The foundation of every society is its citizens, and its successful rise as a civilization is largely incumbent on its people’s physical and mental health. A sociologist is tasked with the role of identifying the main problems that plague society and hinders its advancement, and to work towards finding a solution to overcome them. The layers of sociology as a profession vary from the level of the individual, to the marital and familial sphere, and finally to the international sphere. Let us meet one of the Qatari specialists in this field: Dr. Sharifa Al Emadi, Executive Director at Doha International Family Institute (DIFI) in Qatar Foundation. So, who is Dr. Sharifa Al Emadi?
My name is Dr. Sharifa Nu’man Al Emadi. I received my doctorate in Family Counseling from Manchester Metropolitan Universityin the United Kingdom. I also obtained a master’s degree in marital counseling from the same university and received a diploma in psychological counseling at Qatar University. On top of that, I completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology and Social Work. I started by mentioning my full name in order to stress my father’s name, as he played a huge role in my life and in helping me reach this stage. He used to tell me, “I love to hear my name in your interviews, it makes me very proud”. He always believed in my siblings and I; he used to tell us that we were his greatest blessing, and when asked about his wealth he would mention us as he believed that our success was also his. My mother also had a great influence on my life. She was one of the Qatari mothers who had not received an education herself; she did not read or write but had always urged us to study. So, I appreciate my family’s role in my success. The society’s culture is not based on education, but it is rather based on personal experience which shapes decisions. That is why I appreciate my parents’ generation who raised us on the importance of education, as they did not necessarily have an educational experience themselves but still advocated for it. Since I was young, I was passionate about reading psychology books. What truly encouraged me to read more was my family’s habit of buying books whenever we traveled. I remember my father always making sure that we visited the museums and libraries of the country we were in, and our luggage would be filled with books. My father had a big impact on my studies. He observed what kind of books that my siblings and I chose to read and tried to direct us, indirectly, to specialize and major in the fields that we were reading. Therefore, I was interested to major in psychology, but this major was not available at Qatar University at the time. I wanted to go study in Egypt because my father frequently visited it by virtue of his work, but my mother rejected the idea. I was saddened to learn that I was unable to study the specialization that I loved, and so I refused to go to university altogether. It was quite a shock for my family, because of how highly we value education. After a while though, I decided to major in something that is roughly similar to psychology, which was social services. Due to my GPA in my first year of University, I was forced to change majors to study sociology instead of social services. At the time, however, I was shocked to learn that there were students who were able to specialize in social services who had a lower GPA than I did. This was the second disappointment that I experienced in my academic endeavor, as I was very saddened by my inability to register in the major I wanted. However, I excelled a lot in sociology, and was especially interested in forensics. Something that allowed me to accept all these changes in my academic life was religion, as even though we are born Muslim, through life and experience we get to learn that it is the true religion . I say this because when I went to the United Kingdom to get a masters degree, I was intent on learning English in my first year and then complete my masters within two years. Fortunately, British universities changed their curriculum, and instead of doing a master’s in sociology in two years it was changed to one year. Here I realized that no matter what changes might occur, there will always be a positive side to it and that Allah knows what is best for his servants. After graduating with a sociology degree, my family was not very keen on the idea of me working as a social worker in a ministry. Therefore, I pursued a career at the Ministry of Education, and became a mathematics teacher for the fourth grade. I found myself analyzing the characters of the students from a psychological and social perspective. I stayed there for only one academic year, during which I was fortunate to sit with Mrs. Sheikha Al-Mahmoud, who was the undersecretary of the Ministry of Education at the time. I explained my situation to her, from what I studied and to what I was interested in. Surprisingly, following our conversation the ministry’ announced its need for sociology teachers to develop a sociology curriculum for the secondary level. Around six hundred people applied to answer the call, but only three of them were chosen, including myself. I immediately started teaching at a high school, and I obtained a Diploma in Psychological Counseling during this period. When I got my diploma, I applied for a master’s and doctoral studies. The Scholarship Committee repeatedly rejected my application, but I continued to apply. Thankfully, I was selected after a while and went to study in the UK.
