Dr. Emily Bashah is a licensed psychologist, author, and podcast co-host with a private practice in Scottsdale, AZ. She was born and raised in Canada and her parents are from Iraq. In this podcast, she shares her personal, academic, and professional journey and discusses The Optimistic American and her new co-authored book Addictive Ideologies: Finding Meaning and Agency When Politics Fail You. Dr. Bashah also shares what drew her to the field of psychology and her commitment to humanitarian and social causes, about which she feels very passionate.
Dr. Bashah shares a story of her parents living in Iraq during the rise of Saddam Hussein’s power and control. She states, “so, when my parents were living there, my father was 17 years old at the time…he’s riding his bicycle and all of a sudden, he comes across a commotion in the main Town Square, which is called Tahrir Square, and this is in Baghdad, and he sees that there are Jews that are being publicly hanged. This was a mock trail. It went over a couple of days. Basically, the government hand-picked several Jews. There were actually seven Jews that were hanged that day, two of whom were minors under age 17, and they were falsely accused for being spies for Israel.” Dr. Bashah later shares “unfortunately, my grandfather, my mother’s father at the time, was last seen being pushed into a government vehicle and disappeared. The last we know about his whereabouts, he was taken to an underground jail called the Palace of No Return, never to be heard from again.”
Dr. Bashah remembers being 12 years old and really committing herself to “somehow undoing or finding some kind of justice for the harm that had been committed to my family and my grandfather’s disappearance because I saw how much it really traumatized my, my mother and my father.” She shares that she wanted to work with people in some kind of healing capacity and “that’s really what led me to psychology.” Dr. Bashah discusses her work in forensics and how the intersection of psychology and law has helped her in her private practice as well as earning her a reputation as an expert witness in criminal, immigration, and civil courts. She has also worked on high-profile cases related to domestic terrorism, capital offenses, and first-degree murder.
In addition to her private practice, Bashah Psychological Services, PLC, she is involved with The Optimistic American and is co-host of The Optimistic American podcast alongside her partner and co-host Paul Johnson, entrepreneur, and former mayor of Phoenix, AZ. Together, they also co-authored a new book Addictive Ideologies: Finding Meaning and Agency When Politics Fail You. Dr. Bashah shares the harrowing story of the persecution of Jews in Iraq by Saddam Hussein and the Ba’ath Party through her family’s own personal experiences while Paul Johnson uses his own mayoral experiences to chart a path for the future that can avoid similar atrocities. The book draws upon an understanding of societal divisions and clinical and social psychology to show the real power we have to promote constructive change.
Dr. Bashah reflects on her journey and shares advice with those interested in the field of psychology and shares a message of hope for those who want to recreate themselves. She states “I’m an author. I have a podcast. I have a private practice. I supervise doctoral students. I’m a businesswoman. I’m an entrepreneur. There are all these different facets of me. I’m an expert in courts, but also, I’m called upon as an expert in media and in news…so, there’s so many different things that you could recreate who you want to be. It’s a wonderful thing, and psychology permits that, but find your own path.”
Near the end of our podcast discussion, Dr. Bashah shares how she picked up belly dancing and why dancing is such an important part of remaining connected to her Arab ancestry and heritage. She also offers additional advice including “I know a lot of your guests and listeners are students and may be at those critical stages of making these really big career decisions in their life. It’s, you know, really lean into the challenges. Allow yourself to be challenged and confront the unknown and really follow, follow your passion, know your truth.”
Interests and Specializations
Dr. Emily Bashah clinically specializes in mental illness, personal and collective trauma, addiction, grief, loss, family dynamics, and relationships. She is certified by the International Institute for Humanistic Studies for application of Existential-Humanistic Psychotherapy and trained in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Trauma-Informed Therapy, Emotion-Focused Therapy, and process-oriented therapies.
Arts and Science Diploma, Specialization in Family Studies (2004); Langara College, Vancouver, Canada.
Bachelor of Arts (BA), Psychology (2006); The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada.
Master of Psychology, Clinical Psychology (2009); Flinders University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia.
Doctor of Psychology (PsyD), Clinical Psychology (2015); The Arizona School of Professional Psychology at Argosy University, Phoenix, AZ.
Other Sources and Links of Interest
Welcome to the Master’s in Psychology Podcast, where psychology students can learn from psychologists, educators, and practitioners to better understand what they do, how they got there, and hear the advice they have for those interested in getting a graduate degree in psychology. I’m your host, Brad Schumacher, and today we welcome Dr. Emily Bashah to the show. Dr Bashah is an accomplished author and licensed psychologist with a private practice in Scottsdale, AZ called Bashah Psychological Services. She has a remarkable background as an expert witness in criminal, immigration and civil courts, and she has worked on high profile cases related to domestic terrorism capital offenses and first-degree murder. Today, we will learn more about her academic and professional journey, more about her private practice, and discuss her new co-authored book, Addictive Ideologies: Finding Meaning and Agency When Politics Fail You. Dr. Bashah, welcome to our podcast.
Thank you, Bradley, so much for having me on your show. Really, it’s an honor.
Well, thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk with us. I actually have a fun time doing research on all of our guests and thank you for sending me the book. We’ll talk about that later. I was able to read up to Chapter 2. I didn’t have enough time to get any further, but what I read I was really excited about. So, to start off, I think you already know that for our podcast we usually go through that academic and professional journey then we talk about your current works, how you’re applying your degrees, and then we’ll talk about some of the other things you’re working on. So, I did notice that you received your bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Tell me about your undergraduate experiences and what originally sparked your interest in psychology.
Well, to go back about how I found my way to psychology, I’d have to give you a little bit more about my personal background. So, my parents are Jews from Iraq. We’ve been there. I mean, since the beginning of Babylonian Jewry Heritage there. And during the rise of Saddam Hussein’s power and control, there was a backlash against a lot of the minorities, religious minorities, that were living in Iraq at the time. And so, Jews became a persecuted minority. So, when my parents were living there, my father was 17 years old at the time. There’s actually a chapter that I dedicate to his story in our book as well as my mom’s story. So, my father was 17 years old. He’s riding his bicycle and all of a sudden he comes across a commotion in the Main Town Square, which is called Tahrir Square, and this is in Baghdad and he sees that there are Jews that are being publicly hanged. This was a mock trial. It went over a couple of days. Basically, the government hand-picked several Jews. There were actually seven Jews that were hanged that day, two of whom were minors under age 17, and they were falsely accused for being spies for Israel. Basically, this was a propaganda ploy put out by Saddam Hussein to really let the Jewish community know that we’re coming after you. We’re coming after all of your assets. We’re coming after your homes and that’s exactly what happened. And so there was a mass wave of people fleeing, but you couldn’t just get a passport at that time, so government seized property, people disappeared. Unfortunately, my grandfather, my mother’s father at the time, was last seen being pushed into a government vehicle and disappeared. The last we know about his whereabouts, he was taken to an underground jail called the Palace of No Return, never to be heard from again. And actually, what was interesting was after the US invasion in Iraq, there were a lot of documents that were released and we were searching through those documents and we were finding that they were spying on my family and the Jewish community as well as the classes and students. But what really promoted my interest in psychology is that there is this intergenerational trauma. There’s this story that my family had, and there was a lot of grief and loss and pain. And I grew up hearing some of these stories, some of which my parents really didn’t want to relive and retell, but yet I knew that there was something very, very painful there. So, as I got older, I began asking more and more questions and I can be honest and say I remember being 12 years old and really committing myself to somehow undoing or finding some kind of justice for the harm that had been committed to my family and my grandfather’s disappearance because I saw how much it really traumatized my, my mother and my father. They’re both so resilient and they have so much strength and and honestly, they have a common story of many immigrants. With so many protective factors and passion and values and protecting family and hardworking and and so, I was fortunate to grow up with all of those benefits and privileges and I was born and raised in Canada. But you know, it was that story of intergenerational trauma and that impacted my identity and it made me want more. It made me want to live a life that was worthy of the gift of life. And if there was some kind of spiritual justice that I could do even if it was committing myself to the work of really understanding and untangling what is it about people and society and communities that get to the point where they can permit such mass atrocities or human rights abuses, or just even sit back and and allow and permit these crimes against humanity to be committed? That’s what I really committed my my life work to and I still do.
Well, you gave a good summary there. Thank you for giving a background because as I mentioned, I got to chapter two. Chapter one is the hanging so it it talks about that and then chapter two was very interesting as well, talking about the psychology of terrorism and I liked in your forward here you actually said “for me, this book is a journey through time, chronicling the lives of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.” And so, it it it is a chronicle and a journey that you’re sharing not only of your personal experiences, but also of some of your clients as well. And of course, you you don’t share their names and stuff. But before we talk more about the book, let’s finish your academic journey. And so, you know, you gave us what really started as an interest in psychology, almost also making up for and trying to fix what you have seen those atrocities. Then, you eventually what’s interesting about your academic journey is you went to Canada for your undergrad, and then you went all the way to Australia to receive your Master’s degree in clinical psychology from Flinders University of South Australia. What led you to Australia?
Oh, my gosh. OK, so if we backtrack a little more. So, I was born in Montreal and so Canadian by birth. And then my my father was traumatized by the winters in the East Coast coming from Iraq and lived in Israel and just missed the desert heat. So, he ended up coming to Arizona and he was working as a auto mechanic. My my parents are very humble and hardworking like I said, and so he was working as an automatic auto mechanic, had an opportunity to come to Arizona. So, once I turned 18, I decided I’m gonna go back to Canada and obtain a degree in art school because I really love Fine Arts. So, I went up to Vancouver. I ended up deciding, no, this isn’t for me. I dropped out of art school after my first year doing a foundation year and I committed myself to being a nomad and living day by day in the Middle East. I went to Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Sinai. Ended up going down South to Kenya and Tanzania for a year backpacking, I lived minimally, so I would find places to work. I worked as a dive master in exchange for place to stay. I learned Arabic and picked up belly dancing and so that was all part of my journey. In the end I decided, you know, I wanted to really commit to humanitarian causes and social causes that I felt very passionate about. I wanted to work with people in some kind of healing capacity. And that’s really what led me to psychology. I didn’t know exactly what that output would look like and what my career would look like, but I knew that I wanted to work with people in some kind of healing capacity. So, I went back to Vancouver and that’s when I enrolled at UBC and got my major in psychology. At that time, I was volunteering at the Ara Norenzayan Social and Cognition Lab, where they were really assessing culture and religious intolerance. And I helped some doctorates complete their dissertation, experimental designs and their studies, and really just had a love of research and further investigating these things that really deeply matter to me on the social psychology side. And then I went to Australia because I had an, I’m a hopeless romantic and I was in love with somebody at the time who ended up going to do a medical degree in Australia and I thought, why not? If I’m going to be a poor student, I may as well do this in really wonderful places around the world. And if the relationship doesn’t work out, it’s OK. I’m going to still get my masters in Australia and I’ll have that experience. And so, I went to Flinders University in Adelaide. And I loved it. It was a great education. They were really focused on cognitive behavioral therapy. And over there you can be licensed with a masters. You don’t need a doctorate, which is different in America. So, I actually got to work as a licensed psychologist for a year. In community mental health, which was a great experience and during my Master’s degree I also worked in different labs. There was a neuroscience lab they were running all kinds of studies on ADHD, how trauma impacts the brain and different areas of brain regions that are impacted by trauma. And then I was working in a trauma studies lab doing assessments on children as well as adults.
You actually answered a couple of my questions just in that short time. So, what I should say is yes, you actually did work and was able to practice with your Master’s degree and not a lot of places can you do that with only a masters. You actually are certified by the International Institute of Humanistic Studies for application of existential-humanistic psychotherapy and of course, you already mentioned your trained in dialectical behavior therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, trauma-informed therapy and then emotion focused therapy. I understand all of those, except we’re gonna take one second. Tell me a little bit more about trauma-informed therapy, and I’ll tell you one thing that I read was it’s it’s not necessarily a documented therapeutic procedure, it’s more of a change of frame of mind of instead of thinking somebody as a victim, they think of somebody as who has experienced something and you’re going to treat them and and work through that with them differently than some people tend to approach and and that’s high high level view, but in your own words kind of tell me what the trauma-informed therapy is.
Yeah, that was a really great summary. It is more of a philosophical approach to working with trauma and really it’s empowering the person that you’re working with or the client in a situation to really determine and decide where they want to go, where the healing needs to take place. So as a clinician we might see, oh, you know, we need to go to the heart of the matter, and this is the the bruise we want to press against knowing that that causes a lot of pain to the person as they’re working through it. And so a trauma informed approach may say, well, you know, we may be led by our own assumptions here and and we might assume all sexual trauma is is horrific and all forms of it need to be worked on and all their experiences need to be exposed and they need to go through the the exposure therapy and write their narrative and rewrite their narrative so that they can then process it in a way that is no longer retraumatizing them, or they’re somehow desensitized a bit more to the traumatic experiences and they’re they’re starting to synthesize and integrate a different narrative that is more healing and helpful for them. But that’s not the case for every person. They they may be in love with their perpetrator, and so there there may be this added complexity. It might be a family member that they know and love and cherish, and yet are not ready to see them in the eyes of an abuser. And so, it may take time to process that. I remember one of my cases I was working with a woman I would say probably in her 40s and and she said to me, you know, I have this reoccurring vision of an adult male sexually molesting me when I was a child, like a toddler. And I can’t see his face but I see everything else. And I I I remember everything that had happened to me, but I can’t see his face. So, we started to work through therapy and she started to gain a trust of herself, a trust in her instincts. She was filled with self-doubt and insecurity and so really working from an empower based empowerment-based model to help her feel some strength and power and control in her life over time. Then one day she said, you know, I see his face and she was able to identify who it was. So had I been pressing and probing and prodding and ohh no, you must find who this is and we must integrate it and write a a trauma narrative. It’s just it takes time and and people you know need to go through some growing pains to in order to get to that next place of their work. And sometimes for my therapy clients, they may say, OK, this is enough. Like, I know that there’s more work I need to do, but I I you know, want to take a break from therapy right now. But I I see what more I need to do. And and I think that’s great that really offers that empowerment to them to make those decisions and determinations of how how and when they want to look back and reprocess and heal, it takes a lot of motivation and a lot of emotional strength to do that kind of work.
Well, the other thing that leads me up to you know, you have certifications, licensure and a lot of new psychologists wonder, hey, what should I get trained in? What approaches, what therapies and so on the screen we’re sharing the types of therapies and there’s so many more than what we have listed on the screen. How did you decide? Hey, I should become licensed or certified in CBT or EFT or any of these other therapies? Or did that kind of happened while you were practicing and you realized, hey, I need to do more than just the cognitive behavioral therapy. I need to also look at these other ones. Tell us your thought process on how you decided which therapies to actually become certified in.
Well, when I was doing my masters in Flinders University in Adelaide in Australia. They, the school really focused on cognitive behavioral therapy. Their philosophy was we want you to be good at at one therapeutic modality and and theoretical orientation. We know that there’s so much more that’s out there but you’re going to be a licensed psychologist and we understand that with training and doing work, you’re going to continue to grow. And and so you can get other additional trainings and continuing education and other therapies. So, we at least want you to be good at one thing. It’s also very heavily like researched theoretical orientation and model, and so that also lent itself well, because there’s just so much empirical designs that can that serve to study it, to apply it to all kinds of different things like addictions, psychosis, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorders. So, there’s just so so many applications that have been well documented. And so, when I came to the US to do my doctorate, I was working with a lot of ethnic minority populations, undocumented Latinas, and immigrants. And I realized, you know, CBT just isn’t the right fit. It’s not the one thing that that fits everyone obviously we. So, I started to get trainings in other theoretical orientations that were more appropriately suited to different populations that I was working with.
Well, the other thing that leads us up to is, you know there you you returned to the United States or came to the United States and went to university, the Arizona School of Professional Psychology for your doctorate. And you actually received a Doctor of Psychology, a PsyD, in Arizona at Argosy University. So, there are a lot of graduate psychology schools in Arizona so how did you decide to go to that particular school and program versus some other ones?
So my family remained in Arizona. My parents and my brother and and I have an uncle and and family, other family members and. And so, my community and my base was it remained in Arizona while I was traveling the world and studying in really great places. And so, it just came time that I had to make a decision. Do I stay and build my career in Australia knowing that I couldn’t have picked a further place from my family. And as I said before, my family ties and family values are so strong, and so that’s when I made the decision after working as a licensed psychologist in Australia that I would go back to Arizona to do my doctorate. I felt that while the education and the masters was great, it it was very incomplete and I I felt totally incompetent and and unequipped to be working as a psychologist that I knew there were still so much more that I was missing. And honestly, what I felt was missing for me was, more importantly, proper mentorship. I had excellent training, but I I was hungry for mentorship. And and I really wanted to gain more skills in the application of of clinical training and therapies. So that’s what led me to the PsyD program. I love research, I love science. I love empirical designs and creating my own like quantitative studies and qualitative studies, so I ended up doing dual, a lit review as well as a program that I designed for undocumented Latinas. And then I also did a a qualitative study looking at undocumented Latinas, cross-border human rights abuses. So, I ended up doing both and so I decided I’m going to go for the PsyD program because it really fits what it is that I feel like I’m missing and when I looked at the program of PsyDs that were offered I was studying the faculty. I wasn’t really looking at the program as much as I was really assessing the faculty. I was looking at what research they had published, what was their emphasis, what are their their core philosophies and I just fell in love with the faculty at Argosy University in Phoenix, and I said I’m going to go find a mentor and that is exactly what I did. And I applied to one school. I said, well, we’re gonna do this. I said it fits all my criteria. It’s in the location that I want to be which is closer to my family in Arizona. It’s uh, I like the the approach of the PsyD program more than the PhD because it fit really what I felt like I was missing and I loved the program faculty. I thought that I would find my mentors there. And that’s exactly what I did.
