Integrating Western counselling and African cultural traditional intervention

Published: April 5, 2021

The withered tree will destroy the healthy tree when it falls down.
(Maasai Proverb)

‘ A problem shared is a problem halved’ an old saying which simply translates to  when things get difficult or we have to make decisions in our life, sometimes we need someone to listen and ‘hear our story’ so we can get a better idea of our options. This could basically also mean we need a sounding board which will help us derive a different perception to what we already think we know or feel. We have always found comfort in sharing our problems or telling our story to others. People in all societies, at all times, have experienced emotional or psychological distress and behavioural problems; and in each culture, there have been well-established indigenous ways of helping people to deal with these difficulties (Chiboola, 2020)

Historically within our African culture, traditional medicine men and healers were responsible for interventions in matters to do with physical, mental or spiritual matters. Given this cultural tradition, the introduction of counselling/therapy into our society was received with suspicion, denial even fear. In traditional African societies, counsel was given in various forms, the most common of which were giving advice and sharing wisdom. Since these roles were accepted and respected by all, they acted as a clear direction in the day-to-day affairs of the society. These mechanisms that once allowed us to identify our place and role in the community are no longer available, practical or applicable.

We no live and in communal setting as was once practiced in our African culture. We now find ourselves in confined spaces which is just not physical but emotional and psychological as well. With life taking new and drastic turns from what we once knew, we are now forced to develop and embrace new behaviour patterns and tools that will help us cope with all the emotional, psychological and mental challenges we experience daily.

Although the “talking cure” is hardly new among Kenyans, the contemporary Western concept of a counsellor is new and one that the wider Kenya community has been slow to embrace (Oketch & Kimemia, 2012). Counselling/therapy is a concept that has existed for a long time globally and in most communities. It is therefore imperative to figure out appropriate ways of integrating traditional counselling/guidance methods into modern counselling and psychotherapy because it would be impulsive to ignore the cultural dimensions.

As clearly stated by (Masambia, 2014) this integration can be achieved through research and training. Culture specific research and training will inform core activities that are the best clinical practices that will enhance the delivery of mental health services.

The village which is not discussed is not built.
(Maasai Proverb)

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