Watch: Psychologist Sehar Moughal: ‘You cannot look at an individual or their action in isolation’

Sehar Moughal is a psychologist, activist, public speaker, teacher, and doctoral candidate at the University of Auckland. Her professional and research work centres around challenging the status quo and advocating for people on the fringes.


Sehar Moughal: So, when we talk about more mental health professionals of colour or of Asian ethnicity, there’s very few. I don’t know a psychologist who is Pakistani other than me.

My name is Sehar Moughal and I am a 1.5 generation migrant from Pakistan. So I came here when I was in my early teens.

I have been a registered psychologist since 2017 and I mostly work with people of Asian ethnicity, and that have been through family violence, trauma.

Growing up in New Zealand, things were not as easy and I decided to use the psychology services.

The first one that I went to kind of gave me general strategies that you would find so such as, you know, taking a bath, going for a walk, and then thinking positive.

And I thought, okay, you know, this person doesn’t get me. They don’t understand that I’m going through quite a lot at this stage of my life. I want you to tell me how to change my life. How do I stop being poor, for example, you know. Is thinking positive thoughts going to make me more money? Would that get me a job?

And so I thought, okay, maybe this is just one person and I decided to go to a second psychologist, and they gave me a few strategies, but it revolved around this idea that if I changed my mindset, things around me are going to change.

And so I went home. I was around 20 years old and I said, ‘That’s it. I am going to be a psychologist.’ And I enrolled in a psychology degree.

I think the biggest change that needs to happen in mental health services for people of Asian ethnicity is we need to be thinking about the different context. Context is important.

So the philosophy that I follow is that you cannot look at an individual or their action in isolation. You need to know what’s happening around them.

Let’s say, if you have a client that comes to you and says ‘I am angry.’ During my experiences when going through the mental health services was people were too focused on trying to get rid of the feelings of anger without trying to understand what were some of the things that were causing that anger.

So one of the things that I really focus on is I say to the client instead of focusing on the symptoms, you know, because that’s a lot what Western psychology sometimes focuses on, focus on what’s happening around you.

And a lot of the clients that I am working with, it’s mind opening for them, right? Because they finally understand that it’s not them that’s broken and faulty, that it’s the system that’s broken and faulty.

People of Asian ethnicity have this stigma of ... that we think of mental health in a very stigmatised way. Maybe it’s not that we think mental health is stigmatised but maybe the options we have on offer are not the right fit.

For so long we looked at the mainstream perspective as the baseline perspective. It’s not. There could be other perspectives, catered for other cultural groups, and they could exist in harmony.

But the reality is that if we keep doing the same thing over and over again and then say that it’s not working because people of Asian ethnicity have mental health stigma, that’s not very helpful. You’re not going to go anywhere.

There are people that are not even part of this conversation, so they’re not in the grassroots doing stuff. They’re not at the top level doing this stuff, but they’re there on the fringes.

These are the people that we are wanting to do this therapy for. We are wanting to create these services for and all of those things. They’re the people that need to be at the centre, and they’re absent from this conversation.

I know, because for many, many years I was absent from this conversation. And not all of us have the privilege to be in a position that I am.