“Education is not a matter of age – it is a continuing process.” Mawlana Hazar Imam.
We present herewith, an exclusive interview with Dr. Jalaledin Ebrahim who recently graduated from the Pacifica Graduate Institute, Santa Barbara, California with a Ph.D degree.
What inspired you to pursue the doctorate in Depth Psychotherapy?
Jalaledin Ebrahim with his sister Jamilleh.
After filing business and personal bankruptcy in 2000, I had to make some serious decisions about transitioning from an entrepreneurial career in the adventure travel industry to a future career as a professional. I had already anticipated a change in career in 1998 due to shrinking profit margins in the international adventure travel business and the impact of the internet on consumer buying habits.
I decided to pursue a graduate education after a lapse of twenty five years since my undergraduate work at Cornell University. I managed to complete an M.A in Spiritual Psychology at the University of Santa Monica in August 2000. This program really helped to rehabilitate me from a low grade depression that had endured and gone unidentified and hence untreated for more than a decade. I learned important introductory counseling skills as well as important concepts such as the power of intention and the potential for creative imagination. It also opened up new career possibilities in the field of mental health.
My next step was to enroll in an evening program in Counseling Psychology at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology because I was not able to pursue a full time residential PhD program due to financial constraints. It took another four years for me to complete my M.A in Counseling Psychology in 2004. This is the requisite credential to become a licensed psychotherapist in the state of California. To sit for the state licensing exam, however, a candidate is required to gain 3000 hours of approved and supervised clinical training. I was fortunate to have found several paid internships and a permanent position in the field of community mental health as a wraparound family facilitator from 2001 which enabled me to meet these eligibility requirements. At one time, I was working three jobs and going to school – loving every minute of it.
But even after completing the master’s degree in Counseling Psychology, I did not feel sufficiently prepared professionally to consider opening a private practice. While considering my next step, I spent two more years studying to be certified as a Life Coach. Still recognizing a deficit in training, I applied for and was accepted into the doctorate program in Depth Psychotherapy in 2006 at Pacifica Graduate Institute at the fine young age of 57! I finally became a licensed psychotherapist in December 2011. It took an entire decade of academic, professional and clinical training to achieve this goal. Fortunately the doctorate program was designed for scholar-practitioners, which allowed me to work and study at the same time.
My doctoral dissertation was based on the observation that psychotherapists needed to have a deeper and richer context within which to serve their Muslim clients. In order to formulate an Integral Psychology of Islam, I chose to do a hermeneutic study of al-Fatiha, the first chapter of the Qur’an, considered to contain the essence of the entire revelation, which all Muslims recite in their daily prayers. Hazrat Ali claimed that if he had wished he could have loaded seventy camels with the exegesis of the opening sura of the Qur’an. I only wrote a 970 page dissertation!
How will this doctorate degree further your professional goals?
I am hoping that in addition to opening new opportunities for me in the academy as a potential research associate in a university setting or a think tank, I have also gained sufficient training and expertise to consider private practice within a professional medical group setting. Psychotherapy is not a profession that can be outsourced and so it actually values a practitioner’s life experience. Therefore my age does not limit my potential in this field but actually enhances it to a decent degree. My fantasy, of course, is to be able to teach an Integral Psychology of Islam at a reputable university or institute of higher learning specializing in fields such as Islamic Studies, inter-disciplinary studies or the Psychology of Religion.
How do you see the evolution of your career in the next 5-10 years?
My experience in writing my doctoral dissertation has inspired me to consider writing professionally. In addition to converting my dissertation into a book, I have two or three other books in mind on different aspects of psychology that I would like to write. One is in the growing field of community psychology which is the outcome of a dozen years of clinical experience working as a family facilitator with at-risk youth, most of whom are struggling to survive and thrive in a culture of poverty. The second is based on my interest in the field of Imaginal Psychology for which the literature is still very limited. I discovered through my doctoral research that Ibn Sina was one of the earliest documented practitioners of Imaginal psychotherapy. This is a psychology that recognizes not only the imaginal realms or the unseen worlds of which we are so unaware but which also relies on the power of imagination to transform our lives. A third book might examine the Psychology of Faith.