Who’s Who: Naji Abi-Hashem, PhD

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Naji Abi-Hashem, PhD

First, I would like to thank the incoming editor-in-chief of this periodical, Trauma Psychology News, for this interview invitation to share some aspects of my life, work, and journey.  I have been active in Division 56 of the American Psychological Association (APA) since its beginning.  Actually, I may very well have been a “charter” member, back in 2005 or so, when the idea of forming a new division for Trauma was gaining support.  Since then it received enthusiastic welcome and remained strong till now!  Through the years, I had the opportunity to present through this division at many APA conventions and be part of seminars, papers, posters, and workshops.  I also was asked to review professional articles for its formal Journal, Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy.  Certainly, I have enjoyed relating to many colleagues and scholars in this assembly and am happy to call them “my friends.”

What is your current occupation?  

Since early 2000, I have been involved in a number of activities locally and globally, as an independent practitioner—including some teaching and lecturing, counseling and psychotherapy, public speaking, general consulting, editing-writing-publishing, presenting at conferences and conventions, traveling for humanitarian services, international networking, providing training, cross-cultural work, and caring for the caregivers.

Before that, I was a full-time staff psychologist at a clinic in Seattle, Washington providing inpatient and outpatient services, beginning in 1992, for about ten years.  Presently, I do a little bit of everything, almost following the moto, “a man of all seasons,” since I have broad interests and training in several fields.  Although I have frequently received offers for various full or part time positions, I preferred to remain free to follow my passions and be able to travel within the States or abroad on a short notice; I spend several months a year in Beirut, Lebanon, my home country.  So, I learned to live on a smaller budget, yet the rewards are greater, as I dedicate myself to higher causes and try to make some contributions on a larger scale.

Depending on the setting, I am usually introduced as a clinical & cultural psychologist, independent scholar, international and cross-cultural worker, author, professor, counselor, etc.  I like to consider myself as a “student of the human nature,” a “student of culture,” and as a “caregiver at large.”  One of my main passions is caring for those who care for others, especially those working under pressure or on the front lines.  These include teachers/educators, counselors/therapists, social workers, healthcare providers, clergy/pastors, lay & community leaders, and humanitarian aid/relief workers.

When in Lebanon, I am usually busy with renewing relationships, speaking engagements, supporting leaders, counseling formally and informally (over meals and walks), teaching intensive courses at a university or seminary level, helping at several orphanages and residential homes for boys and girls, conducting workshops for those serving on the ground, especially among refugees, on topics related to loss, grief, trauma, anxieties, emotional disturbances, and psychosocial welfare (as Lebanon has about 2 millions Syrians and other migrant-refugees populations).  Also, in years past I participated in several TV programs, and in 2005 had prepared 13 interview-episodes on Mental-Emotional Health, Psychological Wellbeing, and Pastoral Care.

Through the years, I used to combine countries when traveling but recently have focused on Lebanon due to the needs there.  Also, I support two former students of mine (and their teams) who are working in South Sudan and in Cairo, Egypt.  Most recently, in early in August 2020, there was a huge explosion in the port of Beirut, of some highly flammable material stored there, which devastated all Lebanese and almost destroyed third of the capital.  It was of a nuclear proportion!  On top of other accumulated crises in the country, from economic, to political, to financial, to medical, now came the deadly tragedy.  Therefore, the suffering is great, and the ramifications are beyond imagination.  I have been really sad and burdened, trying to remain very involved from a distance (will travel there soon), helping, counseling, supporting, raising funds, and sharing ideas, resources, and written materials with those working on the ground, helping the injured, the victims, the displaced, and the traumatized.

So, I have an open platform here in the United States and in Lebanon.  Sometimes I am torn between the two places, but the technical-digital connections enable me to attend to, remain in touch with, and stay active in both realms as much as possible.  However, living and operating in two international settings is both challenging and rewarding at the same time.

Where were you educated?  

In Beirut, Lebanon and in the United States.  I was born and raised in Lebanon, so I was educated in the Arabic-French stream, from kindergarten until the secondary classes (upper high school level), which also offered basic English as a third language on the side.  My first college-level degree was in French Language at the Institute of Technology in Electronics (T.S. 1974).  I worked for a few years at the American University Hospital in the biomedical engineering department, then pursued another bachelor’s degree in Theology, Philosophy, and Biblical Studies at a local Seminary (B.Th. 1980), while strengthening my English toward proficiency.  Then, I started course work toward a Master of Divinity at the Near East School of Theology (which later I completed in the US).  All the while, I worked full time and serving in the community, before traveling to the USA in the summer of 1983-84 to continue my education and gain a broader international experience.

