When I was entered university, my first major was psychology. I became interested in this field after events in my youth led me to realize the importance of counselling. I was encouraged by teachers and friends to pursue it and, though I was genuinely interested in the practice, I became disappointed after a few introductory classes. I realize now how premature my judgement was. However, I had felt that psychology did not seem to answer the big questions I had at the time—questions I only later realized were more theological than psychological. So, I changed my major to Religious Studies. The exploration of religious traditions, philosophy, and humanities answered personal questions I had about life and myself, provided me with other questions to consider, and expanded my appreciation for the relationship that human beings of various faiths and cultures have with questions of existential concern. I was then, as I am still now, fascinated by the human expression of spirituality and its relationship with personal wellbeing.
After graduating with my BA (cum laude) in Humanities and Religious Studies, I briefly taught at an Islamic school in California before I decided to pursue a graduate degree. I had considered degrees in religious history or the history of Islamic thought, and though I had interests in these field, my primary desire was for practical knowledge that could help me to provide support and spiritually integrative care for others. It was at this time that I first became aware of chaplaincy, a profession that combined religious studies with counselling. In 2009, I entered the first accredited Islamic chaplaincy program at the Hartford Seminary. The program appeared to combine everything I was interested in at the time. Not only were there courses that examined a rich history of human struggles to understand issues of existential concern, there were complementing courses that helped us to ground these struggles within an understanding of mental health, pluralism, and global ethics.
The Hartford Seminary’s Islamic Chaplaincy program has proved vital for my academic and professional development and has formed an important foundation for my understanding of interfaith dialogue, as well as community and personal wellbeing. The professors and fellow students (many of whom were from various countries and faith traditions) have helped me to better recognize the needs of marginalized religious communities, the importance of research and mental health advocacy, and how public institutions are being reshaped (or need to be) to better meet the religious, spiritual, and psychological needs of diverse religious minorities. I was also required to receive clinical pastoral education (CPE).
It is difficult to put into words how formative CPE has been for me. Suffice it to say that it changed me in the best sense of that statement. I was privileged to provide care and support to patients and clinical staff while being supported by supervisors and a cohort of colleagues who helped me to explore deeply my personal and professional understanding of faith, spirituality, and wellbeing. I ended up serving for two years as a resident in the Spiritual Care Department at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton. There, I was privileged to provide spiritually integrative care to diverse medical and psychiatric patients, staff, and family members through one-on-one counselling and weekly spirituality groups with a mental health focus. Moreover, I was able to conduct research (later published; see Long, 2014) and graduated with distinction among my cohort.
In 2014, I moved to Edmonton where I served as in Islamic Studies teacher for seven years. It is a distinct privilege of mine to have been able to contribute to the faith and wellness of our city’s Muslim youth. In this role, I not only came to learn about how much supporting youth and young adults but also came to more fully recognize their genuine need for mental health programs and services that integrated their Muslim faith, culture, and identity. In a hope to help address this need, I joined the Islamic Family and Social Services Association (IFSSA) as their first Youth Mental Health Lead & Chaplain. As part of this role, I also serve as the Muslim Chaplain at the University of Alberta.
If you want to learn more about my activities, services, and reflections, feel free to follow this blog or connect with IFSSA or the Green Room on Facebook or Twitter. If you would like to read about my personal journey of faith, you can read that here. You may also contact me with questions, feedback, and good advice.
Professional Education & Credentials
- Masters of Social Work, Community-Informed Practice for Health and Well-being (in progress)
- Clinical Spiritual Care and Counseling Residency (4 units of CPE, 1 unit PCE), St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, 2012-14
- Master of Arts, Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations, 2014
- Graduate Certificate, Islamic Chaplaincy, 2012
- Bachelor of Arts (Cum Laude), Humanities and Religious Studies, 2007
- Momentum Mental Health Researcher/Clinician Award (May 2018), Momentum Walk-in Counselling
- Distinguished Service Award (March 2016), Association of Muslim Chaplains
- Angel-Marie O’Connor Award (August 2013), Spiritual Care Department, St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton