Sunday, July 25, 2021

Gruesome Islamabad murder brings scrutiny to role of Therapy Works

Many people now allege Therapy Works built its brand through unethical means

Logo of Therapy Works copied from the organisations official website,
Logo of Therapy Works copied from the organisation's official website, 

ISLAMABAD: A leading therapy and drug rehabilitation centre in Islamabad has come under scrutiny after the gut-wrenching murder of a young woman in Islamabad.

Soon after news of 28-year-old Noor Mukaddam’s shocking murder became public, it was revealed that the accused, Zahir Jaffer, had himself been associated with Therapy Works, a known rehabilitation centre.

On Saturday, Deputy Commissioner Islamabad Muhammed Hamza Shafqaat tweeted that Therapy Works will be sealed as the authorities continue their probe into the murder. 

Therapy Works has been well-known in Islamabad in recent years. However, many people now believe the organisation built its brand through unethical means, including a false claim regarding its affiliation with an international accreditation agency.

Following the revelation of the suspected murder’s connection to the centre, some persons claiming to be previous clients of Therapy Works have also come forward on social media to share harrowing experiences.

Some said they were allegedly given terrible reviews if they did not follow the instructions of the therapist – instructions that had nothing to do with their counselling sessions. These reviews were used by Therapy Works to assess whether a patient needed to be admitted for treatment or not.

Some people alleged that they were sedated and that their stay would be stretched longer than necessary to inflate bills.

However, more serious still are the allegations that the diplomas given by Therapy Works were not given on merit. It is alleged that the centre was handing out diplomas to people to conduct therapy without a proper procedure that would have normally involved a psychiatric evaluation or background checks.

Reportedly, Zahir Jaffer was in the possession of one such diploma.

Therapy Works recently decided to upload a post on social media defending their apparently stringent procedure to become a certified therapist. However, it was clear that anyone from any background could pursue the course and become a certified therapist regardless of their previous educational or professional experiences.

Take the case of Zahir Jaffer. He was reportedly a certified ‘psychotherapist’ at Therapy Works. After his suspected involvement in the gruesome murder of Noor Mukadam came to light, the organisation released a statement on Twitter stating that Zahir had not completed his course work and was never allowed to see clients. However, people who have previously sought counselling at Therapy Works said otherwise.

In addition, there are pictures from 2019 which identify the accused as a counsellor at Therapy Works after he conducted a workshop at a renowned schooling franchise’s Islamabad campus. These seem to further contradict Therapy Works’ claim that it let him go in 2018.

Gruesome Islamabad murder brings scrutiny to role of Therapy Works

Therapy Works has yet to issue a detailed clarification or a statement regarding the various allegations being brought forth against it. 

However, the centre wrote on its Facebook page that "unverified and unsubstantiated false allegations against Therapy Works, doing the rounds on Social media instigated by a few individuals, which will now be met by the full force of the law."

Meanwhile, Social media attention on the connection between the suspect and the widely known therapy centre has also led to the revelation that Therapy Works, which claimed to be accredited by the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), is actually not a member of the professional association.

The BACP says it promotes and facilitates research to produce trusted practice and is a body that ensures professionals follow certain standards to protect individuals seeking therapy. In a recent tweet, BACP announced that Therapy Works is not affiliated with them in any way.

"Hi, thanks for bringing this to our attention. We can confirm that this organisation is not a member of BACP, and we have contacted them to ask they remove the BACP logo from their website and other advertising materials," a recent tweet from BACP, issued in response to a query, makes clear. 

Incidents such as these are harming the credibility of ethical and certified practitioners and discouraging people from seeking mental health counselling in Pakistan.

The entire incident shows that in the absence of a check and balance, organisations offering health services can take advantage of helpless people.

Therapy centres should be monitored so they employ accredited and qualified therapists after detailed background checks. Noor’s tragic death has highlighted the need for the government to hold their unchecked practices accountable.

— The author holds a master's degree in medical law from King’s College London, United Kingdom.