Amanda Iheme is understanding life through art and psychology

Only a few people experience the art of life. From beauty and happiness to pain and suffering, each aspect of life exists to teach, build, mould, and establish. For Amanda, recognising this marked the start of her journey to founding NDIDI, a private mental health practice in Lagos, Nigeria. Her need to understand life positioned her as a clinical psychologist and an architecture photographer. She bridges the gap between life and living through her art, showing how architecture directly represents humanity and existence.

In this week’s #MCNWorkLife, we encounter Amanda Iheme, the clinical director and lead clinical psychologist at NDIDI. She has been running her private practice for seven years. During this time, Amanda has also tapped into her creative genius, becoming one of Nigeria’s most revered architecture photographers in the 21st century. Through her art and her work in mental health, Amanda is on a lifelong journey to understanding the essence of life.

From a different person’s perspective, how would you describe Amanda Iheme?

Based on what my friends have said, I would say Amande Iheme is funny (even if they don’t all agree), warm, compassionate, generous, kind, and friendly. She is also a good listener.

I can be present in the moment, but I’m not there right after. It’s like therapy, where you have one intense session with a person, and when it’s done, you’re preparing for the next session with the next client. That shows up in the kind of person I am sometimes. I also work a lot, and one time, someone told me it’s harder to reach me than to reach Obama, which I found really funny. But that’s all about me.

Tell us a little about your childhood, dreams, and hopes and how they translated to your career as a clinical psychologist and architecture photographer.

Well, architecture photography had nothing to do with my childhood. It came up in my early 20’s. However, growing up was quite an experience. Due to my father’s job, we moved around a lot from different parts of Lagos to Kaduna and then Enugu. Because we moved around often, I didn’t have roots and friendships in one place. Even when I went to school, I went from Ghana for my BSc to Ibadan for NYSC and then Swansea for my MSc. Thankfully, I established relationships in those places that have lasted to date.

As a child, I firmly believed in doing things yourself to get what you wanted. But that woke up the entrepreneurial spirit in me. I worked while in school and did everything I could get my hands on. From being a radio presenter to an event MC and a dance choreographer, I had no limitations because I saw my mum succeed in her business, and it fueled my passion to get what I wanted. My curiosity about life and the need to understand it are what led me to study psychology.

Can you share your journey to establishing NDIDI and officially practicing psychology?

Studying psychology opened my mind to the vast possibilities of the human mind, and I fell in love with it. It helped me understand my childhood and the person I am, inspiring me to share this awareness with others. I decided to pursue psychology and graduated with a master’s degree in abnormal and clinical psychology from Swansea University.

When I returned to Nigeria, I initially followed my father’s suggestion to go into human resources, starting with an internship at Nigerian Breweries. However, after the internship ended, I hit rock bottom and turned to photography, a long-time passion of mine. I had always loved taking pictures and had been encouraged by friends who recognized my talent.

I began freelancing for a marketing agency and later worked at Stanbic IBTC, but these roles felt unfulfilling. My interest in the arts grew, leading me to start the Lagos Art Kollective to showcase Nigerian art. Eventually, I transitioned into a PA position at Alara, a luxury retail start-up, which gave me valuable business insights. Despite this, I still felt unfulfilled, prompting me to take a leap of faith and start my practice.

Clinical psychology is quite an interesting career path to take. Tell me about why you chose it.

I knew it was what I wanted to spend my time doing because of the awareness it brought me. Understanding myself and how other people behave created my interest in psychology. It also helped me understand why people act the way they do from the perspective of mental illness.

Another thing that motivated me was my personal experience with mental illness. I was severely depressed, and this depression manifested fully when I finished my master’s and realised that I had no prospects. I felt like my life was going to end. When that time came, I was looking for professional care, and I couldn’t get someone who was empathetic, warm, and caring. I couldn’t find that when I needed it, which made me realise that there was a gap in the market for that type of quality of care. All of this fueled my motivation to start my practice and provide gentle, non-judgmental, empathetic, and kind mental health care.

Your profile highlights your seven years of leadership and clinical work at NDIDI. What other leadership ventures have you taken up?

From 2017 to 2018, I worked as the head of the counseling department at the Stand to End Rape Initiative (STER). In that space, I developed the foundation for the counseling department. I created the policies that guided the structure they worked on. After that, I recruited other counselors, trained them, and ensured they had a good working environment before handing it over to my successor.

After that, I started running my practice, and I have been for the past seven years. As the head psychologist and founder of NDIDI, I wear many hats. I am responsible for building that business from the ground up and managing its day-to-day affairs.

What does NDIDI mean to you, and what inspired its creation?