What I was going to follow up with is a lot of students and a lot of listeners wonder if they should get a PhD or a PsyD and back in the day when PsyD first came out and was available a lot of people would view PhD you need that if you’re gonna stay in the academic field, you need that if you’re going to become a researcher. And PsyD was more looked at as a practitioner and and you were going to use that in the real world. But now, correct me if I’m wrong, but your sense and my sense is that there’s there’s more of an interlacing of, hey, you don’t necessarily need to have a PhD to teach at a college. I’ve had multiple guests who have a PsyD and they’re professors at colleges, and vice versa as well. And so there is more of a crossing of don’t think about it just one way or this way and you can actually select whatever fits for you and it sounds like you did exactly that. You did your research even though you applied to one. So, when you go back, if we were going to give some advice to students about, you know, in terms of the process related to searching for graduate schools and programs, any other advice that you’d have for them, I would suggest, me personally, apply to more than one program, but it’s up to you what you want to say? Any advice for them?
Yeah, yeah, I would say. You know I know prestigious schools are always more appealing, potentially as a credibility builder and reputation booster. But, it may not necessarily be the best fit for what that particular student is wanting or needing at the time in their career. There is always more opportunity to advance your skills and training in different areas. Uhm, but I think what’s more important is not going towards things that are going to be so impressive or it might be something that your parents might want for you, but it’s not ultimately what you want for yourself. And and I think you don’t want to regret this stage. There’s so much time and money and important years of your life that get invested and you become an expert at delaying gratification and looking at the long-term goals while you might see a lot of your peers outside of higher education starting to earn incomes, paying off their student loan debts, buying nice cars, affording some nice vacations and you might feel a little envious of that. So just know that you know what you’re setting yourself up for is really a long-term delayed gratification. And so it’s better to invest in something that you personally feel passionate about because you’re gonna rely on that when the times get hard and and you’re going to be up all night studying or cramming for an exam or up all night writing your final paper so you know those are gonna be the hard times that that are going to bring about the truth. And if you’re motivated just because you, you know, want to come out of an elite skill, elite school is a credibility booster. I just don’t think it’s going to be sufficient. So, find your truth. Create your path and the beautiful thing about psychology is you can constantly recreate who you want to be. And I’ve been able to do that with my professional career and I love that as I’ve evolved personally and grew into this work because the work demanded it of me. I found new areas that I never even really considered when I was in my undergrad or even graduate program. I I was so clinically focused and I loved the work that I was doing, but then I found myself into forensics when I was doing a lot of the work in immigration and and I love advocacy work. And I found, hey, this might be an opportunity for me to promote some social justice by doing more forensic work for immigrants who are needing asylum evaluations or writing their declarations and and that’s when I started to intersect with forensic work. Well, with the psychology and law. And now a big part of my practice is in forensics because I followed another path and psychology permits that. I’m an author. I have a podcast. I have a private practice. I supervise doctoral students. I’m a businesswoman. I’m an entrepreneur. There are all these different facets of me. I’m an expert in courts, but also, I’m called upon as an expert in media and in news. When there was a school shooting I was called upon to offer some information or give advice to community and or to parents. So, there’s so many different things that you could recreate who you want to be. It’s a wonderful thing, and psychology permits that, but find your own path.
The other thing that I’d add to you, what you were saying is going to a prestigious school and adding that credibility or trying to get that credibility, there are upsides and downsides to that. You and I both know if you’re trying to get into a prestigious school, the competition is more fierce, and not only that, but if you really want to focus on a particular area, find somebody who is known as an expert in that area. Go to where they’re studying, where they’re teaching, and look at the faculty and what you’re interested in. And you may find that it’s not as prestigious, but you’re going to have more one-on-one and you said that you were just wanting that mentorship. So, at those other schools, you would have a better chance of having more one-on-one mentorship with some of your professors as well. So there there are other things to consider other than just that, that credibility of going and saying, hey, I went to this such and such school, so keep that in mind as well. And you also mentioned one earlier about lab work getting, you know, experience in the lab, doing some research. If you go to some of those higher competitive schools, they only accept so many people in the lab, and so you might not have that opportunity, whereas the middle schooos you’ll probably get a better chance of doing that. I’m just brainstorming out loud for other suggestions from some of our some of our listeners. Now, you already alluded to this, and this is a good segue to my next question. You were a predoctoral psychology intern at Southwest Behavioral and Health Services. And then you did your post-doctoral clinical psychology residency at Wooten and Associates and then this was the fun one that I uncovered is you were an independent contractor for forensic psychological evaluations at Biltmore Evaluation and Treatment Services in Phoenix, AZ. So, I’m going to focus on that. Tell us a little bit more about your experience at Biltmore as you were there for a little over three years. What did you do there? What were some valuable lessons that you learned while you had that experience?
