Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Radicalisation begins in the mind

  • 28 October 2015

A few weeks ago Australians were shocked at the news that a Muslim youth had murdered an employee of NSW police in the western Sydney suburb of Parramatta.

Fifteen-year-old Farhad Jabar, born in Iran and of Iraqi Kurdish descent, gunned down accountant Curtis Cheng. Shortly after, he was shot and killed by police as they tried to apprehend him.

This disturbing event highlighted yet again the dangers of extremist religion, and raised questions about the causes of radicalisation and how best to deal with it.

The woman featured in this interview for Eureka Street TV is a Muslim and a clinical psychologist, and has a particular interest in the role of religion and spirituality in mental health. Shehzi Yusaf is based in Parramatta, and works with clients mainly from the western suburbs of Sydney.

In the interview she outlines a balanced approach in psychology that incorporates a person's religious beliefs in therapy, recognises the positive effect religion can have, and challenges narrow, fundamentalist and extremist beliefs.

She also talks about the difficulties for Muslims living in an environment where they encounter hostility and Islamophobia, and of her optimism for the future when she believes different religious groups can live together in harmony.

Yusaf was born in Pakistan, and migrated to Australia 33 years ago. Her first choice as a career was to become a doctor, but she wasn't strong enough in science, particularly in chemistry, to pursue a career in medicine. So she chose psychology instead.

She speaks four of the major languages of the Subcontinent — Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi and English — so many of her clients are from that part of the world, and are not limited to Muslims, but come from a range of religious backgrounds.

She is a Clinical Associate of the School of Psychology of University of Western Sydney, the University of New South Wales and University of Sydney.

She is also an active member of the Australian Psychological Society, and convenes its Psychology from an Islamic Perspective Interest Group.

She recently spoke at a major conference in Sydney called 'Culturally Competent Approaches to Mental Health Care: Exploring the Mental Health of Australian Muslims' and her paper was entitled 'Role of Spirituality and Religion in Enhancing Psychological Health Benefits.'

She spoke to Eureka Street TV in Castle Hill Library near her home in north-western Sydney.

This interview is in two parts - Part 1 (11 minutes) above, and Part 2 (12 minutes) below:


Peter Kirkwood is a freelance