In conversation with Rumana Ben C.
Artwork Alifiya Z. S.
Rumana Ben is fascinated by human behavior and can sit for hours observing people. She feels blessed to be working in a profession she is so passionate about. Behind this serious look is actually a little girl who loves to dream and truly believes that dreams come true- no idea unattainable if one simply puts their heart and mind to it. Gadgets and ever changing technology are her greatest pet peeves. The three men in her life (husband and two sons) her greatest strength. If not working you are likely to find her cooking, gardening or painting.
I was somehow always interested in people
Give us a brief glimpse into your childhood? What was it like growing up? Your dreams and aspirations? Hobbies?
I hail from a middle class background with joint families; 6 aunts and a bunch of kids. I have grown up with people around me. Even while sitting down to watch television, I remember a room full of people doing it together. It was fun. A lot of interaction. I guess, that is what got me where I am today. That is what I clearly remember about my childhood.
I was somehow always interested in people. I wasn’t very shy or quiet. I also used to paint and dabble into drawings whenever I could.
I was a slow learner. With those ideas, I never imagined I would end up doing a PhD.
Looking back, how would you say your life turned out compared to what you had imagined?
I had never imagined I would reach this far. Now, when I look back, I don’t think I could’ve envisaged the extent of my achievements. Alhamdolillah. I was a very middle ground person, always between 1-10. I actually thought I was a slow learner. With those ideas, I never imagined I would end up doing a PhD.
What is one of the challenge you’ve faced in your career?
I went through a rough patch with the department once. I wanted to do a qualitative study, whereby I interviewed women and it was a first of such in the department. However, they just wanted me to do surveys and fill up forms. They kept looking for reasons to reject my proposal and at one point I had had enough. My scholarship had been taken off and I thought it was best for me to move on and just leave this. Then there was ziyafat at home and Shehzada Qusai Bhaisaab was here. Mei ye araz kidi ke “Maula ma araz kare ke hu chori dau, I can’t take it. It’s too pressurizing. I could do other things in my life.” Response was, “Dua che, tame karo, puru thaase.” That was what kept me going.
When you find a job you are passionate about, it becomes worthwhile.
We’re incredibly curious about your profession. It’s really fascinating how you, a stranger to someone, can talk them out of all their deeply rooted secrets, fears, dreams. That must be quite the responsibility to bear.
It is not burdensome at all. I enjoy what I do. When you find a job you are passionate about, it becomes worthwhile. Alhamdolillah for me, it has become like that. Initially during my internship, 20 years ago, I used to get burdened by people’s stories; but not anymore. I know this is not my burden and I am helping somebody release theirs.
What does a typical working day look like for you?
It depends, whether I am teaching or not. The semesters that I do not teach, I am more relaxed, then it’s just counselling and corporate workshops. Corporate workshops are normally on Thursdays, Fridays or the weekend for a couple of hours, the whole day or a lunch hour talk.
If a semester is ongoing, then it gets hectic. I start early in the morning and pack up at 10pm. And that would be a couple of days in the week. When the semester is on, it is a real back to back thing, just keeps piling up.
But when the semester ends, it’s relaxing. Then I work strictly by appointment. So I get to choose my time.
It’s fun to be with young minds. Teaching them something that I’m so passionate about.
What do you enjoy more- counselling or teaching?
I enjoy both. I love to teach simply because it keeps me abreast with what’s happening currently. Teaching young kids is fun. Initially I started teaching because I was still with the National University of Singapore (NUS) and I needed to start working. James Cook’s University (JCU) was my first job as a teacher. It’s been almost 9 years now. I’ve come to enjoy it. It’s fun to be with young minds. Teaching them something that I’m so passionate about. I teach counselling and micro-skills. I teach them exactly what I do, everyday. I teach them how to sit, how much eye contact to have, what to do to get patients to open up- those are called micro-skills. Just to start counselling is to learn the micro-skills. So yes, I enjoy both.
We believe that the person has what the person requires, my job is to uncover that.
What are some personal attributes you think a counselor should have?
To just enjoy people.
I moved from labeling and categorizing people into doing critical and a lot of positive work. We start from the beginning. We believe that the person has what the person requires, my job is to uncover that. People come with that latent talent of theirs, which they are not able to see, our job is to open that up for them, help them get their self esteem back. That’s all I see my job as.
So; patience, your inherent interest in people and your listening skills; those are of utmost importance. When I teach micro-skills in the class for 3 hours, I tell them that for half an hour, they have to pair up with somebody they don’t know and listen to the person without talking. Within 10 minutes they want to start asking questions! I tell them- your body language has to be so positive and inviting that the opposite person will want to continue talking to you. That’s your challenge. Start now.
A few months back, you conducted a talk on depression in masjid. How did that go?
It was about depression in women. It was received well. We talked about depressions related to menopause and post partum, because it is a very natural thing women go through but never talk about. I think that is what is lacking amongst us. This free sharing – ke mane aam thai che. And then you realize ha bija dus jana ne bhi emaj thai che. It’s a natural process. My whole idea in doing that was, to start a support group. Meet once in a month or whenever convenient, this group is there for you. 8-10 logo je che, that will form your support group. Je bhi issues hoi, ek bija saathe waat karo. I wanted to cut off that whole stigma associated with depression. Just come together and talk freely about what you are feeling.
