Getting work done looks very different today than it did at the beginning of the Spring semester. For Amir Maghsoodi, PhD student in Educational Psychology, the shift from in-person, clinical counseling training has offered time to deepen his social justice work with the Radical Healing Collective, a group of psychology scholars who work in issues of culture, ethnicity, and race.
What is the Psychology of Radical Healing Collective?
Radical healing is a practice of healing that “addresses the root sources of the injuries resulting in ill-health” – within Communities of Color. The collective grew out of Dr. Helen Neville’s 2018 Presidential Initiative for the Society for the Psychological Study of Culture, Ethnicity, and Race – a division of the American Psychological Association – which called for “an integrative, culturally responsive, social justice approach to research” on radical healing. The members of the collective have created the Psychology Today blog that I recently contributed to and have published academic papers on radical healing and radical hope, among many other activities.
How did you get involved in this collective?
I have the great privilege of knowing Dr. Helen Neville as a mentor, a research advisor, and a faculty member in my doctoral program in Counseling Psychology here at Illinois. Throughout our interactions over the past two years, I have become increasingly familiar with the concept of radical healing. This process has unfolded during a time when I have also been engaged in clinical training and developing my identity as a healer in my doctoral program. The concept of radical healing resonates deeply for me as an Iranian American immigrant, and Dr. Neville is well aware of my aspiration to contribute to healing within the Middle Eastern diasporic community. When Dr. Neville suggested that I contribute to the collective’s blog, I saw it as an invaluable opportunity to collaborate with my academic role models and explore how this concept of healing may be applied within my own community.
Who inspires your work?
I really love this question because reflecting on it gives me hope and motivation. I have had the fortune of meeting some truly wonderful angels along my journey so far. So much of my identity and values are shaped by my family, that they are easily the biggest inspiration. Some of the angels in Psychology whom I currently draw inspiration from are (I will keep the list to three, although it could easily be much longer): the members of the collective, whose practices of scholar-activism form the aspirational vision that I hold for my professional self; my doctoral advisor, Dr. Nidia Ruedas-Gracia, whose approach to research I treasure as a model for how to center social-justice values in rigorous scientific work; and the members of the American Arab, Middle Eastern, and North African Psychological Association (AMENA-Psy), who are my family and home within Psychology.
I noticed you are a physicist working toward a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology. Can you tell me how your training in Applied Physics might influence your current research?
Content-wise, there is not much overlap between what I was doing in Applied Physics and my current area of work. I used to do computational research in soft matter (e.g., how can one predict when a pile of rocks will avalanche?), and now I study sense of belonging and identity (e.g., how does someone with a multicultural identity experience belongingness?). Nevertheless, I gained a lot of skills in my Physics training that have proven to be transferable to Psychology. For example, we were trained as physicists to be able to view a complex phenomenon and recognize the most fundamental aspects that are of greatest significance to the problem at hand.
As I have moved into Psychology, the phenomena I study have only grown more complex, so it is important to be able to simplify a research problem (without losing important nuance) as effectively as possible. Perhaps most important, however, is the opportunity I have to contrast my research in Physics with my research in Psychology. Whereas I was trained to play a purely objective role as a responsible researcher in the physical sciences, I have found that now that I am researching subjective experiences, responsible research in the social sciences demands the researcher to be aware of – and to own – their subjectivity and how it enters their work. This reflexivity as a responsible social scientist is a skill that I am working to strengthen with every project that I collaborate on.
You helped co-write the article “Envisioning Collective Thriving During Ramadan” and your research focuses on “a sense of belonging, identity in historically oppressed and marginalized groups”. Can you share how current social distancing practices have influenced or changed your daily routines, sense of belonging, and identity?
Daily routine is no longer a thing for me, although I’m doing my best to get back on track by focusing on projects that motivate and energize me (e.g., the blog is one such example). I am active on Twitter, and I remember reading a post many weeks ago that made a poignant and important point about folks who now find themselves working from home: we’re not “working from home” these days, but rather we are at home during a crisis trying to get some work done. Keeping that in mind gives me space to be kind to myself as I find a new sense of balance.
Being isolated with my partner away from our family and friends has required us to be much more intentional about our interactions. We’ve been pretty active in setting up virtual get-togethers, checking in daily with family and friends, and making sure that we stay connected with our communities. As an immigrant, I am no stranger to being physically distanced from loved ones. Thus, when this pandemic started, my extended family and I were fortunate to already have a shared routine in place for staying virtually connected. During this time, I have also deepened my involvement with AMENA-Psy, and this has led to an incredibly comforting sense of community and belonging that has been sustaining me and keeping me well.
As a Counseling Psychology student, I characterize part of my identity as being a “healer”, and this aspect of my identity continues to shift in the wake of the current pandemic. My clinical training at the Counseling Center was abruptly terminated with the Governor’s stay-at-home order, and the inability to see my clients and to interact with the Counseling Center staff presented a moment of personal reckoning for me as a healer. It was during this time that I was also working on the radical healing blog post and organizing a webinar on Radical Healing among MENA communities with the AMENA-Psy Student Committee (on which I serve).
Looking back on the sum of these experiences, I see that my vision of healing – and of who a healer is – has expanded beyond what I previously envisioned for myself, and much of this expanded vision is captured in the blog post. While I continue to deeply value the formal training experiences currently offered to doctoral students in Clinical and Counseling Psychology, I see that my role as a healer will likely extend beyond traditional Western models of healing, such as 1-on-1 therapy. For example, I will be running a weekly summer support group with a fellow Counseling Psychology student and AMENA-Psy member (Danna Bismar, University of North Texas) centered on the theme of “Healing and Identity” for graduate students in the U.S. identifying as Arab/MENA, and I think this will be a very special space for collective healing and thriving. As it has in many fields of study, the fallout from the pandemic has placed considerable strains and limits on the training that institutions can provide to doctoral students in the fields of Clinical and Counseling Psychology, and it has illustrated a need to re-evaluate and probably expand our Western vision of healing altogether.
Amir Maghsoodi is a card-carrying Physicist working toward my Ph.D. in Educational Psychology (Division of Counseling Psychology). He is an Iranian-American scholar-activist and is passionate about using research and academic training as tools for social justice. His research interests stand at the nexus of social psychology, personality psychology, and developmental psychology.