Zehra Kamal Alam had long considered furthering her education, but the needs of Pakistani families traumatized by political unrest, natural disasters and domestic and sexual violence always came first.
“I wanted to study, but it seemed that life was always going on,” says Alam, who spent 18 years working on mental health issues in Pakistan.
It was, sadly, a deep personal loss – the death of her husband in 2014 – which prompted Alam to conclude it was time to pursue a Ph.D. in Psychology.
Out went the graduate school applications.
Back came the rejections noting her lack of research experience.
“All my work was in training and counseling,” Alam says. “I had lots of years of field experience, but no research experience. I really wanted to hone those skills.”
Switching gears, Alam secured a Fulbright Scholarship and came to Teachers College to pursue a master’s degree in Clinical Psychology. The experience has been an eye-opener.
“I had no idea how wide the field of psychology was,” says Alam. “I knew there was counseling, clinical, public and private. But when I came here I learned how much neuroscience there is in clinical psychology.”
From faculty members such as Lena Verdeli, Professor of Psychology & Education and Director of TC’s Global Mental Health Lab, she absorbed methods for ameliorating the emotional toll of violence and upheaval on Pakistani families, especially children. Equally important, she learned techniques for conducting research to evaluate those methods – and during summer 2018, she returned home to conduct a study of 15 families. Titled “Terrorism and Political Violence: Parents’ Perceptions of the Impact on Pakistani Children of a Minority Christian Community,” the effort was cited by a panel of judges as the top student research poster presented at the 2019 TC Academic Festival. Alam also received an Excellence Award from TC’s Department of Counseling & Clinical Psychology.
Graduate Gallery 2019
Meet some more of the amazing students who earned degrees from Teachers College this year.
Now Alam has returned to Pakistan again to build on her research and perhaps lead other community health interventions.
“I’m action-oriented,” she says. “And I think this research will help my country build out support for traumatized children and families based on the evidence. You can’t eradicate violence unless you work on emotional well-being. And at the same time, violence affects emotional health. It’s a cause-and-effect relationship.”
Alam hopes to publish her work and is planning to re-apply to Ph.D. programs next year. With an award-winning research portfolio topping her resume, that should be a cause-and-effect relationship, too.