In two short semesters I finished another B.S. in Psychology (1984) from California Baptist College in Riverside, in preparation for graduate studies in the field.  Then, I completed the M.Div. (1985) in Ethnic-Cultural Studies & Pastoral Care from Golden Gate Theological Seminary in N. CA.  From there I went directly, with no break, into the Rosemead School of Psychology at Biola University for an M.A. (1987) and a Ph.D. (1992) in their APA Clinical program, with a solid internship in central Pennsylvania in 1991 (ending up with a thick dissertation on the longitudinal effect of grief and bereavement on children and adolescents).

Immediately, I was recruited to join a new clinic in Seattle, Wash., with Inpatient-Outpatient services where I stayed for ten years until I decided to move into free-lance status and pursue my passions full time.  Then, I became fully licensed in 1995 and a US citizen in 2005, enabling me to carry dual Lebanese/American passports.

Later on, I became a diplomate and board certified in three minor credentialing agencies.  Currently, a member of about 12 organizations and associations, but very active in only a few due to time limitations.  I am also an associate with a small Member Care non-profit agency, which facilitates the service of psychological-cross-cultural workers.  In April 2019, I was honored to be appointed as a Non-Resident Scholar at Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion (ISR).  Virtually, learning never stops, in form of continuing education (CEUs), meaningful interactions, or researching/writing for publications.  However, I do remain abreast of world affairs and international developments and discuss these matters with like-minded people to compare notes and gain balanced perspectives.

What made you choose this field?  

It was a natural progression for me to land my further graduate studies in social sciences, psychology, and counseling.  As far as I can remember, I was always fascinated by the human mind, posture, interaction, mood, relationship, personality, behavior, maturity… So, I read some and tuned in to conversations that pertain to these domains.  Actually, all my academic endeavors complimented each other, just like building a castle, one stone at a time.

In the early 1980s, when I was on staff of a local church in Beirut (near the American University & Hospital), mainly working with the youth and young-adults, I noticed that people of all ages would come to me for consultation and counseling.  They opened their hearts, shared negative emotions or long-held secrets, and expected me to give clear guidance and meaningful feedback.  I remember then using my insight and common sense, but deep inside, I felt unprepared and unqualified.  So, I borrowed or bought books and diligently studied them, which increased my appetite for formal training in this field, especially when blended with cultural awareness, human sensitivity, and sound spirituality.

While studying in the United States, my mind was enriched, yet always was working hard to sort out whether the concepts, theories, methods, models, and techniques are conventional-universal in nature, i.e., in their meaning and application, or only Western-local and provincial.  It was (and still is) a challenge to decide what to take on as face-value, what to modify in order to make sense in other settings and societies, and what to omit altogether in order to be safe and not cause confusion, damage, or harm, especially when I am helping and working with subcultures and minorities, or when I am outside the USA.

I am grateful for my background, education, experience, and life exposure.  All these continue to shape me, in personhood and vocation.  Currently, I like to consider myself to be “interdisciplinary, international, intertheoretical, interdenominational, and intercultural.”

What is most rewarding about your work?  

Well, being a student of culture, I learned to consider that every encounter is actually a cross cultural encounter –for a few minutes, hours, or months.  To me, when two people or two groups meet, they should engage deeply and humbly, and treasure the mutual experience, so that neither of them leave that encounter the same way they entered it.  Therefore, both parties become enriched and stretched in a meaningful way.  Virtually, I look for such experiences, especially with older people, who are ahead of me along the journey of life, as there is much to relate to and learn from them.  If we don’t make the most of any encounter, for example by being indifferent or simply guarded, we miss golden opportunities, and we leave these encounters feeling the same, or even perhaps uncomfortable, distant, isolated, and alienated.

When making a small or large contribution in the life of others or in the life of a community/society at large, I feel a great sense of satisfaction.  I have learned to share transparently and generously, from my treasures and wealth, which were accumulated though the years, even in short encounters or informal settlings.  After all, I am a product of many seasoned mentors.  People, especially in less fortunate societies, greatly appreciate any gift or gesture or contribution or amount of time (symbolic or tangible) you give them, and they take it to heart and show tremendous gratitude.  What a joy to invest among such people groups.  Also, I enjoy relating deeply and not remaining on the surface, looking at and looking through people–beyond mere presentations and into the core substances, appreciating the richness and the nuggets-of-gold in their lives.

Thus, relating heart to heart and soul to soul has been a great reward for me and became as a way of life (which is a disappearing art in this instant information-digital age).  There is an Arabic proverb that says something like: “The words that are generated from the lips, will only fall into the ears, but the words that are generated from the heart, will certainly fall into the other heart.”

Keeping my sociocultural glasses and international lenses are helpful and rewarding as a means of observation, relation, and appreciation.  I also enjoy people’s heritage, culture, worldview, spirituality, metaphors, and generational wisdom.  All inspiring and fascinating!

