A Community of Heart Profile: Reyhana Seedat-Ravat
At a time in all of our lives when conflict, racism and divisions are rampant throughout the world, Reyhana Seedat-Ravat offers an alternative way of being in the world and addressing these issues. She is a model for us all.
Reyhana is from South Africa. She is “a Muslim girl” who comes from a politically active family who has fought the battle of racism for as long as she can remember. She comes from a “traumatized society” and notes that it is common for people to suffer from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in this environment where large numbers of hijackings, murders, sudden deaths, house break-ins and children exposed to all of the above occur.
EMDR was just what Reyhana needed to address the realities of the Post-Apartheid Era. As she worked with the trauma of Apartheid, she noted that trauma is not sensitive to color and, indeed, both blacks and whites suffer the same terrible symptoms of PTSD. “Whites” serving their 2-year compulsory military service have been exposed to the horrific results of war such as deaths, murders and bombings. She told the story of one 39-year-old veteran who had endless nightmares about his job in the army that consisted of putting his dead comrades into body bags. After 2 months of therapy and using EMDR, he was able to sleep through the night. Other mental health care workers who have been trained in EMDR are using it with great success for their veteran population. Also, Reyhana has been using EMDR with children who have secondary PTSD due to hearing about the violence. She has had excellent results in dealing with symptoms of anxiety and nightmares.
In every aspect of her life, Reyhana is concerned about children, not only her own children, but the world’s children at large and those in South Africa, specifically. She is an expert child therapist and advocate and she is known in her homeland for her skill. Also, she speaks English, Urdu, Gujarati and Zulu.
She began her studies “late” after she had her 4 children: Junaid, Fatima, Mariam and Ayesha. They are her pride and joy and her motivation for the work she does. She was among 25 students who began a Social Work correspondence course through the University of South Africa; she was one of three students who finished this program with honors in 4 years. She worked for 2 years as a social worker at the Health Department. However, the year that she qualified for her Masters of Medical Science of Social Work (J. Med. Sc. S.W.) her 19-year-old daughter was arrested as a result of her political activity. It was a pivotal moment for Reyhana and her husband, Hashim. They had dealt with fathers, uncles and aunts incarcerated for their beliefs but their daughter’s arrest shook them to the core and they decided to emigrate.
In 1985, Reyhana and her family moved to Canada and Reyhana continued her advocacy for children at Metro Children’s Aid Society in Toronto. Her major focus was on racism and she became involved in cross-religion adoption and foster care as there was nothing for the large Muslim population of Somalis and Pakistanis that were living in Canada at the time. She was involved in a highly publicized case where the children of a Pakistani father who murdered his wife were to be sent into foster care with a non- Muslim Canadian family. In her precedent setting work, Reyhana was able to re-instate these children with their maternal grandparents in Pakistan. With great delight she noted, “It worked wonderfully!” She spoke on talk shows and was influential in changing the situation of Muslim children needing adoption or foster care in Canada.
And then, the unexpected happened. Mandela was released! Reyhana and her family sat and listened with shock and then joy. They unanimously decided to return to their home, South Africa.
During the course of her acclimatization to Canadian social work culture, Reyhana discovered continuing education! This was a concept unheard of in South Africa. During her stay in Canada, Reyhana became “a continuing education junkie”! As a result of her new passion, Reyhana vowed to bring continuing education to South Africa. When she returned, she brought courses in Hypnosis, Play Therapy, Imago Therapy and, of course, EMDR. Recently, continuing education has become mandatory in South Africa. Reyhana is proud that because of her track record for excellent workshops, she has received full accreditation.
In 1996, Reyhana was nominated by Femina Magazine to be “Woman of the 90’s” for her innovative work with children. Her name is synonymous with Play Therapy in her country. She has worked with the world’s greatest play therapists and has brought the work of Gary Landreth, Virginia Axline, Louis Carey, Kevin O’Connor, and Helen Benedict to South Africa. Her hope is to combat racism and its effects as well as other psychological issues with this modality.
Reyhana’s introduction to EMDR was through The Family Therapy Networker. She was so fascinated that she called the EMDR Institute and attended and completed EMDR training in 1994. She went on to become a Facilitator. She returned to South Africa and began talking about EMDR everywhere. She laughed and said, “Everyone thought I was crazy and that I went to Canada and became Americanized!” However, she persevered with her colleagues and arranged the first training in 1995 with Gary Fulcher from Australia. There were two trainings in 1995 and interest was growing in South Africa. In 1996, Gerry Puk came to pinch hit for Gary and has been coming back yearly.
Through the efforts of Francine Shapiro who was sponsored by the Young Executive’s Club to talk about EMDR and due to Bessel van der Kolk who has been educating South Africans about trauma over the last 3 years, the concept of trauma and EMDR have become familiar in South Africa. As EMDR has gained more respect throughout the academic world, one of the major Afrikaner universities has shown interest and sponsored EMDR trainings in August 2000. The excellent quality of the training has been an important factor in the flourishing of EMDR in South Africa. She is very pleased that a number of the participants of color that took the course will go back into their communities to work with their groups. Also, people from the rest of Africa have been inquiring about EMDR training such as Zimbabwe and Kenya.
Reyhana has been integrating EMDR into her life at every level. With her grandchildren, she uses bilateral stimulation to soothe them, for herself she uses it to relax her on plane trips and, in her practice of other modalities such as marital work and play therapy, with great success. She notes that EMDR allows people to move forward faster and with better results.