The name “NDIDI” directly translates to patience. The inspiration for NDIDI was my need to provide affordable, warm, non-judgmental, and gentle care for people. If you had access to that kind of care, you’d have to pay through the teeth to get it because it is so expensive or non-existent within your environment. I also wanted to challenge myself to help people and create a healthy workspace where my team would be happy to come to work the next day.

As a clinical psychologist, in which areas do you believe the psychological profession in Nigeria needs improvement?

In the last ten years, there has been significant improvement in service quality. However, there’s a need for more policies and legislation to protect both clients and clinicians, emphasising the importance of mental health and educating the public about mental health care and emergency mental health first aid. Additionally, more licensing bodies should conduct exams to reduce the number of unqualified clinicians and stress the importance of continued education in the medical field. These measures are crucial for maintaining a high standard of mental health care.

Great! Tell us a bit about your art. Why did you choose architectural photography?

Architecture chose me rather than the other way around.  I initially didn’t realise I had an interest in it. While I had a clear vision for my practice, I had yet to discover my passion for architecture. After discussing it with a few people, someone pointed out that my photos of buildings were well-angled, which inspired me to explore further. On a walk, I took pictures of two buildings and fell in love with them. It was then that I decided to take it seriously. The more I read about and engaged with architecture, the deeper my connection to and love for it grew. This journey has been rewarding and fulfilling in its own way.

Having your work exhibited at notable festivals and museums must have been quite an exciting experience for you. How does it feel to be so noteworthy in the photography world?

To be honest, sometimes I’m shocked because some of the things I’ve done in my work as an artist are things I didn’t think of or things I never thought would happen. After all, I throw a lot of my weight into the mental health aspect of my career. In Lagos, Nigeria, I’m well known for my work in mental health, but outside Nigeria, it’s my art.

Being a person who documents Nigeria through architecture, I am a person who has the gift of great power, which is how I see and think, especially about buildings and being able to use architecture to tell stories. I feel grateful that my work has gotten this attention because I never thought it would get to this point, especially as an artist in Lagos. So, the fact that people look at it and actually enjoy it fills me with gratitude for how my career is turning out. I struggle with feelings of inadequacy, and I have to do extra to validate that I deserve to be where I am with my work, but my therapist is doing a fantastic job helping me with that.

In all, I genuinely enjoyed taking pictures at first, and I wanted to share them with everybody and let them know what I knew and see what I saw.

Are there ways in which your work as a psychologist and as an architectural photographer intersect?

If you put psychology and photography side by side, I’m looking at the same thing through different lenses. I look at buildings as manifestations of human beings’ ways of being. So, you can tell a lot about a country, a person, or a space, the mindset, and how the community was just from the buildings. In that way, I understand human behaviour through buildings, giving me insight into how life works.

When I think about buildings, I think about what makes the building a good space for a human being to live in, what makes a human being stable enough to be able to create a good building, and how they design their space to be considerate of the well being that allows them to exist and be. Ultimately, I’m just trying to understand people, life, and existence, but I’ve chosen these two mediums to achieve this goal. Buildings and human beings connect for me because one is created out of the other, giving me a chance to understand them.

‘Life.shit.’ is another part of your journey as a creator and an advocate for mental wellness. What inspired you to start it?

It came to me in 2020. People have told me many times that I have a beautiful voice. I’ve done many podcasts and interviews, so I’ve had to listen to myself speak. Because I like talking and I love to share nuggets and drop knowledge during therapy, I felt inspired to start writing through the ‘Life.shit.’ newsletter before I finally went on to start the podcast.

What I do with ‘Life.shit.’ is to start conversations with people about things they wouldn’t regularly think about in their conscious days, but it still impacts their lives, one way or another. When you think about things you have to be really vulnerable about and going through the motions, those are things you have to have difficult conversations about; that’s life shit.

Moving back to your work in mental health, what is the most peculiar case you have ever experienced as a clinical psychologist?

I can’t share in detail, but a specific area I connect to is treating people who live with trauma of any kind. Being Nigerian and living in Nigeria alone is a traumatic experience, and as someone who has had that experience, I know what it feels like to be in that space and to come out of it, and it is such a breath of fresh air.

My favourite part of being a clinical psychologist is helping people reach a point where they love themselves, use their voices to advocate for themselves and their emotions, and see themselves in such light and not in darkness. Those cases have my heart.

Have you had any challenges with any case, or are there specific cases you don’t attend to because of your past experiences?

I have experienced both, actually. I have had situations where I have taken on cases and then realised that handling them is beyond my capacity. When something like that happens, I refer them to the appropriate person because I can’t treat every case. So, I have my areas of strength, and I stick to them. So, for me, that’s mood disorders, anxiety, PTSD, existential crisis, and grief.