Another rewarding area for me has been writing and publishing.  Although I have had a passion for reading and learning since young adulthood, I never dreamed to write or publish that much, especially in academic circles.  The majority of my publications having been by invitation, and this has been is a great privilege!  I am grateful for my rich Lebanese background and extensive life experiences, which have broadened my perspective, balanced my worldview, seasoned my personality and caregiving styles, shaped my passions and intellectual repertoire, and colored my scholarly activities and involvement in many professional fields.

Doing CEU workshops at the annual APA conventions on “Understanding & Working with People from Arabic Middle Eastern Backgrounds” has been a positive tradition, now in its 8th year.  It has complimented a DVD by APA, and hopefully I can find the energy and time to add a book on the subject (as APA publishing has encouraged me to do that soon).

One great reward has been to hear others reflect positively on a lecture, speech, message, or workshop I presented.  And when I began writing for publication, it was so amazing to see my name “in print” and see the fruit of my long-hard labor finally published in a respected literature.  Later on, it was more rewarding to see some of my writings being quoted by other authors; very fulfilling indeed!

What is most frustrating about your work?  

When I worked in clinical settings, dealing with insurance and medical records, and doing piles of paperwork, became an unenjoyable burden.  This seems to be increasing in time, causing many healthcare providers to cut down or leave the profession altogether.

Now, in general, what I find frustrating, in a positive way, is my inability to accomplish all the tasks I set to do in a week or a month or a season; when I am making slow progress; when I miss important opportunities and cannot be in more than one place at a time; when I do not use time wisely or plan for much needed proper-self-care (not that I am highly compulsive or stress-driven person); when my body drags behind my mind, ambition, and spirit; when seeing people refusing to be helped or benefiting from the many resources available but rather remaining in their dysfunction; when I cannot respond to all the needs I perceive around me and in the world; when I have to give up some of precious causes or dreams due to the lack of time or energy or resources; and when I cannot respond to all the invitations for speaking, writing, caring, encouraging-supporting, or being there in person on the ground with the suffering people, which I call “the ministry of presence.”

In addition, what I find agonizing is to behold that the power of darkness and destruction, selfishness and bad intentions, are still at work, in individuals, families, groups, societies, and nations alike, causing deep hurt, pain, and devastation on all levels, everywhere I go.  Yet, all these are motivating forces for those of us who are dedicated to diligently bringing a good measure of comfort, healing, restoration, light, and improvement to broken lives, and introduce a welcoming renewal and a constructive change.

How do you keep your life in balance (any hobbies)?

Daily brisk-walks, listening to music especially soft and classical-baroque, keeping a journal/diary of significant events and crystalized conclusions, checking on dear people, contacting far away friends, visiting over meals with closer friends, a half-day hiking in nature, taking picture and photography, watching nature and space documentaries, occasional processing of events, exploring a new town or city, reading classical and devotional material as wisdom literature, frequent pausing-pondering-reflecting-mediating-praying, being handy and doing maintenance projects, listening to folk songs in different language… Also, I wish someday to learn some guitar and develop my passion for drawing.

I want to take this a step further and emphasize the importance I place on not only staying active and healthy in most dimensions-spheres of living, like the physical, mental, emotional, professional, spiritual, and social, but also in the existential and cultural ones as well.  I find myself occasionally checking on my worldview-formation and my philosophy-of-life, to see if there are any blind spots, major biases, and skewed perceptions, or any unhealthy attitudes developing gradually, consciously or unconsciously.  For it is important to discover: how are we affected existentially and culturally in this polarized, digitalized, and globalized age!?!  Thus, I try to practice self-evaluation and self-monitoring as often or as needed, especially at certain junctures and milestones along the journey.

What are your future plans?

Continue to Be and to Do the same, as long as I am able.  Actually, my horizons and platforms keep expanding with time, so I started being selective in choosing my assignments and pursuing realistic goals.  I am grateful that my passions for creativity and options for contributions are still well and alive.  So, I see myself remaining involved on many levels and active in many circles, with some adjustments along the way.

I have many ideas to publish in Arabic in the near future for the whole Middle East, and to establish a training program to offer two Diplomas, one in basic counseling and one in pastoral care; and maybe set the ground for a Master’s degree in counseling psychology, geared toward Middle Eastern mentalities and subcultures, and accepted among faith-based institutions, to help fill many needs in the community at large.  Otherwise, I plan to continue writing, teaching, training, traveling, counseling, giving, serving, and helping dedicated caregivers of all types.  I hope to remain a bridge-builder, a global thinker, a peacemaker, and a caregiver at large.

Thank you for this opportunity to share with you some parts of my life and personal chapters of my journey.

Contact & Links:
Email:   NajiAbiHashem@gmail.com
http://independent.academia.edu/NajiAbiHashem
https://www.apa.org/pubs/videos/4310843
https://www.apa.org/education/ce/cew0024
https://www.baylorisr.org/scholars/a/naji-abi-hashem/
https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Naji_Abi-Hashem