I think it is easy for us as Western educators in the developing world to underestimate the tenacity and capability of those we seek to aid. As Kalen and I demonstrated some good (and bad!) counseling skills and character qualities in our first workshop, the pastors responded with insight and enthusiasm. They broke apart everything I had intentionally done poorly, and went several steps beyond that! (I think I’ll need to learn some more about counseling from them!) I was amazed by the abundance of counseling experience and knowledge many of our “students” had already attained. Our brothers and sisters had not only sacrificed to learn counseling skills from us, but also to build upon their existing knowledge and share it with one another. The team truly was collaborative. Everyone had something to learn from everyone. Even those in the back (I started calling them “the peanut gallery”) who continually challenged that our skills must lead to solutions (while we wanted to focus on giving the client space to tell their story) emphasized African clients’ expectations to find solutions as a result of the counseling. I realized I was inwardly resistant to these suggestions, and had to check myself. If we really intended to collaborate, this would mean introducing some solutions-based therapies as well, in addition to our humanistic-oriented counseling skills.
So we altered our course for the third day and spoke about problem-focused counseling. Heads in the peanut gallery began to nod fervently. They were buying in! Those who appreciated the importance of giving the client space to tell their story (my front row, “good students”) expressed the need for these skills as well. We had reached consensus…and I noticed the peanut gallery members also gave their “clients” much space to talk during their mock therapy practice sessions.
I came into this project with the philosophy of that one 70’s rock band who said, “hold on loosely, but don’t let go.” I don’t know if they were originally talking about their wives, LSD-inspired dreams, or what, but to me this had spoken great wisdom as I came to various cultures with loosely-laid plans for collaboratively developing a trauma care program with refugee church leaders. We had some things in mind, and would give them plenty of space to take ownership of our model and propose changes, but I was still not letting go of what I thought would be a better approach (i.e. humanistic orientation, narrative therapy, etc.). Today I learned that the mantra we need to engage in successful, cross-cultural, collaborative, mental health development (there’s a list of adjectives for you) is “hold on loosely, and be ready to let go.”