Counselling services

Counselling Services for Adults

Counselling services are offered to adults in emotional distress. There are many factors that drive people to seek out emotional support including:

  • Relationship problems with intimate partners
  • Separation from loved ones
  • Loss and grief
  • Illness and/or disability
  • Concerns about the behaviour or wellbeing of children
  • Unresolved childhood issues- often related to grief, abuse, or neglect
  • Intimate partner violence
  • Exposure to sexual and other forms of violence
  • Forced displacement as a result of war, torture, and persecution
  • Social isolation and/or stigmatization
  • Depression, anxiety, and/or traumatic stress
  • Loss of meaning and hope

Counselling services are offered to individuals and families in distress at various centres in Westdene, Bertrams, Melpark, Noordgesig, and Mzimhlophe

Click here for our addresses and contact details

Siyalalela: We are Listening

There are many forgotten people in our city – but perhaps nobody is as unseen and unheard as those who have given up all hope of ever being able to help themselves.
In our townships and informal settlements there are young and old people living with HIV who have lost contact with any family member or friend who could support them in getting treatment. For them HIV continues to be a death sentence because they do not have the support they need to get treatment before it is too late. Without anybody to turn to and without the energy or motivation to seek medical help, many of these desperate people do in fact die.

The Siyalalela project reaches out to those living with HIV who have given up all hope. Week after week our community workers walk through the informal settlements in and around Soweto, knock on doors, and offer their ears and their hearts to those nobody listens to.

Many doors are closed in their face – and then after weeks or months of repeated knocking, they cautiously open, the visitors invited in and offered a bed or an oil drum to sit on. For many months, the community workers sit and listen to life stories which have never been told. And while they listen, they also encourage, they offer choices, and they search for anything that may offer hope. They listen and support until the patient is ready to ask for help, to make plan, to call on the assistance of neighbours, or to re-connect with lost family members. And when it happens people who had given up all ability to act for themselves, find their way to the hospital, get on to treatment, widen their circle of support and get better. Once the will to live has been reclaimed, and health has improved, people often find small ways of securing an income: applying for grants, recycling plastics, looking for piece jobs. With this comes better nutrition and further improvements in health, energy and well-being. Such is the power of listening – Siyalalela

Working with Children

As adults, we know that life throws us many problems, stresses, and painful experiences. We lose loved ones to illness, accidents or violence. We ourselves may experience violence, abuse and may be even be forced to leave our homes. Many of us have no proper income and face the threat of hunger or homelessness on a daily basis. In all these struggles, we often forget that children have feelings too. We send them out to play when we bury our family members, so that they don’t see our tears- and we forget that they are as sad as we are. We protect them from information about our illness- and forget how scared and worried they are when they see us sick and weak. We take them to the doctor when they have been hurt or abused- and we forget to ask them how they feel inside. We take them to a strange city for a new life- and forget how much they miss granny and their friends at home. We tell them that there is no money for lunch or for a new pair of shoes- and forget how cruelly they may be ridiculed at school.

We know that if children do not get the chance to share their feelings with someone who really cares about them, they will push them down and begin to show all kinds of other problems- like getting angry and aggressive, not wanting to go to school anymore, taking drugs, or looking for belonging in gangs. In our groups, in play therapy, and in family sessions we create a safe space in which children can find words for their feelings and express them without fear of being judged. Once children are aware of how they feel and how their feelings are related to things that are happening in their lives it is much easier for them to change their behaviour. It also then becomes much easier for caring adults to understand what they go through and to give them support and love.