Yeah, absolutely, and you know, this goes back to my recommendation is find people in you in the professional world that you want to emulate that or who you know you love their work, you love what they’re doing. You’re fascinated by what they’re doing and you want to learn more from them. And offer to work for free. Tell them I I don’t need to get paid. I know that might hurt, but honestly, just say I’m,I’m willing to do this on a volunteer basis. I just want to learn from you and I can’t tell you how many doors that’s opened for me. And, and so I recommend just doing whatever it is that they ask of you, and it may be entering data and that might seem so tiresome and boring, but just having the exposure and being in that person’s clinic and in their professional space know that it takes immense trust to bring students in if you’re interning, and so, so much of what I ended up doing in this, like postdoctoral residency, or is it clinical contractor is these were roles and relationships that I negotiated with mentors because they knew the quality of my work. They knew my work ethic and they knew I was so dedicated to learning and so open to be trained. And so they invested in me. I wouldn’t be where I am today without any of them and they invested so much time and energy and wisdom. And I learned so much from them. So, Dr. Toma at Biltmore was doing a lot of the forensic work. I love the populations he was working with and I was trying to think about business wise. How is it that I can serve the underserved and still get paid for it? And and so I found that the hey, there’s opportunities in county funded work and if a person is found indigent by the court that the county would pay for services for experts to do psychological evaluations. So, I found a way, business wise to be able to serve the populations that I really wanted to work with and still get paid to survive and create a business. So, Dr. Toma agreed to take me on and and then eventually he started to pay me a a small amount. But again, I was just learning so much and there was still so much time and that he had to invest but I was getting exposure to these client populations and the training while working under his supervision. And and that was immense. And he was starting to transition out and into, like, an early retirement. And he really helped me get started in my private practice and was a referral source for me of work that he was unable to do or was choosing not to do. And and so these relationships are so immense. I don’t, you know, care where you’re living. Your community, you don’t want to burn any bridges with community. And you know, these community of professionals, you know it, whatever time they’re willing to invest in you, be grateful and take it and you know, be cautious about entitlement. I think that people aren’t going to want to invest in people that they see as as entitled and not open to learning. Or working hard. Uhm, and and and I think all of that’s very important to consider and your how you’re approaching different professionals in the community. But I love it when I get cold calls from students who are maybe even in their undergraduate degree saying, you know, hey, Dr. Bashah, this is what I’m thinking of. Can I pick your brain and they’ll ask me questions like how much do you make? How did you decide to go into private practice? What is that like for you? What are your stressors? Those are all great questions. Then they ask, “can I work for you?” And then I say, well, you know, I can’t expose you to clients. But you know what? You can come into trainings and uh, you’re welcome to join my students when we have uh didactic trainings and just get some exposure and sit with us and probably maybe like 1/4 of the students actually show up. You know, so you can always reach out to people in your community.
That’s very good advice and you know, you mentioned already that he helped you get ready to open up your own private practice. You actually opened your own private practice Bashah Psychological Services in January, 2017. At what point did you know that you wanted to open your own practice? Did it kind of come to you, or did you know while you were working on your undergrad, grad? Tell me how you decided, hey, I want to open my own private practice.
Yeah, well, this leads me to Paul Johnson. He’s the co-author of my book and also my personal life partner. We have a daughter together. So, at this point he he was really mentoring me in business and and and in entrepreneurship. And we knew each other for 10 years before, uh, before we entered into a romantic relationship. But he really encouraged me. He’s an entrepreneur at heart. And he loves mentoring people. He really encouraged me to take that step when I was telling him about how much I was making at my internship, a ghastly $24,000 a year. He just thought. Oh my gosh, no, that’s not gonna work for you. You know you need to actually make some income. And you know I had taken the longer route in psychology at this point. I was in my late 30s and and I decided, you know, I’m going to confront my fears, and there were a lot of fears there. You know, I I could have easily talked myself out of it. I’m thinking I’m starting a business with a $200,000 debt. How do I know that I’m even going to make enough money to afford my utilities and rent? Where is this going to come from? And so, I had a lot of people helping me along the way who really assisted. They sent me referrals. I found a place where I was able to get a discount on rent and and just a place to get started and and it slowly started coming. And all the different mentors that I was working with before they were sending me referrals as well. And so I just went into building business, but I have to say there was a lot of fears that I could have easily talked myself out of it because it would have been easier to do the sure thing and and go with a salaried position and know that I’m working for someone and I’m still doing the work that I’m passionate about. Uhm, but yet I’m not fulfilling this other part of me that really wants to push the edge and the boundaries. And in psychology, we do have somewhat of a model. We don’t have Business School training, but there there is training through mentors and modeling in books and I was fortunate enough with Paul Johnson to join his entrepreneurship business mentoring group. So, I would say look out for those groups in your community and see where they are and learn from them and learn from other people and see what you can also contribute.
So, you already mentioned some challenges. What were some of the biggest challenges that you experienced when you were opening up your own private practice?
You know, negotiating and and and learning about all the expenses and how to budget and thinking about how to cut costs and profit versus loss and how to assess and analyze your budget, it it was something very new for me and to think about, you know, how do I ensure that income continues to get generated so that I could do the work that I love. And so much of my work doesn’t pay anything if I’m giving workshops or I’m writing a book or I’m doing podcasts like those things aren’t income generators right now. Hopefully, in the future. But you know that that’s also time. So how do you devote your time and and become better managers and and being efficient in the work that you do? And so a lot of that really is organization. I’m also a mother. So, Paul and I have a 2 1/2 year old daughter. And of all the other things that are really important to me in my life, I also it’s also very important to me that I have quality time with her. And and so being really quite boundaried with time commitments has been something that I’m constantly working on. And I feel like I’ve got a good balance and I tell my clients everything that I am saying to you I’m also working on, I promise.
Right. Right. Right. The other thing that I learned in a recent podcast is there’s a lot of work that goes into getting paneled for insurance, and so if people in their psychology practice accept insurance, it’s just not ohh, we’re gonna accept insurance. You have to work with each of those insurance companies to actually prove to you, hey, I’m legitimate and this is how it’s going to work. And so even that part I learned recently with one of my podcasts takes some time and it’s those things that you don’t really think about. You’re just gung ho about I know I want to help. I know I can help and I know that I’m equipped to do that. Let’s open up a business so. You know, one thing that I talk to people who own their own private practice. Many of them have gone through therapy themselves. And so, if you were in therapy, describe your ideal therapist.
If you know, I would want someone who’s honest with me and tells me what they think of me. Even the uglier sides and helps me to rethink some of my approaches that are maybe keeping me stuck. Or ways in which I’m preventing myself from growing because maybe if my own insecurities, my own self-doubts, my own ego fragility. But that the person the therapist is also open to learning from me and being challenged by me. But I would really want like pure honesty and authenticity and for there to be love, compassion and love.
Well, that’s a good summary. I like that summary. The this leads us to about five months ago you and honorable Paul Johnson released a new book, as I mentioned in the intro, called Addictive Ideologies: Finding Meaning and Agency When Politics Fail You. So tell me more about the book and why both of you wrote it.
