BOUGUESSA VOICE: Dr. Saliha Afridi

This week, we are delighted to feature Dr. Saliha Afridi, a distinguished clinical psychologist,Founder of The Lighthouse Arabia,and passionate advocate for mental health and well-being.

What inspired you to become a clinical psychologist, and how has your journey evolved over the years?

My journey to psychology was anything but straightforward. Initially, during my undergraduate studies, I enrolled in a psychology course and found it sterile. It was too clinical, lacking the emotional depth I craved, focusing only on pathology without a sense of humanity. This led me to pursue a degree in Anthropology instead, driven by my innate curiosity and love for stories about diverse cultures and people. However, my career path didn't settle there. After exploring marketing and even considering dentistry, I realized neither was my calling, which brought me back to psychology after a pivotal conversation with my sister who asked me one questions: “What do you love to do?” To which I answered, “I love caring for people and I love stories”—to which she answered: “Go into psychology.” I trusted her blindly and so I did.

After earning my doctorate in the US, I moved to Dubai to work at a training institution. This was 15 years ago, at a time when psychology was not only little known in the UAE but also faced considerable stigma. I quickly recognized the need for greater mental health awareness in the region and made it my mission to destigmatize mental health and normalize people seeking support so that they don’t have to suffer in silence. My initial efforts were met with limited support from my employer, leading to my decision to establish my own private practice. This allowed me to freely conduct pro-bono awareness talks and support groups. Starting with just two people, this clinic has grown into a 35-clinician team over 12 years, making it one of the largest mental health clinics in the UAE. As a team we are committed to offering both high-quality free and affordable services alongside our regular for-fee practice.

Four years ago, I extended this mission to a global audience through social media, which has been an immensely fulfilling experience. It has been such a rewarding journey thus far, and I know my parents prayers have protected me and my spirit has guided me all the way through.

Could you share what your morning routine looks like?

As an early riser, my routine is anchored in early nights and mornings. The first hour (4:45-5am) of my day is sacred, reserved for personal time where I drink my morning coffee, engage in prayer, and immerse myself in reading or writing. This quiet period sets the tone for my day. I then spend some time with my children before they head off to school (6am). Following this, my mornings (7am) typically involve physical activity, which varies from horse riding to weight training, or a tranquil walk along the beach. On alternate days, I rejuvenate with an LED Red Light Therapy Bed session and a sauna (8am). By 10 am, I’m energized and prepared to start my workday.

Can you share what the key to maintaining good mental health is, according to you?

I am very intentional about how what I do and who I do it with. Every aspect of my life is thoughtfully curated with my mental and physically energy and health in mind, recognizing that everything I do influences my overall wellbeing. This includes ensuring an early bedtime, consuming nourishing foods, moderating my caffeine intake, being selective about who I follow on social media, and engaging in tech-free socializing with friends. Regular exercise and maintaining a consistent sleep schedule are also crucial. The list goes on and on. Essentially, I believe there isn't a single facet of our lives that doesn't have an impact on our mental well-being.

Living authentically in alignment with my truth is a cornerstone of my mental health. I get really unwell when I know something to be my truth and I don’t do something to align my life with this truth. I learned early in life that self-betrayal is not an option without a big cost for me. My spirit is assertive, guiding me with a loud and clear voice. When I ignore its call, it becomes insistent, urging me to honor its demands.

Additionally, to nurture my mental well-being, I've committed to weekly insight- oriented therapy for nearly a decade. This practice, along with deep introspection, reading, writing, and connecting with my inner self, forms the foundation of my mental health regimen. This connection to my inner world is not just a practice but a vital aspect of maintaining my mental and physical equilibrium.

Can you tell us more about The Lighthouse?

In 2011, I founded The LightHouse Arabia, aiming to elevate mental health care in Dubai. As a clinical psychologist, my mission was clear: to foster mental health awareness and provide accessible, quality care. Our outpatient center, a leading mental health clinic in the UAE, boasts a diverse team of over 35 experts. Committed to evidence-based practices, we address a spectrum of challenges, offering support to children, adults, couples, and families. The LightHouse Arabia extends beyond clinical care, engaging with corporations, schools, and communities through seminars, workshops, and the accredited Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training. Our social responsibility initiative, a core element, ensures accessibility by funding free-of-cost and low-cost mental health support for the community. Since 2011, our impact has reached thousands through educational programs, support groups, and workshops, contributing to the destigmatization of mental health in the region.

What personal values or principles guide your work, and how do these values align with your mission to create a positive impact in the field of mental health and well- being?

Service to the community has been a guiding value in my life, rooted in my childhood experiences. My mother was a role model in community service, and there must have been a seed of service inside me also, as I also gravitated towards similar endeavors. As a young adult, I engaged in activities like reading to the blind, spending time with the elderly in nearby homes, and volunteering at homeless shelters, always finding these experiences deeply rewarding and fulfilling—I remember sleeping better those nights where I had done something in service of someone else.

As I matured and embraced my career as a psychologist, these early values seamlessly integrated into my professional ethos. I recognized the critical needs in my community: destigmatizing mental health, raising awareness, and providing accessible support. These became the pillars of my life's work, blending my personal values with my professional objectives.

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