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Community counselling: a contextual curriculum design for Christian higher education in Africa
Smyth, Ashley A
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A uniquely African framework for training community counsellors is urgently required to address the range and impact of contemporary community counselling needs in Africa. Training methodologies utilised in Christian higher education throughout Africa shoulddynamically reflect on the socio-cultural context in order to gain a regional understanding of community counselling needs and apply distinctively regional interventions. This study has found that a limited number of Christian higher education institutions in Africa is actively engaged in undergraduate training of community counsellors - primarily in the sphere of Christian counselling. At the same time, the range and severity of community mental health needs is accelerating rapidly, requiring a new generation of community counsellors who have received relevant and effective regional training at an undergraduate level of study. Presently, amongst those institutions where such training is provided, the emphasis within the curriculum has revealed a marked bias towards western knowledge constructs and values - particularly in parts of Africa where European influences are so strong. The study reveals that psychosocial phenomena as experienced in the context of developed societies of Europe and North America have questionable relevance to the distinctive regional challenges facing Africans today. This study presents a case for Christian higher education in Africa to adopt a uniquely African framework for training community counsellors to address the range and impact of contemporary community mental health needs. The study has explored a curriculum development process that dynamically reflects on the socio-cultural context in order to gain a regional understanding of community mental health needs to ensure that community counsellors are provided with effective intervention skills. A unique strategy for integrating the outcomes of such a community assessment into a relevant curriculum design is presented. This strategy comprises a four-step community assessment model utilising focus groups to investigate the range and severity of counselling needs in communities throughout the Great Lakes region (Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi). The results of this community assessment provide guidelines intended to assist Christian higher education in this regional selling to re-curriculate existing undergraduate curricula in community counsellor training and to develop new curricula. The author demonstrates how lessons learned from conducting one such regional study can be meaningfully applied to other regions on the African sub-continent. The global relevance of this study is reflected in the interface between the 'bio ecological systems theory' of Uri Bronfenbrenner (Bronfenbrenner, 1979) and the pedagogic paradigm developed in this study. Both emphasise the vital importance of exploring and understanding socio-cultural frameworks if training methodologies are to be psychologically and culturally valid.