Iranian psychotherapy: Becoming sane without going carzy

by minadadvar

Being in Psychotherapy is becoming more acceptable amongst Iranians.  However, there are many issues that make it very difficult for us to remain in therapy and/or benefit from the process. 

1)  Lack of familiarity with the concept. We do not know how therapy is supposed to help us. 

2)  Stigmatization. We believe that only crazy poeple seek/need psychotherapy.  

3)  Linear thinking.  We think that we will get better in a linear way. Today we should feel better than  yesterday. This week we should feel better than last week....      

4)  Impatience. We expect quick results. 

5)  Fear of dependency on therapy/therapist.  We do not want to depend on anybody/anything. This makes us feel vulnerable. 

6)  Shame.  We are ashamed of needing/seeking help. We are concerned about what people might say if they found out.

7)  Iranian pride/Grandiosity.  We think we know ourselves better than anybody else. We believe we can slove our problems without help. 

8)  Denial.  We tend to deny our problems. Others see it. But as long as we do not they do not exisit.

9)  Avoidance.  We are skilled at avioding the situations that force us to face our issues/pains.

10) Psychotherapis' incompetence and/or lack of attention to cultural issues.    

11) Hopelessness/powerlessness.  We do not believe that we have the power to change.

12) Blame. We blame others and/or circumstances for our difficulties. We do not look inside oursleves for the answers we look outside. We do not believe that we can change our life by changing ourselves.

I am sure that there are other factors that can complicate the progress of those who have enough courage to enter treatment.  I am interested in knowing about them.  Please let me what you think they are. Thank you.


more from minadadvar


by kiya (not verified) on

We Persians have a collective unconscious, as do all cultures, whcih dictates to us on how to percieve our feelings. Seeking mental health treatment is not a part of this collective unconscious as of yet, although it is starting to become more recognized. The stigma attached towards seeking psychotherapy is still very much in effect and continues to take its toll. Persians are not comfortable in talking about their mental health issues, hence we tend to somaticise it. Anyone remember grand ma or grand pa always complaining of leg pain? I do. "Nane beya yekam pahamo bemal kheylee dard meekone" And it always did. More recently, we communicate our emotional pain through headaches or say "asabam kharabe". This is acceptable to us. We take a pill to make it go away. But does it really go away?
When we deny painful feelings they find other ways of expression, more likley through our body. So next time you hear someone complain of headaches, wonder what feelings they may not be expressing.


Iranians in Psychotherapy

by minadadvar on

  • Mina Dadvar (Klein) I will sumit an article on "How to maximize your progress in therapy. Stay tuned.

persian westender

Good points Monda! I

by persian westender on

Good points Monda!

I also think Iranian older adults more likely to stigmatize mental health issues than the younger generation. They quite possibly associate visiting a psychotherapist (psychologist,...) with being “ravani” which is a big stigma in our culture. Interestingly , in my recent visit to Iran, I witnessed a great deal of interest of younger population to use of counselling services. The same trend I think exists here in west.  




at least in Calif...

by Monda on

there are agencies or private practitioners who do provide mutilingual services. Key is knowing how to find a good one (i.e. Effective therapist shopping, rather than starting work with just anyone). In any location, find a similar association to CAMFT OR find therapists through your local reputable universities, hospitals or even your own GP doctor.

From the initial phone interviews with therapists, they should be asked about their experience in working with specific issues, their values around a certain (or many) cultural backgrounds (nationality, sexual identity, socieconomic, etc.) and their own personality.

We either click with the therapist or we don't. If we don't like what we hear, then trying the next name on the list would be wise, before making a face to face appointment with that person. 

Yes persian westender, good multicultural therapists are harder to come by, but jooyandeh yaabandeh ast...and then if in a specific part of the globe they're really nonexistant, then I'd say it's a matter of prioritizing the main issues (for example: anxiety, depression, etc. due to job loss, death of partner, etc). What I mean is I'd pay attention to what really bothers me (my symptoms) and then if necessary, educate the therapist about the cultural norms relating to my syptoms. Again, only if I like his/her personal professional style and their experience working with similar core issues. Successful therapy is all about the educational process.

Again you're right that there are more availability for help with addictions, as those have visible physical syptoms (of many core issues). Plus more often covered through managed care.

persian westender

mental health services to ethnic communities

by persian westender on

Yes, you are right Monda. There could be more affordable psychotherapeutic services out there. However, they are limited and mostly are dealing with particular psychosocial problems, such as conflict management or addictions.  They less likely to offer more effective psychotherapeutic approach. Besides, they might not be culturally sensitive. If you look at the literature, you can see there is a general understanding that western mental health services, is not enough sensitive and tailored to the needs of ethnic communities. This is more pronounced with older cohorts. Language problems may also complicate the issue, whereas counselling and psychotherapy, needs higher language proficiency compared to the physical health services. I think having Persian-speaking therapists for Iranian communities residing in western countries, is a great help.


sliding scales..

by Monda on

are there to make therapeutic services income-based and affordable to almost anyone. Many non-profit agencies and even therapists in private practice offer the scales.

