I was born and grew up in Peshawar, Pakistan. Neither one of my parents identified with Pakistan as their country, since my father's family had been refugees from Afghanistan when the British helped the royal family of Afghanistan relocate in Peshawar after the king was deposed. My mother's family became refugees after the partition of India and Pakistan and were moved to Peshawar, the capital of Sarhad or the North West Frontier Province (N.W.F.P. named by the British rulers). The first language I learned was Farsi. Growing up in Peshawar, I learned English, Urdu, and Pashto. My mother was an educator and became a legend in my Province for all her educational innovations and educational ventures, assisted by a Fulbright fellowship, and a scholarship to get higher education at the American University in Beirut, Lebanon. She has been my inspiration to become an educator and to do it with passion and vision.
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 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 given that this subject was nonexistent in Pakistan. The American schools required me to get another master's however, every course in the program was something I had already done in my masters 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 had applied for support from U.N.E.S.C.O 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 getting 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 stare on the client 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 working on figuring out how to access the client and understand their 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.
My students over the last 29 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
- School Strategies - CPCE 5800
- Multicultural counseling - CPCE 5810
- Advanced Multicultural Counseling - CPCE 5830
- Advanced Abnormal Psychology - CPCE/EPSY 6250
I teach all my courses with a multicultural emphasis and teach about making counseling relevant and meaningful to a specific client.
My Research Interests:
- Counseling Psychology: Cross-Cultural Counseling and Psychotherapy
- Role and Function of School Counselors
- 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
- Instrument developed with Harris Kahn: Scale to Assess World View(c) (1984).
- Developed the "Cultural Identity Check List (CICL, 1990, Revised, 1999. 2005).
- Critical Issues in the Schools: Drug and Alcohol Abuse, Suicide, Violence.
- Developed the "Cultural Competence Survey (CCS, 2005).
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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