Mental health services encompass a range of services that are meant to address anything from an isolated or a daily mental health challenge to long-standing mental illnesses. They include modalities like support groups, medication, therapy and many more. People who provide these services include social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists. These different services are often provided by different professionals. While psychotherapists are equipped to provide psychotherapy, most of them are not qualified to prescribe medication. Likewise, while psychiatrists are qualified to prescribe medication, most of them are not trained to provide psychotherapy.
Therapy also called psychotherapy or counseling, is a process of working with a licensed professional, in person or online, to identify and resolve the emotional, behavioral, and psychological problems someone has. Therapy offers people a safe space to talk about their difficult emotions and feelings, their mental health, and their painful life experiences like war, divorce, childhood trauma, abuse, death of a close person, and many more hard experiences that a person alone can’t deal with or heal from. Therapy can be used alone or combined with medication and other modalities.
Mental Health Services are for everybody, and they are a great tool that people can use at any point in their lives to help themselves find peace, function better, and heal from beliefs and ideas that cause them pain and fear.
Throughout several generations, Iraqis have been through many tragic events including wars, poverty, economic instability, threat of militias, homophobic and transphobic crimes. Some of these events might have ended but their effects and memories remain in people’s heads. All these negative memories cause people to be more violent, depressed, and suicidal. That’s why mental health services are extremely important as they give people a chance to process their negative experiences to understand why they behave in a certain way or feel a certain feeling.
Seeking services like therapy isn’t always going to be fun or easy. During your therapy sessions, you might experience feelings like anger or sadness. These feelings come back as you talk with your therapist about the painful emotions that you might have been hiding for long years. With that being said, you have to be able to distinguish between a good and a bad mental health professional. A good mental health professional will not make you feel sad or guilty intentionally rather they will walk with you through the painful details of a certain experience then give you tips on how to overcome it and heal from it. A toxic mental health professional, however, is going to blame you for the way you feel and try to change you. Keep in mind that not all mental health professionals are qualified as some of them could be licensed, well known, and have years of experience but still fail to understand their patients.
Some mental health professionals might cause you more pain by being judgmental or unethical. Having that experience with a person you think of as a supporter might give you a negative impression about mental health services in general. When a mental health professional is unqualified, they usually use their personal beliefs to judge their patient so if that therapist’s beliefs stand against homosexuality, they will for sure blame the patient for their sexuality, make them feel guilty, and try to change them. Our advice is to take some time to choose your therapist or psychiatrist and be careful with the personal details you share with them in your first few sessions.
Seeking mental health services could be quite expensive and even with that, Iraqis struggle with unqualified mental health professionals who get paid huge amounts of money. We are not stating that all Iraqi mental health professionals are unqualified but a certain percentage of LGBTQ+ Iraqis continue to struggle when looking for therapists and psychiatrists who know how to separate their religious beliefs and social views from their duty to be professional and helpful to their patients.
In 2020, IraQueer made a survey that included over 240 Iraqis from the LGBTQ+ community who come from different cities. Part of the survey covers the subject of mental health to know how many have sought mental health services and how their experience was. Some of the ones who visited psychiatrists or psychotherapists mentioned that they refused to visit a professional in the cities they live in so a person who lives in Najaf, for example, preferred to go to a service provider located in Baghdad rather than visiting one in Najaf. Visiting a service provider in the same city the LGBTQ+ individual lives in can put them in danger and bring troubles.
Noor is an Iraqi lesbian and one of the 240 Iraqis who filled our survey. She describes her experience by saying, “At some point in my life, I felt the need to visit a psychiatrist with my girlfriend so we chose one who was well known. We assumed he was going to be professional and supportive but things didn’t go well at all. During our session with him, he asked me to kiss my girlfriend in front of him and gave me hints that he wanted to have sex with me.”
“I only agreed to visit an Iraqi psychiatrist because I thought he was an LGBTQ+ ally. The psychiatrist wasn’t an ally neither as good as I expected him to be. I went to his clinic and as we were talking, he opened his cabinet, took out some pills, and advised me to use them. When I got home, I searched on Google for the ingredients, usage, and effects of these pills. It turned out they were used to cure homosexuals and turn them straight or as some like to call it “normal”, said a gay Iraq man.
Another guy was asked by his psychiatrist to visit him home and another who was advised to pray and read Quran to heal from homosexuality and become straight.
As an Iraqi LGBTQ+ person, have you ever had unpleasant experience with an Iraqi mental health professional? You can write your experience and send it to us to help us get a clear picture of the situation inside Iraq.