What does it mean to you to find true wellness?

One key signifier of wellness is the amount of peace you feel inside. Many of us focus on the outside, but what we fail to realise is that the way we feel on the inside influences the things we create on the outside, and the things we create on the outside impact the people around us.

For example, Nigerian politicians don’t mind greed, bribery, or corruption. Because of that, their outward expression will be filled with greed, bribery, and corruption, and in the long run, it will impact the people around them. If you don’t like yourself on the inside, it will affect the relationships you choose, the people around you, and your relationship with yourself. If you are not thinking from a place of hope, reassurance, grace, and compassion for yourself and others, you are not indeed well, and your physical body is not well. Wellness is not just a state of being. It is a continued practice to maintain it. When you are aligned with your mind, spirit, and physical being, you are well.

What brings you the most joy?

My friendships, family, art, music, dancing, walking, and the weather.

How do you prioritise your physical and mental well-being?

Being able to manage my physical and mental well-being can be challenging at times. What works for me now is that I am more aware of what’s happening in my body. I prioritise sleep and exercise as much as possible because it makes me feel confident and improves my general well-being. I’ve decided to cook more now rather than just order in. I like fresh meals, and cooking is a healing experience for me, so I try to do that. I journal, go to therapy, and share my problems with my friends.

I no longer believe I must figure out life alone because that’s too much for one person. I’m learning to shed that load and be more open about my struggles. I also have a community at work with my art and psychology, so I never feel I have to deal with these issues alone. When it goes beyond my professional and personal life, I book a session and have a great conversation with my therapist. If I could do it every week, I would.

With clinical psychology, you like helping people get to the point of relief and peace where they don’t feel like they’re in a dark place. However, with your art, what do you like the most about the work you do?

The buildings. It’s always been about the buildings. They make me so happy. Anytime I go to a very well-built building, it makes me happy. Sometimes, I have tears of admiration from looking at a well-built building.

When I see a building, I think of it as a sculpture but an interactive one since people are going to live in it. The style, working with the environment, and considering the needs of the people who will live in the building before creating it are what sparked my interest in architecture. You can tell a lot about where a community is going by the buildings that are springing up. Buildings are markers that show the way things are changing and what they will become in the future.

Tell us about a work accomplishment you’re proud of and how you made it a reality.

My biggest accomplishment with NDIDI is the fact that the business still exists. The fact that I haven’t given up, it hasn’t gone under, and I can still pay salaries is just wow. The fact that the business still exists is such a massive deal to me. Another accomplishment for me happened last year on my birthday. My team gave me a gift, and it was a massage session at Oriki. But what really got me was the note attached to it. Essentially, I’m not a bad boss; my team recognises that, and they’re grateful; that’s a big accomplishment for me

For photography, my greatest achievement is getting into the residency program at the GAS Foundation. I applied to it, got in, and I’m really excited about it. Another thing I’m proud of is my second body of work, “Artists in Their Studio.” It is me documenting 30 artists in Lagos. Getting that idea on paper and bringing it to fruition makes me really proud of myself, and when that body of work is done, I will throw myself a party, just me.

What would you change if you were to do things differently in your career?

Honestly, I wouldn’t change a single thing. Everything happened when it was supposed to, and I think it happened the way it was supposed to. Eventually, the things that happened led to the things I wanted. I had to go through that phase of conflict because that led me to figure out what I wanted to do.

If I had started NDIDI sooner, I don’t think I would have been able to carry it on. There were lessons I needed to learn that helped me feel confident enough to start NDIDI. If I had to change anything, maybe it would be in my personal life, but career-wise, I wouldn’t change anything.

What advice would you give to women who are trying to stay sane while finding their space in a world that doesn’t want to make space for them?

Be who you want to be; do what you want to do. There will always be people who will try to hold you back, specifically because of your gender, but it has nothing to do with your abilities. While these people try to hold you back, someone will always look out for you. So, find that person and do what you want to do.

When you achieve what you want, help other women get there, too. If a woman opens the door for you, open the door for other women; that’s how we create access. You might start it alone, but you don’t have to end it alone; carry other women along.

Can you give us a tip you swear by for maintaining a healthy work-life balance?

I’ve changed two things: I’ve gotten my sleep back on track, and I deserve a round of applause (clap for Amanda). I also realised that I needed to be intentional about how I spent my time. So, I’m making more active use of my calendar and blocking out time for everything. While things don’t always go as planned, being able to plan my day helps keep me centered and grounded. Doing that has helped me respect the time I have allocated for things and be intentional about doing things appropriately.


React to this post!
No Comments Yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.