Highlighting Minority Masculinities

16 Mar by HPA/LiveWell Clinical Psychology

HPA/LiveWell’s Dr. Amina Mahmood was interviewed by Joshua Turner, M.S., a Counseling Psychology Doctoral Student at New Mexico State University. Joshua is conducting a series of interviews highlighting the work of psychologists whose research or practice examines work with minority men.

Dr. Amina Mahmood received a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from The University of Iowa. She works full time as a licensed psychologist for HPA/LiveWell in Albany, New York, and frequently provides bilingual counseling services (English and Urdu/Hindi) to American Muslim men. She is a first-generation, Pakistani-American, and has conducted research examining mental health and American Muslims that has been published in APA-published journals, as well as book chapters.

What Initially Sparked Your Interest in psychological work with American Muslim men?

At the University at Albany (SUNY), Dr. Mahmood completed an undergraduate thesis examining psychological coping strategies among American Muslims. She continued research on American Muslims for her doctoral thesis, which investigated South Asian American Muslim women’s help-seeking behaviors. Her study participants reported greater likelihood of accessing psychological services from culturally sensitive clinicians, as well as preference to incorporate religious and spiritual practices to manage symptoms. The completion of this work led her to question help-seeking attitudes of South Asian American Muslim men. In particular, she was curious if men would describe similar help-seeking preferences, given the gendered pressures and cultural expectations placed on American Muslim men.

What are some important clinical considerations in working with American Muslim men?

Being aware of the history and context of aggression in the United States towards Muslims and individuals of Middle Eastern descent is significant to clinical approaches. For some Muslim American men, there is a narrative present post 9-11 within the American Muslim community that there is significant possibility of imprisonment. Men may fear they will “disappear” if considered suspect regardless of any evidence. Dr. Mahmood stated, “these [Muslim] individuals have a vested interest in protecting life in this country as well. They are Americans too.” American Muslim men may have conflicting emotions toward other American Muslims. In-group distrust and fear has complicated identity development for American Muslim men because U.S. government agencies have relied on informants from within the American Muslim community to prevent threats.

It is also of clinical importance to recognize the diversity within American Muslims depending upon country of origin, immigration status, acculturation, and time spent within the United States. For example, there may be complex differences in culture and history between Pakistani, Bosnian, Somali, and Arab men. For instance, a Bosnian Muslim may have arrived to the USA after the Bosnian genocide; a Pakistani Muslim may be a first or second generation American of Pakistani parents who voluntarily immigrated to the USA; and an Arab Muslim may be a 4th or 5th generation American whose family settled in the mid-West in the 1800s to early 1900s. Somali Muslim men may have immigrated more recently as a refugee. Although united by a common faith, Muslim men may have significantly differing cultural and ethnic backgrounds and speak different languages. For instance, Bosnian Muslims tend to be fairly liberal in their practice of Islam,  and tend to focus more generally on spiritual aspects; Arab Muslims can be more conservative and rigid in their practice of the faith.

What are some unique difficulties faced by American Muslim men?

Since 9/11, American Muslim men, especially those that can be visibly identified (e.g. by their beards, or those who may wear more traditional Arab thobes), have faced increased prejudice and discrimination in American culture and may be viewed as “dangerous.” Being accused of violence can have long-lasting, negative psychological impact on American Muslim men, which can lead to increased depression and substance use disorders. It is not uncommon for other men of color, such as Sikh, Indian, and Latino men, to be perceived as Muslim due to their skin color, and be discriminated against for unfounded fears that they will cause others harm.

Additionally, American Muslim men may experience role conflict in romantic relationships due to cultural expectations that are often significantly different from those in the United States. Religiocultural gender role socialization of American Muslim men may lead to the expectation of marrying an American Muslim woman who adheres to similar, traditional gender roles.  Oftentimes American Muslim men who are raised in households with traditional gender roles are unable to find an American Muslim woman who fits these expectations. Even within the same household, boys may be raised with traditional gender-role values, while girls may be raised with  encouragement to pursue education and careers that may go against traditional gender-role norms. A possible site of clinical intervention with American Muslim men may be how to face these cultural incongruences in family life, as men who are ill-prepared for these realities are at increased risk for negative psychological consequences such as depression, anxiety, and substance use.

What are some strengths for American Muslim Men?

A firm grounding in religious, faith-based values, such as hard work, charity, and honesty, has traditionally been a source of strength for American Muslim men. It is not uncommon for these men to pursue professional roles with intentions to help others. Additionally, American Muslim men may draw strength and security from their families and their traditional role as provider and caregiver.