Human societies had, and still have derived several ‘solutions’ to the common social, medical, psychological and psychosomatic problems of life and living.
These include illnesses of various types. The aim is to provide healing, offer compassion, sympathy and empathy in times of distress. Some of these resolutions take the form of elaborate rituals for bringing about healing. Counselling is part of human tradition, though as a profession, by way of a formal counselling contract with the client has developed a formalised content and context.
Most societies in the world, including in Africa, had various forms of social services that were provided for children and young people so as to enable them to grow into responsible and productive members of their community. These social services were in-built in ordinary living. In addition, social relations provided for and often constituted family and group therapy. The young and old were continuously inducted into cultural values, beliefs, customs and future roles according to their gender in community settings. They were socialised into the community through history, oral narratives, proverbs, riddles, songs and dances, art and environmental orientation, as well as various skills to shape their future behaviour and character. The immediate and extended family provided support services, was a source of information and help, and thus assisted in psychological counselling. Children in the traditional African society were guided and counselled by elder relatives, parents, uncles and aunts in the informal context and during initiation ceremonies. Initiation ceremonies were also avenues of peer counselling. They were also used to induct the initiates into their new roles as adults, future parents and members of the community. Sexual health education (SHE), living values and life skills were also imparted.
It must be accepted that the reminiscent of these traditional settings have various implications on various aspects in counselling. As a start, there are high gender considerations that may lead to client preference of a counsellor of their gender depending on the issue and circumstances at hand. Counsellors too may be uncomfortable with clients of different gender and may be hesitant to offer the much needed assistance. For example, due to the hierarchical structures of various traditional societies, males may be hesitant to seek help, particularly from a female counsellor. Equally, both males and females may feel more inclined to seek assistance from their own, including family, friends, religious leaders and other acquaintances. This is due to the practice arising out of the socialised pairing of guidance and counselling, mentoring and coaching matched by the gender, females to females and males to males. In certain instances, these are gendered stereotypes that require counsellors to be trained in counselling; for example, females may tend to self-disclose more than males due to their higher support mechanism, while males tend to be more secretive even to their close male friends. In that case, males tend to be more stressed and often suffer from frustration leading to depression due to lack of a tension release mechanism, including failure to express emotions, no matter how angry or aggrieved, such as crying or expressing inability to resolve a crisis as this is considered being weak! These are aspects that we must all be aware of, as well as further investigation in traditional-cum-modern societies.
There is a long history of attempts to understand and control behaviour that is deemed to be aberrant, deviant or unusual. Subsequently, there has been, and still is, cultural variation in the approach taken to redeem a patient or client with a mental disorder. The field of clinical psychology too identifies different causes for diverse conditions. It can be argued that there is a significant divide between psychological and biological explanations. This may also reflect a philosophy that represents different approaches to normal and abnormal anxiety, personality and mental disorder by traditional societies and modern (medical and psychological) approaches. For example, clinical psychology seeks to assess, understand and treat psychological conditions in clinical practice. The word abnormal is often used more with reference to unusual, immoral and /or inappropriate behaviour. Psychopathology is a similar term to abnormal psychology but implies more of underlying pathology (illness), and as such, it is a term more commonly used in psychiatry.
It is also important to note that people and societies have always tried to explain and control unbecoming, abnormal and pathological behaviour. Historically, medically and in religion, there have been three broad approaches to inappropriate or abnormal behaviour: the religious or supernatural, the medical (biological) and the psychological.