Meet the Therapist: Dr Masa Al-Kurdi
What attracted you to become a therapist?
From a young age I enjoyed listening to others and helping them come up with solutions to their problems, I found my calling in psychology. I started my career in academia but found I was too removed from helping people directly, I trained as a therapist to be able to work with people in distress to support them through their difficult times and to work with them to find solutions and coping mechanisms with their life struggles.
I aspire to be a compassionate and effective therapist, committed to providing the best support to individuals from different cultures with an open-minded and flexible mindset.
Where did you train?
I trained in the UK as an EMDR therapist by EMDR European Association. Before that I completed my bachelors, masters and PhD in psychology from the University of Westminster. I also trained in CBT at the Beck institute in the USA.
Can you tell us about the type of therapy you practise?
My approach to therapy is rooted in both EMDR techniques as well as CBT-focused techniques, providing support to clients in individual and group settings.
Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapy that enables people to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences.
EMDR is backed by extensive scientific research and is recognised and recommended by the World Health Organisation as an effective therapeutic approach. It is effective in treating a wide range of symptoms in a shorter time frame than most other therapies.
I have been blown away by the quick and positive outcomes of EMDR therapy, people can experience the benefits in just a few sessions, that would have otherwise taken years to make a difference without it. EMDR therapy shows that the mind can in fact heal from psychological trauma and distress much as the body recovers from physical injury.
How does EMDR help with recovery from trauma?
Traumatic events that disrupt a person‘s life are events not yet processed in an efficient way in the memory system. These events continue to overtake the person‘s emotional life, through repetition of unpleasant pictures, sounds, bodily reactions and feelings of anxiety such as flashbacks. When we are exposed to severe trauma we stop processing information in a normal way, our autonomic nervous system is alerted and more primitive responses in the brain takes over e.g. the fight or flight response. The traumatic event is thus stored in a non-linguistic form with primary intense physical and emotional reactions.
EMDR therapy stimulates the natural action of memory processing through eye movement and helps people re-process and access these memories and deep core beliefs. EMDR therapy allows the brain to process trauma in a safe and systemic manner to ensure that the previous memories are stories in the conscious, in an accepted form.
Imagine that our memories are made up of millions of wires in the brain, every memory is stored on these wires. When we experience traumatic or distressing events our memory makes a knot in these wires. When we later experience events that illicit similar negative emotions to past traumatic or distressing events (the knot) we react in a similar way we originally did when we first experienced trauma or stress and the brain creates another knot on that memory wire. The accumulation of these disturbances (knots) drives our current symptoms.
What EMDR does is helps the brain process past experiences that are causing our current symptoms. It allows our brain to re-process events in our memory in a safe and efficient way so that these incidents become manageable memories in our conscious i.e. unknot the knots in the memory wires so these incidents no longer intrude our current experiences.
What sort of people do you usually see?
My specialties lie in trauma/PTSD, depression and child and family counselling. I also have special interests in helping people overcome stress and burnout and manage sleep problems.
I work with adults, families and children (aged 10 years and above) in individual and group settings. Some of my other areas of expertise are:
- Grief and bereavement
- Speech problems
- Cultural and spiritual issues
I work with adults and children (age 10 years and above) in individual and group settings.
What do you like about being a therapist?
I enjoy helping people from different backgrounds and cultures. I like that, through therapy, I can teach people tools and techniques that can help them overcome their current crisis and enables them to adopt lifelong tools that they can use anytime in future advertises. I believe the most successful of therapy experiences is one where the individual learns the best ways to cope with current and future difficulties.
What is less pleasant?
As part of my interests in humanitarian response, I have worked with some of the most complex cases in mental health, sexually and physically abused war prisoners and people who have witnessed the horrific trauma in times of war, crises and refugee conditions. As a compassionate human it is hard to hear their harrowing experiences without feeling emotional and wanting to help more especially the children living in poverty and difficult living conditions.
How long you’ve been with welldoing.org and what you think of us?
I am relatively new to welldoing.org but since joining the platform I have felt a sense of online community and commitment to help people get the best support they need.
Do you ever suggest books or apps to clients?
I mainly encourage people to write or draw or find a way to express what is inside their head and get it out, it helps the brain process these thoughts and helps the person gain control of their thoughts and emotional reactions.
What you do for your own mental health?
Self-care is very important, especially for a therapist. I am lucky to have a strong social support network around me of family and friends, their support helps ground me and lifts me when I need it the most. I also use many of the techniques that I teach my clients like the relaxation techniques when I need to calm down and be at peace.
I write a lot and keep a journal to help me offload, and I also do feel good things as a pick me up when I need to distract myself like swimming, going out with my family or just watching a feel good film.
You are an online therapist. What can you share with us about working in this way?
I am an online therapist so I work with people in different geographical locations, but mainly from the UK, Europe and the Middle East. I am bilingual in English and Arabic so I do often get clients who speak Arabic or are located in the Middle East region.
Through working with people in different cultures, geographical locations and languages I have come to know that emotional pain knows no demographics and isn’t superior to anyone. Therapy helps everyone so long as the therapist knows how to adapt the style and approach to the person’s needs, making sure the approach suits their culture, mindset and preferences, ensuring the person can receive the best support to overcome their problems and build resilience.
What’s your consultation room like?
At present my consultation room is online via Zoom. It is me and my client on a video call, at the comfort and privacy of each of our own homes.
What do you wish people knew about therapy?
A lot of people assume that therapy is simply paying a stranger to talk about their problems, and often don’t think it is worth the money when they can just talk to their own people. But actually, therapy is way more than just talking to someone, it is discussing your problems with an expert on psychological distress, someone who can help give you guidance on how you yourself can overcome your problems and teach you techniques, skills, tools and coping mechanisms that you never knew or were never taught before.
Effective therapy is helping the individual learn evidence-based techniques to recover from current crises and learn ways to cope and overcome any future difficulties that may arise. Therapy helps build resilience.
What did you learn about yourself in therapy?
I have learnt my limits to fatigue and burnt out, and learnt that it is okay to take a break, if I am burnt out I can’t help anyone else, and people rely on my help. I have also learnt that with a toolbox of skills and mechanisms I can help myself overcome and solve my problems. But some problems need more time and effort to be resolved, and some experiences hurt more than others and need more time to heal. Time is definitely one of the best healers, especially when facing loss of loved ones