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Haydeh Fakhrabadi: Spiritual Healing for Pediatric Cancer Patients and Families
When Haydeh Fakhrabadi traveled to Iran earlier this year, it was not for her usual family visit. Fakhrabadi, a fourth-year PsyD student in Pepperdine's Graduate School of Education and Psychology, is writing a dissertation on the religious coping methods used by parents of pediatric cancer patients. Her interest in the field of religion and health connected her with scholars in Iran and helped her develop professional relationships that she maintains from across the globe.
Last year, Fakhrabadi’s advisor, Dr. Shafranske, an expert on the use of spirituality in therapy, suggested that she contact the National Center for Medical Sciences in Iran. After an introductory visit in December of last year, the academy invited her to attend an annual conference on religion and science, a field she notes has been gaining momentum in recent years. Iranian academics presented studies at the weeklong conference that Fakhrabadi says were impressive, such as a study using recommendations from the holy Qur’an to treat depression. “The people I met at this conference were highly intelligent and well trained scholars,” says Fakhrabadi, “which is not surprising, given how strongly Iranians feel about academic study.”
As a psychology intern, Fakhrabadi works at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles with families of children diagnosed with cancer. She notes that spiritual support can be critical for these families, given the lengthy procedures and uncertain outcomes they face. “It’s one of the most stressful things that can happen to a family,” she says. “So many things are out of their control.”
In Iran, a country in which 90 percent of the population practices Islam, Fakhrabadi says spirituality plays a significant role in the way people cope with life’s struggles. “It’s automatic for me. It’s just part of how I approach life. When I start a new project, or even get in the car to go somewhere, I say “Bename khoda” or, “In the Name of Allah.” In her work with families at Childrens Hospital, Fakhrabadi finds many points of commonality with clients who practice other religions and she uses this to understand their individual coping strategies. “I recognize the way they think and practice as similar to my own experience.”
Fakhrabadi is organizing a one-day workshop for the healthy siblings of children with cancer. “This diagnosis affects the whole family,” she says. “The healthy sibling sometimes suffers silently while everyone is focused on the patient.” She and her colleagues are designing a support group to help these siblings deal with their anxiety and fears. When a pediatric patient is finished with treatment and ready to go back to school, Fakhrabadi goes to the classroom before the child arrives and gives a presentation to prepare the other kids in the class. “We teach them about what to expect, what the child will look like physically, and we clarify things like, ‘you cannot catch cancer from another person.’ We help the child make the transition back into normal life.”
By Heather Turgeon