Dr. Sheetal Shah has taught courses on Psychology at Webster Leiden since 2009 after she moved to the Netherlands with her husband. Originally from Mumbai, she earned a master’s degree in Psychology at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom before she returned to India to pursue a second master’s in Philosophy. Then she began working on her PhD at SNDT Women's University.
“I was an extremely young applicant for a PhD position,” Dr. Shah said. “I still remember
the look I received from the head of the department. She thought it was strange that
I wanted to do my PhD and had so much direction despite being so young.”
But Dr. Shah knew from an early age that she wanted to work in this field and often describes herself to her students as “the biggest psychology buff you may ever meet.” Now she’s the Head of the Department of Behavioral & Social Sciences at Webster Leiden where she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses that include Community Psychology, Foundations of Counseling, and International Psychology.
Dr. Shah also specializes in counseling for at-risk groups like those with chronic illnesses, refugees, commercial sex workers, and the victims of human trafficking. Many of her classes address current global and political issues and their impact on people all around the world.
“We educate our students on how to work with clients from different cultures,” she said. “But in International Psychology, we address several themes that concern all of us. They include the environment, special target groups, political conflict, and human rights.
In 2011, Dr. Shah also developed the Bijlmer Project for Webster University, which focuses on the psychosocial needs of both men and women who have been trafficked through the European Union. It was inspired by her work with at-risk groups in India and what she witnessed in Amsterdam’s red light district when she first moved to the Netherlands.
“It was an eye opening experience,” she said. “But for many people in the field, they have known what goes on there for a long time and the impact of human trafficking on the industry. Prostitution is legal in the Netherlands, but the exploitation and trauma of trafficked sex workers is very similar to what happens in other parts of the world.”
The project offers students the opportunity to learn more about this incredibly important topic and how to assist victims of human trafficking. Its second phase, Bridge2Hope, was launched in 2014 and it helps survivors rehabilitate and reintegrate into society. Dr. Shah feels that it’s important for students to step outside of the classroom as much as possible and she places an emphasis on field research during her classes.
“Very often, I tell my students ‘you’re in a very protected environment during your years at the university,”’ she said. “‘When you step out of these doors, you’re in the real world. I’ve tried my best to ensure that there’s a transition with the experiential components of my classes but life is an effort zone. It’s up to you to make that your comfort zone. Whenever that does become your comfort zone, look for your next effort zone because that’s when you’ll really use your education to evolve.’”
By Brandon Hartley