Counselling and guidance techniques developed in the Western world may not be appropriate for many African countries, where cultural influences, government policies and the availability of resources can have significant implications for service delivery. In order to develop more robust techniques, researchers and practitioners need rigorous analysis of professional practice across the nations of Africa. A special issue of the British Journal of Guidance & Counselling has been published as a contribution towards the work that is needed to fill this information gap.
This wide-ranging special issue brings together exemplars of research reports and case studies of professional practice from across Africa, from Ghana and Nigeria in the west, Uganda in the east, and Pretoria and Nkangala districts in South Africa.
Edited by Dr Stephen Goss of the Metanoia Institute, Middlesex University, and Dr Olusegun Adebowale of Obafemi Awolowo University, Nigeria, this special issue aims to address the academic trap - identified by the leading Kenyan author Binyavanga Wainaina - of treating the continent as if it were one place. Instead, the editors have deliberately set out to:
"... eschew the stereotypes so prevalent in some Western writings that play first and foremost to Western expectations."
As such, the seven papers draw on the field-research and experiences of guidance and counselling practitioners and researchers in Africa covering topics as diverse as: the use of the 'life portrait' technique to draw out highly sensitive information; the problems experienced by African students studying in the UK; and the risk of 'compassion fatigue' among hard-pressed counsellors dealing with complex problems with minimal resources.
For example, 'Secondary trauma and job burnout and associated factors among HIV lay counsellors in Nkangala district, South Africa' by Karl Peltzer, Gladys Matseke and Julia Louw (pp. 410-422), provides a detailed examination of the difficulties faced by practitioners in South Africa, who are typically required to see more than 11 clients per day, compared with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy suggested maximum client load of just five clients a day. In these circumstances, it is not surprising that Peltzer et al found high levels of dissatisfaction and significant levels of burnout, particularly among practitioners exposed to high levels of life trauma. In their editorial, Goss and Adebowale conclude that:
"Workers in all high stress helping roles - but perhaps especially those responsible for their management - will do well to heed such warnings."
Practitioners in Nigeria will find crucial insights in the paper on counselling school children, 'Sociocultural factors in client-counsellor self-disclosure in Nigeria, Africa' by S. A. Oluwatosin. The paper concludes that it can be very difficult for young people to openly talk to counsellors because children are taught to treat adults with deferential respect and obedience, but is hopeful that methods that are in tune with local cultural norms can be developed.
Cultural sensitivities are also required in South Africa where - as Charles Young and Megan Campbell of Rhodes University found - that country's particular history has created a lingering legacy of inequality in mental health experienced by black university students, compared with their white counterparts. Their paper, 'Student wellbeing at a university in post-apartheid South Africa: a comparison with a British university sample using the GP-CORE measure' (pp. 359-371) is mirrored by one by Florence Doku and Bonnie Meekums of the University of Leeds: 'Emotional connectedness to home for Ghanaian students in the UK' (pp. 383-402).
The special issue also includes:
- 'Career construction with a gay client: a case study', by Jacobus Gideon Maree
- 'Predictors of academic performance of seminarians in Catholic Major Seminaries in the South-West Region of Nigeria', by Andrew A. Adubale and Oyaziwo Aluede
- 'Mental health practitioners' reflections on psychological work in Uganda: exploring perspectives from different professions', by Jennifer Hall et al.
Although the editors set out to provide examples of work from all parts of Africa, they note with regret that they were unable to obtain papers from northern parts of the continent, mentioning in particular that potential authors (e.g. from Egypt) felt unable to contribute due to the local political situation. However, the editors are hopeful that a future special issue can be published:
"... the diversity [of papers] is so great as to have created an opportunity for not only this symposium but a number of other papers that will appear in the coming months, perhaps even forming a second symposium edition, is reflective of the wealth of activity in this part of the world."