At Sophiatown we offer the following services to help children express feelings and find support:

  • Play therapy
  • Individual counselling
  • Counselling for families
  • Sivuyile: a group for children who have lost their parents
  • The Suitcase Group: a group for children who have recently come into the city from other parts of the country or the African continent.
  • Bertrams for Change: regular play sessions in the Bertrams park which give children a chance to talk about things that are important to them
  • Khula Nathi: weekly homework support sessions for refugee and migrant children; and learning support sessions for children affected by HIV/AIDS and/or forced displacement and disruption of schooling.
  • Therapeutic holiday programmes

Working with Teenagers

Many of us groan and sigh when the topic of conversation turns to teenagers. We complain that they are grumpy, rebellious, angry, uncooperative, lazy, and cheeky. We don’t know how our cute little boys and girls turned into such monsters. Much of the time we either shout at them or ignore them. When did you last have a meaningful conversation with a teenager, found out about how she experiences the world, how she feels inside, what her dreams and hopes are?

Do you ever think about how you felt and behaved as a teenager? Did you ever clash with your parents over things like clothes, or money or going out with boyfriends? Did anybody ever listen to your thoughts, and feelings, or takes your dreams for the future seriously? Did you ever wish you could run away and start afresh?

The teenage years are always challenging ones for both parents and children- perhaps now more than ever. Our education system is in crisis and half of our children drop out of school before they get to matric, most of them teenagers full of energy and drive.
What happens to that energy and drive when there are no educational opportunities, no chances to find work, to move out of home, or build a life for oneself? We all know the answer- teenagers are at risk of being drawn to drugs, to alcohol, to gangs, to crime, to “blessers”, and to unsafe sexual practices.

Sophiatown Community Psychological Services gives teenagers a chance to talk about their experiences, their fears and anxieties, their feelings of stuck-ness and their anger. In the teenage lekgotlas (“village assemblies”), teenagers can speak about the many things we as adults don’t want to hear about: about boys and girls, about sex, about what goes on at home, about the violence they see in their communities. In the lekgotlas, they are helped to look at what is going on around them from different perspectives and they are constantly reminded that there is always a choice, and that the choice is theirs to make. In the lekgotlas, most importantly, they are encouraged to dream, and to DREAM BIG. They are encouraged to open their eyes to the world beyond the limitations poverty, disease and violence have imposed on them, and to make choices that can help them develop into responsible, caring, and productive young adults.

Working with Parents

There is no doubt that parenting is one of the hardest jobs in the world, and one for which most of us are ill-prepared. Half of the population in our country lives in poverty. Many parents lack the means to feed, clothe, care for and educate their children, while their children learn to aspire to expensive luxury goods. Hundreds of thousands of young people become parents without ever having experienced the love and care of a parent. Thousands more are forced to flee violent conflict in their home countries to seek refuge in South Africa, and are struggling with the task of raising children in an environment and culture that is completely alien to them. All of us carry the wounds of our own childhoods into our interactions with our children, often unaware of how we ourselves perpetuate them into the next generation.

We offer a an annual 8 day parenting programme which supports young and old carers in families to process their own childhood hurts, to critically examine their parenting styles, explore alternative strategies which communicate presence, consistency and caring to their children. In our Bertrams entre we also run a monthly psycho-educational programme for parents whose children we consider particularly at risk.

Working with HIV/AIDS

HIV/AIDS has a long dark shadow which simply does not want to leave. It is a shadow that casts fear and shame over the person concerned; over the family and friends; and over our whole society. Despite years of public awareness campaigns, people living with HIV/AIDS and those around them continue to live with a deep sense of shame. Often, they cannot disclose their status even to those closest to them because they fear that they will be isolated, rejected and even abandoned. The secret that is kept inside is like a wound that cannot heal because it is treated with blame and shame instead of love, protection and care.

For many people HIV/AIDS is the end of the road of life – not because they are at death’s door, but because they feel they are no longer worthy of love, of protection and care, of opportunities, of the right to dream. In the Leseding group people living with HIV/AIDS are not defined by the disease but by who they are in the wholeness of their being – their life stories, their personalities, their courage, their abilities, their talents, their hopes for a better life. Life is about so much more than the name of a disease. In these groups, people find support and solidarity. They learn that they are not alone. They learn that life can go on, that HIV is one stumbling block among others, that it does not have the power to destroy hope or love or the beauty of life.