So going back to my family story and traveling the Middle East, yeah, I really wanted to uncover and understand how is it that average people, people who were my parent’s friends, peers, schoolmates, business partners could just turn on them and to the point of committing such horrific violence against them. And it’s not that these are bad people. I don’t believe that there are inherently, you know, evil people to the mass level that we’re talking, that that they just all surrendered their agency and individual thought to a leader and just said, you know, right, you’re right. Let’s just go with this and oppress this minority because it works out to my own self-interest. I don’t believe that. I think that there is so much individuality and choice that happens through that process. Now there’s contextual factors that I think are always going to be important to uncover, but I really wanted to work on promoting social change by empowering the individual. And with Paul’s work in politics, he’s the former mayor of Phoenix. He was the youngest mayor. And uh, he served 2 consecutive terms and he’s done a lot of work in the Middle East and working with the the US, U.S. Department and and I think it’s really important to be able to look at this merging of politics and psychology through being able to tackle this political divisiveness that is happening today. Paul and I are deeply concerned about what is happening on the extreme right politically and extreme left politically. People are just talking over each other. No one is practicing any listening skills. Everyone just wants to be heard and prove that they’re right. And overpower the other person because nobody wants to be a minority voice or treated as they’re invisible. But all of that is concerning. So, we really focus the book on trying to understand what are the unique characteristics of that combine terrorism, genocide, looking at extremism because we’re seeing extremism here in the US and it is really deeply concerning. So, we looked at my parents’ story as a case illustration and example trying to ask and extracting from what Milgram and Zimbardo studies have really looked at but trying to understand how is it that millions of people can participate in this and it’s not just because of this charismatic leader. Uh, in many cases, we heard stories about these atrocities that ordinary people were committing, and these are this is astonishing. So, we had to ask, how is it that ordinary people could be roped into doing these things? So, we found some interesting things. We thought we we found and also through my forensic work that I’ve done that terrorism, extremism and genocide are linked to ideology. And these ideologies lead to violence. When they see themselves as oppressed by an oppressor, it legitimizes the dehumanization and objectification of the other. And we see this both on the right and and left. And that these ideologies are affected by and show some of the same traits as people who are addicted, meaning that once they engage in the behaviors and those thought processes they they’re these push and pull factors, they start to push away from their family members or people that they used to care about or things they used to care about, and they start going more towards these extreme ends and that there are severe consequences for what they’re doing because of what they’re saying. What they’re people that they’re pushing away and their extreme behaviors, and it becomes hard to break.
So one thing that I should clarify because I had to look this up and and try to figure out what you meant and what Paul meant about the loss of individual agency and liberty. So, can you kind of explain what do you guys mean when you’re talking about agency in the book?
So, when you allow a leader to dictate and determine how you think, how you feel, what you do, what you participate in, because it bolsters a sense of empowerment that you feel that you don’t have in your life today. What you’re willing to surrender and give up is that loss of agency. And and we’re saying no, we need to look at ourselves even we are not immune to this. You are not immune to this. We all are affected by what we see on media and the nightly news. Everything gets so aggrandized and sensationalized because they benefit through propaganda to get you to watch again tomorrow. And so, this affects our psyche. This affects our emotional state and may maybe makes us more paranoid. Makes us more anxious. We want some quick fix solutions. And so, what do we do? Well, let’s blame someone. Who do I blame? Who can I take down? Who can I point the finger at? Because that’s gonna make me feel more secure in my worldview if I just simplify the solution and say, well, the right just needs to come down or, you know, the extreme left just needs to calm down. And that’s often time, not the solution. We need to be able to come together in order to find the solution, but you we all need to think for ourselves and not be so readily influenced by what is being thrown at us and we know with neuropsychology that there is such a thing as the amygdala hijack when our emotions get overamplified by our limbic system and we see things as threatening, we can’t use our frontal lobe. It shuts down and we’re over. What gets overrided is that rational thought, logical thought, really understanding consequences, impulse control, decision making. You can’t make those rational decisions when you’re under some kind of threat, and so this works for the propaganda and we believe that this is also what’s perpetuating the divisiveness in America today.
And I should point out it was interesting reading this in the book that you and Paul aren’t on the same side when it comes to political views and so, but you still are able to talk through it and you’re saying and you just said a few minutes ago, this applies to both extremes on on the polar extremes. And so, one thing that I also read that you started to mention as well is some of those people that become extremists or you know when we ask the question, what is the psychology of terrorism? Some people and what causes them, you know, to become that way is they almost become invisible. They don’t feel heard, understood, respected, and so if they’re invisible, that might lead them down this path. So, I guess my general question for you is you know again, I’ve only gotten to Chapter 2 on here, but you know what is the psychology of terrorism? Why does it happen and what can be done to prevent it?
Yeah, I think you know, going back to the ideology and some of the contacts that would lead up to somebody being more vulnerable to being radicalized, there are some commonalities in, in research and research would tell us that people are isolated, they don’t have a sense of belonging or connection to community. They maybe feel ostracized and and so they’re searching for ways to help bolster their their mortality salience and and so, in a way, they’re searching for a way to feel more powerful. And this is where recruiters, and we’re seeing a lot of recruiters online, recruiter and it could be all kinds of different extremist views it doesn’t necessarily have to be religiously based. I do evaluations on people within cell ideology. And so if you feel that ohh, this is a secret group and we have a secret language and we have a code language and I get to feel important and all of a sudden all these things that I maybe felt humiliated or pushed out of or ostracized that I suddenly feel more powerful. And now I have a mission. Now I have a purpose and meaning, whereas I didn’t before. And so, people with depression and anxiety or maybe some other mental health problems could be more vulnerable to be radicalized and recruited, and so there are some of these things that we want to look for and being able to identify people early before they get to that point. But it becomes really concerning because it’s a way for them to suddenly feel like they’re right and they’re justified in this process. And there is that rush of dopamine and adrenaline when you feel like you’re winning an argument and that promotes that addictive cycle because you feel like I want that again. And so, by having that out group that you get to see them submit to your power and control well, that feels good in the moment. All it is is being driven by this deep sense of insecurity and vulnerability. And it’s obviously not pro social. And so how can we get people on an individual basis to practice their self-agency and empower themselves in more pro social ways to see that it isn’t just this quick fix and don’t you see that you’re also just surrendering your own power and agency to other people to dictate and determine what they want you to do through propaganda.