What kind of lessons and experiences you have gained throughout your career?
Do not waste any opportunities, and try to take advantage of every single one of them that comes your way. Upon obtaining a doctorate, the student is expected to achieve certain requirements that do not require their physical presence at the university. I was not satisfied with this kind of educational program, as I insisted on taking advantage of every opportunity provided by the university to bring back the experiences learned from them to my country. For example, professors and supervisors met monthly to discuss a book or a scientific publication by distributing chapters among themselves, and each one would explain their work to the rest of the group. I wanted to meet with professors specialized in my major and learn from their knowledge and experience, but their meeting place was not suitable for me. Therefore, I spoke to my supervisor about this difficulty and put forward the idea of changing the location of the meeting so that I would be able to participate. This experience was highly encouraging for me as the professors were interested in my achievements, knowledge and studies, which I appreciated a lot. I also tried to put myself out there and socialize with people of different cultures and sought to learn about them and their culture, and in doing so I became much more knowledgeable about all the different cultures. In addition, I volunteered to monitor students as a teaching assistant for the professor during my PhD studies. Upon submitting my doctoral project, I developed a therapeutic theory from an Islamic perspective and was challenged by the internal examiner from the university. Thankfully, the external examiner encouraged me and accepted the research, with a request to add a practical part of the study that was done thereafter. Although the addition of this part caused my graduation to be delayed for three months, it allowed my research to be of high quality and calibar. My mother -may Allah have mercy on her- enjoyed attending our graduation ceremonies, but she could not attend my graduation in Britain, so I decided to apply for scientific excellence certificate to serve as a doctrate graduation ceremony of some sorts. I won the Platinum Award instead of the Gold Award, and that was due to the delay of the practical part of my research. Still, my research was the first research ever presented to the certificate of scientific excellence that included a practical part! In the diploma period, I liked to attend a so-called MDT meeting at the Psychiatric Hospital even though I was working as a teacher at the time. I would go to work in the morning, and then would participate in the meeting in the afternoon. One of the important milestones in my career was the arrival of Dr. Salah Al-Rashed from Kuwait to open a consultancy center in Qatar. The doctor was looking for a Qatari member to work with, and because of my dedication and interest in my specialty, I was nominated by members of the Psychiatric Hospital.
What motivated you to specialize in family counseling?
Besides my love of psychology, there were not many specialists in family counseling. It was actually Dr. Salah Al-Rashed who introduced me to these cases. Under family counseling, my colleague, Dr. Aisha Al-Thani, and I had different approaches. Dr. Aisha Al-Thani inclined to Karl Rogers theory, while I was inclined to CBT (Cognitive behavioral therapy) theory, yet we agreed to offer different approaches in order to extend the experience imported into the country. Therefore, I focused on family counseling. In addition, the family is the foundation of society, so I am interested in preserving the strength of the family.
How do you approach family counseling?
I now work as a specialist in the Gulf countries for the training of psychologists and social workers. At the same time, I offer family and marital counseling. I also offer treatment sessions for addicts and behavioral deviations. I don’t think that my knowledge is the only factor that led to my success. I think the most important thing in our field is the love of helping others. A person must have the ability to accept delinquents and understand that they are innately good people, but they have been influenced by the environment around them. Certainly, science is important and treatments are weapons that help to lead to an outcome, but such treatments must be used to help people.
What is your advice for women in Qatar?
We must not despair of our children who have difficulties in coping or in their behaviors. In all areas and with everyone – whether at work or in the family, with adults or with our children – we must promote positive behavior and ignore negative behavior so that we can rectify behavior and live together in a psychologically and socially healthy atmosphere.
- Interview written by Fatima AL Naimi.
- Interview was edited to improve readability and flow.