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On 27 March 2023, project dldl/ድልድል Principal Investigator Dr Romina Istratii met with Ethiopian partner organisation, Fnot Social and Psychological Counselling Charitable Organization (Fnot for short) in Fnot’s offices in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The Fnot team was represented by Kesis Yigzaw Mekonnen, Mr Henok Hailu and Mr Mesfin Betru, while Dr Istratii was accompanied by one of the project’s Associated Researchers, Mr Benjamin Kalkum. The meeting inaugurated a new partnership between the two parties that will seek to develop a faith-sensitive counselling model in Ethiopia to aid psychologists working with couples, domestic violence survivors and domestic violence perpetrators in integrating theological understanding and religious clients’ sensibilities into counselling to achieve culturally-appropriate responses in Ethiopia’s overwhelmingly religious population.
This pilot is informed by a systematic review on spiritual psychotherapy and faith-sensitive counselling practices completed by the project dldl/ድልድል team and informed by the learnings achieved in the first two years of the project’s work in Ethiopia. These have evidenced to the team that religious beliefs and spiritual experiences can act both as barriers and resources in the experience of domestic violence, coping and help-seeking, and that psychologists who work with religious clients should not ignore the influence of religious worldviews, values and understandings in their clients’ lives, but must navigate them carefully with an awareness of how their own biases as counsellors might predispose their responses to religious clients and their theological understandings.
Fnot, a local and non-profit organisation in Ethiopia has already been providing spiritual and faith-informed counselling support to individuals with mental health issues and couples faced with marital problems. The organisation is led by Ethiopian Orthodox priest and trained psychologist Kesis Yigzaw Mekonnen and is supported by a Board of Trustees who combine psychological, theological, legal and other specialisations. The organisation has provided its services with significant success, which is reflected in the fact that already government agencies are referring individuals and couples to the organisation for support. As demand grows, the organisation is required to identify sustainable ways to continue and scale out their important work.
The collaboration with project dldl/ድልድል is anticipated to contribute to Fnot’s organisational capacity development and growth as a leading faith-sensitive counselling practice in Ethiopia. The partnership will bring together Dr Istratii’s theological and domestic violence research experience and Fnot’s expertise in secular and faith-sensitive psychological counselling techniques to develop a faith-sensitive counselling model for couples and domestic violence-affected groups. Inter alia, the partners will develop a manual to aid other psychologists in Ethiopia trained in psychological counselling to engage productively with the religious beliefs of their clients, and will design and pilot a group therapy programme engaging religious men seeking to overcome problematic behaviours.
The pilot programme will focus on the Ethiopian Orthodox tradition and community, but the guidelines developed will have general application and relevance to psychologists working across Ethiopia’s diverse religious landscape.