There's a serious shortage of Muslim psychologists in the United States, says Hisham Abu-Raiya, PhD, of Tel Aviv University. And that means non-Muslim psychologists have to be prepared to work with Muslim clients.

Unfortunately, says Mona M. Amer, PhD, co-editor of "Counseling Muslims: Handbook of Mental Health Issues and Interventions" (forthcoming from Routledge), many attempts to prepare non-Muslim psychologists focus on educating them about the history, religion and culture of Muslim communities. "They don't necessarily get into the specifics of what can or should be done differently when serving a Muslim client," she says.

Amer, Abu-Raiya and others offer several practical suggestions:

  • Recognize Muslims' diversity. "You can't make assumptions about, 'This is the way all Muslims are,'" says Amer. Psychologists must recognize the diversity in the Muslim-American community when it comes to such factors as ethnic background, history and immigration status. Muslim Americans include African-American converts, members of long-settled Arab communities and immigrants from areas as diverse as the Middle East and India.

  • Don't avoid religion. Instead, invite Muslim clients to engage in a religious conversation, Abu-Raiya and co-author Kenneth I. Pargament, PhD, of Bowling Green State University recommend in a 2010 article published in Professional Psychology: Research and Practice (Vol. 41, No. 2). Ask about Islam's role in clients' lives and what it means to them, for example. Also ask about use of religious coping methods, such as praying, reading the Koran or going to a mosque.

  • Ask more questions. To better understand each client, says Wahiba Abu-Ras, PhD, of Adelphi University's School of Social Work, "ask how long they've been here, whether they're having any problems with their neighbors or with the community."

  • Reach out. Because the stigma associated with mental health problems is so strong within the Muslim community, says Abu-Raiya, psychologists should reach out to the Muslim community. Presentations, workshops and the distribution of written materials at mosques and similar venues can help dispel suspicion.

—R.A. Clay