Counseling in Zimbabwe: History, Current Status, and Future Trends

By Richards, Kimberly A. M.; Zivave, Athanas T. et al. | Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD, January 2012 | Go to article overview

Counseling in Zimbabwe: History, Current Status, and Future Trends


Richards, Kimberly A. M., Zivave, Athanas T., Govere, Saunsuray M., Mphande, Joyce, Dupwa, Beatrice, Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD


The Republic of Zimbabwe is a landlocked country in Southern Africa that is located between the Zambezi and Limpopo Rivers. It is bordered by South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique, and Zambia. The population of Zimbabwe is roughly 11 million people. Approximately 63% of Zimbabweans live in rural areas (Central Intelligence Agency, 2010).

In 1980, after about 100 years of colonialism and a protracted guerrilla war, Southern Rhodesia gained its independence from Britain and became the Republic of Zimbabwe. In its early days, Zimbabwe was a success story and had the best health and educational systems in the region. This increased life expectancy in Zimbabwe to 67 years and the literacy rate to over 90%. Zimbabwe became known as the breadbasket of Africa. Now, however, because of a number of reasons that are beyond the scope of this article, Zimbabwe is in a state of crisis. Basic services such as health, sanitation, electricity, and water services are paralyzed. A declining economy has resulted in an estimated 4 million people leaving Zimbabwe, 3 million of whom crossed the border to South Africa (International Organization for Migration, 2009). Because of the extreme hardships, most Zimbabweans are in a risky situation with regard to their mental health. Counseling can play a vital role in helping Zimbabweans heal from these hardships. In this article, we provide a historical overview and the current status and future trends of counseling in Zimbabwe. Some recommendations are provided as a way forward for the counseling profession in that country.

* Historical Overview of Counseling in Zimbabwe

Pre-Colonial Period

Counseling as an art was practiced in Zimbabwe prior to British colonization. Traditional healers, spiritual leaders, and elders provided guidance and advice to community members in individual, family, and group contexts (Charema & Shizha, 2008). Malevolent spirits (ngozi and mamhepo) were thought to be the cause of mental illness (Gelfand, Mavi, Drummond, & Ndemera, 1985). If they were unhappy with living descendants, the benevolent ancestral spirits (mudzimu) could withhold their protection and invoke physical and mental disabilities as a form of reprimand (Mpofu & Harley, 2002). To cure or alleviate mental illness, individuals, families, and communities could be cleansed of negative spirits, and herbal medicines and psychosocial interventions could also be used (Gelfand et al., 1985; Shoko, 2007). Because mental illness was believed to be caused by cosmological forces, there was a degree of tolerance toward individuals with a mental illness.

As a communal society, all village members were responsible for the community. The health and well-being of the village, its families, and individuals were dependent on the guidance, support, and sacrifice of all members of the community. In particular, nuclear and extended family members took care of each another. Ancestors also played an important role in the family system because they would entreat on behalf of the living for help from Chauta (God) and look after members of their lineage (Mpofu & Harley, 2002). This system of guidance and support from the living and spiritual world created a mental health safety net. Although characterized as pre-Colonial, this system of counseling and support continues to be reflected in modern Zimbabwe, particularly in the rural areas.

Colonial Period

During the Colonial era, White settlers brought with them their rendering of counseling psychology, and the University of Rhodesia established a psychology department. Psychologists in Rhodesia excluded people of color from their professional ranks. During this time, psychological "science" was intentionally used to undermine the humanity of people of color in Southern Africa (Chase, 1977; Fanon, 1967; Simone, 1993).

The Ministry of Education created a Schools Psychological Services unit that conducted psychological testing, counseled troubled students, and provided support for students with disabilities. …

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