In California, CAMFT website can help find therapists in specific geographic areas dealing with specific issues (exple: anxiety, depression, addiction, couple's, family, etc.). Search may include sliding scale.

persian westender

You may add to the list

by persian westender on

You may add to the list high costs of psychotherapy. Not all Iranians can afford the fees, particularly when psychotherapy entails a long process of attendance. I believe it is seen by many as a luxury service which rather to deal with ‘mild’ problems. We may be ready to pay for high expenses, when the problem is “serious” and acute.



great discussion topic

by Monda on

I'm so glad someone finally brought this up here! I appreciate the way you have defined the reasons for collective resistence to therapy. Which by the way are not common only in the Iranian mentality but also prevalent among the Hispanic and Mediterranean cultures.

Lack of awareness about the current resources in therapy is exactly why it is #1 reason for most people don't seek help. With deep respect for Freud, much has changed since psychoanalysis came about. Nowadays, in most accredited graduate schools, there is much focus on not only various models and techniques of working with issues but serious consisderation for cultural diversity. Issues and clients are one if one is to look from a Humanistic lense or separate if looked at from Cognitive Behavioral perspective, but the cultural piece is always key to helping client with cominge up with resolutions. 

Added to the availability of various well researched knowledge in psychotherapeutic work, Neuroplasticity (the Changing Brain) is no longer an idea, it is a fact. Summarizing it, with therapy and commitment of the client, brain structures change over time. We are no longer what we are born with, we don't have to carry the genes for ever. There's hope for all of us to have an improved life. (If you are interested in this topic, Norman Doidge, MD, has a fantastic introductory book called "The Brain That Changes Itself". If you'd like to dig deeper in plasticity, you'd enjoy anything you find by Dr. Dacher Keltner of UC Berkeley or Judith Herman's (I believe Cambridge Hospital) seminal work on Trauma and Recovery". Then of course there's Dr. Amini et al (of UCSF) beautifully written research in "The General Theory of Love".

I love this blog and I'll get back to it to see who else is all jazzed up about it here! Thanks for writing this.






Seeking help

by Neekoo on

There is nothing wrong with seeking help.  People who deny themselves proper therapy do a disservice to themselves and all those around them.

anonymous fish

maryam has given in to her

by anonymous fish on

subconscience yearning to express her inner child through elementary spelling mistakes and grammer, thus indicating her need for authoritative intervention on behalf of her basic plea for a return to a time of loss innocence. 

i hear ya maryam... i hear ya... :-)))

Ali P.

Damn Ms. Hojjat!!

by Ali P. on

Call me foozool, or nokteh-been,I deal with my problems and shortcomings, by picking on others.

For example:

There is usually no mistakes in Ms. Hojjat's posts, but today, she wrote:"Psychotheropy requires comple opennes & trust to thropist".

I wonder why... :-)

Maryam Hojjat

Lack of openness!

by Maryam Hojjat on

Iranians are not open especially if they have problems. Psychotheropy requires comple opennes & trust to thropist.


Great Entry

by MiNeum71 on

Congratulations to your very first piece.

For many of the points there are accurate Persian expressions, e.g. Fayde nadare, Ravanee (as a swearword), Hoselash nadaram, Aberooreezee meesheh, Khodam behtar meedoonam, Moshkelee nadareem, Typical Iranian paranoia, Een taghseere ma neestesh ...



Thank you for this important blog

by FishHere (not verified) on

I think everyone would benefit from visiting a therapist at least during a period in their lives.

People who need therapy and refuse to seek the help become a menace to themselves and those around them, repeating the same mistakes over and over again with (not surprisingly!) the same results over and over again.

Men who have issues with commitment, women who have issues with sex, teenagers who have unresolved issues with their parents' divorces...everyone could benefit from help.

Iranians travel the world and speak other languages, appreciate arts and lead sexually liberated lifestyles, all vestiges of "modern" living. The only part of this modern living which hasn't caught up with Iranians is our collective lack of appreciation for "mental maintenance" as an important component of today's life, without any shame or stigma.

If someone tells me they are seeing a therapist, I shake their hands and kiss their cheeks and thank them from the bottom of my heart for caring enough for themselves and for others around them to seek assistance in resolving their issues.

P.S. Coming to and venting might feel good but it is not a suitable replacement for therapy by experts! Do this, but do that, too!