I think being a mother is my prime role as a woman, and I never ever have let go of that.
Being a wife, mother and muminaah- how do those identities intertwine for you?
I have never seen any difference in any of these things. I think being a mother is my prime role as a woman, and I never ever have let go of that. When my kids were young, I stopped working, I wanted to be there for them. A lot of times women forget that. They take on working as their primary role, and miss out on their growing years.
When the kids were younger, I would always answer when they called. Whatever I may be doing. I never for a moment forget that I am a mom. Now that my boys are older, they know my schedule very well. Before I switch off, I inform; put it in on our whatsapp family group. A mother’s role is as important as a wife’s role. I will never take that away from this family.
I also never forget that my husband is just as important. He has supported me in every way. I give him credit for whatever I am today. I have had a father who was so supportive and a husband who is too. He would make sure he was home to put the kids to sleep, so that I could attend night classes. It’s a two way thing.
What is the one thing plaguing the world right now?
I think the entire concept of women wanting to compete with men. I don’t know why women are taking that up? I mean, it is a dissing concept of women being the liberators, taking on men’s role. The complete balance of society is getting upset. The kids are suffering. I do a lot of counseling with teenage kids, there are a lot of issues regarding no proper supervision at home. I’m not saying that women should not work and just be at home, but find time for supervision, that attachment, connection, which is not there these days. I think we all should understand this is a gradual process, right? When a woman feels that way she passes it on to the kids then kids feel that way too. It’s a ripple effect.
… like a loving father, Maula had heard her daughter’s wish.
Your favorite memory of Maula?
Undoubtedly, the birth of my son- Adnan. Two years after marriage, I had gone to Surat, India. Masjid-e Azam nu iftetah hatu ane mane qadambosi naseeb thai. Upar maula nu jamwanu hatu so we all went up. We were a small fraction of roughly a 100. Whenwe went up and aap jami chuka hata. Haath dhulawanu hatu, and a ben passed me the chilamchi loto. I went ahead. Burhanuddin Maula tashreef raakhe che. Me maula na haath dhuvrau chu, and nobody else was around. I was on my knees, and had tears in my eyes. I had never seen him so closely. He was so powerful.
I just blurted “Maula Farzand ni umeed che”.
Maula ye farmayu, “Doctor ne batayu che?”
I said, “Maula dua na waaste araz karu chu”.
Maula says, “Dua che”.
I vividly remember, a month after I returned, I had conceived. And Adnan was born. It was so beautiful, it was so powerful. I can never forget that, like a loving father, Maula had heard her daughter’s wish.
You may feel ke aa manej thai rayu che, but reality is- ghana ne em thai rayu che.
What is the most important realization you’ve had during your career that you feel others should know about?
We all go through the same thing. We all go through it. You may feel ke aa manej thai rayu che, but reality is- ghana ne em thai rayu che. As long as I am able to share this with people. Don’t get too carried away with what you are feeling, because it will isolate your further and make you feel lonelier. Share it with someone. You never know ke koi bija ne bhi aaj thai rayu hase.
Don’t lose that human touch… The number of likes, smileys and hearts that you have on Facebook will NOT make you feel good.
Any tips for the younger generation to stay sane in a world that is becoming increasingly insane by the day?
For your generation, specifically it would be: Don’t spend so much time on your gadgets!
Don’t lose that human touch.
We are losing that human touch, which is causing more isolation and depression. Ultimately, gadgets will not give you the reinforcement you need. The number of likes, smileys and hearts that you have on Facebook will NOT make you feel good. You still need human touch- connection. Youngsters should remember that. And more importantly- stop multitasking. Doing so many things simultaneously makes you lose its value. When you are older, you will realize you can’t turn back time. So, enjoy what you have in this moment and do it thoroughly. When I used to tell my son he would not listen, luckily for him, he got into a profession that made him mature than other boys his age. Since he’s returned, he now advises his friends and tells them how precious time is. Don’t be in a rush to move to the next stage. Enjoy what you have right now.
What single piece of advice would you give someone considering this career path?
It is a fantastic area to be in. People think Psychology is only counselling, which is not the case. People come into this profession thinking counselling is the only opening, that’s the first myth. The second myth people have about counselling per se is that I can help a lot of people. You cannot help people unless you help yourself first. I have done all the therapies myself before I have with somebody else. You need to clear your baggage first.
I see at least a 100 kids every semester in counselling. The burnout rate is very high. People drop off because they get tired listening to people
So the first myth that psychology is only counselling- it’s not. You can do a lot of forensic work, you need to find your niche. There is Consumer Psychology. After my post graduation, I was a consumer psychologist in an advertising agency. Nice money and it’s much more better than doing counselling. If you choose to do counselling, you need to be more patient to sustain yourself, or else in the long run, people drop out. Then they find social work, which is not as rewarding financially.