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Life & Work with Dr. Suzy Ismail

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dr. Suzy Ismail.

Hi Dr. Ismail, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstories.
After years of teaching and advising at different universities and at a private high school, I began to notice the resistance to marriage and family therapy in many minority and immigrant communities despite the obvious need for intervention. In 2008 and 2009, as I hit some bumps in the road in my own PhD studies as a mother and a wife, and right after my third child was born, I took time off from academia and began focusing my research on interpersonal communication in Muslim families and the impact that miscommunication could have in leading towards divorce. When my book, “When Muslim Marriage Fails” was released in 2010, I found myself inadvertently providing counsel and advice to readers in the US and beyond who were seeking guidance for their relationship breakdowns. It was clear that a huge gap in therapeutic intervention among collectivist communities needed to be filled. In response to this need, my organization, Cornerstone, began with a focus on helping families struggling with marital issues by incorporating education and spiritually and culturally competent communication approaches with strategies of intervention.

A few years later, my next two books were released: “9 to 5: Muslims in the Western Workplace” and “Modern Muslim Marriage,” and the need to address more than just family relations began to evolve. Youth who were struggling with identity, relationships, and sexuality were seeking space to grow and heal within a familiar faith and cultural community; geriatric clients were seeking help in a language they understood; parents were seeking guidance in navigating the different stages of childhood with positive parenting techniques, all within a paradigm that took into account faith and culture as important elements of holistic healing. We continued to train interventionists who were native speakers of different languages and we found that individuals going through all sorts of challenges who needed guidance or counseling but were terrified of traditional Western therapeutic techniques began flocking to Cornerstone.

In 2016, I traveled with an organization to the refugee camps at the border of Syria to work with refugee women and orphans. Upon returning to the US, our refugee division was born through which we have helped thousands of refugees and refugee service organizations in adjusting through the process of resettlement. Before we knew it, our organization had grown into an international nonprofit serving couples, families, parents, youth, refugees, geriatric clients, those struggling with life changes or transitioning from addiction and anger management programs and so much more!

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle-free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
Running Cornerstone has definitely not always been smooth sailing. Like any start-up, we had our share of having to address the questions of “what do you do?” and “why is it needed?”

In a community where mental and emotional wellness and counseling initiatives are deeply stigmatized, offering a safe space that employed different therapeutic intervention methods provided a new terrain. Our focus on spiritual psycho-socio emotional wellness was unfamiliar and like anything new and unfamiliar, our methods were initially met with skepticism.

Today, Cornerstone is known among many communities for providing support in a confidential, non-intrusive, culturally and spiritually cognizant way that leads towards healing for so many broken individuals and relationships on the brink of breakage. Our emphasis on education allows us to provide seminars, training workshops, and emotional wellness programs in spaces which traditionally may have distrusted the idea of any form of intervention.

As you know, we’re big fans of you and your work. For our readers who might not be as familiar, what can you tell them about what you do?
On a daily basis, I provide both the executive support needed to lead the organization and the intervention services to many clients and organizations. As Cornerstone continues to expand, I most often find myself on and off airplanes flying to different states and countries on a weekly basis, presenting on our unique approach to therapeutic interventions for collectivist communities and training other community leaders to implement their own intervention programs.

As someone who has spent most of her life studying communication, I recognize the importance of strong communication in conveying ideas, thoughts, and emotions. I know my writing and my books were the first avenues that helped in reaching various communities. So, starting Cornerstone was a natural result of the work I had already been doing in the community and in the academic sphere.

What are your plans for the future?
In terms of the future, I’m happy to see that my own children have also discovered the importance of the field of communication as my oldest daughter finishes up her graduate studies in communication and my son continues his undergraduate studies also in the field of communication. I’m hopeful when I look at my three children and the younger generations within my community that this work will continue on many fronts and that the de-stigmatization of mental and emotional wellness will help open pathways for more alternative therapeutic interventions in the future. I’m also looking forward to the continued growth of Cornerstone and the ability to continue to reach more people around the world and to rebuild emotional resilience with faith-based relational intervention techniques.

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