“We do not see our clients as part of a business, we see them as part of our family.”
Dr. Joanne Hands is a strong believer in the power of knowledge, particularly when it comes to mental health. Together with her team at Kuwait Counseling Center, she aims to provide highly ethical psycho-educational services to children and adults. By sharing her passion with the community she hopes to raise awareness of mental health and to offer treatment and relief to those who need it most.
Please introduce yourself to our readers.
I consider myself to be a very genuine person. What you see is what you get. I am a passionate woman who believes in everyday growth. I feel fortunate to have a very eclectic vision of the world, thanks to my different cultural exposures. Having an American mother, Venezuelan father and Kuwaiti husband and kids has allowed me to appreciate the uniqueness of every person and has helped me never to make assumptions of people when I first meet them.
Tell us about your education.
I first completed a five-year program in Clinical Psychology in Venezuela. I then moved to the United States where I received a master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling from Loyola University in New Orleans, Louisiana. I then went on to complete my PhD in Psychology from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology in Chicago, Illinois. I am a Venezuelan Licensed Clinical Psychologist (FPV) and US Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and a US Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC). I am a strong believer in the power of knowledge so we should never stop learning. There’s just so much information out there that we owe it to ourselves to keep learning, for our continuous personal and professional growth.
What inspired you to become a Psychologist?
From a very young age I knew my passion was in helping and educating. With time, and seeing my older sister becoming a Psychiatrist, I was able to enter the amazing world of mental health. It was then I realized this field was close to my heart. Everything I do has to be something I believe in and I am passionate about and Psychology gave me just that. Understanding people’s feelings and behaviors was just fascinating. I think Psychology has a place in every single professional field and should be recognized as one of the most important professions.
How did the idea of starting your own counseling center originate?
When I first moved to Kuwait, I realized the need we had to provide the community with professional guidance and with high ethical standards as it relates to mental health. I knew then I had to start something different and share with the community my passion. I was hoping not only to bring unbiased awareness on mental health issues but also offer treatment alternatives and perhaps relief. That is when I decided to open Kuwait Counseling Center which is tailored to provide professional and highly ethical psycho-educational services to children and adults.
When was the center officially launched and opened?
We officially opened in August 2011.
What is your favourite part about being a Psychologist?
There are many things that I would consider my favourites, but mostly I would say the fact that I work with humans and not with numbers, machines, equipment, etc. Also, I love that I get to know people for who they really are and not for how they present themselves to be. I consider this to be a privilege. I appreciate the fact that people trust me with their most private things like their real emotions. I take it as a responsibility and challenge to become every day better and better at what I do, not to let them down.
Is Psychology more of an art or a science?
It is definitely a science, but I would say an artistic science. In science, for an experiment to be reliable it needs to always give us the same result. In Psychology we don’t always get that. We are all different with different backgrounds, experiences, upbringings, emotions, etc. so we don’t really have two clients the same. As therapists we have to always be creative and try different approaches with our clients.
How have things changed in terms of awareness in Kuwait since you first arrived?
I am happy to say that it has changed a great deal. I remember this field not even being considered by many as something that could actually work. Now it is more respected, people are believing in the benefits of it to a point that now I have people coming to see me even before they get married seeking advice and professional guidance. I know we still have a lot to do but I am confident that we are on the right track.
What are some of the services offered at the Kuwait Counseling Center?
We offer a variety of services. We offer psychological and educational assessments as well as therapy to children, adults, couples and families. We also provide services to children with special needs through a highly qualified multi-disciplinary team offering Speech Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Behavior Therapy and Nutritional services. In addition, we offer corporate and school training tailored to everyone’s needs.
Is there any type of client you refuse to treat?
We do not refuse anyone at the center, but we make sure we offer services to those we can really help. We do not see our clients as part of a business, we see them as part of our family and because of this we make sure we provide them what they need. If we can’t, we are happy to point them to the right direction.
What is unique about your work with clients?
Everything is unique about my work. Every client is different than the other. Every case is unique. I don’t really see my work as ‘work’. I don’t go to the office, I go to my second home and to my extended family. I have worked very hard on making sure that everyone that walks through the center’s door feels like they’re entering a home. I am fortunate to work with an amazing team who share the same vision. We get to know people personally. We get to know their strengths and weakness, fears and hopes. It is so amazing and priceless to see a light being turned on in their eyes.
Tell us more about MEPA and how and when was it launched?
MEPA is the Middle East Psychological Association and I have been the President since 2015. MEPA was established in Kuwait in 2010 with the purpose of unifying professionals in the field, standardizing the practice and destigmatizing the field of Psychology in the Middle East. MEPA has grown a lot and has raised international recognition. We organized the first annual conference and expo in 2017 in Dubai and this year’s event was held in Kuwait. The association has a lot to offer and hopefully we will reach our vision across the Middle East.
What has been your biggest moment while working with MEPA?
I would say many. MEPA has been like another child for me. However, there are two great moments that I keep playing in my mind. One is when we organized the first annual conference in Dubai. It looked almost impossible, but we did it and that night I thought I was having a dream. The second moment was very recently when I received a Presidential Citation award from the President of the American Psychological Association. This is one of the biggest awards any psychologist can receive from APA. I was walking on clouds and holding back my tears as I was listening to the APA president describing my qualifications for receiving this award.
What is your typical work day like?
I guess my typical day is very much that of a working mom. I balance my time between seeing clients in the mornings and afternoons at our different locations and spending time with my family who are the perfect complement to my day. I’m also often involved in training in schools and hospitals and working with employees at corporate level. I am part of many different volunteer groups offering my involvement and passion for mental health. Weekends are untouchable, those are the days I use to recharge my batteries, spoil myself a bit and spend time with family.
What are the biggest challenges you face as a Psychologist in the Arab world?
Psychology is not an easy profession. It carries a big responsibility to make sure we provide the best guidance and treatment options we can to our clients. In the Arab world this is a lot harder, mainly because we have to work against many different stigma obstacles and with very limited resources. Sometimes, ironically speaking, the biggest challenge is the culture itself, making it harder to accept the challenges imposed by traditions and society and to give the best we have.
Your work can be also very draining, what do you do to take care of yourself and keep a healthy mind?
Yes, this type of work can be mentally and emotionally draining but the secret is to have a good balanced life. Everyone has different ways of coping with stress. Mine is swimming and talking to my husband. We actually have a routine where we talk every night about our day. My husband is my biggest supporter. He not only understands my field but has always been the one encouraging me to keep on going, especially when I think I can’t do any more. He is always right there giving me the strength to continue and to go to the next level.
Do you have any advice for a graduate student who is just starting out in the field of Psychology?
Yes, I actually supervise many students and always tell them that Psychology is a field that you must love. It will give you a lot of satisfaction but you need to be prepared to work hard. It is a work that most of the time passes unobserved or unappreciated so if they want to be in this field to get recognition, then this may not be the right field for them. I would advise them to try many different areas and work with different populations until they find the one that satisfies them the most.
Your message for us at CP magazine.
I am very happy and proud with the hard work you have done and with the quality of this magazine. I wish you the best of luck and encourage you to continue providing our community with education, entertainment and relevant information at a professional level. You are definitely pioneers at what you do and continue setting the example.
Photography: Hamad AlAinati @7mdphotography
Directed by: Jameel Arif – @jameelarif