I had the fantastic opportunity to sit down and interview Her Highness Sayyida Basma Al Said for my leadership series.
Her Highness Sayyida Basma Al Said Biography A well-established Psychotherapist and Clinical Hypnotherapist, owner, and founder of the first mental health clinic in Oman, Whispers of Serenity. She is also a mental health consultant and psychotherapist with over 21 years of experience seeing and treating patients with a wide array of disorders. She holds a master’s degree in Health Counseling in 2008 from Curtin University of Technology in Australia. Sayyida Basma is a pioneer in raising awareness of mental health issues and is renowned for dealing head-on with taboo subjects in the Middle East such as abuse and eating disorders. She is one of the few psychotherapists in the Gulf to use techniques such as Hypnotherapy as well as her most recently earned training of Prolonged Exposure Therapy (PET) for PTSD from Harvard University.
In 2014, Her Highness initiated “Not Alone” an ongoing campaign to create societal awareness of the importance of mental well-being. This is living proof of her dedication and ambition towards the betterment of society. Moreover, she is the current Honorary President of Oman Heritage – a team that looks after and preserves Omani practices and culture.
Recognized not only in the Arab world but also internationally, she has attended and delivered a total of 800 in governmental and 400 in private institutional talks, workshop and webinars. She also has been featured and interviewed by prominent networks and media such as CNN Arabia, Vogue Arabia and Harper’s Bazaar Arabia to name a few. Awarded as International Social Responsibility Ambassador by The International Union for Social Responsibility (IUSR) on July 2020 and has been honored as one of the 50 Omani women who have played a significant role in the country’s development and for their achievements in the field of their work by the Honorable Lady, Wife of His Majesty Sultan Haitham bin Tarik on Omani Women’s Day 2020.
Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us about what brought you to your career path? My career path stemmed from a passion from a very young age. I loved everything to do with psychology. I was that person who would always listen to others’ problems and try to solve them. As a child, I started reading a lot of literature on the topic. I was lucky enough to study psychology at University, continuing with obtaining a Master’s degree and continuing training at Harvard University, King’s College, and Michigan University. After my studies, I started working at the University Hospital and then eventually opened my own clinic.
What drives you? What drives me every day is this deep feeling of empathy. I always have this feeling of “I need to help.” Going back to my time at school, I used to do a lot of community help. The more that I feel I can help, even if it’s one person, the better I feel.
My clients are my biggest motivation. When my clients first come to us, they feel so broken and so alone, and things are not going their way. But then they start to do the hard work and begin to work on themselves. It’s awe-inspiring to see the moment when things become better and we become more whole. I often think of ourselves (psychologists and healthcare workers) as a tool for God to use to help others, and our patients have the choice to work with us to better their lives. I love to see when someone can pick him or herself up after hardships and trauma and then build a wonderful life.
I’m also incredibly motivated by the ability to be creative in my work and to have a fantastic team that loves our patients and the field of psychology. I’m so proud of the way we present to our community and the world. It is highly motivating to see that someone can do a job that they love and that job can give back to the community and help others. We give to others, and we learn a lot about others. We truly learn how to appreciate what we have and how we are in our life. It’s perfect. It’s everything.
Looking back, what are the catalysts or inflection points in your life? There are several catalysts that have shaped who I am. I’ll go back to when I was a child because I believe childhood affects your future.
The first inflection point is my mother. My mom is not Omani. She’s British. Growing up, I used to feel that I am her best friend. I would listen to her and sit with her because her family was not in Oman. And every time my mom would feel lonely or miss her family, I would think, “How can a person live away from their family, have another family, and be able to function fully? It must have some kind of effect on them.” My mom is a very jolly, very hopeful woman, and she did a lot in life. Through her, I learned that I want to help people with this, letting them know they are not alone when they are going through hard times.
Another catalyst in my life is a sense of proving myself and wanting to be the best. My dad encouraged all of us to do anything that we wanted to do. But we grew up always wanting to be better, do better. As the eldest sister and the eldest cousin, I wanted to prove to myself and to my dad and my family that I can do it all and do it all better. I also wanted to prove to the world that I got to where I am today not because of my family but because of my passion, love, and hard work.