By telling their stories and learning from each other, people develop a fresh understanding of how HIV/AIDS is not about personal failure or shame, but one of the many problems that come with poverty, with violence, and with the way men and women relate to each other. Through this understanding and the support they give each other, they come to reclaim their dignity, the ability to think and act for themselves, and the courage to shape the future.

Working with Grandmothers

Have you ever noticed that although we have special days for all kinds of people in our country – Children’s Day, Youth Day, Women’s Day, Refugee Day – we do not have a special day for Grandmothers?

Have we all forgotten about them? Are we so busy living our own lives, often reaping the fruits of the struggles of generations which have gone before us, without thinking of the people who planted the seeds, built the foundations, fought, cried and protected so that we can have better lives?

At Sophiatown we have noticed that people who are still strong think that everything they achieve and acquire is from their own cleverness. They no longer draw on the wisdom of the old people. There is an old saying “You have to ask from those who have lived”, but in South Africa we seem to have forgotten about that. We are missing out on the wisdom of age because we have abandoned old people, pushed them in a corner, ignored and forgotten about them.

The Thandanani (love one another) group for grandmothers of orphaned children wants to change that. We get grandmothers together because they are lonely and hurting. These grandmothers have brought up their own children, have seen them die, and now at an advanced age they have to start all over again, looking after the young ones their sons and daughters have left behind. A grandmother is looking after babies as young as three months old – no matter how tired and painful her body, she has to get up at night to feed the baby, get the children ready for school, make sure there is food to eat, stretch the pension that was meant to be only for her, to cover the needs of 4 or 5 or 6 or 10 people in the house.

The Thandanani group honours these grandmothers, gives them their rightful place in the family, the community and the society. In the group, we listen to their stories- stories that have never been told because nobody ever cared to listen to them. We tell them that their stories, their feelings, their wounds, their hopes and dreams matter.

Thandanani is about restoring the dignity of an older person. The very people who carry the soul of this country have been forgotten. Thandanani brings them out of the shacks where they are hiding, gives them a name, a purpose, and a community. Thandanani takes them back onto the centre of the stage of life and celebrates their courage, their strength and their power.

Working with Migrant Women

All of us know what it is like to be a stranger. At some point or other in our lives we have come into situations in which we knew nothing or nobody. Remember what it felt like to go into a new school, to start a new job, to worship in a new church, or even to get married and enter a new family.

When we enter a new social circle or community everything is strange and for a while we need somebody to help us get familiar with our new environment, with the people who we may not understand, with different traditions and ways in which things are being done.

In the beginning, we may be stared at by the people who have been there for a long time or treated with hostility and suspicion. But once we have built relationships and know our way around places and traditions, we no longer feel strange and uncomfortable.
There are many people who come to South Africa from other African countries, often countries with languages, traditions, ways of dressing and behaving that are different from our own. Usually these people have escaped war or persecution or extreme poverty, and are looking for safety, protection from violence and death, and ways of making a living for themselves and their families. Many families come into our country traumatized and in desperate need of belonging. Yet what they meet in South Africa is often anything but welcoming.

Although we all know what it is like to be a stranger, sometimes we seem to forget this when it comes to people from outside our own borders. We often receive them with anger and violence, or exploit them, or make them feel that they have no place in our country and our lives. We often do not even ask them their names.

In the Umoja (United) group we greet our sisters and brothers from other countries with their names. We welcome them with tea and sandwiches, we listen to their stories, and we offer them the helping hand we all need when we go into unfamiliar places. A refugee is never just somebody who has run away from some conflict or problem. She is a person with a name, with a story, with family and people she loves, with interests and talents, with hopes and dreams for herself and her children.

People who have been forced to leave their home countries and seek refuge and protection elsewhere need a lot of help and support to become familiar with their new environment, to meet people, and to learn new languages. They also need to learn how to manage many new ways of getting things done – applying for papers, registering children for school, getting access to hospitals or clinics.