Driving the change for mental health counselling

2016-05-13 14:22

Cape Town - Banetsi Mphunga was all smiles when he removed the huge white cloth to unveil his revamped mobile clinic.

It has been his vision to use his services as a registered counsellor to help township children suffering from psychological trauma, GroundUp reports.

Banetsi Mphunga and his mobile psychology clinic. (Mary-Anne Gontsana, GroundUp)

The Volkswagen Microbus, popularly known as iCaraCara in township slang (otherwise known as a kombi), was just a plain green before. But now it is colourful, has lime and white leather seats and is branded "The Kasie Counsellor". Mphunga said his dream was at last materialising.

"I finally got here with the help of the South African College of Applied Psychology (SACAP) and the continuous support of the Mandela Park Samora Machel community.

"I have been offering my services working as part of the Township Parents and Children's Counselling Centre, but now it is going to be great doing my work in a branded vehicle. Some people saw my kombi, but didn't know what it was about, but now everyone will know," said Mphunga.

He bought the kombi using his “last few cents”.

Mental health stigmatised

SACAP CEO Lance Katz said Banetsi was helping to raise awareness that mental health was critical to the overall well-being of an individual and society as a whole.

Mphunga said when he bought the kombi, he told the local children that it belonged to them. Children suffering from mental health issues were stigmatised and called names.

“So it is important for us to educate and show people that these issues can be dealt with in a proper way."

Mphunga does call-outs and house visits and his mobile clinic caters to Khayelitsha, and areas such as Philippi and Gugulethu.

The most common cases he came across involved substance abuse. His patients tended to be parents who developed conditions like depression and anxiety because of their children's addictions.

Long wait for psychological assistance

He grew up in Khayelitsha and was a registered counsellor by profession. The idea of the mobile clinic started when he realised the need for psychological services in the area.

While working with high school children, the group most vulnerable to substance abuse and gangsterism, he found that some had problems that needed psychological interventions.

He asked colleagues, principals, and school children why they did not make use of psychological services and counsellors in schools. He learned that they had to wait weeks for someone from the Department of Education to attend to them, because there were no counsellors at school.

“So I thought starting a practise could help the community,” he said.

Emotional ambulance

Mphunga said he was familiar with problems young people faced, especially relating to substance abuse.

"I also experimented with drugs while growing up. I started smoking weed and then from there I did Mandrax, but luckily I managed to stop before I became an addict and before my family found out. But these days, kids are not that lucky."

He noticed that children often stopped going to therapy sessions because they were stigmatised for seeking psychological help.

"There is this thing in society that if you seek psychological assistance, then there is something wrong with you, that you are mentally challenged or you are weak."

In addition, children felt intimidated by the clinical environment and talking to someone.

He intended the kombi to serve as an “initiating tool” for therapy, where first sessions could take place. Follow-up sessions could be held at a more established venue.

"Not all sessions will be here, only those that need immediate help. Like for example when there has been a shooting in school, we will be there. The kombi will be like an emotional ambulance," said Mphunga.

In the long term, he hopes to reach people in all townships of the Western Cape and other provinces.

Read more on:    cape town  |  health

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