The diversity of our South African context offers mental health practitioners an exciting opportunity to be more inclusive in their practice. We intentionally frame inclusive practice as an opportunity as it affords one the opportunity to work with a broader clientele with enriched therapeutic practices!

We invite all our fellow mental health practitioners to join us in being more inclusive through these top tips:

1. Learn an African language

We know personally and professionally how much more descriptive and authentic we can be when speaking in our mother tongue. Many South Africans enter into therapy knowing they will need to relay their experience in English (sometimes Afrikaans). So much is lost without the fluidity, unique expressions, and nuances of speaking in one’s mother tongue! Learning an African language is a big, but necessary step, to truly express an intention to move toward more inclusive practice. We argue it is so important that it should be a compulsory inclusion at University level!


2. Attend Supervision Sessions with an African Mental Health Practitioner or Diversity & Inclusion Coach

Diversifying your ongoing training and mentoring opportunities demonstrates an ongoing commitment to the lifelong learnings of diversity and inclusion. Being intentional about Afrocentric practice means hearing from Afrocentric voices that you have established learning contracts with so that they may challenge your approach, hold you accountable and stimulate non-Eurocentric thought patterns in your work. We personally love the supervision of Dr. Thembelihle Dube, who offers her supervisory expertise to our supervision groups annually.


3. Incorporate Multiracial and Multicultural Resources in your Counselling Room

Representation matters in person, practice, and resource selection too. Diversifying your resources allows for parties to use resources they best associate with, thereby allowing for the most personalized use. As such, diversifying resources is not just for the client’s benefit but for yours too as it allows for a more accurate depiction of their reality and therefore a better assessment of the client’s experience too. Our go-to for resources that are intentionally representative of our South African context are:


4. Offer your Mental Health Services on a Financial Sliding Scale

Formal counselling services have been less accessible to the majority of black and coloured South Africans owing to the socioeconomic implications of Apartheid. With this in mind, providing counselling services on a sliding scale is a restorative act acknowledging and affirming the impact of an injustice system limiting access to quality mental health services. Such an approach says, ‘I see you’ and contributes to the process of equality within our nation too.


5. Incorporate Afrocentric Practices into your Sessions

It is good practice to frame the start and finish of a session with a ‘check-in and check-out’ practice. We encourage practitioners to look for Afrocentric culture and traditions to determine what these check-in and check-out processes could look like. The use of specific proverbs or verses of blessing, essential oils or candle burning ceremonies, or even the use of talking sticks or drums have been used in our practice. Client buy-in is essential, so start with inviting the client’s own practices and resources into the therapeutic space, making it client-led.


6. Move beyond Talk Therapy on the Sofa

The idea of sitting on a sofa and talking with a cup of tea is embedded in traditional Eurocentric counselling. It, however, is not the only approach to counselling and may not be the right approach for all clients. Awareness of this and a willingness to do something else partnered with the conversation may be helpful and more approachable to diverse clients. Walk and talk, knitting whilst talking, kicking the ball and scoring goals, or even cooking whilst talking offer different, more ‘familiar’ narratives of deep meaningful conversation to clients.


7. Practice from a Person-centred and Deconstructivism/ Postmodern Perspective

Acknowledging that you are not the expert in your client’s reality is a foundational principle for expertly working with diverse clients. This invites the client to share their lived experience with you, which you then can model and integrate into the session. Deconstructivism takes this one step further suggesting that one has to challenge their own subjective socialisation and contexts and become competent in the situational analysis and ethics of the client’s experience in order to ‘redevelop’ a therapeutic approach and alliance which is truly client-centred and multicultural in its approach.


8. Work Systemically, not just Individually

Eurocentric psychology promotes individualism. This is often to the detriment of people groups who have been systematically oppressed. Afrocentric psychology not only acknowledges but is structured to account for systemic factors, thereby appealing to minority groups. It works with a microlens and doesn’t dismiss the victimization that people groups feel from systems.


9. Acknowledge the Power Dynamics

Acknowledging the perception of power that you and your client carry is essential in creating a more empowering and equitable therapeutic space. This can, and should, be verbally acknowledged and questioned. In questioning it, you empower the client to define the power dynamics and how to readjust them. Power awareness in session also translates to power awareness outside of the session which equips clients to advocate for their worth and space in other unequal spaces.


10. Acknowledge Multicultural Holidays and Celebrations throughout the Year

An awareness of multicultural holidays should be accompanied by an intentional acknowledgement of said holidays publicly, and in personal engagements with clientele. This could look like social media acknowledgments, the use of celebratory greetings, wearing items of solidarity, or educating oneself on the history and meaning behind the holiday. These acts practiced with intention make evident your commitment to diverse and inclusive practice.


11. Include Multicultural Questions on your Intake Form

They say that a client predetermines how authentic they can be about themselves through the diversity of questions asked within an intake form/intake session. Questions that invite an awareness of identity, history, culture, systemic and personal experiences of oppression, family traditions, language, and spirituality, for example, frame the counselling process as inclusive and invite the client to speak into these and other aspects of psychology which would ordinarily be excluded from traditional psychology.


12. Employ/ partner with African Mental Health practitioners and/or Intentionally refer to African Practitioners

As a successful practitioner with an established client base and brand, partnering with or mentoring a practitioner of a different culture or ethnicity attracts a diversity of clientele and suggests a commitment to the redistribution of social capital and resources. It is another example of a practice that restores wealth and opportunity to previously disadvantaged people groups thereby promoting equality.

Cultural diversity and inclusivity are essential when practicing in South Africa, for both the client and practitioner. We encourage you to implement some of these steps as we work towards providing more inclusive practices.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.