Innovative psychologist Banetsi Mphunga campaigns to break the stigma around mental health issues and take the anxiety out of therapy using a minibus taxi as a mobile treatment clinic in Cape Town townships.
While Mphunga still maintains an office-bound practice at the Township Parents and Children Counselling Centre in Khayelitsha, the majority of his time is spent on the road, driving a minibus mobile clinic that offers free counselling sessions and life skills guidance to young people in the area.
He started the idea in 2015, inspired by his work in youth development programmes. He had noticed that a lot of the youth he spoke to were too afraid to discuss their problems in a formal counselling session, in an unfamiliar environment.
In the informal, more relaxed interior of the minibus, patients didn’t need to feel intimidated or claustrophobic, Mphunga told the Daily Vox website.
He calls his facility an “emotional ambulance”, and while most cases he deals with are relaxed and constructive, there are times when he is called into action quickly and aggressively: more often than not when drugs and physical abuse are involved.
He sees his ultimate aim as a people’s therapist to end the drug and alcohol cycle that is the starting-point of many mental health issues in young people.
And he will go anywhere, at any time of the day, to fulfil that promise. “What I hope for them, is to show them despite whatever situation they have been going through, they can still make it,” Mphunga told the Daily Vox.
While his work is focused primarily in Khayelitsha, the mobile clinic – a second-hand Volkswagen Caravelle with tinted windows to secure confidentiality – enables him to spread his work to surrounding areas, particularly in the rural farming areas in towns as far as Robertson and Malmesbury.
It also allows him to meet teachers, priests and community leaders on their home turf, and offer advice on how to identify and best resolve issues such as depression, anxiety and anti-social behaviour in children.
Mphunga also offers trauma counselling for the elderly, a section of the community often forgotten when it comes to mental health. Most of the time, old people just want someone to talk to and listen to their problems, Mphunga says, but sometimes there are more serious unresolved issues that can be addressed in sessions.
Community response to Mphunga’s minibus therapy has been positive. While he understands he may not be able to cover all the bases for effective long-term therapy, he is confident that making people comfortable with the idea of talking about their problems in a spacious, non-threatening environment will help them seek out more regular, more effective counselling.
He is currently crowdfunding for ongoing maintenance improvements for his minibus, as well as raising funds for youth-oriented development programmes in his community, through a GoFundMe page, which you can visit here.
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