The need to prove myself was not a good mindset because there are different ways of proving yourself. There is proving yourself and feeling comfortable with who you are, and there is proving yourself where you feel that you are just not getting there, and you are just not doing it right. And striving for external appreciation is very difficult to sustain. I’m incredibly lucky to have an amazing community, a great support system, and in recent years, I’ve learned to let go of trying to prove myself to others. I’ve learned that who I am and what I am is enough, regardless of my family or name or face. And I’ve learned to really focus on focusing on the good that I can do and feeling comfortable with who I am. So, that drive really pushed me within life to succeed.
What did you learn starting your clinic? One tip that I would give is to imagine yourself as your client. So, when I’m not well, where would I want to go? How would I want to feel? What services do I want? What would encourage me to keep going back? You have to put yourself literally in the shoes of that person. When we live that part, we will succeed.
However, it is all trial and error. You are learning. It’s a process, and you will change things over time or adopt new ideas or programs. In our clinic, I’m always looking at new ideas. I’m always researching. I travel a lot–so I learn from people abroad. I love asking what they are doing and what is new.
The second tip is to build a positive work culture. To do so, make everything very clear at the beginning with your colleagues and know that there is a boundary between work and life. Build teamwork. Get to know your employees and ask how they are doing before meetings. I am incredibly lucky to have an amazing team. I built Serenity not just for the clients but also for my employees. I wanted it to be a place where my team feels good, happy, and relaxed. That Serenity isn’t just a place of work, but an environment that inspires peace and joy. I’m happy that it worked out because my team comes in even if they don’t have work. After all, it’s become a beautiful place where they can chill. And I know that we’ll have better outputs or outcomes at work because our team is happy or relaxed.
Can you share what you are currently focused on? How will this impact the world? Serenity – Serenity is one of the first clinics in Oman for mental health. After working at the University Hospital for 11 years, I studied what worked and what didn’t in a healthcare environment. Serenity is named because I wanted it to be a place where someone can say, “I’m going to Serenity.” I wanted a place that conveys wisdom, peace, and joy. We have relaxing music; we have beautiful colors in turquoise and white. And we have a calming aromatherapy scent throughout the clinic. By the time a client comes to the office, he will already feel 20% better just by being in the environment.
Serenity is also unique because everyone is a psychology expert, even our admins. Why did I plan to do that? Because when our clients call, they often wonder, “Is this confidential? Or will the other person on the phone talk about us afterward?” I knew that having admins who are also psychologists can help alleviate our client’s fears and help understand what our client’s needs are from the very beginning.
And, we also have a very diverse team. We have team members from Oman, India, the Philippines, Italy, and Iran. And I love that we can learn from one another in skills and in our cultures and experiences.
Serene – Serene is the sister counterpart to Serenity and is the New Age approach to mental health. Serene even looks different–the building is a lot more colorful. We have art therapy, music therapy, or holistic medicine. We talk about mindfulness, energy, and hypnosis. I’m a clinical hypnotist, which I enjoy fully.
I wanted Serene to become a hub for knowledge for mental health. Right now, a lot of people are talking or reading about mental health, but they may be reading incorrect facts. Sometimes, the popular influencers or bloggers discussing mental health may not be giving the most helpful information. So, we are trying to help with that by providing information, research, and even a Podcast centered on scientifically studied mental health topics.
Not Alone Campaign – We’ve been running this campaign for over seven years, and it’s incredibly active now during COVID. We have also launched initiatives like Freuds Got Talent through this campaign, where we talk about art and mental health or find ways to provide mental health for women. We are constantly bringing in new ideas, creativity, and fun into our campaigns and treatment.
How has COVID shaped the clinic now or in the future? When COVID first happened, I was in shock, just as everyone else. But my mindset was: “Okay, this is happening. What do I need to do?” And I know that I need to help others. This is how I feel better.
