The work we do and the professions we choose to embark on shape aspects of our identity. In turn, our identities influence our work and the specific roles we exercise in that work. We bring our work to life not only through our skills and capacities but also through our personal values, attitudes and motivations. In this interview with Khashayar Farhadi Langroudi, Psy.D., we discuss his work as a psychologist and how that work is shaped by his personal values and his views on compassion, diversity and qualitative approaches to mental health.
In a recent publication you wrote, "I've discovered that advocacy for and celebration of diversity are defining aspects of my identity as a clinical psychologist". Can you elaborate further on the unique aspects that define you as a psychologist and the influence these have on your therapeutic work?
As a psychologist, I am able to access specific therapeutic knowledge because of my education that can be both liberating and informative for my patients. Not all people have access to both. I am an advocate for my patients’ well-being because of this and as a clinician this is both an honor and a privilege for me. I use advocacy as a tool to illuminate aspects of a situation in which darkness dominates. Lack of knowledge is darkness, as is resistance to seeing other ideas. I see advocacy as an important aspect of my identity as a psychologist along with the celebration of diversity. I have always tried to connect with different individuals, societies and cultures. There are many diversities not only outside of us but also within ourselves. It is impossible to get to know all the diversities outside of us and it might take a lifelong journey to access the diversity within us. My attitude towards diversity is one of celebration and exploration. We might feel a desire to minimize diversity due to its complexity. But this leads to fewer possibilities. As a psychologist, I am keen to examine the barriers that get in the way of this journey. I am interested in creating an open-minded dialogue towards diversity within and outside of the self. This is what I am always advocating for.
I know compassion and compassion based therapeutic theories are an important part of your research and clinical practice. Can you describe the power of compassion based theories in therapy? Do you think compassion in this therapeutic context transcends culture, gender, language and economics?
I feel it is important that I define compassion in this context -- compassion means compassion towards others and towards oneself (self-compassion). Compassion based theories in a therapeutic theoretical setting access and assess the source of suffering. Many of us would find it challenging to accept the source of suffering in our lives. We might avoid acceptance due to high levels of self-criticism, fear or shame. The compassionate approach has a unique perspective that helps the individual to not only sit with their suffering, but also to assess and explore ways to reduce and relieve themselves from suffering. A compassionate perspective might not be accessed easily, due to the complexity of the suffering and especially when we want to be self-compassionate. It is often easier to be compassionate towards others than it is to be compassionate towards ourselves. However, it is important to be in touch with a compassionate perspective and experience compassion as a way of life from moment to moment. This is liberating and helps a person connect with the greater power of humanity.With respect to the second question, everything is context-dependent, even compassion. The expression and experience of compassion varies hugely from culture to culture, and in terms of gender, language, and perhaps especially in terms of economics. While the experience of compassion can transcend these factors at a core level, the expression and intensity of expression can vary wildly, because of these factors.
In the West, we are increasingly comfortable (not perfectly comfortable!) speaking about mental health not only in therapeutic settings but also within the contexts of individual flourishing, mutual understanding, productivity and potential in educational settings, the workplace, and diverse communities, as examples. Do you feel psychological theories are flexible enough to meet diverse needs in multi-institutional and multi-cultural settings? In your opinion, how can therapeutic practice expand to promote positive dialogue around mental health?
I think many psychological theories are not flexible enough. Some of these theories were created to answer and focus on mental health challenges rather than enhancing mental health qualities. However, we have many different theories that not only focus on addressing mental health challenges, but also focus on flourishing, understanding and exploring the potentials of individuals and communities. We have already seen the influence that humanistic psychology, feminist psychology, and positive psychology have had on popular culture. We have also seen the power of contextual behavioral sciences and its application on multi-cultural settings, educational programs, and productivity. I believe that to overcome the stigmas surrounding mental health we should not only promote and focus on enhancing positive mental health outcomes, we should also have a dialectical approach to the human condition, acknowledging our challenges in different dimensions while also promoting and enhancing positive outcomes. We need to have a long-term view of the application of human potentials. We often become short-sighted using measures and outcomes that are short-term orientated due to the limits of our resources and the nature of the fast-paced competitive business view; essentially not very human. It is seductive to reach for these short-term goals. However, this leads to minimizing individual potential in addition to the potential for positive qualitative approaches to mental health.