You, you say in your introduction here, “owning your agency is key to having a meaningful life, to creating, innovating, rationalizing, and thinking. To own your agency, you must be able to use the neocortex portion of the brain where you can access rational thoughts creativity, innovation and optimism. You can lose your sense of agency through fear, despair and depression.” And you also mention isolation as well. And so, I I I’ll continue reading this. It’s very interesting to me and what leads me to my next question and a good transition to talking about another website and and another project that you’re working on is how can we be more optimistic when surrounded with a lot of this negative bias and and why is this optimism so crucial?
Paul does a great job on The Optimistic American and going through geopolitics. That is not my expertise. It is his domain. But really looking at the data and seeing that there is reason to be optimistic in America today. Yes, we are imperfect. But you know what? We live in a democracy and we have freedom of speech and so many other liberties and freedoms that so many other countries don’t have. And look at all the opportunity that your life is better than your parents life. And your children’s lives are going to be better than your life and all of that is indicative of having hope and being optimistic for a brighter future. And so you know, this is his domain with the geopolitics and being able to really summarize and explain all the advantages that there are decreasing rates in, in crime, there’s, you know, while we are seeing more divisiveness in politics today and there is obviously a need for political reform and educational reform, that there is opportunities for these changes to be had today and there are great people that are working on this. And if we are more hopeful and optimistic, there are so many mental health benefits that come with that.
No, I agree with you. There are so many different benefits when you look on the bright side. I mean, that’s the way you’re doing. You’re looking and you’re being hopeful. Instead of focusing on the negative and what could possibly happen, this begs the question how did you guys decide to get this Opta, you know this, this website, this Optimistic American website up and running as well as the podcast cause you have our show here and you have the podcast and you guys have sometimes both of you are on here sometimes only Paul is on here but you have a lot of different topics on the podcast and you feature guests that are optimistic to bring up, you know, a a positive spin and take a better view of where we’re heading. And so how did you guys decide to to create this website and this podcast? Tell me a little bit of background.
Well, we’re committed to social change and improving community and and really healing the the harm and the break in having this in a holistic and United Nation. I think a democracy is a really wonderful thing and knowing where my family came from and just me as a woman being able to own property, being able to have a doctorate degree, being able to own my own business and being an entrepreneur and be on media and be seen as an expert. All of these things are wonderful privileges that I get to exercise in the US and had I been born in Iraq, I would not have had those. And so while I, you know, if I complain about all of these things, well, OK, I might have this but this person over here has more and so I’m going to finger point at them because it’s not fair. You know, I’m also depriving myself and hurting myself by seeing like, look at all, I mean, a minority woman that gets to exercise all these privileges. And and so we we lose sight of that. Paul and I really want to give back to community and focus on healing society. And there are so many different things that we’ve learned along the way that we’ve learned from people. Paul has an immense amount of wisdom from working as a mayor and also as an expert in politics. And so, we just bridge the psychology and politics together and being able to tackle some really big issues like suicides, raising children, empowering, empowering children, how to work with your marital partner or your spouse, or your relationship partner when you’re having difficulties in your relationship. Looking at mass shooting as a as an epidemic, looking at how you maintain your self-agency when you’re bombarded by all of this media that is telling you otherwise. How to empower yourself? How to start a business. There’s so many different things that we really try to give as golden nuggets that I’ve learned from therapy, and I’ve also learned from doing the forensic work from different populations that I’ve worked with, and also my research.
So, you know, we’ve covered a lot here. We’ve talked about your academic and professional journey. We’ve talked about the book, we’ve talked about the website and and being able to use that podcast and website and and help people become more optimistic through The Optimistic American website. In your opinion, as a psychologist, what are some of the most pressing ethical issues or dilemmas that psychologists face today? Given all of this stuff we’ve just talked about and how can students better prepare themselves to actually address some of these issues in the future?
You know there’s. There’s so many different ethical dilemmas, I think it really depends on the area that you might be working in, but really, when you look at the definition of ethics, it is when there’s a conflict and value with either someone that you’re working with or in an ethical dilemma that is being presented to you. And there may not be, you know, in psychology is so much of that gray area. Sometimes as students, we just want, well, what is the right answer? And well, the right answer is, you know, there’s no perfect solution to this and you have to make the decision. It’s an iterative process is what is the next best decision and where are you hoping to go with this. And what are you trying to prevent? Sometimes we have to work our way backwards, so I might be working with an attorney who’s my client and doing a forensic evaluation and we we may have a conflict because I see, OK, this is a a due. This is a a situation in which I have a duty to protect the public and there are safety concerns and maybe there’s a danger to self or others. Whereas the attorney might say well hey I have a duty to protect my client patient. My client, attorney privilege, and by you having your your disclosure that’s gonna harm my relationship. And so, there’s constant negotiating and you have to be able to use those communication skills and gently approach what is difficult and and it’s hard to do, especially as psychologists, we tend to be people pleasers. We want to avoid conflict and yet no, we need to negotiate. We need to lean into the difficult conversations and we also have to be firm when we’re presented with some boundary issues and it may not be what you choose, but also what you know, your law and ethics govern you to do. It may not be a great decision, but it is probably the best decision and so I would encourage people just consult. I have some people in my back pocket that I call upon. I have an attorney that I call upon. I have other professionals in forensic work that I call upon. To consult with and I have my community and so I I know that I’m not doing this alone and by having them I feel I feel more confident and that I’m going to make a confident decision. I don’t expect to know all the answers or be a know it all and and I think that’s also important to keep the ego in check.
So we’ve talked about a lot. I’m going to kind of summarize and ask you this, what do you love most about your job or jobs?