So we started a hotline and connected Oman virtually with the world. When things began to happen in Lebanon, we created the same hotline to help the community. The texting hotline has eight languages and works for both Oman and globally. We also initiated a lot of webinars and educational talks, and in the future, I’d love to help with including mental health education in the school curriculum.
In fact, in May, we are going to start teaching mental health. We’ve collaborated with the Ministry of Education, WHO, and Ministry of Health to open a campaign called “Pause, Read and Choose” once schools are reopened. We want to show the community that we are there for them and support them, and we’re giving them free services. That’s on top of our current program of giving two patients free services every month and providing free hotlines to anyone in need.
We are also in the art scene and working with local artists on a mental health piece. It’s hectic but fun. Our theme this year is nature. When we choose nature, we choose hope, and of anything right now, we need hope. This month, we are lighting up a lot of landmarks in Oman with green to inspire hope. So, this is one of our goals during COVID to spread the word about health and healing.
What are your “3 Things I Wish I Knew”? Can you share a story? First, I’ve learned that I do not need to keep proving myself. I honestly think that that mindset was very tiring. I would tell my younger self that “you know, you are doing a good job. Don’t worry about it. Just go with it, and you will do well.” The second thing is that I wish I knew that I couldn’t save the world. I wanted to help and keep everyone happy. But it’s important to know that one person can help to an extent, and sometimes you’ve done what you can already. So, I would tell myself to do only as much as I can, but that I can’t save the world. The last thing I would tell myself is to start mindfulness and to stop running. Stop running and enjoy the moment. Just enjoy where you are right now. For example, I’ve always thought that I need to do more, be more, to keep proving to myself that I got to where I am on my own and that I am good enough. But then I end up not really in the present, and life will fly by. I have kids, and I go, “Oh my god, when did he grow up?” It reminds me of my Granny. She used to cover her furniture and say, “I’m covering it so nothing happens to it when the Queen comes to visit.” Sadly, the Queen did not come and visit, and Granny was unable to enjoy the furniture. In a weird way, it taught me to enjoy everything at the time and not wait for something to happen to enjoy it.
What is the blueprint for success? First of all, failure is an ingredient to success. You will fail, and its okay. If you didn’t fail, it would be a very boring life. Failure helps you to think of other avenues or paths. Second, passion. If you are just working to get a salary or just for recognition, your years will become very tasteless. If you are not working in a place that you are passionate about, try and find something that you are. I love what I do, but the last year working at the University Hospital, I started to feel bored just driving to it. I’ve never felt like that before about my work, and that’s how I knew that it was time to change my path. It was a scary leap, but I thought to myself, “if I don’t do it, I will regret it. In this way, whether I succeed or fail, I’ll still have moved forward.” And lastly, the more you succeed, the more awards or accolades you get. But it doesn’t mean that you are the best in town. It doesn’t mean you can relax. If anything, it means that you have to work more now. Because more people are listening to you, and they believe in you. You need to update yourself all the time. Especially in a healthcare provider environment, you have to learn not to take your work home. And that you can only do as much as you can, but you can’t save the whole world by yourself.
Is there anything you wish the readers to know? One message is for all of us to look at everyone as a human, not just a name or a country or a religion. I think there is a misconception of life in Oman, and it’s not the reality. We are in the Middle East and the Gulf–and the Gulf is Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, and Kuwait. It’s different from Egypt, Cairo, Jordan, and Syria. Oman is a beautiful country–and by the way– if you come, you would just relax with the view itself. It’s perfect for well-being. We are learning and sharing mental health, and we are learning from other countries and mindsets as well.
I’m from Oman, and I’m half British and half Oman. I’m lucky to juggle the two cultures, and it shaped me and helped me grow. But I always find it quite funny when I travel abroad, and I’m asked questions like, “so, do you guys drive? Do you go out? Do you guys function?” One of my goals is to show people that we do all of this, we also study what we want and go out when we want to, and not everybody has to wear a certain type of outfit unless they want to. And that we are teaching about mental health and are part of the international community, and that we are all human.