By Hyacinth Mascarenhas
“I’m not a fashion designer, a blogger or a baker. I’m a criminologist, forensic psychologist and trauma therapist.”
As a children’s rights activist and the first Saudi female forensic psychologist and criminologist in the Middle East, Lama Younis is a shining example for women across the region to empower themselves and pursue their own dreams and destinies.
In December 2013, Younis established the Hissah Enrichment Center in Dubai – named in honor of her mother – that aims to enrich interpersonal, life skills, develop personal empowerment, and address and improve numerous psychological issues facing adults, youth and children.
Offering services that range from anger and stress management to child protection training and handling conflict, this unique center is an innovative response to the region’s need to provide education, training and consulting and create change on a personal, professional and societal level for people in the Gulf.
Starting off as a high-achieving academic, Younis got her bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Effat University with a minor in children’s counseling before going on to pursue her Masters in Forensic Psychology and Criminology from Middlesex University in London. She also attended a postgraduate course at Harvard University entitled ‘Delinquents, Criminals, Psychopaths, and Terrorists’ in 2008, got her PhD in childhood studies in the UK and then moved back to the Middle East with the goal to bring her knowledge to the region and enrich communities by providing critical services that will have a meaningful and long-term impact on the gulf region.
We had a chance to speak with Younis about her remarkable journey from the world of academics to entrepreneurship while spearheading change and empowerment in the Arab world:
Elan: You have certainly forged your own path academically and professionally, pursuing a career that isn’t necessarily traditional. What inspired you and pushed you to do so?
The path of Criminology and Forensic Psychology was a complete shock to my family when I first told them. I actually remember when I decided to get into this field, no one really understood what it really was so I would sit there and explain or simply say CSI (Crime Scene Investigations) just to break the ice.
The passion I have for children’s rights, children as victims of crimes and children in general has simply opened my eyes. I decided to expand my horizons and feed my brain with the right information knowing that knowledge will take me to the right place.
Today, I value the knowledge and education that I have gained because I can speak with an open mind, with an understanding of religion, culture, tradition and environment. These are the main influences of change.
Elan: When and why did you open Hissah? Was there a moment or realization that had inspiring you to go ahead and do it.
LY: I opened Hissah in December 2013 because I want to enrich communities’ through long-term change rather than short-term change, especially in the GCC. The new Hissah Enrichment Center is dedicated to the elevation and engagement of adults, youth and children through relevant and innovative approaches designed to empower and transform individuals, families and communities.
This center is unique in the Middle East and responds to the region’s growing need to provide education, training and consulting in areas related to coping with societal change and strengthening personal & professional relationships in the workplace, the home and the community.
The day I realized I had to do it was when I realized I had the education, knowledge, financial support and, Alhamdullah, the motivation to do so. I also realized there were too many centers out there doing unethical work, unprofessional work and lacking supervision. From day one, I knew that Hissah is unique, our team is unique and its services are unique so we will strive to maintain our standards.
Elan: Why did you decide to open shop in Dubai?
LY: Dubai is a great place to start a business. The procedures are non complicated and are very clear which helps facilitates everything.
Elan: Being an academic most of your life, what made you decide to enter the entrepreneurial business world?
LY: I was an academic but also I always had a part-time job. I started working at young age. I started freelance photography and floral design at age 18 and continued for 4 years throughout my undergraduate years. Then when I went to do my masters where I double majored and had no time to work. So I studied full-time. day and night. After working in the academic industry, I went off to do my PhD where I was working throughout my time there while training to be a trauma therapist.
Elan: What are some of the biggest psychological issues plaguing people in the region?
LY: Like any region around the world, I believe psychological issues are everywhere. So I can’t say what are some of the biggest in the Middle East because there are many. I can say the most frequent or reoccurring issues that I see many who are victims of psychological trauma that was cause by a violent attack or ongoing stress or sometimes by a childhood event that has been suppressed.
Another psychological issue is social pressure, that also influence peer pressure which then affects the kids, so it’s a vicious cycle.
Elan: I noticed there were a lot of child psychology services provided by Hissah. Was that intentional?
LY: My love for children is unconditional. I love my nieces and nephews so much and I learn from them a lot. I cannot describe my joy when I see them or simply hear their voice over the phone; this is all psychology, your interaction, your behavior and the love.
I took Hissah to a personal level, I realized children are victims of many adult psychological issues, such as divorce, or parenting issues, or parents that need to work hard to make enough income and other issues.
I wanted to provide services to help these children, to develop their personalities, nourish them, create leaders and of course with the help of their parents for us all to build the leaders of the coming generation.
Elan: Do you think there is a stigma against psychological services and getting help in the Middle East? Is there enough being done to help people in this sector?
LY: There is a much more open mindedness about visiting a psychologist today than there was 5 years ago. I am so happy. I see clients from the GCC and it motivates me to go to work every morning, I am happy that they are seeking help, emailing the center and asking questions which is a big step on its own.
It will take time to develop more awareness, but for now it is healthy. I won’t fight against it, I will flow with it. We at Hissah open our doors to everyone to come see the center and ask as many questions as they want.
Elan: What advice would you like to convey to our readers about the motivation that allowed you to forge your own path.
LY: Allow the dark moment of your life be the light to your buried potential.