Coming from a culture, where women are devalued and second-class citizens, I developed a passion for human rights and equality for all. To study in the United States was the culmination of a dream since age 14 to earn a doctorate. At that time, there were no doctorates in Pakistan. I had already earned the highest degree possible, a master’s degree in Psychology. I believe that psychology liberated me to rise above the low self-concept that is built into the identity of a south Asian woman. I also watched how my mother worked hard to do the right thing and always put service and the welfare of her family, especially her children and her students, first. I believe these major forces shaped me along with my maternal grandfather who, until he died in 1964, was my “surrogate” father and mentor. He was the gentlest, kindest man I have ever met. A quiet scholar of religions, who was considered a pagan by his family for reading all the religious books available for every conceivable faith, and a scholar who read and spoke several different languages, Kashmiri (his native language), Sanskrit, Hindi, Urdu, English, Farsi, Tamil and Telugu. Interestingly he had a bachelor’s degree in business; however, he never learned the art of accumulating wealth due to his compassionate heart. He taught me about the blessings of education, and always doing the right thing as that was the only path to salvation.
I had come to study school psychology, because of my interest in psychological assessment as I had minored in assessment in my graduate program, and also because this subject was nonexistent in Pakistan. The US universities required me to get another master’s degree to get admission to a doctoral program, however, every course in the school psychology program was something I had already done in my master’s degree in psychology. Choosing not to be bored, I started debating about clinical or counseling psychology. At the same time, my mother had started educating teachers to learn counseling skills to help the children who were have academic challenges and helping them make appropriate career decisions as these must be made during middle school in Pakistan. I thought a degree in counseling will make me a good resource for her and thus began a wonderful partnership. As I learned, I sent her resources and information and the Institute for Educational and Vocational Counseling was born along with a journal. She was able to establish the Institute and the journal with support from UNESCO and from the Pakistan Association of University Women, The American Association of University Women, The Virginia Gildersleeves Fund and the International Federation of University Women. I proceeded on to obtain my doctorate at Pennsylvania State University with leaders in the field such as Edwin L. Herr (Career Psychology), John Keats (Multimodal Therapy), and many other superb faculty members including Paul Games (Statistics and Educational Psychology).
My learning experience was interesting and powerful because it brought up issues of gaps in American Psychology and especially in applied fields where it seemed that everything made sense except it did not quite sit right with me. I decided this was due to cultural differences; however, I learned in my Masters in counseling that the way I approached the client and related to them made clients from non-dominant groups (ethnic-cultural, sexual orientation, disability, elderly, very young) and women really connect with me. However, my practicum supervisor in my master’s program thought that I since was unable to maintain a constant eye contact with the client, it was a limitation in my counseling style. I soon realized that mainstream American theories of counseling did not quite address the needs of all people. As soon as I finished my doctorate, I started work on figuring out how to access the client and understand his or her cultural identity. As a result of this research, the Scale to Assess World View© (Ibrahim & Kahn, 1984) was born and shortly after that the Cultural Identity Check List © (Ibrahim, 1990). My focus has been on making counseling and psychotherapy relevant and meaningful for the client. I also developed one of the first courses in the nation on counseling across cultures that was approved and offered at the University of Connecticut in 1982. Soon after that, I started revising all my courses and teaching them from a culture and gender perspective. I have expertise in diagnosis and assessment, group counseling, group leadership, multicultural issues in counseling and psychotherapy and psychology of women and identity development of South Asians.
I teach all my courses with an emphasis on cultural responsiveness and social justice and teach about making counseling relevant and meaningful to specific clients given their culture and their context, along with developmental stage, gender, sexual orientation, social class, ability and disability issues, along with religious differences and needs.
You may be interested to know that I have also developed the following:
- Scale to Assess World View© (1984) (developed with Harris Kahn)
- Cultural Identity Check List© (CICL, 1990, Revised, 1999. 2005)
- Cultural Identity Check List-Revised, (CICL-R© 2008)
- The Acculturation Index to US© (2007)
- Cultural Competence and Responsiveness Survey for Educators© (CCRS, 2005, revised 2013)
My students over the last 33 years have helped me grow and develop professionally. I believe I have been successful in my research and teaching largely due to their input and dialogue on various issues and premises that started to fuel my research agenda. I have been blessed to work with highly intelligent, socially conscious, human rights activists as my doctoral and masters students. My students at CU Denver inspire me with their passion for human rights and social advocacy. They select our program for the cultural responsiveness and cultural competencies focus that we all subscribe to on the faculty. It is an honor to be working with such a passionate group of future counselors who will work ethically and consciously to protect human rights and be social advocates.
Classes I teach at the University of Colorado Denver School of Education & Human Development:
- Foundations of counseling - CPCE 5010
- Group counseling - CPCE 5110
- Introduction to School Counseling—CPCE 5815
- Multicultural counseling - CPCE 5810
- Advanced Multicultural Counseling - CPCE 6810
- Advanced Abnormal Psychology - CPCE/EPSY 6250
- School-based Developmental Counseling—CPCE 6230
My Research Interests:
- Counseling Psychology: Cross-Cultural Counseling and Psychotherapy
- Cultural Competence and Cultural Responsiveness
- Curriculum Development in Counseling and Counseling Psychology
- Women - Psychology of Women, Women and Power, Abused Women
- Refugees and Immigrants: Adjustment issues
- Role and Function of School Counselors
- Critical Issues in the Schools: Drug and Alcohol Abuse, Suicide, Violence.
In whatever spare time I have, I like to paint with oil and acrylics. I love to look at and capture the constantly changing beauty of nature. This and reading is my biggest relaxation. I also love dancing and hiking and I wish I had more time to spend on these activities but I am usually found working away on yet another project that consumes me day and night.
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