institutions.

The center also signed a MoU with the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO), aiming to enhance joint cooperation on educational technology and its integration into the educational systems in the Islamic world.

An MoU with King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) will enhance the cooperation between the two parties in several initiatives, including academic development, training, entrepreneurship and innovation programs.

An MoU with Endeavor Saudi Arabia will support the Kingdom’s youth, enhance their talents and potential, stimulate economic growth, and find ways of cooperation between the two parties that serve their common interests.

The center’s MoU with the Ministry of Economy and Planning aims to spread awareness, provide new information on the education and training of human resources in the administrative and economic fields, youth empowerment, and coordinate efforts to raise their abilities.

The MoU aims to create cooperative training opportunities in local and international institutions with the purpose of workforce growth in the Kingdom’s economic sector, contributing to the development of national competencies in the economy, policies and procedures, strategic planning, in addition to providing job opportunities for graduates from areas that serve the interests of both parties and support the achievement of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.