Psychology With Roots In Africa Melding Ancient Wisdom With Modern Counseling.

Posted: August 07, 1994

The values of the ancestral African village, along with traditional notions of psychotherapy, can best help heal black youths who are confused and in trouble.

Mawiyah Kambon says she gradually arrived at that conclusion in the more than 20 years since she first started studying psychology.

"Much of what we are putting on our people isn't working because it's not African," Kambon told a packed seminar at the 26th convention of the Association of Black Psychologists yesterday. "It's not grounded in our value system."

Kambon was one of more than 500 people at the meeting - six days of lectures, seminars, cultural events and idea-sharing with the theme, "where the motherland meets the mind."

Participants came to Philadelphia from all over the country, and from nations as far away as South Africa, to discuss issues that ranged from rap music's pros and cons to the need for reform in health care and education.

They talked about what might cause and cure the violence that destroys homes and neighborhoods, and how to curb the impact of addiction in a nation where "the African American community is used as 'market centers' for illegal

drug traffickers," according to an issues statement distributed by the organization.

Kambon, a Raleigh, N.C., family therapist, presented her ideas at a seminar entitled "Healing the Children: Prevention and Intervention Approaches with Afrikan Youth."

She encouraged audience members to heighten their awareness of how behavior among black Americans is rooted in the value systems and cultural patterns of Africa. She called on therapists to look for ways in which behavior - both desirable and undesirable - can be explained in these terms.

African values of loyalty to the group can be seen in a typical youth gang, she said. The values have been twisted in a negative, destructive way by the impoverished, violence-ridden environment the youths live in, she said.

The therapeutic model, she said, is the African village, with its extended family and values that promote caring and sharing among members of the group.

"These are the tools from your ancestry that you can begin to use and synthesize in your practice," she said. "Listen to the children; listen to them in their language. And when there is a shrill cry, listen to it and try to find where it is coming from, so that we can try to bring our village into harmony."

She called on psychologists to seek out in their practice those people to whom a troubled child goes for comfort.

"The church, the rec center, a neighbor, a grandparent, or a non-blood relative - who does the child go to when he's in pain? You must find those people and work with them to help the child grow," she said.

She also called on black therapists to understand the ways in which their experiences with racism have distorted their lives.

"We are no different from those we service," she said. "The same ills our patients face are the ones we experience as well. We must use this as a strength, a spirit, a natural link, to connect with others."

This bond shared by a black psychologist and patient promotes progress even when traditional therapy techniques are used, Kambon said. It becomes even more powerful, she added, when the therapist introduces cultural elements that have their roots in African culture from thousands of years ago.

In an interview, Kambon talked about the importance of black pride and a positive sense of self. When she was in college in the 1960s, she said, "the sense of black pride and empowerment" was everywhere. But she had already learned it from a grandmother who encouraged her to believe she could do anything she set out to do.

When she studied pyschology at the University of Connecticut and later at Duke University, where she received her doctorate in 1990, she said she could find almost no one on campus who could relate her studies to the experience of being African American. Even black professionals, she found, were not involved enough.

The activism of that time led to the creation of the association in 1968 to confront problems facing the profession and to help improve the mental health of black people nationally, she said.

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