Well, with the book, I have to say I love this, doing this journey with the person I love and care about and and I feel like it’s a wonderful thing and enhances my relationship by talking about these issues that we’re both deeply concerned about. And doing something that we feel matters and again promoting meaning and purpose, not only in our lives, but also encouraging people to find the meaning and purpose in their life and promoting self-agency and knowing their own truth. And sometimes being confronted with the good versus evil that’s inside of all of us. And when we have to make some really difficult decisions and disappoint people that we love and care about, but yet in our heart know that this is the right decision. It can be really isolating. And so, you know, know where those pressures exist. And being able to have some really difficult conversations with people that you disagree with and being able to listen. So, I think you know the important thing is follow your passion and if what you’re doing is no longer exciting you or interesting, maybe it might be an opportunity to redefine or recreate what it is that you’re doing and it could still fit within the field of psychology, which is a wonderful thing.
Yes, it is. At the end of our podcast, we usually ask a few fun questions, and I usually start off with this one, and I could probably answer this, but I’m going to let you answer it anyway. Tell us something unique about yourself.
So, I’m a belly dancing psychologist. I write about this in my book and that we were talking earlier in the show that, you know, this is part of an unveiling that I I wrote this book with Paul and in part of it I thought, you know, I want to really share this secret about myself. And I perform with a pseudonym. And belly dancing is such an important part of remaining connected to my Arab ancestry and heritage. And and by doing so, maintaining my skills in the Arabic language, maintaining my connection to the culture and all of that I think helps me remain to be a great expert in working on cases, especially some of these are very high-profile cases of defendants who have Arab heritage and and so I’ve, you know, that makes me quite unique in this in this field. And and yet it could be part of this taboo that we’re unveiling and Paul and I really wanted to tackle a lot of these different systemic of societal and personal taboos by exposing them and talking about them.
Umm, one of the things that I usually ask is. What is something that you’ve learned recently? Something new that you’ve learned recently? It can be outside or inside of your field. It could be anything. What is something new that you have learned recently?
There is no correct way to parent and the open to being educated by the child. Uhm, and sometimes you know, allowing the child to lead is is not such a bad thing. I don’t expect to have all the right answers, but yet in parenting a two and a half year old. Yeah, sometimes my partner and I, Paul, have very different parenting approaches. And so, we talk about the philosophical underpinnings of doing different things or how to respond to a tantrum differently and what is the correct correct method and and so that can be quite challenging in itself and thinking ohh you know, I hope I don’t damage her for the rest of her life and if I’m too permissive. And striving towards being more authoritative, we know through research that that tends to be the best outlet. But she she teaches me every single day. I’m constantly learning from her about the wonder of life, the magic of life and learning, and seeing things for the first time. Making connections and being mindful in the moment and just absorbing life and having that energy and excitement for life. It is just purity in in the most crucial form and and I learned so much from her. I love it. I love motherhood. It’s constantly challenging, it’s constantly challenging me.
It sounds like it and you don’t look too tired, so that’s good. You guys are getting some sleep and allowing yourself to be silly. That’s one thing that I remember. You know, when I was growing up, allowing yourself to be silly with your kids and and they bring that out in you as well. So congratulations. That must be a fun journey. We’re talking about journeys today, so that is a fun journey for you as well. Do you have any other advice for those who are interested in the field of psychology?
Yeah, I would say be daring. Be willing to take a risk. You know, there’s lots of different linear paths that are out there. My path was very circular. You know, I had to summarize it for you, but honestly, if I had to go through all the different details and all the times I, you know, stepped off the path, went back on the path and spent a year traveling in the Middle East, you know there there’s no rush to get to the doctorate. There’s no sense of urgency. And it’s a it’s OK to be tangential on your life journey and you never know what you’re going to find. And I’m so fortunate with what I’ve been able to do in my life. And acknowledge where you’re taking great risk and having courage and bravery despite your fears.
So, the last question that I have is if you had the time and money to complete one project or go on one trip, what would you do?
Well, I have this vision with with the book and I I envision Paul and I traveling the world with our daughter and working with different governments across the world. And promoting these important changes politically and systemically and also through like various grassroots operations. And doing these trainings and exposing our daughter to different cultures and ways of living and various world views and languages and customs to promote her to be a world leader. That’s my vision.
Well, it sounds like an exciting.
I don’t know if I could fund that.
Yeah, it sounds like an exciting one and that would be fun to travel any time that you can travel. I’m a firm believer in traveling, and so it just opens up your mind and and everything else. People that just sit in their own space and and don’t see what’s happening in the world and experience it. It’s different than reading about it. You know, the one thing that I’ll I’ll bring up is there anything else that you’d like to discuss or bring up on the podcast?
Yeah, as a recommendation, because I know a lot of your guests and listeners are students and may be at those critical stages of making these really big career decisions in their life. It’s, you know, really lean into the challenges. Allow yourself to be challenged and confront the unknown and really follow, follow your passion, know your truth. And one of the things that I had to do in the really, about three or four years ago was just push out and suppress a lot of what society or religion or family or culture was telling me I should do or should think or should believe in because of what was right socially. And it it can be so hard to do because so much of what we think and believe in is infiltrated by what we’ve been told all of our lives. And so how do you suspend that in order to find your truth that takes deep work and but it is work that is worthy of doing. Because in the end you won’t have any regrets and you’re going to prevent a midlife crisis.
Right, right, right. Have you?
And you’re going to have great stories to tell along the way.
And speaking of the story, I’ll continue reading. And do you, do you have this published and printed in other languages yet?
Oh, that’s a great question. No, not yet. But I would love to.
Actually, we’re doing a book tour to Israel. So maybe if we can get enough interest that could be something that we do. That’s a great idea.
Yeah, because you know that that one project that you had, I would envision, well, you have to have the book in different languages too. And the challenge might be going to certain countries that would even allow something like this to be disseminated and discussed it would be a challenge as well, so just things that I’m thinking about in terms of this. But like I said. I will continue reading. I didn’t get a chance to share your social media. We’ll share your Twitter, LinkedIn, and your Psychology Today as well. And when we go live. But Emily, thanks again for sharing your journey with us today.
Bradley, it’s an honor. Thank you so much for taking the time to learn about me today.
Alright, have a good one and we will be in touch. Thanks.