HH Sheikha Intisar Al Sabah is helping heal a generation of traumatized women using a novel form of therapy to tap into their inner power.
“Breathe. Hear your breath. Close your eyes. Imagine and feel your power from within. It’s OK to feel anxious, stressed, and left out. It is OK to step back a little. Visualize yourself in the mirror and ask yourself, ‘Is this the real me? Is this how I want people to see me? Is my reflection worth fighting for?’ You’ll discover the strong side of yourself.” Helping women discover their inner strength is more than just a passion for HH Sheikha Intisar Al Sabah. With these words of advice on how to regain control when feeling anxious, as well as her Intisar Foundation, she is changing the lives of women in the region in pioneering ways.
The Kuwaiti royal might be known for her fine jewelry line – which she launched as an act of love for her four daughters – but it is her philanthropic work with women traumatized by war and violence that’s changed her life, and the lives of countless others. With a business card that reads “contagious smiler,” it is perhaps not surprising that HH Sheikha Intisar is a whirlwind of inspiration, but the choice of immersing herself into the dark and desperate world of post-traumatic stress could seem jarring. Yet it is a world she feels needs her particular brand of optimism now more than ever.
HH Sheikha Intisar has an impressive track record when it comes to making a difference. In 2011 she launched Lulua Publishing, aiming to provide women in the Gulf with information about mental and physical wellbeing – long before the global wellness market exploded. Then there’s her skincare line, Prismologie, which harnesses color psychology to enhance mood as well as benefiting the skin. “I’ve always believed in the power of self-change and self-empowerment,” she shares from her home in Kuwait. “We are not in this world alone; we are surrounded by inspiring souls.”
Far from mere platitudes about self-improvement, HH Sheikha Intisar has taken these beliefs and created a groundbreaking platform to help heal the trauma caused to women by war, fleeing their homes, and being subject to violence. The Intisar Foundation, which she launched two years ago, uses drama therapy, a relatively unknown and underutilized tool in the region, to help women work through their pain. They work in Lebanon and Jordan, with plans to broaden their scope to Iraq, Syria, and Yemen – “where such work is needed immensely” – when possible. The women hail from Syria and Palestine, as well as Jordan and Lebanon. “We aim to help any woman in need of psychological support after carrying the struggle of trauma,” HH Sheikha Intisar shares. “In Jordan, we work with victims of domestic violence and in Lebanon, we have women who still carry the scars from the different wars the country went through. Can you imagine, up to 59% of women in the Arab world are subject to domestic violence? Our drama therapy helps them voice their power.”
Drama therapy encompasses the use of theater techniques and activities, such as role-play and improvisations to assist with healing mental trauma. By using these techniques in a safe, private group setting, facilitated by a trained drama therapist, women can tell their stories, express their feelings, and hopefully reach a point of catharsis. “We are pioneers in using drama therapy especially for women and in the Arab region,” HH Sheikha Intisar explains. “It is an effective yet gentle approach to heal trauma. We tailor our work in group therapy sessions because women get to feel strong when others share their stories openly and together.” All the cases touch her profoundly, she says, as she considers all the women to be heroes – from the crying 19-year-old longing to escape a refugee camp and pursue her education, to the women who have stopped beating their children; victims themselves no more, they’ve stopped victimizing their families as well. “This leaves me in awe, wanting to help and heal,” HH Sheikha Intisar shares.
The foundation is run by seven women, HH Sheikha Intisar and CEO Karima Anbar included, who often travel to Jordan and Lebanon to join group sessions. In each country, they also have a team of researchers, a drama therapist, and a communication specialist. But finding people with the requisite specialist skills in the region is proving a challenge. HH Sheikha Intisar would like to reach one million Arab women in the next 30 years, which means she has to help grow the pool of drama therapists in the Arab world. As such, the foundation is working with universities to grant scholarships so more women can join the field and has also published scientific research on the subject. Of course, the global coronavirus pandemic is impacting the foundation’s work, but hasn’t brought it to a complete halt. HH Sheikha Intisar moved swiftly to ensure women are not left in the lurch. “We used to go on field visits and explore our drama therapy weekly, but now we’re working online and have also created videos of techniques to use at home,” she shares. “It’s had a tremendous impact. Throughout the pandemic, women were afraid that they were alone, but our videos have helped keep their resilient hearts protected.” She also sees the pandemic as a time for reflection, to realize what is meaningful and to ask how we can create a world of peace and support. “All my thoughts are with the families who have lost someone. The world won’t go back to normal. Things will change, but we will adapt and learn. I believe that women are the cornerstone of every society – if we want better societies, we need to work with women.”
Originally published in the May 2020 issue of Vogue Arabia