Member Spotlight: Dr Amirah Shah

Amirah Shah

Each month we spotlight an ACA member in the ACA Monthly Bulletin, our monthly newsletter. The Member Spotlight is designed to showcase the work of our members to you! We hope their stories inspire or spark interest. Let’s share our experiences within our counselling community.

Meet Dr Amirah Shah, Psychotherapist and Trainer

My journey through the counselling field was unanticipated. I was denied my desire to study hospitality by my father because I was a female. My father was a respected and successful hotelier, and I spent my formative years growing up in hotels. My father had trained me well, and so I naturally thought that I too would enter the profession one day. Imagine my shock and dismay when he mocked my university application to a world-renowned hospitality college. However, at the risk of depicting him as a villain, I must say that his refusal to allow me to pursue a hospitality degree was one of the best things he had done as my father, although it definitely did not seem so at the time. In hindsight, his decision pushed me onto a path that was my true calling.

I had reluctantly picked up a psychology and business degree simply out of curiosity and practicality respectively. I had always been inclined to study the nature of the mind. My childhood consisted of me bombarding my very tolerant mother (bless her soul) with a million “Mama why… (insert obsession about the human behaviour of the day).” It was not long before the art of therapy eventually whispered its way into my heart. It resonated and felt like second nature. As I delved deeper into the world of psychology, I discovered a profound connection with the human mind and its intricacies. Like many therapists, the journey was transformative, shaping my understanding of myself and others. The more I learned, the more passionate I became about helping people navigate their mental landscapes. This passion grew into a vocation, leading me to where I am today. As I pursued my Masters and my PhD, I learnt more skills and was exposed to so much knowledge and ways of knowing. In hindsight, the gruelling nature of academia has taught me how to separate the wheat from the chaff, the gems of ontology and etymology continue to afford me unique perspectives and humility as a person and as a professional.

The pragmatic reality of a counsellor, psychotherapist, supervisor, and trainer running a private practice encompasses a wide and diverse array of (evolving) competencies. I see anywhere between 10-14 clients a week, spread out between three days. I spend the other two to three days a week building my private practice, engaging in professional development and supervision, running workshops, networking with other professionals and creating resources such as books and podcasts. Running my own professional practice allows me the flexibility to create a schedule that is conducive to my physical, professional, relationship, and spiritual health. 

Whilst clumsily forging my way through the Amazonian forest of private practice with a blunt sickle in my non-dominant hand, I am currently creating the next resource for The Culturally Informed Trauma Workbook series – Module 02 | Your Present and Module 03 | Your Future. This endeavour is both challenging and rewarding, demanding creativity and resilience. Amidst these poorly lit meandering tracks, breakthroughs with my clients and their genuine appreciation illuminate my path, affirming my purpose. Their progress and gratitude are beacons of light that guide me through the darkest moments, making every effort worthwhile.

However, one of my greatest challenges is the hurt and disappointment I used to encounter when an occasional client abruptly ceases therapy or behaves disingenuously. These moments are difficult and often leave me questioning my approach and effectiveness. Whilst this was something that was touched on during my counselling training, its adverse effects still seemed to linger for some days. Therefore, facing rejection from clients was a topic I often addressed with my counselling students during my lecturing days. If I were to mentor myself as a novice practitioner, I would shed light on the pitfalls of vicarious trauma through case studies. Understanding the emotional toll that clients’ stories can take on a therapist is crucial for long-term sustainability in this field. I would also have benefitted from learning about the nature of traumatised organisational systems, and how that can lead to the number one occupational hazard for early practitioners: Burnout. Navigating these systems requires resilience, trust in oneself, a strong personal and professional support network, as well as an effective self-care strategy.

Needless to say, this was a challenging experience I had to endure, but thankfully I had the grace and wisdom of my supervisor. In fact, I distinctly recall highlighting the importance of engaging a supervisor who also assumes the role of a mentor, and to constantly engage in reflective practice to my counselling students. These two lifelines are essential for personal and professional growth. Without them, my passion and success as a counsellor and researcher would have been fraught. Reflective practice has been a cornerstone of my development, allowing me to continually assess and improve my methods.

Looking forward, I envision the healing profession of the mind to incorporate two distinct yet connected fields: transculturally-informed care and philosophical and/or spiritual tenets. Whilst the biopsychosocial model has been well-established, healthcare professionals continue to be siloed in their care. Integrative practices, though on the rise, still do not acknowledge nor address existential matters, and cultural competency training has the potential to espouse more depth, such as the big questions of life and existence according to cultural and faith groups. The lack of focus in these areas thrusts society to freefall into a bottomless pit of meaninglessness.

fervently hope for a reunion of philosophy, spirituality, and psychology to address the meaning crisis, to re-establish altruism, authentic connection, and true compassion within our transcultural society. By bridging these fields, we can offer more holistic care that addresses not only the mind and body but also the soul. This integrative approach has the potential to heal the deep wounds of modern society, fostering a sense of purpose and community. In a world increasingly fragmented and isolated, such an approach is not just beneficial but necessary. It is through this vision that I continue my work, striving to make a meaningful impact in the lives of those I serve.

I echo the wise words of Carl Gustav Jung: “One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings. The curriculum is so much necessary raw material, but warmth is the vital element for the growing plant and for the soul of the child.” Jung’s eloquence speaks to the heart of human experience, reminding us that while knowledge is essential, it is the warmth and compassion we receive that truly nurtures our growth and nourishes our souls.

With that, I thank you patient readers, for journeying through the tapestry of my professional life with care and curiosity. May the reflections of my experiences resonate within your heart, and may you carry a piece of this narrative with you, as a token of our shared humanity.

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